Good results in the Baja 500 are in no so small part the result of pre-running your sections of the course. Knowing where pit locations and rider exchanges are crucial. I know, as I missed a fuel check in the 1000. I’ve heard riders say they enjoy 5-6 days of pre-running more than the race itself. No pressure, just an awesome trail ride hunting for elusive “lines” to give you an edge on the competition. The Pre-run is also a great time for team sponsors and support crews to get their kicks and ride. Don Magorian of Magorian Mining Services raced at Sears Point with me a few decades ago and was beside himself to get in so much riding. Steve Fox, co-owner of El Paso’s Hoy/Fox Toyota jumped at the chance to race and pre run Baja. A “Who’s on first” dialogue is constant, strategizing riders skills, support crew transporters and geographic possibilities. . In Baja riders adapt survival instincts, sensing blind turns and rises that could be greeted by a local farmer’s truck or ATV in a blink. Making it to the starting line is half the battle.
This year’s pre-run would have one of the most profound effec ts on results in the history of SCORE Baja racing! Interpretation of “lines” may be off line 50 feet or so through some bushes or in some cases entire hillsides! Nearly impossible to monitor over the vast, 500-mile course, it was somewhat loosely accepted that if a rider makes all the checks on the way to the finish line that’s OK. SCORE recently introduced mandatory GPS tracking devices and this year Baja 500 officials dropped the other shoe and made good on its threats to hand out penalties for course deviations and speeding on paved road commute sections! So far, Johnny Campbell Racing (JCR) team lead by Kendall Norman was the first to be demoted from the overall win to 7th OA! I don’t like to use the word cheating as for years everyone had to pre-run to find the special “lines” for the quickest route, otherwise you would be out of contention. Not anymore.
This year’s course began in the cool 70s port of Ensenada, stretching all the way to the 100-degree temperatures of the Laguna Salada dry lake bed on the east side of Baja. Charlie had assigned me three separate sections strategically located on the West portion of the course making it possible connect the dots.
MX des Nations teammate Danny LaPorte loves to ride and wanted to join in on the fun. Danny would start and finish as portions of the same course were used. As if credentials of World MX Champion aren’t enough, LaPorte’s off-road record is just as impressive, teaming with Larry Roeseler and Paul Krause to win Baja three times. Danny nearly won Paris Dakar in 1992 only to fall victim to a last stage fall trying to avoid a pack of wild baboons! Danny still nursed his sick Ducati to finish an incredible runner-up performance.
Danny’s boss FMF founder Donny Emler had a gas pre-running the start with Danny and volunteered to run me up to my first rider exchange at Ojos Negros, near the 38 mile mark. Danny had a solid start and brought it to me with a three-minute lead (we started one minute ahead) over the Jim O’Neal 50+ team. When I fueled at mile 78, Team FMF was there to inform me of the three-minute lead at from the first exchange. Three minutes in hand, I chilled and handed over to Charlie at 100. I hung around long enough to see we had extended our lead over O’Neal by another couple minutes. Charlie had a brutal 100-mile section over the summit that riders referred to as moon rocks, then on to Laguna Salada dry lake bed that is like a blow torch at high speed and temps over 100. Attempting to pass in the dust, Charlie became victim to a silt bed and discovered the electric start was out and it would not kick start! Thinking we might be done, Charlie touched some wires together and it started! In a blaze, off Charlie went to hand off to Whoop star Eric McKenna just a with minimal time damage of a few minutes back in Borrego. Eric rode like a champ up the whoops to San Matais then to the mountain roads of Mikes Sky Ranch and handed off to me back in the lead at the Valley Trinidad meadow. We had time to replace a wheel and toasted brake pads thanks to the quick thinking of Kim Reeg.
My section was referred to as the crossover and reminded me of Pikes Peak! Twisty dirt road for 40 miles that was not forgiving if you overshoot a turn. The 530 KTM with its torquey, broad powerband was a blast to Supermoto the section over to the beginning of the beach in San Vicente, handing off to Steve Fox with a 9 minute lead at around the 300 mile mark. If auto dealership had the same positive, never-say-die attitude as Steve, the U.S. economic recovery would come that much quicker. As Steve fishtailed out of the pit, I yelled a reminder that the e-start did not work and to just have an easy trail ride. That of course is like telling a hungry dog not to eat a steak in front of his nose. Silt had built up since pre running and in Steve’s defense, the suspension was set up for the larger framed team members and Fox was weighing in at about a buck sixty. Within 3 miles in Steve’s words “The rear of the bike came around to the front.” Carnage ensued, front fender torn off with the number plate dangling and no e-start. Steve kicked his heart out with the mantra “Remember the Alamo!” and it finally fired to life. Meantime, helmet on, spirits up, I’m waiting in Uruapan for Doug to bring in the KTM when suddenly I’m struck with an attack of Tourette’s syndrome as I see the #500 O’Neal bike come by! What the …..! How could Doug possibly screw up? Well, as it turns out Doug never even got on the bike. When he saw the bike torn up he felt bad that Steve did not get to ride enough and let him finish his 30 mile section as well. Secretly Doug said he couldn’t ride without a front fender! Doug sells these cool radios through his company helmetkits.com and felt compelled to inform Charlie of our setback. I may have opted to let Charlie savor the prospects of a win a little longer before informing him of the disaster. It’s all part of the highs and lows of Baja as Charlie’s world came crashing down on him with the prospects of another loss to his nemesis, O’Neal.
I jumped on the bike with little chance to overcome our new deficit in 30 miles, but thought I would try anyway. Front brake cable was a bit unnerving as it kept catching on the fork guard. I caught a dust cloud and slid off the course trying to bump start the KTM. I had to push the bike up a hill and bump start to continue. I brought the bike back to Ojo Negros where LaPorte was going through the depressing realization we were to far back to make a hero run for the win. Good thing, ‘cause a bozo in a pre runner was hauling the mail backwards on the course! Danny threw the 530 into a ditch but not before the truck took a hunk out of his elbow banging his knee on the truck’s front fender!
Good news is everyone got in safe and our humble team gave O’Neal a bottle of Red wine from a San Tomas vineyard! (where the mayhem took place with the lead change) Charlie is already making plans on our comeback for the 1000 in November. As of this posting, results are not in. I know that one of my “lines” will accrue a penalty. It may be that our team will have less penalties as our pavement speeds were spot on the 60 required and may come out with a win yet! I’ll keep ya’ll posted.
I’m on my way to Steamboat, Colorado for the AHRMA classic motocross. Riders will honor the very first and second ever FIM Motocross World Champions Bill Nillson (’57) and Sten Lunkin (’58) from Sweden! They will be joined by 75th Birthday Champions Dick Mann and Jeff Smith. I can’t wait to hear the 50 year old thunder of the 500cc Monarchs as they roost back to glory.