Baja Addict races Baja 500 in House Rental

Since we abandoned hope of racing the Baja 500, I was determined to go down and be there, maybe even help someone. I had a difficult time finding a road partner but gave a call to Gardner Armstrong and David Crother and we are on the road. Gardner and Dave = Baja Veteran and completely wide eyed rookie combo.

In route now and I call Rick Johnson the owner of TrophyLite to see if he will be there. I figured we could have dinner or meet up at some point, no Ricky for this one but he wants to go … BADLY. So Rick throws down a damn fair rental rate on a slightly used up race truck for the race, delivery and chase included. “No deal Rick, can’t spend that much dough.” Then our very enthusiastic newbie says, “I will kick in for the truck, let’s race!” Like a moth to flame I am starting to get a little wound up, trying to deny the addiction has never been a strong point for me. An hour goes by and after texting Rick an insulting offer (which he accepted) we are going racing.

I text and call very a supportive Baja addict wife and she is PISSED!! Something a text or two later about being asinine and blah,blah,blah. I kind of lost interest after a little while (not in the race). So to get on with the story, we eat really, really and I mean really well, every meal morning noon and night, before and after the race. Trophylite Crew gets the truck to Tech and I shoot down to meet up with them. Now it’s time for some racing.

We start 2nd of 2 trucks in class 3000. Pistol Pete’s daughter hugs me she is so happy to have someone to beat up on in her dad’s truck.
Dave is the driver of record since this entire thing is his fault but we do run my #43 as always. Dave co drives until RM 20 as we are reluctant to drag a never been kissed before co-dog up the goat trail to find out if they can handle 10 to 20 hours of punishment . Dave did a great job through a tough part of the race, we get through clean and make a good driver change 10 miles *SHORT * of the original plan.

Josh, the long haired country hippy dude Rick brought down jumps in to co-dog. We make it 3 miles and now I am telling him to get out, run up that hill, get all those vehicle unstuck, find me a way around, tell the driver of that UTV I am going to kick his ass if he tries to go around me again. He did everything he was asked/told to do. It was not even funny when the UTV tried to run him over… oh these UTVs. Great job Josh! We make it a few more miles and repeat the above all over again. The little truck isn’t running perfect but it really gets through the bad spots with ease. Lots of silt and dust but a very pretty drive up the hill towards La Rumarosa and through here we are basically trying not to crash, it’s early yet.

Next stop, we meet with Ricardo and Louis Chamberland (mult-time TL champ) and they give me *EXACTLY the fuel on the chase plan and we are off. We get to the Rumarosa Grade! This may be the asinine part Jess was referring to earlier. 8 miles of switchbacks, rocks, and a hell of a long drop if you screw up. Through this section we pass 3 or 4 rigs and get passed by 2.

This was really cool I never thought I would get to race this part of Baja. We make it down and start beating the truck through the rough stuff while we continue to head south. All is good until the throttle position sensor starts acting up and is getting worse by the mile (so I thought). At RM 255 (10 miles*SHORT* of the next fuel stop) the engine dies as we are helping a very crashed UTV crew. Rob McCachrens Trophy Truck crew hears our call to Weatherman (from the UTV radio as ours is no worky all day) and haul butt down to help all of us. The crew who call themselves the Baja Fools tow us, feed us, try to fix us and then (at Ricks suggestion) add some fuel and the damn thing runs!

They gave us a couple of hundred dollars of TT rocket fuel and sent us down the track. We learn later about the *NOT EXACTLY filling of the tank in Rumarosa. Now we make it to Mag 7 pit to top off with fuel and get stuck, they say its soft and pull us out. 5 miles later stuck again and it ain’t soft here though, we have a broken axle! CRAP! Still no radio…

I call Jess on the sat phone and tell her to Facebook someone what’s up and that we are making repairs. By now I am pretty sure we are done racing and have timed out, so we swap in the spare and are on the road again. Amazingly we make the next checkpoint with 2 min to spare!! We are told to beg, barrow or steal fuel as the chase is not going to make it to the checkpoint. Baja Pits sells me a full jug for 60 cents on the dollar. Full of fuel, ready to go and then the truck won’t start. No crank, no start, nothing, not a damn thing. We charge, jump, and play with it for 20 minutes before it starts. 14.2 volts but both baterias are junk.

Ricky is 10 minutes away and has the light bar so we are going to wait. Did I mention we already drove for 3 hours with little more than a flashlight on a very dark night? We get a light bar on and have to jump it again to get it to start then Louis fixes the Radio !!!!!! Rick is just a bit animated and won’t listen to a thing being said so I tweak his ear and tell him ‘ok’.

Lights are cool… 50 miles of 50 mph in 3 foot whoops. These trucks are tough and fast, Rick is a little mellower now and we get to poke fun on the radio for a while. We fuel in Trinidad and head over towards the coast, bye Rick! We make it over the road Jessica hates to be on and find Gardner and Dave ready for action, fuel and sweatshirts and we are off. Josh (he is still here) is doing a great job. This long haired country boy can race with me anytime. Dave declines to run the coast and he is probably the smartest guy here. We make it to I think RM 384. Down the hill pivot hard right and try to get some speed to go up the nasty silty rock strewn chewed up mess of a 35 d hill I have been stuck on before. And we damn near made it on the first shot… until hitting the berm and blowing the driveshaft clean off the rear end on a rock. Remembering to leave the engine running we wedge in some rocks.

Get the tools, watch the flashlight run out of battery. Then start changing the driveshaft with a small pair of vice grips and a socket. A ½ inch wrench would have saved us an hour. I checked earlier but overlooked it. Along comes a class 11 bug he now is stuck on the same berm that blew us up. He has a ½ wrench! Josh and I fix our truck and then spend 40 min getting them up the hill, nice guys on a mission from God (really).

So we make the highway and get fuel Gardner is glad we are alive and we are too. He is hearing we are out of time so we better haul ass. Many rough mountains, whoops and silt all over for the next 50 miles. We are getting back in range of Louis and Ricky now. Damn, I am beginning wish Louis had not fixed the radio, NAG-NAG-NAG. Rick is screaming at me that I have to make 40 miles in 20 minutes or I am out.

At best we can average 27. He tells me to drive like a maniac, Josh says he thinks we are doing just stupid enough for his taste as is. The truck is vibrating worse than anything I have ever driven. Ricky don’t care and don’t want to hear about it “DRIVE LIKE A MANIAC” he keeps saying. We make the last check point about 18 minutes too late but Rick has managed to find us 20 extra minutes! The check point captain tells me later he could hear us for 10 miles and just could not close up without giving us a chance. So we are off again and we are on the highway. 60 mph max, while at 50 the truck will vibrate your teeth out. Rick wants more speed and as usual I am the calm voice of reason (HE HE) and tell him blowing it up won’t help the finish time.

We make it to dirt and get to work making up time, the drive through the sewer pond ravine was very refreshing to say the least. We finish the race 21:47 and some seconds on a 22:00 time limit… WHEW! Looking at the truck and it is as dead as a doornail. Not even enough voltage to make a dash light work.

We push it off the stage and I decide to walk to the hotel for a much needed shower. Oh yeah Jess is really happy and has only gotten a couple of hours sleep. 25+ years and she knows what kind of knot head I am. I am a lucky knot headed man to say the least. Rick Johnson? What can I say? I am looking forward to many more years of thrashing your trucks, drinking your ta killa, staying at your place and having a damn good friend.

So that’s my novel. Thanks to all for the good thoughts, interest, prayers and help. Putting our race into words is a fun thing to do but not as much fun as being living the adventure!

Vegas to Reno is a strong probably. B1K in November is as close to a firm deal as I can make it.

Vaya con Dios
Russ