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The 2013 Baja 1000 - Doing It Right

Posted in Events on March 21, 2014
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Photographers: Brian SumnerChris Cothrun

The Baja 1000 is the most famous desert race in America, and it has been testing man and machine for over 45 years now. While guys like Robby Gordon and BJ Baldwin tend to get the limelight, behind each of these talented drivers is a host of people with a variety of skills necessary to win the SCORE Tecate Baja 1000.

We bring this up because, while you might not have the budget to drive in the Baja 1000, that doesn’t mean that you cannot play an important part in the race. For instance, it takes a minimum of five people to perform a safe pit stop in a reasonable period of time: two to fuel, one with a fire extinguisher, one who is familiar with the vehicle to look the rig over, and one person in front of the vehicle to ensure that the driver does not move until everyone is clear. Vehicles in the race need to pit every 200 miles, and the same pit crew cannot get to all the pit stops, so you can get an idea of the manpower required to run a competitive team.

“Behind each driver is a host of people with a variety of skills”

We were lucky enough to get an invite to run with the Coast Aluminum team in their Alumicraft-built Class 10 buggy and get an authentic taste of just what it takes to succeed in Baja (and by “succeed” we mean finish the race). Class 10 is one of the most popular classes in the race, with 22 competitors in 2013. These buggies are required to run a four-cylinder engine but have unlimited suspension modifications. While the four-cylinder might sound uninspiring, the winning Class 10 buggy finished 16th overall out of 181 vehicles, and the Coast Aluminum team finished Fourth in class and 27th overall. Driver of record JJ Schnarr did not do it alone though. He had help from over a dozen friends who used their vacation time to participate in the adventure of a lifetime.

We used Sam Cothrun’s 7200-class race truck (minus the fiberglass body) to learn the course without putting miles on the buggy we would be racing in. We even drove this truck on the street in Mexico without getting hassled.

10 Skills Every Race Team Needs
This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, but rather to give you an idea of the variety of skills required by a race team beyond being able to mash a gas pedal. The more of these skills you possess, the more valuable you are going to be to a race team and the more likely you will get an invitation to Baja.

Mechanical knowledge. The ability to turn a wrench is good, but being able to identify problems, quickly find their cause, and remedy them can mean the difference between reaching the checkered flag and throwing in the towel.

Math. With vehicles leaving the starting line at different times, you might finish ahead of a competitor but still lose based on time. Dedicating a person to monitoring time splits between teams in your class is important for knowing how hard the driver has to push in the race.

Race radios. Programming, operating, and speaking clearly on race radios is crucial for communications in Baja.

Logistics. No one has infinite resources, so it is critical that the people and parts you have be in the right place at the right time.

GPS. Lowrance is the GPS of choice in race vehicles and prerunners, but they aren’t the most intuitive products on the market. Knowing how to load maps, save points, and navigate with a GPS are important skills. Being handy with a good old-fashioned paper map is equally important.

Driving a tow rig. The roads of Baja are often narrow and filled with crazy drivers and chase teams. Being comfortable driving with a trailer (and being able to back a trailer) on these roads is a skill every team needs.

Speaking Spanish. You don’t have to be Antonio Banderas, but knowing a few words of Spanish can be key when you need to find an alternator in a small town or ask for directions.

Fueling. Every race vehicle needs fuel. Even if you don’t know math and can’t speak Spanish, if you can lift heavy dump cans you still have a roll on a race team.

Operating on little sleep. Can you go 30 hours straight? Are you able to sleep for 10 minutes on the tailgate of a truck and feel refreshed? If you need a solid eight hours a night then Baja might not be for you.

This is how many people it takes to run a successful race in Baja, at a minimum. Each member of the Coast Aluminum team had specific tasks to complete in order to make it to the finish line. Sam Cothrun (standing, back row) and I spent 10 hours in the Coast Aluminum Class 10 buggy while running the last 320 miles of the race course. In Baja you can have as many drivers and navigators as you want in the race, which allows more people to drive and helps keep a fresh mind and body behind the wheel.

10 Things to Bring to Mexico
Never been to Baja before? Not sure what to bring? Don’t worry, we have you covered.

Passport. You will need it to get back into the U.S.

American dollars. Accepted all over Baja, so bring a variety of bills with you. Those math skills will come in handy again with exchange rates.

Mexican insurance. If you are driving you will need this to cover your vehicle. Get at least one extra day in case your plans change.

Phone policy for Mexico. AT&T has international plans. Verizon does too, but doesn’t have service outside Ensenada. A rented satellite phone is an even better option in case of a dire emergency.

Bottled water. You don’t want a visit from Montezuma’s Revenge (aka diarrhea), so best to play it safe and not drink local tap water.

Headlamp. At some point you will likely be wrenching or looking for lost lug nuts in the dark, so best to be prepared and keep both hands free.

Sleeping bag. If you are on a race team, be ready for long periods of boredom interrupted by brief chaos. Sleep when you have the chance.

Sturdy shoes. The desert is full of vegetation covered in thorns, so leave the flip-flops at home.

Jacket. Once the sun goes down in the desert it gets cold in a hurry. Wind and rain just make matters worse.

Gloves. Whether you are riding in a race car or working on one, protecting your hands is always a good idea.

Camping on the beach is a great way to enjoy the warm weather of Baja and save a few bucks. The views were incredible and we never had any issues with banditos, cartels, or telemarketers during our stay.

5 Things to Leave At Home
Guns. Carrying could land you in a Mexican jail for a long time.

Ammunition. Same as above, so clean out your rig and your bags.

Drugs. Leave the illegal ones at home and make certain all prescriptions are in their original bottles.

Booze. Don’t worry, there will be plenty in Baja waiting for you when the race is over.

Impatience. Things move at a different pace in Baja, (aka Mañana Time). That is part of the appeal, so slow down and enjoy it.

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