Tuesday, November 13th, Race Day.
At this point we had been in Baja for two days, contingency and tech inspection were over, the vehicles were full of fuel and the drivers eager to get underway. We woke up early Tuesday morning and headed into town to see the trucks take the green flag. Our truck, the #763 Mitsubishi Raider Stock Mini was scheduled to be one of the last vehicles off the line, at about 12:30pm on the 13th, with the Trophy Truck class leading things off at about 10:30am (the motorcycles and quads had already left at 6:30am as to not interfere with the four wheeled classes).
12:30 came and the Raider left the line with Dan Fresh behind the wheel and Co-Driver Sean Douglas in the passenger seat. The race teams adventure had just begun, and so had ours. We had 12 short hours to travel down the coast of Baja to meet the race truck in Guayaquil, a small town just south of El Rosario, where I was to get into the race truck for the ride of my life.
As the four of us made our trek down the Baja peninsula we passed through many small towns and were greeted by the ever exuberant smiling faces of the children (and some adults) that lived in the towns that came out to the road just to get a glimpse of the race teams flying through as they chased their vehicles down the length of Baja. One of the greatest sights in Baja is the look on the children's faces when you give them a sticker or other trinket, it reminds us of the real reason we race in Baja. More about the local flavor later, time to get back to the race.
Luckily for us we made it through all the government and military checkpoints and got into the town of El Rosario with enough time to sit down to a good meal at a small restaurant called Mama Espinoza's where we met up with one of the DXR chase crews and got an update on the truck. The Raider was running strong but due to a couple of bottle necks on the course they were now about a half hour behind schedule. No worries though because the rest of the vehicles in the class had been held up by the same traffic. With the truck behind schedule and us ahead of schedule we took the opportunity to grab a quick shower and get some rest at the Baja Cactus motel before heading out to the El Rosario pit stop. The motel was awesome and a great way to break up the trip since at this point we had been on the road for over 12 hours and wouldn't arrive at the finish in Cabo for at least another 24 hours.
All rested and relaxed we checked out of the awesome digs at the Desert Cactus and headed out into the desert to wait for the truck to come into the El Rosario pit. With the Raider race truck making good time we only had a short wait for it to arrive at this pit stop. The truck arrived and the crew set to work checking over every part of the vehicle to be sure it was all still there and functioning properly (both good things to have in a race like this). A quick splash of gas, a bottle of water and a powerbar for the driver and co-driver and the truck was back off racing into the night, next stop Guayaquil.
As soon as the race truck left the pits, so did we. We had about a 60 kilometer driver to reach the next stop of Guayaquil and the race truck had about a two hour drive, it was going to be close. Luckily for me we arrived at the pit stop with just enough time for me to down another bottle of water (hydration is key in these types of events) and scarf down a Cliff Bar. Before I knew what hit me the race truck was in, the driver an co-driver were out, I was strapped in and we were off. I was now fulfilling a life long goal, to race in the Baja 1000.
Dan Fresh and crew being the smart people that they are planned out my section of the race so that I would get to experience a little of everything that Baja has to offer and get to see how well the Raider race truck worked in all the conditions. The first portion of my section of the race was spent on the road. Dan iron-manned the entire race, with the exception of two of the long road sections, this was one of them. With about 60 miles of highway Dan handed the truck over to normal co-driver Sean Douglas. The road section provided me with plenty of time to get used to the truck, the placement of the gauges, and the functions of the GPS and gave Sean and I plenty of time to go over what would be expected of me once I was out in the desert with Dan. This section also gave me plenty of time to practice calling out turns, watching our speed (60mph on the highway), watching the mirrors, and just generally getting comfortable with my position as co-driver for this leg of the race (most of the time media, like me, are relegated to the third seat and just along for the ride, the Raider being a two seater meant that I was now the co-driver, not just ridding along).
We hit the pits at Coco's Corner at the end of the road section where we noticed one of our competitors in the pits also down for repairs. This is a valuable piece of information to have since the last time we saw them they were more then 30minutes ahead. Unfortunately for us, this pit stop was going to be a long one as the crew found a ball joint going bad, no worries we had spares and they set right into swapping it out. Forty minutes later with the ball joint fixed, air filter changed, trans strapped back into place (don't ask), fueled up, wiped down, and ready to go we were back underway. This time Dan Fresh had jumped back in the driver seat and I was still navigating. The next three hours were a blur.
We started down a relatively flat wash board road, passed through the check point at Coco's Corner, passed a rolled buggy being helped by a Pro-Truck, then headed into the twisty steep rocky goat trails. When we came down out of the hills we hit a swamp, got passed by a Pro-Truck, passed the Pro-Truck, got passed again by the Pro-Truck, mobbed through the stinky mud with ease thanks to the Raider working four-wheel drive, we exited the swamp only the find the truck making a weird noise. A quick visual check found nothing wrong and we were back underway. By this time the sun was coming up and we had hit whoops. Miles and miles of whoops. If they is one thing a Stock Mini doesn't like, it's whoops. The sunrise was amazing, blinding, but amazing. We arrived at the Bay of LA (Bahia De Los Angeles) around 7:30am; this was the end of the adventure for me, but just the beginning for Dan and the Raider, because by this time, 20hours into the race, we were just short of half way.
Once again the race truck got a once over, splash of gas, new co-driver, and blasted off into a cloud of dust. We did the same, making a bee line for Cabo and the finish line stopping at various pits along the way.
The DXR Racing Mitsubishi Raider finished the race and came in third place in class behind the Hummer H3 of Rod Hall and the Toyota FJ Cruiser. At several points along the way the Raider held the lead, but as always happens in racing things happen, pit strategy plays a role, and positions get swapped. The guys from DXR and Mitsubishi tell us that they will be back next year, gunning for the win.
Be sure to tune back in for Part 3: After the Race.