Pulling Strings, the Countdown Begins
About two weeks passed, during which time Summers had recruited Toby Lavender of Triple X Traction in Seaside, California, to help prep his buggy for the race. It was not that far off, but there was a lengthy list of tasks that needed to be addressed to ensure that the car would be ready come race day. Mike Deford of Bully Dog Technologies caught wind of Summers' program and offered a hand with pit support and logistics. Goodyear stepped in to provide tires for the effort. Summers contacted the folks at Radflo Suspension Technologies about re-valving his 2-inch coilover shocks to handle the high-speed sections of KOH. A week later, Summers took the car to Pismo State Beach to run it through a whoops section of dunes for the very first time. After a brief shakedown, he felt confident with the suspension system.
A week prior to the race, Team Summers appeared ready to make the 600-mile trek to Johnson Valley. The car was unfinished, but close enough for us to proceed with our effort. Recent rains had increased Summers' shop workload, and he simply couldn't break away from the office in time to accommodate the necessary KOH pre-race prerunning schedule. Our efforts were beginning to look much less professional than we would have liked.
Last Minute Prep Fest
Race week, Tuesday
Our convoy of motorhomes and trailer-toting pickups entered the area I had roped-off near the start/finish line. We were three days behind schedule, and at that moment, the tone turned serious. We had our work cut out for us. The custom window nets from Poly Performance were not installed, the Baja Designs HID lights were rolling around in a box under the pit trailer, and the new thicker aluminum link arms we needed were still unclaimed at the Ballistic Fabrication booth in the vendor area. Needless to say, we did not have time to prerun a single mile of the race course. In fact, we barely made it through tech inspection before the cut-off hour. As the hours ticked by, our car was looking better and better. The crew did not have a clear plan of attack for race day, but I knew that as long as the equipment was in place, our people would likely make it happen.
Thursday evening: With less than eight hours until the green flag dropped, I called our crew into the camping area for a quick meeting about what to expect during the race. This was the first race for many of our all-volunteer pit crewmembers, and they needed to know some basic guidelines regarding safety procedures and radio communication. I explained that our first goal was finishing the race, and that anything above that was icing on the cake. With an inexperienced driver, no prerun time, and an amateur pit crew, simply finishing was all we could hope for.
The early morning silence was shattered as our campground erupted into a frenzy of action. Summer and Lavender were still attempting to sleep in, knowing that it was going to be a long day. On the other hand, I knew that my ride-along was going to be over before lunchtime. Our plan involved me riding with Summers from the start until the Masters Pit at race mile 52. At that point, I would get out and allow Lavender the opportunity to co-drive for the remainder of the race. As I zipped up my race suit, I thought to myself, "All you have to do is help keep the car together."
As we pulled away from the start line, the massive crowd of onlookers surrounding pit row encouraged us to hammer the throttle. Nowhere else but the Baja 1000 have I seen as much fanfare at an off-road race. Thousands assembled alongside the course to witness the drag race-style start. Each team was staged side-by-side with another car, and when the green flag dropped, the deafening roar of sixteen cylinders at a time filled the air.