2001 Baja 500
I woke on the third day of the trip and walked outside to check out the beach in front of the house. A large cruise ship could be seen in the distance as it approached Ensenada to the north. The sand was very course and littered with sea shells. There are not many beaches along this part of the Baja coast. Many areas have cliffs and rocks instead of sand. Nearby just to our south was a place called “La Bufadora”. There are several “blowholes” that have been turned into a tourist attraction. The waves from the Pacific flow into caves and then shoot upward and out small holes in the rock. It is somewhat similar to when a whale exhales spouting water into the sky.
The agenda for the day was to finalize everything before the race the next day. We needed to prep the race bike because Eric had been riding it for two days pre-running. In a perfect world you save your race bike for the race, but we didn’t have that luxury this time.
Dave, Dayton, and I got to work after a quick breakfast of pastries we bought the night before. We changed the air filter, both front and rear tires, changed the engine oil and filter, and checked everything we could to ensure the bike would not break down during the race. While I changed the rear tire I found two broken spokes. We did not have any spare spokes so I robbed two from Dayton’s pre-run bike since it was identical.
A little before noon we loaded the bike in my pickup and headed to town. We found a car wash on the way and paid a young man to wash off two days of Baja dirt and shine the bike up real nice. We wanted it to look good for all the fans.
Contingency was in full swing when we arrived. A large dirt lot near the start line of the race was cordoned off where many race related vendors had set up booths. The race vehicles weave around the lot, up and down the aisles. If a vehicle is using a product a vendor sells they can sign up for “contingency” and if they do well they will receive a prize from the vendor. The prizes are rarely cash, but rather discounts on purchases or free product. The racer must also have an advertising sticker on the race vehicle that meets the vendor’s specifications and location on the race vehicle. Many locals come to check out all the race vehicles as they head to technical inspection. At the end of the conga line is the tech inspection. A number of men inspect each race vehicle for the required safety features and that our race numbers are placed correctly.
I pushed our race bike through the long slow line of contingency while the others went to the San Nicholas hotel to complete their registration forms. We were “pre-entered” in the race, but every rider/driver must sign a waiver and purchase an annual racing license. Once that is complete a wrist band is issued that must be on the rider/driver at all times or disqualification will occur.
The guys joined me just as I arrived at tech inspection. I had learned from my first Baja race that it is a good idea to bribe the inspectors a little so I bummed a smoke from someone while waiting. When it was our turn to enter the inspection area I quickly handed the cigarette I had stashed behind my ear to Red.
Red is an aptly named man about 6 feet tall with a large light red beard. He usually wears a red hat and his light red hair can be seen protruding from the back. A cigarette is a great way to get on his good side. He was in charge of inspecting the bikes. He also inspected the rider’s helmets and our first aid kit. Another tech inspector named Art joined us. Both guys were joking with us and were in a great mood.
Art quickly inspected our bike as Red marked the check list. The spokes, headlight and taillight, kill switch, brakes, handlebar ends, and first aid kit were all inspected. Red then fired up his engraving tool and marked the frame and engine case. We could repair everything we wanted during the race except replace the engine or change motorcycles. Red would be waiting at the finish line to inspect all the top finishers to ensure no one cheated. Of course, if one tries hard enough a way to cheat can be always found, but we were not those kind of guys. All the riders’ helmets also had to be inspected for safety reasons, and upon passing inspection a sticker was applied to the outside. If a rider crossed the finish line without a sticker, Red would inspect the helmet and if it did not pass the team would be disqualified on the spot.
Upon completion of tech inspection we swung by the San Nicholas hotel where the factory Honda team stayed. The late Bruce Ogilvie and Johnny Campbell were hanging out signing autographs and talking to fans. Bruce was a legendary Baja racer that now ran the off-road program for Honda. Occasionally he would help us and other racers with parts. Eric hit him up for a couple of spokes for the wheel we robbed from. Bruce dug around in a drawer in the truck and produced some brand new spokes and gladly gave them to us. Johnny Campbell had several years of racing for the Honda factory team under his belt and would go on to win 11 Baja 1000 races in a row before his retirement from racing full time. He now manages the Honda factory off-road program. Unfortunately, Bruce passed away a few years ago from cancer. We chatted with them for a few minutes before we pushed the bike several blocks back to my pickup and reloaded. We were all hungry so we grabbed some food before heading back out to the beach house.
Upon arriving at the beach house we dove into final preparations for the next day. I installed the spokes Bruce gave us while I mounted a new tire on Dayton’s bike. Meanwhile, David and Dayton looked over the race bike for any last things that needed to be addressed. I paid attention to everything they did because I was the newest and least experienced on the team. I only had experience with one other long distance off-road race. These two guys had competed in numerous off-road desert races in the southwest and they knew how to prep a bike for the harshest conditions. While we hoped and planned on a smooth race with no crashes or breakdowns, we had to be prepared for the inevitable. You never know what Baja will throw at you and if you are not prepared, Baja will beat you. Another great Baja racer, the late Corky McMillin said “In Baja, if you are gonna be dumb, you better be tough”. This can be applied to pre-race preparations. If you don’t pay attention to the details you better be tough. If the bike breaks down and causes you to crash or leaves you stranded in the middle of nowhere it could be as much as 24 hours before your team can rescue you. While we were finishing up the final checks on the bike, Eric headed into town in my pick up. Someone from the team needed to attend the drivers meeting and Eric being the rider of record was the best person for the job.
The drivers meeting is a ceremonious event attended by the mayor of Ensenada and other government officials at the city’s convention center. It is almost pointless to attend, but occasionally some info about the course or last minute changes will be announced. So it is important to have someone there taking notes and technically it is required by the organization rules.
It was about 9 pm when Eric returned. He didn’t have much info to share with us as there were no major last minute changes to the course. Dayton and David were happy with the way the bike looked. So all that was left to do was load everything in the pickups. But Dayton decided he needed to go for a test ride on the race bike. So he fired it up and ripped a couple of laps around the neighborhood. This wasn’t a very smart decision because the bike is extremely loud and quickly gained the attention of a neighbor. He came to our house and proceeded to give us his opinion of Dayton’s actions with some not very nice words. After some quick talking by David the situation was diffused and the man headed back to his residence.
We loaded both the race bike and Dayton’s pre-run bike in my pickup. If possible we always carried spare motorcycles with us during the race. I had a good assortment of tools that was also thrown in. I also had a cooler that we would load with drinks and ice in the morning. Eric threw his gear bag in David’s pickup because he would end up riding in it. It was late before we finally crashed, but it looked like everything was all set for the next day.