Never, in a million f–king years did I think I would be writing the story you’re about to read right now. As a kid, my friends and I would watch the highlights from the Baja 1000 on ESPN and think, “Wow, how the hell do you get to do that?” Little did we know there is a way. Turns out, a few years back a company by the name of Wide Open Baja certified a handful of their own race-ready buggies and, for a fee, you can drive in their own “Baja Challenge” class in the Baja 1000.
The buggies ain’t no joke either, suped up with 2.8-liter Porsche motors, global positioning systems, and a Bilstien suspension with over two-feet of travel, they are built to last the grueling 808 miles through the Mexican desert.
Now, your probably saying: “Chris, that’s great and all, but what the hell does that gotta do with snowboarding?” I’ll give ya the short version: The folks at Yokohama/Geolandar leased one of the Wide open buggies, then got hold of Tara Dakides and Old Dirty J2 to see if they would like to drive a few legs. Their PR guy, Brendan, wanted the best snowboard journalist on the known planet to cover it, so of course, they called me.
With that out of the way, let me clue you into the basic rules of, “the Baja” as the locals like to call it. First, there is a 32-hour time limit. This means from start to when the car crosses the finish line must be less than one day, ten hours. Next: The vehicle must pass through all the designated checkpoints that are spread throughout the course. And finally: Once you leave the starting line-there are no rules. That’s not exactly true-buuutt, you get the point.
This year the course started in Ensenada, went looping down to Rancho Chapala, and back to Ensenada again. Tara and myself covered the first 110 miles, then I hopped out and another co-driver helped her through the next, more technical, 110-mile leg. J2 finished it out, covering the last 115.
Following a crash course of vehicle training, (which consisted of showing us how to change a flat, proper use of our helmets, which contained a fresh air pump and intercom/buggy to support crew radio and a few laps around a practice track day at Wide Open Baja’s “horsepower ranch”), there was a party where we were introduced to the other drivers in our car, as well as, the competition in our class.
Team BC3 consisted of: Paul Witherspoon, who was a regional vice president of Discount Tires, a guy we only referred to as “Super Ryan,” ABC sports announcer Paul Page (who has called the last twenty-odd Indy 500s and is one hell of a nice guy to boot), his son Brian (a member of Michael Andretti’s race team), journalists from a few other magazines, Tara, Two’s and myself.
The competition, on the other hand, included Jesse James, four time Pikes Peak champ Rod Millen, and CART champ Roberto Guerrero, to name a few. Talk about a round peg in a square hole, I didn’t think we had a chance in hell.
After the intros, and before we got too many tequila shots in us, our new friend, Kim, informed us we had to be at contingency at 10:00 a.m. “What the hell is contingency? Sounds like something official-is there going to be an exam? I hope there’s no math, I’m no good at math…” I started babbling to J2. He calmed my nerves with a heart felt, “How the hell should I know-shut up.” And walked away. Friends indeed.
You could imagine my relief when we should up the next morning to find that contingency was more or less a small parade through downtown Ensenada where droves of children swarm for autographs and stickers. At the end, race officials inspect the car to make sure it’s not held together with duct tape and gum.
With a night of anxious tossing and turning under my belt, I awoke to the sound of engines starting in the hotel parking lot. Two TV interviews and a short drive later, Tara and I were three cars away from the starting line. This was about the time I noticed our G.P.S. wasn’t working. “BC3 to ground crew, we got no G.P.S.” I radioedn. “You’re racing BC3-deal with it.” “Shit.”
The next three hours of my life were like nothing I’ve experienced before and will most likely never experience again. Racing through the town on our way to the desert was like something out of a Mad Max movie. Thousands of people standing within ten feet of the car screaming, yelling, throwing beer cans, kids running next to the car-it was f–king nuts. Then, once we hit the desert, it was no rules at all. There were people blocking the road, pointing us in the wrong direction, jumps made by the spectators, railroad ties lobbed in the course-and that was just in the first ten miles.
One thing we learned real quickly was, if there is a crowd in the middle of the desert, they’re there for a reason. They wanna see carnage of some sort. Sometimes, it would be a natural obstacle such as a creek or four-foot-deep hole. Other times it was man-made, like, a jump, or dug out cattle crossing. The only constant about crowds was that every time there was something that made you glad to be wearing a kidney belt.
Around mile twenty, we had our first experience with “nerfing.” This occurs when a faster car behind you wants by and you didn’t hear the horn-so they just ram you. Like I said, no rules.
Tara was driven like a woman possessed. We were in the front of the pack (for our class), when, around mile 35 or so I heard the hiss of a flat tire. That’s not exactly true, what I heard was Dakides screaming F–K over and over again. A five-minute change, and it was on the road again. It didn’t take long on the road to realize something was wrong with the radio units in our helmets. I looked behind Tara’s seat and realized the jack had ripped out of its mount and was bouncing around, ripping all the wires from our helmets. Another brief stop and the problem was solved.
By mile 50, another problem came to light-no brakes. Well, there were some, but not much. This made going as fast as we wanted to a little tricky, since downshifting was a big no with these transmissions. Oh yeah, did I mention our G.P.S. was semi-working? But, the same time as the brake issues, it freaked out again. So, just to recap, we were running half-blind, with no brakes, in the one of the gnarliest off-road races in the world-with little/no experience. This was exactly what I was hoping for. For real.
Thanks to Tara’s driving, we made it to our pit stop, which was no little production. There was a full-size Yokohama tractor-trailer and mechanics waiting to take care of us. While they replaced the completely destroyed brake rotor, I jumped out and “Super Ryan” jumped in. From there it was on to pit six to cheer on J2 who was driving the last leg.
Now, if everything went according to plan, Two’s would be pulling out of pit six at around 3:30 a.m., but if the first hundred miles taught me anything, it was that nothing goes according to plan. Come 5:00 a.m., no one even knew where our car was. Finally, at 1:00 p.m., yes p.m., the news came over the radio that BC3 was alive and coming our way. When Paul and Brian Page pulled in they relayed stories of the car being stuck in a silt bed for damn near five-hours.
There was only one problem, actually, make that two. One of the designated checkpoints they went through was closed and the G.P.S. was now completely useless. That didn’t deter Two’s. At 3:15 p.m., a mere twelve hours late, he pulled out of pit six with 115 miles to the finish line. Tara, the Yokohama posse and myself jumped on the highway to beat them to it.
Things were not looking promising when we showed up to the finishing area, the ground crew was taking down the banners and there was about 20-minutes left in our 32-hour time limit. Sure-as-shit, with eleven minutes to go, BC3 with old dirty Two’s behind the wheel, got the checkered flag. Yeah, sure, we finished second to last, but considering there were 80-plus cars still missing when the tires crossed the line, I think we did pretty well.
They say there is a story for every mile in the Baja 1000. I easily left with 110-next year I want at least 220.
If screaming through the Baja in one of these-here buggies sounds like fun to you, check out www.wideopenbaja.com for all the info.They say there is a story for every mile in the Baja 1000. I easily left with 110-next year I want at least 220.
If screaming through the Baja in one of these-here buggies sounds like fun to you, check out www.wideopenbaja.com for all the info.