Baja 2000 Part 1
I met Eric Brown in the spring of 1999. We met in passing at the 4stroke Nationals motocross race at Speedworld outside of Phoenix AZ. He was racing and I was spectating. I stopped by his pit area to talk to him because we both rode Honda XR 600s. I had made mine street legal and commuted to work on it from Monday to Friday and then I would ride in the desert or at the track on the weekend. Eric was racing against much lighter bikes and did not fare real well, but I was impressed with his tenacity. Our conversation only lasted a few minutes and I rode off.
About 3 months later Eric showed up at a friend named Brian’s house. We became reacquainted and started hanging out more. We went riding in the sand dunes in Southern California and a few other places that year. I kept trying to get Eric to come ride with me around the Crown King area in the Bradshaw Mountains north of Phoenix because I knew a lot of trails up there.
Finally in the summer of 2000 we met up for a ride in the Bradshaw Mountains. Eric brought along two friends named Dave Gronland and Dayton Raper. We had a great time. These guys were all faster than me but since I knew the route they had to follow me for much of the day. We took a break while riding some great single track trails on the north side of Tower Mountain. It was then that I was invited to join them in Baja California that November as they took on what will always be known as the granddaddy of all off road races ever held in Baja. The race had been dubbed “The Baja 2000”. While I wasn’t as fast as them, my ability to flog my XR 600 through the tight trails was pretty good. I wasn’t invited to ride on the team, but I was fluent in Spanish and I knew how to work on dirt bikes and those skills would prove very helpful in Baja.
The premiere racing organization for races held on the peninsula of Baja is called SCORE International. It was owned then by one of the pioneers in off-road named Sal Fish. Sal wanted to do something extra special for the turn of the century. Normally every November SCORE hosts the Baja 1000. It is a race anywhere from 800 miles to 1100 miles long. When the green flag drops the clock is ticking and race teams have around 48 hours to complete the marked course. There is no stopping of the clock for darkness or break downs. It is men and machine against the grueling and unforgiving Baja desert.
In 2000, Sal and his team laid out a race course that started in Ensenada in the north and weaved back and forth across the peninsula for 1734 miles ending in Cabo San Lucas at the southern most point of Baja Sur. This was an unprecedented event. There had never been a continuous off-road race of this length held in Baja that I am aware of. For the Baja 2000 a time limit of 80 hours was set because of the extra length.
A plan was formed to attack the race. Eric would supply the race bike and outfit it with aftermarket products supplied by his sponsors. A brand new Honda XR650R was sourced from a bike shop in El Paso Texas. The suspension was up graded along with the exhaust by Yoshimura, handlebars by Renthal, a steering stabilizer by Scotts, and other modifications to improve handling and horsepower. A giant headlight assembly with two 8″ lights was sourced from Baja Designs that would be installed as close to dark as possible to enable the riders to continue across the desert at speeds nearing 100 miles per hour.
The rules state that the race vehicle, whether motorcycle or 4 wheel vehicle, must start and finish the race with the same engine block. We were entered in the Open Pro class which allowed us to use 6 riders on the bike. Each rider needed to have a “chase vehicle” and driver to get him from point A to point B during the course of the race, which is where I came in. I was Eric’s chase truck driver.
The team of riders consisted of Eric Brown, Dayton Raper, Gwin Vaughn, Harry Nevel, John Albro, and Mike Dellar. All the riders except Mike lived in the greater Phoenix area. All but Mike also raced the local desert racing series called Whiplash. They knew each other’s strong points and weaknesses. While they were competitors on the race course they were also good friends that had come together with a unifying desire to conquer the Baja 2000.
A meeting was held at Eric’s house when the race course map was released. They decided who was going to ride which section of the race course. And began planning the logistics for their chase trucks and hotel accommodations. The cost of the entry fee and the pit support fee from Honda was divided between all the riders.
David Gronland was planning on racing but not long before the race he crashed his dirt bike and injured his hand. David and his wife Lori had already rented a house for us in Cabo San Lucas. The plan was for Lori and her sister Jen to fly down and meet us at the finish line. David being the great sport he was didn’t cancel his plans and he bought a ticket as well and planned to join us there to celebrate.
The race course is marked about a month in advance. This allows teams to “pre-run” the course and learn where all the dangerous locations are and map out their pit locations. We had paid for pit support through Honda. Every 50 miles of the whole course Honda had a pit stop set up. The pits were stocked with gas, parts, water, and even some food for the competitors. Honda Pit service was available to anyone riding a Honda motorcycle for a fee of about a dollar a mile.
Since we all worked full time jobs it was not feasible to spend a whole month pre-running the course. So we all converged on Baja about a week before the race.