2011 Baja 500, 5th in class.Share
I was invited to race with the 55A Sportsmen ATV team of Richard Epperson and TJ Miller for this year’s Baja 500. The other team members were Nick Steinman and Ray Arriaga. I raced with Nick and Ray in 2009 when we won the Sportsmen class at the Baja 500.
Nick prepped the quad including rebuilding the engine and re-doing the alignment. We used my FASSTco sponsorship to get some of their new Flexx bars and Crankworks did all of the work on the crank for free thanks to Nick for working that out! We also tried out the new Hiper Pro Flow no flat system thanks to my BITD team and Joe Ramos. Scott at High Output Motorsports in Mesa got us all new sprockets and DID ERV3 chain and we borrowed his chain staking tools to stake the chain together to eliminate the master link. I was told the DID ERV3 chain is the strongest and all the top teams use it and rivet it. Thanks to Baja Seve for the tip.
My section was from the dry lake bed (laguna salada, race mile 167) to San Vincente race mile 299 with a little break in between. I have run this section several times so this would allow me to avoid the costs of pre running.
Nick, Adam and I left Glendale at 3:45am on Friday to get to race registration by noon. We met up with another group from Race-Dezert.com in Yuma and we caravanned together down to Ensenada. We got there at 11am and started checking out the spectacle that is Baja Contingency. After registration and tech we headed to Ray’s house 2 miles from the start line to go over the quad again. It was running great and ready to go.
On raceday everyone got up at 4:30am. My truck had the longest drive and we wanted to get there in plenty of time and avoid the big back-ups that happen at Ojos Negros in the morning. The people driving down Highway 3 in the morning are really insane. Passing on blind corners etc, it was a wild scene.
Richard started the race for us and road great to RM80 where Nick got on. I estimated I would be getting on around noon but Nick made awesome time over the Summit and I was on and gone at 11:11 am. The quad was running good but I noticed I could hear the skid plate dragging more than normal, I figured when I got within radio range I would radio to the chase trucks that we needed a new skid plate or some new hardware and I kept going. The silt beds were much bigger this year than in years past but I found some good lines through them or around them without any troubles. I passed 2 bikes and I stopped for a broken down ATV rider. Then I saw another ATV rider coming at me on the course, I think it was 110A a pro rider. He turned around and followed me for quite a while until I put a gap on him.
Somewhere near RM180 the quad just died and the tires locked up for a second, I grabbed the clutch and brakes, I thought the chain was broken or something. I looked down to see the chain was off the rear sprocket and jammed up into the front sprocket and case saver. Then I noticed some oil. I took my pack off and got the chain on and then started the quad and when I revved it quite a bit of oil was shooting out from the Clutch arm. The case was cracked off and broken there. While I was repairing the quad 110A passed by and another quad passed me along with the bikes I had passed. I used the sat phone off the front bumper to try and call someone who could ask the quad owner if he was ok with me trying to ride the quad to the next pit with the risk of it running out of oil and maybe blowing up. They said to limp it along so I did after jamming a bunch of tape down onto the broken part in an attempt to keep the oil inside the engine. I kept it low in the RPM range and putted along the 15 miles to Borrego. It really sucked passing by all the crowds cheering me on begging me to go faster. I felt like I owed them a show for letting us race through their country but I didn’t want to blow up the quad.
I got to Borrego and Nick had already ripped the engine from his chase quad and they had modified his skid plate to go onto the race bike, Nick is a Wildman with a set of tools. We also had some JB weld from baja pits but it was the non fast curing type. We JB welded the broken case piece back into place and covered it with grey silicone then went to work on the skid plate. We were close to done when the lead pack of Trophy trucks came flying through launching over the highway. It was Bryce Menzies, Rob Macachren, Andy McMillin, Robby Gordon and one of the Herbst’s I think.
This was a huge bummer to me because Nick was scheduled to ride the next section up to San Matias where I would be getting on to ride the high speed section over to Valle T. This is the last place I wanted to ride with the trophy trucks, it is very high speed, not very wide and the closing speed of the trucks vs a quad is insane. This is the same section where a rider was run over last year by a trophy truck.
Nick got on and made great time up to San Matias, even with one stop to top off the tranny with oil. The JB weld didn’t seal completely so the quad was leaking but not nearly as bad. At the San Matias pit the AVS racing guys helped us tighten the hubs, jam a quart of oil into my pack and more. I was off down the highway with the goal of getting the quad to the next pit, speed didn’t matter much anymore, we were hours behind the leaders in our class. We just needed to finish now.
It wasn’t long before I was pinned in 5 th gear when I felt a rumble to my left. I slowdown just as the 54 Trophy Truck of Jesse James was passing me. It really scared the life out of me because I expected to hear a siren or horn or something so I could move over properly. That really changed my riding style, now I knew I had to stay to the right and keep looking back so I could see the trucks before they caught me so I could get over for them. I slowed way down and kept plugging away. Thankfully a few miles later a group of fans up on a rock started jumping up and down and pointing behind me. A truck was coming over the hill, their warning gave me plenty of time to get off the road and wait for the truck to pass. I watched the fans as they told me when it was clear to go again. I kept looking back constantly trying to see dust so I could get the hell out of the way.
I made it to the Y in the road where you turn right for Valle T or go straight to Mikes Sky ranch where I stopped with a group of spectators to top of the tranny oil because I figured it was time since Nick only went 30 miles last time before he had to stop. After a few minutes I was off again and I didn’t make it far before I was on a very high speed section that was not wide at all when I felt another rumble, I had no where to go so I just hugged the right side and waited for the much bigger and more powerful vehicle to pass me.
This went on for a few more miles at one point I stopped and waited for a line of vehicles to pass. I had turned off the quad so I could hear when there was a large enough gap for me to pull out and continue on. When I went to start the quad it was completely dead, just a click from the battery. This was a huge bummer; the quad had started just fine a few miles before when I was waiting on the side of the road previously. I immediately had a huge sinking feeling that I would be sleeping out here for the 2 nd time. Not even a minute later a bike came up and slowed down, I believe it was 201X and he offered to help me anyway he could. I didn’t have time to get my tow strap out yet so we tried to push start it and we failed 3 times. He needed to get going because his bike didn’t have lights and they needed to get to the finish before dark. I told him to go on ahead but he said he wanted to help. He said one more time then we needed to go. So we waited for another truck to pass, it was Jesse Jones this time and he was really hauling ass. We made one last attempt to start it and thankfully it started this time and I was on my way again. I was scheduled to stay on all the way to San Vincente but by this time I had made up my mind that this wasn’t worth it to me and I wanted to hand the quad back to Nick for the last 30 mile smooth section across to San Vincente from Valle T.
I was riding along when I saw 2 kids standing next to a course marker for Race Mile 260 I think. It pointed down a hill and I didn’t think much of it until I went down a few feet and it was so steep I almost went over the bars, it was incredibly rocky. I don’t think it was the racecourse it was a straight shot down that cut off a few hundred yards of a switchback turn where the real course was. I made it down without stalling and kept on going. I made it to the turn where you get off the smooth road and I saw Nick and Ashley waving me down. I told Nick I’d prefer not to do the rest of the section and we definitely needed a battery because ours was dead and the lights were going on soon. Nick said he’d meet me at the next pit about 10 miles away with a battery and he’d be ready to ride.
I got passed by a few more cars along the next section which was pretty rough, much rougher than years past. I got to the pit where we started ripping the battery out, topping off the oil, tightening the chain etc. Nick arrived about 10 minutes later and we put in the battery and I passed him the sat phone and he was off behind one of the Herbst Trophy Trucks. He said he stayed up with that truck all the way to race mile 299 and he never got passed or heard from another truck.
TJ Miller got on at 299 after they put on the lights and topped off the oil. He went about 15 miles before he wrecked in nasty silt bed and heard a car screaming towards him so he ran for it and barreled into a fence. After the dust settled he was ok and the quad was ok so he tipped it over and kept on going. At the next pit they adjusted the front end which was a little out of sorts after the roll over and TJ kept on going.
He made it all the way to Pit 10 where we were waiting with Ray Arriaga to get on. The AVS racing guys who helped us at pit 6 where there too waiting for their quad so Alejandro could get on to finish the race. The scene at Pit 10, Ojos Negros has to be seen to be believed, it is a big party in the middle of a silt field. Everything has a thick layer of silt on it, white cars look brown, there is live music, people dancing, taco stands, fireworks and trucks flying by.
Our quad came through about 10:30pm and TJ jumped off and let out a hoot, he was having a good time and riding great. The quad looked great but the right rear tire was pretty flat but you could not tell by looking at it, that Pro Flow system from hiper is really damn good, I was impressed. We added some air and Ray took off dusting out the entire pit crew. We got into the trucks and made it to the finish about 5 minutes before Ray arrived and Alejandro from AVS racing was right with him. They rode in together because Alejandro had gotten a little lost on the last section in the city.
We finished in 5 th place, the same place we started in and the same place we were in when Nick got on the quad and when I got on the quad. It doesn’t mean much but our finish time of 16 hours and 31 minutes would have been good for 3 rd place in the Open Pro class. The winning time in our class was 12 hours and 37 minutes, within 3 minutes of what my pit plan estimated.
After the final results were posted 2 weeks later we ended up moving into 5th place due to others getting penalties. We were one of very few teams who received zero penalties.
Next time we will have an indestructible skid plate and case saver to go with the indestructible chain we had this time. J Thanks to Richard Epperson for the invite. Thanks to everyone for the help, all of the chase team and their families. Thanks TJ, Nick, Ray, Micah, Micah’s dad, Ashley and Jenny. My chase team of Nic and Adam rocked, Adam drove almost every mile in my truck. Thanks to my wife for the awesome cookies and to Crank Works, Hiper, Fasstco, EVS Sports, ContourHD Helmet Cams, and DGP Photography.
My helmet cam footage from my scary section turned out great; here is the full section:
Same video edited down to 5 minutes just showing the passes:
My GPS and heart rate data from my garmin (I had it on while we were in the truck at one point):
Some Videos from our chase truck of the Trophy Trucks, really cool: