It was a celebration for the much lauded SCORE Tecate Baja 1000, which turned 40 this year. One of the longest and harshest courses in recent memory attracted 424 entries from 44 states and 19 countries, but only 239 were able to complete the gruelling 1,296.39-mile course from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas, Baja, Mexico. Countless support vehicles and crews of volunteers lined the peninsula to support the effort, but this year's event was not without tragedy as several high-profile incidents marred the glamour of the 1000 and provided a reminder to most that Baja is another country, far from the civilized security of America and more akin to our Wild West of the past.
The overall winners of this 40th 1000 were Mark Post, Rob MacCachren, and Carl Renezeder of Riviera Racing in the Number 3 Riviera Racing Ford Trophy Truck. Post's Ford averaged 51.13 miles per hour by covering the distance in 25 hours, 21 minutes, and 25 seconds, recording the fastest overall speed in a four-wheel vehicle. BFGoodrich Tires also earned its 21st overall four-wheel vehicle victory in this year's 1000, along with 15 other class victories.
This time, three Four Wheeler editors-two Baja vets and one newbie-headed down with their respective teams, and while one enjoyed the achievement of a podium finish, the other two experienced the frustration that is, more often than not, the norm in Baja. Here are their stories.
Last November, I was presented with an opportunity that I couldn't turn down: To ride a leg of the 40th Annual Baja 1000 with DXR Racing in their 4x4 Stock Mini Mitsubishi Raider. The trip was super-last-minute, planned in less than a week, and after a crazy couple days of preparation and a mad dash to acquire a passport in less than one day (yes, it can be done, and no, I wouldn't recommend it), two other automotive journalists and our tour guide/translator/chauffeur (we'll call him Mo) and I were headed down to Baja.
When we arrived in Baja we met up with the DXR Racing team, lead by Dan Fresh. During the team meeting the night before the race we all went over pit strategy and locations, when and where the codriver changes would be, and most importantly, where I would be getting in and out of the race truck. The section of the race that was selected for me to codrive was about 150 miles long and stretched from the town of Guayaquil to Bahia de Los Angeles. This may not seem like much, but with the speeds that the Stock Minis can travel, this section would take more than four hours.
Tuesday November 12th, Race Day: The DXR Mitsubishi Raider runs in the Stock Mini Class, and being one of the "slower" classes, they are one of the last to leave the starting line. Trophy Trucks were first off the line at approximately 10:30 a.m. Our Raider left the line at approximately 12:30 p.m. With the truck off the line and running strong, we all piled into our mighty Montero chase vehicle and headed down the peninsula for our intercept point of El Rosario.
With the Raider running behind schedule, and us arriving in El Rosario ahead of schedule, we had plenty of time to have a good meal, take a shower, and rest at the Baja Cactus motel before making the final 60-kilometer drive to our rendezvous point in Guayaquil. Once in Guayaquil, we met up with the DXR team and had only enough time to get suited up and down a bottle of water and a protein bar before the truck arrived. This was it-my turn to ride in the truck.
The first part of my ride was on the highway with normal codriver Sean Douglas behind the wheel and Dan Fresh taking a quick nap in the Mega Cab following behind us. This gave me the opportunity to become familiar with the truck, the gauges, the GPS, and to practice calling out turns, speeds, and hazards so that when I was in the dirt with Dan, I would know exactly what to do. Upon arriving at the Coco's Corner Pit, the crew quickly replaced a bad ball joint, Dan got in the truck, Sean got out, and I ran into Feature Editor Stover, who was there waiting for his truck to arrive. With the truck serviced, we tore off into the night, down smooth, fast-winding roads, steep goat trails, rocky paths, through a checkpoint, into a swamp, and watched the sunrise as we plowed through miles and miles of whoops and sand wash, took some hard hits, and generally had a blast. By the time we reached the Bay of L.A. and the end of my ride, I was ready to go the rest of the distance, but sadly my time was up and a new codriver took my place as they headed for the finish line in Cabo San Lucas.
I'm happy to report that the DXR Racing Mitsubishi Raider Stock Mini crossed the finish line in third place with a time of 41 hours and 48 minutes, and Dan Fresh drove all but two hours of that. My hat's off to Dan and all of DXR Racing for their great finish, and I have to thank both DXR and Mitsubishi for allowing me the opportunity to share in the 40th Annual Baja 1000 with them. It truly was the time of my life.
-Jason Gonderman, Online Editor
When you consider a race that covers a distance of nearly 1,300 miles in a three-day period, with close to 500 vehicles competing in more than 15 different classes, you have to figure that a good percentage will likely fail. This was the case for my team this time around. Plagued by transmission issues when we should have been prerunning the truck, we barely even made it to the 5:30 a.m. (late) tech inspection on the morning of race day. The team's owner, Bob Graham, spent the prior 72 hours swapping out various components in a last-ditch effort to run his '04 Nissan Titan in the Sportsman Class. The transmission issue was resolved and we all felt confident that we had a good chance at finishing. But our luck would run out near race mile 360, when a steering clevis failed. Unfortunately, our chase team was unable to reach the vehicle's remote location before time ran out. Disappointing? Yes. But that is how things go for many who challenge the most brutal terrain on earth. I spent the remainder of my Baja 1000 aiding our chase crew in eventually recovering the truck some 30 hours after breakdown. Along the way, I snapped some pretty unforgettable shots that captured the essence of Baja, and I came across some interesting stories:
* A well-prepped '93 Land Cruiser driven by Brett Garland and codriver Mike Shortt. Each had no idea what they were in for. About 235 miles into the course, disaster struck, and the two plunged over a 700-foot cliff, rolling the vehicle no fewer than 15 times. Luckily, both survived the ordeal, suffering severe concussions and bruised ribs. Fellow racer Gale Pike sacrificed his own team's effort to assist in extracting the two while at the same time providing essential communication for a life-saving helicopter rescue. The truck still remains in that lonely ravine today, thoroughly stripped of its valuables.
* Team HRT of Okotoks Alberta, Canada, was on track for a podium finish at race mile 886 in the Stock Full class when a loose rag became lodged in the intake housing, causing a disappointing 3-hour setback. In the end, Team HRT emerged with a Fourth Place finish in the Stock Full class.
* With almost 900 miles to go, I came across Trophy Truck driver Jesse Jones during a roadside refueling. His crewmembers maintained a very serious and competitive attitude about their effort. Later their team's hard work would pay off as Jones finished 14th overall, completing the course in just over 37 hours with an average speed of 34.6 mph.
-Robin Stover, Feature Editor
There is only one man who has participated in a car or truck in all 40 Baja 1000 races, and that man is the legendary Rod Hall, owner of Rod Hall Racing and Team Hummer. The great importance of this year's 1000 to both Team Hummer and the Hall family was not lost on me. For one, this was the first race for Chad Hall's new H3 Alpha race truck (racing in the Stock Full class), which replaced his H1 Alpha race truck. Josh also retired his 2003 H2 Stock Full racetruck, which was the oldest in Team Hummer's arsenal, yet still dominating the class. His new truck was a 2008 Hummer H2 SUT with the new 400hp 6.2L V-8 and six-speed transmission. Lastly, Rod, just before turning 70, was gunning for a new record in the Baja 1000-most wins.
After our Stock Full win in last year's Baja 1000, I felt privileged to be invited back to codrive for Josh Hall and be a part of the team at Rod Hall Racing. I was to get in the H2 with Josh around San Ignacio, and take it all the way to the finish line.
Unfortunately for us, the new H2 race truck suffered a mechanical failure at mile 177, which ended the race for it. A major disappointment for myself, this meant that my race was over several hundred miles before I even had a chance to get in the truck. It also meant that I would be shifting duties from racer to chaser-chasing the team and helping out on the support side all the way to Cabo.
Chad Hall, on the other hand, had a great race in the H3 Alpha, and Josh jumped in to Rod's H3 to cross the finish line in 40:04:30, averaging 32.34 mph and making it the second stock vehicle, of any class, to cross the finish line. The first stock vehicle to cross the finish line was Chad's H3 Alpha race truck in a time of 36:27:25, averaging 35.56 mph.
Rod Hall's win was number 19 in his Baja 1000 career, giving him the most wins of any driver in Baja history. This win was number four for Josh, while Chad earned number six, giving the trio 29 class wins and making them the winningest family in the history of the 1000. In fact, one of the three Halls has been the driver of record on a winning Baja 1000 team for seven straight years, and for the eleventh time in the 15 years of Stock Class history.
Team Hummer was proud to take home two First Place trophies, and I was proud to be a part of the effort.
-Sean P. Holman, Tech Editor
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