Baja 2000 Part 7
Race Day Part 2
After a quick stop for gas in San Quintin and some snacks we were headed south again. It was not far till we reached where the race course joined the highway for a brief period. We found a place to park among all the other chase vehicles. By this time we had lost so much time that the huge horsepower Trophy Trucks would soon be catching up to Eric.
We didn’t have to wait long for Eric to come by. He slowed as he saw us and gave us a thumbs up and continued on. I looked back to the north and could see a giant plume of dust in the distance. This could only mean one thing. The Trophy Trucks were almost here. We decided to wait around for a few minutes to watch the first one pass. We watched as the dust cloud approached and soon we could see a chase helicopter overhead following the race course. Many of the top teams with large budgets have helicopters that follow the race vehicle in case of a major accident and then they can render immediate first aid to the occupants. We did not have to wait long before Ironman Ivan Stewart came blazing by in his factory backed Toyota. The engine was screaming as he crossed the highway and accelerated away. We then jumped back into our pickups and continued south.
We arrived where the course met the highway again with time to spare. There were many truck and car teams with pit locations set up off to the left of the highway. So I pulled in there and found a visible spot close to the road where we could flag Eric down. Our original plan was to put the large headlights on in the middle of Dayton’s second section. But the sun was getting low and I knew we needed to change that plan.
It was not long before a helicopter came into view over the mountains to the east. The race course ran through a twisty canyon as it approached the highway. We could see the helicopter long before we saw the race truck. Once again Ironman was still out front. He did not even lift off the throttle as he blazed through the pit area sliding onto the highway.
It was not long before another Trophy Truck appeared. This one was the Chevy Vortec Trailblazer driven by Larry Ragland of Phoenix AZ. Larry was another legend in Baja having won many races including the Baja 1000. Larry came into the pit area at breakneck speed and slammed on the brakes. He whipped the race truck over in front of a box truck that had a pit set up not far from us. Immediately the race fans encircled the truck as the crew pounced on it. Glen, Dayton, and I jogged over to watch. They were refueling and changing the rear tires. While the wheels were off two men changed out the brake pads. One had thin gloves and operated the tools needed to release the pads and the other man removed them using thick welding gloves. He then started yelling at the crowd to move back because the pads were hot! He threw them away from himself like he was playing a game of “hot potato”, when in actuality that is exactly what it was. The pads were glowing in the dusk. A cloud of smoke curled up from where they lay they were so hot. It only took about a minute to change the brakes on each side and then the new wheels with fresh tires were installed. As soon as the jack was lowered Larry hit the ignition switch and fire breathed from the exhaust and dirt flew everywhere as he blazed out of the pit.
We stood there amazed at the front row seat we just had to a Trophy Truck pit stop. We had just arrived back at our pit when we heard a bike approaching. I watched intently to see if it was Eric. The sun had set at this point but it was not quite dark. Eric came into the pit area and we began waving our arms to get his attention. Finally he spotted us and stopped right by the pickup. I had laid out what I would need on the tail gate and went to work immediately. The stock headlight was removed and the large oval light bracket containing two 8″ Piaa halogen lights were installed on special mounts. I twisted on the nuts and plunged in the electrical plug. The stator on the engine had been rewired and the lights were provided by Baja Designs. One light was a “flood” light and the other was a “pencil” beam. This allowed the bike to continue at race speed in the dark.
It did not take more than 10 minutes before Eric fired the bike back up. We were only about 15 miles from the next Honda pit which was right next to the road so we agreed to meet him there.
Eric rode off and the rest of us made our way to the Honda pit. We did not arrive much before Eric. It was a smooth pit, the bike was gassed up using a quick fill gas can and Eric sped off in less than 30 seconds. We then jumped back in our trucks. We would not see Eric again until he gave the bike back to Dayton at race mile 424.
We arrived at the road crossing in the black of night. It was very difficult to find a parking spot. Finally I found a place to park and walked back to where we had agreed to make the rider change. I was joined by Dayton and Glen. Dayton had his gear on and was trying to stretch and warm up. This would be his first time to race in the dark, but not only was it dark, he had pre-run very little of this section. In some ways it is easier to race in the dark, but it can also be quite nerve racking the first time.
About 20 minutes later Eric came flying into where we were standing. He was screaming and yelling as he slid to a stop. We were completely confused as to what the problem was. All he kept yelling was, “I have to go! Cops are after me!”
Dayton took the hint and jumped on the still running bike and threw gravel all over us as he sped off. I turned around and Eric had disappeared into the darkness toward where I was parked. I quickly caught up to him and tried to calm him down and figure out what had transpired since we had last seen him.
When the race course crosses a highway or joins a highway for a stretch a Federal Police officer is usually patrolling the location. Most of the time the officer will stop traffic for the racer to cross or merge on to the road. Once the racer has crossed or is on the highway the stopped traffic is released. This makes it very interesting when you are racing down the highway because the public is using the same road. And racers being racers don’t believe in obeying traffic laws while in a race and things can get pretty crazy.
Eric explained that when he joined the highway just north of Cativina there was no police officer stopping traffic. But as he sped down the road he caught up to a patrol car with his single red roof light flashing. Eric didn’t understand why he had his light on so he proceeded to pass the patrol car. This upset the officers and they quickly caught up to Eric and attempted to pull him over. Eric became afraid because he was all alone and did not stop. The police then stuck guns out the window as they tried to run him off the road. Thankfully Eric saw where the race course returned to dirt and blasted off into the dark desert. However, he only had three miles to go until he arrived at our location. So he assumed the police would be there waiting to arrest him. But fortunately for us I believe the large crowd of people deterred them from pulling such a stunt. I began to wonder what else could possibly happen in this race and we were not even half way through.
Eric quickly changed out of his gear and I drove us south followed closely by Glen.
It is not wise to travel in Baja after dark. However, we had no choice since the race continues 24 hours a day until the vehicle crosses the finish line or drops out of the race.
By a miracle we were still in the race. We had replaced the clutch, and repaired the bike after it was tossed off a cliff into the ocean. Dayton was on the bike charging down the Pacific coast while Eric, Glen, and I were driving through the center of Baja in the pitch black dark.
I pulled over when we arrived at the Bay of LA turn off. Glen was going to turn east and travel about 40 miles to the fishing town where Dayton would turn the bike over to Gwin Vaughn at race mile 650. We wished him well and parted ways. Eric started driving as we continued south to check the bike where the course joined the highway again.
It was several hours before Dayton arrived at the highway junction and race mile 593. He was not having a real good time. Just when I had hoped our luck had improved Dayton informed us that the clutch had gone out again. He managed to make it to a Honda pit where they changed the clutch for him, but it was still not functioning properly. It was not slipping, but it had way to much free play at the lever. I instructed him to keep his hand off the clutch as we determined that he was the reason we were having clutch problems. Dayton was used to riding 2stroke powered bikes, but this big bore 4stroke engine would destroy a clutch if you used it in the same manner you would on a 2stroke.
After a brief conversation Dayton rode off into the night. The course joined the highway and headed north for a few miles before turning east again toward Bay of LA. Eric and I headed south to another road crossing where we could wait for Gwin.
Dayton managed to keep the failing bike together and pass it off to Gwin. Dayton and Glen then headed back north and made their way back to Phoenix.
The first part of Gwin’s section paralleled the east coast of Baja. Long fast straight gravel roads interrupted occasionally by a wash crossing or curve. Even in the dark the rider is looking for more speed and gears in the transmission. Gwin was having a great ride until a lonely cow thought he might want some company and jumped out into the course in front of him. There was little time to react and Gwin and the bike plowed into the rear of the black cow. Coincidentally, 6 years later I would have an encounter with a black cow in this same area in the dark while racing the Baja 1000.
Gwin was not injured in the collision and the cow ran off into the darkness to nurse her sore backside. However, the motorcycle suffered more damage. The large headlight bracket was bent and one was light was not functioning at all. The other light still worked, but it was not aimed properly forcing Gwin to slow his pace.
Eric and I arrived at the road crossing at race mile 806 around 2 am. It was difficult to estimate in the dark, but there must have been a thousand spectators with little camps and campfires set up watching the race go by. Race teams had pits set up as well making finding a parking spot difficult. Eric managed to squeeze the Nissan in between a couple of trucks were we could watch the race course. We tried to get a little sleep in the cramped pick up. We didn’t want to miss seeing Gwin cross the highway, but I was so tired at this point I drifted off to sleep.
I woke to Eric slamming the door of the pickup as he climbed back in. I had slept so hard I never even heard him get out. Gwin had been by around 4 am and Eric told me of the cow collision. Since the headlight was still functioning Gwin continued on. And other than the clutch free play, the bike was hanging in there.
Eric and I continued south to a Honda pit at race mile 900 just outside the town of San Ignacio. Harry Nevel was to take over the bike there and we met up with him and his chase truck driver around 5:30 am.
We stood around in the cold pre-dawn darkness telling Harry of all that had happened. He had been waiting for us since the night before. We were approximately 8 hours later than we had planned. Around daylight Gwin’s wife Angele pulled into the pit area in his pick-up and joined us. Eric proceeded to update her on Gwin hitting the cow.
Harry also told us of his pre-running adventures. His pickup was smashed in the front from hitting a cow in the dark. One headlight was smashed in and not functioning. The other was being held in with duct tape.
The sun was a welcome sight, but warmth did not come with it. Finally, Gwin rolled into the pit just after sunrise. He looked beat. He was dusty and tired. He had given it his all, but the crash with the cow had taken the wind out of his sail. The back tire on the bike was almost completely smooth and needed to be replaced. 900 race miles was more than we ever expected to get out of that tire. Honda pits had extra wheels and tires, but they would only replace them if the tire was flat. A worn out tire was the responsibility of the team. After some negotiation we managed to get our hands on a new wheel and tire. As they were changing it I began to remove the bent up headlights. The bracket was bent so badly and wrapped around the front of the bike that I could not remove it simply. After much wrestling it was removed and the stock headlight and plastic number plate was reinstalled.
It took about half an hour to whip the bike back into shape and Harry mounted. He was concerned with the clutch issue, but Gwin reassured him that it worked fine, but shift without it. We wished Harry well as he sped off into the morning sun. Harry’s chase truck driver followed immediately. The highway was much longer than the race course through this section and Harry would easily beat his chase truck. We were a little concerned because Harry would be on his own for more than 200 miles without our help. We all let out a sigh of relief because we were more than half way through the race.
Gwin and Angele were going to head north and back to Phoenix. Eric and I made our way into San Ignacio where Harry had a hotel room. He had offered it to us to shower and even nap a little. Eric and I both grabbed a quick shower, but napping was not in the cards for us. We had many more miles to drive and we did not want to get too far behind the bike.