It was Jack Johnson who invited me to join the Chris Haines 50+ team for the 41st running of the 2008 Tecate Score Baja 1000, I was in. Not long ago I had survived a 10,000 mile ride through mainland Mexico on a 950. My desire to return to Mexico for a Baja racing experience was peaked. Jack’s experience as the only man to win the Baja 500 solo gave me confidence I would be able to learn the infinite details in order to help Chris keep his win streak alive, by defeating his long time rival Jim O’Neal. My maiden Baja 1000 course consisted of a 631 mile loop out of Ensenada heading NE towards Mexicali, turning south for a loop around San Felipe, turning NW past Mike’s Sky Ranch to the Pacific Ocean and back North to Ensenada. Motocross riders have a bad rap racing Baja as we are not accustomed to things like cars and trucks going backwards on the course in addition to being throttle jockeys! Booby traps for the most part are innocent mounds of dirt so local spectators can see the bikes catch some air. However, half-buried telephone poles and tires swung from trees into riders are eye-opening tales recounted from experienced riders. Motocross legend turned race truck driver Rick Johnson summed it up best with this advice: “When you think you are going too slow … slow down!”
When I told Malcolm Smith I was on the Chris Haines team, Malcolm stated: “You can only screw that team up” Those words would turn out to be prophetic much to my regret. Spirits were high as Jack and I began pre-running Sunday from the 190-mile marker which was to be one of my assigned sections. On the second time through we picked up the pace and once we hit the edge of the dry lake bed both throttles were buried. Man this is kind of intense! I rolled off and right back on, but dropped a few bike lengths and was swallowed up in Jack’s dust. I remembered a smooth section on the left, so I ducked into the dust behind Jack into clean air and surface. We had just caught up with a couple riders dust clouds so I just kept chasing back to the pits. No Jack. As I was getting ready to head back to find out what happened a quad rider said he was down. Captain Dave drove the truck back on the course and we pulled Jack out after he had gone down hard at high speed. I never saw the get off and Jack can’t remember as he was knocked out. In a lot of pain, Jack had to return to Las Vegas. Looks like Jack sustained some hip trauma, but he went straight to his job site managing the construction of the 215 freeway in Vegas. Jack is tough!
Our team leader missed and out, it was decided that Washington desert champ Rich Binckley would start and finish as well as ride the dreaded San Filipe loop. Rich and I raced NW MX in the early 70’s. Rich went on to the desert and won the Washington state Desert 100 placing Rich in high regard with Baja teams.
Race day, Friday November 21, 7am: Rich rode clean to mile 55 but O’Neal’s team was in the lead. Scott Pfeiffer rode the next 135 miles in heroic style with a twisted front end and a mangled muffler after he got off hard in a dusty rock section while moving up on riders ahead. Scott comes from a family of Baja racers and rode strong to bring it in. Jimmy had the front end straight and I was on my way just as a quad passed. Once on the dry lake bed I was able to get out of the quad dust and pass in to clear air. 30 miles into the 100 mile section I passed a pit area that my moto brain never registered as a mandatory fuel stop. This is where the race was lost. Darn! I got a sick feeling as the bike blubbered to a stop with 35 miles to get into the Borrego pit when I realized my oversight. As riders raced on by a Honda rider named Raspberry finally stopped and I used a zip lock bag to transfer a couple bags of fuel to get back in the game. I just loped along to conserve fuel when it ran out again. This time I flagged down a Yamaha rider and had pliers and bag ready pulling his line off as his bike as it stalled from no fuel…”Aw.. Ok I guess you can have some fuel” One bag only as he sped off. A mile before the road crossing locals were taking in the action as the bike stopped again and I yelled out Gasolino! Before I rolled to a stop there was a group of Mexican spectators pouring gas into the quick fill and I was on my way the last 5 miles into the Borrego pit to hand off to Blinkey for the San Felipe leg. (Blinkey is how the locals pronounced Rich’s name so we rolled with it!) New pipe mounted and a full tank Rich had a strong ride gaining on the leaders handing the bike back to me at mile 380. As we were running late, Chris had instructed Pepe and Jimmy to install the dual light system before I got on. Twenty miles of rough course went smooth before looping back into Borrego pit for fuel.
A mile from home a trophy truck comes onto the course behind me as I’m just loping into the pits. A group of spectators later said I had glanced over at the truck as I began swapping into a whoop section that turned into a garage-sale get off. Darn again! Bruised but un-injured I had to hold the lights with one hand and my tool belt was broken so I had to leave it in the hands of my Mexican helpers that pulled me off the course out of the truck’s way. Into Borrego pit Chad Newman installed a set of lights from another Haines team (they ran a single light) and I ran the last whooped out section to give the bike to Chris. I was back into the pit truck as we drove the 45-mile road trip to the next pit where Craig Adams was to get on, Pepe ran into traffic arriving late with Chris squandering another precious 5 minutes before Craig took over. Departing the Valle De Trinidad pit in 2 different trucks Chris was on the radio in a controlled calm voice inquiring as to where the satellite phone was, as it was not available to hand off to Craig. Man, he’s gonna kill me! On top of losing 30 minutes missing fuel, a special lighting system was destroyed in my crash and now I had lost a $1500 satellite phone! Pepe shook his head and handed me the microphone “About that phone…I stepped off in Borrego and my pack broke so I had to leave it with some local spectators, Chris. They seemed like good folks, though.” Complete silence with exception of the click of the hand set. It’s not like I wanted this to happen. Man, I’m deep in the dog house. Adams, a long-time Baja racer, went to the coast giving the bike to Pfeiffer for his second ride, moving us into second. Rich brought it home at 10:30 pm in dense fog that had him ride off the arrow of the GPS unit! Binckley raced in on the streets of Ensenada with an open class rider right to the finish, coming in ahead as the other rider washed the front end in the final paved turn!
Out finish time was 16 hours 7 minutes, 13th motorcycle and 2nd 50 team only 20 minutes behind the O’Neal team. Still buzzing from the images of the day’s race we enjoyed tacos at 3:30 in the morning watching the bikes and buggies become one of the 64% that finished the amazing Tecate Score Baja 1000. Also impressive was that 100% of the 9 Chris Haines entries finished with riders from around the world!
I felt as if I was the engineer of a 1000 mile train wreck! However, Saturday morning brought about a small measure of redemption. Remember the tool belt with the satellite phone I left behind? Rich ran into the San Nicolas hotel to grab me and tell me that the group that saw me crash had brought in the belt and sat phone! As soon as I saw the bushy mustache I recognized the concerned face that had pulled me out of the trophy trucks path after my garage sale crash in the whoops. Jose David Castelan and his posse shared stories what they witnessed and it varied a bit from what I recalled. Yeah, the Trophy truck was there and I did look over my shoulder, but the part about just loping it into the pits, was more like pinned as they watched on in horror as I swapped off the bike. Jose said I was rubberband man and he was surprised I was not hurt. Thanks so much to Raro Racing crew for making my first Baja 1000 memorable! Heal quick Jack and Thanks to Chris Haines and the entire crew for an unbelievable racing adventure! I Love Mexico! I’m coming back!