Baja 2000 Part 3
I awoke around 7:30 am to the sound of someone in the shower. Soon the four of us went down the street to a restaurant in the San Nicholas Hotel to grab breakfast. The San Nicholas is the “host” hotel for all the SCORE races that start in Ensenada. Many of the racers stay there along with the factory Honda riders. Harry, John, and their chase drivers had left early headed south to pre-run their sections. Gwin would be coming down in a day or two and Mike was already down south pre-running the finish. We would not see them until the race.
Eric decided it would be a good idea for me pre-run with Dayton. It was his first race in Baja and since I was fluent in Spanish Eric thought it best if we stick together.
The plan was for Dayton to ride the start of the race and hand the bike off to Eric at the 150 mile mark. Dayton would ride the bike again later in the race as well. Eric hitched a ride with some friends south to pre-run the first part of his section. To ensure that the race bike was not stolen we wrestled it into our tiny hotel room for safe keeping. This was a common practice by many race teams I learned. It would be heartbreaking to have your $10,000 race machine come up missing right before a race.
Dayton was riding a bone stock Honda XR650R he had borrowed from someone and I was on my Honda XR600R. My bike had numerous performance modifications to improve the already reliable machine. I had the suspension improved by Race Tech. The engine had been bored out to 628 CCs. The head was ported and the cam had been changed to complement the larger displacement. The exhaust was upgraded to FMF. The handle bars and controls had been improved along with the headlight for night riding. Of course, the graphics and seat cover had been changed to give it a unique look. All in all, it was a really great reliable ride.
Dayton and I geared up at the hotel. Glen was going to meet us at race mile 65 with gas to fuel our bikes. The race course started right in town about 2 blocks from the hotel. The laws about riding dirt bikes on the street are pretty lax in Baja as racers are welcomed by almost everyone.
We turned down into a wide drainage wash that doubled as the race course and began following the course markers out of town. The course wound through a few streets and finally we made our way up and over a mountain where the race course joined the highway on the north east side of Ensenada. In many places the race course was on the highways. We rode the 12 mile highway section to the Valle de Guadalupe where we turned off into another large dry wash and headed south toward Ojos Negros on the narrow dirt road winding through the mountains.
Dayton was a great rider and I was having difficulty keeping up at times. I had never raced in the desert like he had. My racing experience was strictly motocross. I didn’t read the terrain as well and had to learn to see through the dust. About 15 miles from Ojos I plowed into a large rock that was half buried. This is where my lack of Baja experience reared its ugly head. I didn’t crash from the collision, but I pinched my front inner tube causing my tire to quickly go flat. It turns out I should have been using “ultra-heavy duty” inner tubes. I was using tubes typically used on motocross bikes.
Occasionally Dayton would wait for me to regroup and he was waiting right around the next turn. I pulled up and explained what happened. While I was new to Baja, growing up in South America did prepare me for trail side repairs. I dismounted and pulled tools out of my backpack to change my tube. Dayton was shocked I was going to fix it right there and suggested we continue on to rendezvous with his dad where we could repair it. I agreed and remounted, riding cautiously for the next 15 miles with my flat front tire.
We met up with Glen at the road crossing at Ojos Negros. He had gas cans at the ready and a snack for us. Glen jumped into action, attacking my front wheel with fervor. He was a pro at changing motorcycle tires and made short work of it. He came prepared with spare parts in his truck and installed a much better tube than I had started with.
After a half hour break Dayton and I rode off to the south following the race course. I was getting much more confident and our speed was much faster after the break. Glen packed up the truck and took the highways to the town of Uruapan, south of Ensenada. We were to meet up at race course mile 150.
Dayton and I were both having a blast. We rode pretty close together, blasting across the desert. The race course was fairly twisty through the mesquite trees. Occasionally there would be a dry wash crossing or a small mountain to climb over. There were also several ranches the race course ran through, we had to go through a few gates, which we gladly closed behind us out of respect for the land owners. We didn’t see anyone else most of the afternoon until we spotted a silver Toyota Land Cruiser up ahead across a small valley.
We caught up to the Land Cruiser and the driver graciously pulled to the side of the narrow road to let us by. The window rolled down and a hand shot out as if the driver wanted to talk to us. Dayton and I stopped to see what the issue was.
I may have been new to Baja, but I recognized the driver immediately. It was none other than the legendary “Ironman” Ivan Stewart. He asked us how our day was going as Dayton and I stood there star struck. Ivan was very down to earth and when he learned it was our first Baja trip he whipped out his racecourse map and showed us a few key notes to remember. He then autographed a couple of posters and I crammed them into my back pack. I sure wish I still had those posters, but they have been long since lost. He wished us well and off we went ahead of him.
We had about 10 miles to go till we arrived in Uruapan when I caught up to Dayton. He was having bike problems. His clutch was not functioning properly. He was stopped in a deep sandy section and his bike would not move. We sat there for a few minutes trying to decide what to do when the Ironman caught up to us. He stopped to make sure everything was okay and told us we only had about 10 miles to go to arrive at our destination. After informing him we would be fine he sped off leaving us in a cloud of flying sand.
Once again my South American upbringing came into use as I produced a tow strap from my back pack. Dayton was shocked again because he had never known anyone to carry so many tools or supplies with them. We proceeded to tie the two bikes together and my trusty Honda towed Dayton for the remainder 10 miles to Glen’s location.
The sun was setting as we arrived in Uruapan. In Baja, in November it is full dark at 5 pm. This info was noted and stashed away in the back of my brain to be used many times in the following years. After looking Dayton’s bike over we came to the conclusion that he had been riding with the clutch adjusted improperly and after correcting this the clutch worked fine. We did a quick oil change on the engine while we were at it. Dayton then made a few quick passes up and down the highway and everything seemed to work great.
We loaded our bikes into Glen’s Ford and made our way back to Ensenada to meet up with Eric. Our first day of riding in Baja had been a good one and Dayton and I were full of “bench racing” stories to tell Glen about the race course. The highlight of the day was getting to meet Ivan Stewart.