I just got back from racing the RECORD 250 Ensenada to San Felipe with Justin Park in his Bilstein 7100 truck and I was amazed at the capability of these vehicles especially for the cost. If you want to go off-road racing without spending a fortune the 7100 truck class is the way. Based on a mid sized truck these trucks were designed to be a budget-conscious class, built on production mini or mid-sized pickups and SUV’s. They are modified to race but unlike their big brothers, they must be built with a chassis and motor that are readily available to the general public and must retain stock steering.
Our crew consisted of a mix of the Mad Media crew, Justin Parks team, and some local Mexican friends. Carter Gibbs running Mad Media chase #1, Mad Media photographer Ernesto Arizia and his fiance Thia Flores. I was driving the first 120 miles with Cinematographer Derek Eldredge as my Co-Dawg. Justin’s Bilstein 7147 Racing Team crew consisted of Jordan Adams running chase #2, with Don Aumann riding co-dawg. They were set to get in at Valley de La Trinidad and take the truck to the finish in San Felipe. Justin had invited his friends and local photographers Mafiin Cambell and Danny Curiel to chase with us as well. It’s always good to have locals who speak the language fluently and know the lay of the land. After all that’s how you find the best food!
The field was stacked with over 300 racers and 28 Class 7s trucks. My goal was really just to go and drive the truck to see how it drove and hand Justin a clean truck at the halfway point. But everybody knows when that green flag drops everything goes out the window! Just like Mike Tyson said “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face!” Racing is the same you plan, you prepare, then there are the realities of what you are facing with and how you deal with it.
The organizers had us line up Avenue Reforma or Highway 1 and parade all the way through town out to the old Pepsi stand along highway 3 heading east towards Ojos Negros. We turned off the highway onto a long graded farm road and topped off our gas and got strapped in. I sat at the start line knowing that I needed to drive 60% and let the race come to me. The advice from seasoned off-road racers swirled in my head. From Rod Hall, to Rob Maccachren, to Scott McMillin they essentially all have told me the same thing. “Get to the finish in one piece.” We were set to go off 28th out of 34 trucks. As vultures soared overhead we crept forward in a line of trucks to the starting line which was down a farm road next to some sort of small shack like house. The flag dropped and we launched down into a small ravine and then up onto some rally style farm roads my co-dawg Derek Eldredge called the first major corner backwards yelling “Go Left!” when I knew we were to go right. A visual check of the course marker confirmed my decision and a slide the truck to a nicely apexed rally style turn. Only to be stopped by our first bottle neck. We were less than a mile in and we had already hit a bottleneck. Damn! Derric apologised for the bad call and we sat and waited for the trucks in front of us to get through a tricky silt ravine to an silty up hill. Bad calls by your navigator are a common mistake, especially off the start. This is why pre-running and taking notes are critical as well as getting your bearings. All the adrenaline that was pumping through me crashed into a weird zenish calm.
We rolled through the silty ravine and climbed up the hill after the dust cleared and started clicking off miles heading out to ojos negros. I had done one pre-run which is not enough, but I knew this area so I just took my time as I knew it was windy and twisty technical section. Right away we started seeing broken and crashed cars at almost every corner. That’s the thing about off-road racing, sometimes your biggest obstacle is your ego. Overconfidence leads to over driving which leads to... well the race being over. Somehow you have to keep it in check just enough to win. As we passed dozens of broken cars I could here Rod Hall telling me “You must first finish to finish first!” We popped out of the blue gate at Ojos and dropped the hammer on the graded farm roads of Ojos only checking up for the 30 mph speed zone through town. I could only get the truck up to 78 mph which I thought was weird. It should top out around 100 mph. The two wheel drive platform was a little skatey at top speed but nothing scary.
Contingency at the RECORD 250 was a bit different than american races, as It started at 6pm and went on until almost 2am. Packed with people and a few dozen vendors people were super friendly and glad to see us racing with them. Robert Acer had come down and agreed to be the grand marshal so he was about posing with fans for pictures. After a couple of hours of meeting people, handing out stickers and a beer or two we headed back to our home base at Horsepower Ranch. Before we left town we stopped for some tacos at one of the local hot spots for fish and shrimp tacos at El Phoenix. Unbelievable fresh shrimp and fish tacos washed down with a Tecate and we were all ready for bed. We arrived at Horsepower Ranch and had a quick team meeting to outline our chase plan and then we were sucked into the vortex of friends at the bar. After a few shots of Mezcal we barely escaped the all-nighter that was evolving. I went to my room and tried to hydrate and fell asleep. Tomorrow was going to be an early and long day, but I couldn’t wait!
Half the reason I like going to Baja is the food. From the tacos to to the ceviche to the more elaborate sit down meals Baja food offers every range of food you could imagine. Baja is currently going through a food renaissance led by Ensenda. Young and old chefs alike have realized that they can have their own identity rather than copying french or italian cuisine.Just slightly north of downtown Ensenada, Guadalupe Valley is exploding with wine and food culture. Accelerated by the growth of the local wineries bringing in tourism, Guadalupe Valley has some of the most exciting restaurants serving locally sourced food. If you get a chance go check out Guadalupe Valley, you will not be disappointed.
There are lots of places to stay in Ensenada, but I love staying at Horsepower Ranch, it is essentially the vatican of off-road. Plastered with off-road paraphernalia it just makes me feel good that somebody cares about the culture of off-road racing enough to build this place. Being out of the city, Horsepower Ranch has a nice relaxed atmosphere in which you know all your guys and equipment are safe. Most of the time I stay there I end up knowing most of other racers or meeting new friends. It’s a great launching point to head east out to Ojos Negros as well. They have newly remodeled rooms and a now have a full shop and storage available for race teams.
I love Tequila, but recently I have been introduced to the world of Mezcal. What a massive rabbit's hole I stepped into! The upside is that I am going have to taste and share a lot of Mezcal to figure out what I like. Mezcal has always been perceived as some harsh homemade hooch with a worm in the bottom of the bottle Mezcal has had a bad reputation to Americans for decades, but Mezcal is a more complex and diverse spirit and more range and depth than tequila. There are over 30 types of agaves, nine thousand producers and way less restrictions than Tequila the variations of Mezcal are endless. Just like tequila you can drink it straight, one the rocks, or mixed into a drink. I am opting for straight as I am just starting to understand the range and types of Mezcal.
Part of the reason I wanted to go down and race the RECORD 250 was to show our Mexican brothers a little respect. After all we get to come down and use their beautiful country and they always welcome us with warm hospitality. Are there problems in Mexico, yes. Does stuff get stolen in Mexico? Yes. As it does in Los Angeles, Orange County and any place where there are people. But overall if you are not diving drunk leaving or your vehicle in sketchy spots you won't have any problems. Plus it’s worth it for the trade off of freedom. Once you get out of town into the never, never the serenity of Baja takes over.
The RECORD 250 had over 300 entries proving that off-road racing in Baja is strong and continually growing. Many of these families racing here have been racing for three generations. I believe off-road racing is a thread that connects people via a war simulation. You come out the other end respecting your fellow competitor and teams, usually having drinks and food at the end. It’s a common denominator that we can learn about each other’s cultures and hopefully realize that we are the same. We all need and want the same things. Shelter, food, love, companionship, and challenge. Ramon Fernandez and his organization RECORD to a great job putting on good inexpensive races. There is more to off-road racing than Best in The Desert and SCORE. RECORD has been holding it down putting on great events in Baja for years, and it shows.
I had previously raced this race co-riding in a Class 11 and I had a blast! So I wanted to see what it was like racing in a more capable off-road vehicle. I am on a mission to race every single class in off-road and write about it so people can understand how easy, inexpensive and most of all FUN off-road racing is!
After we hit the road crossing at Ojos and hit the two famous rollers that’s when it got real! The course deviated off the main road and got whooped out and nasty right away. Then we were routed up a silty, rocky uphill section that I had to creep through. Just shortly after that we dropped into a ravine with a sandy wash that I knew would be a bottleneck from pre-running. Bingo! It was a massive bottleneck. There was not alternate line at all. A couple truck were buried in the sand and completely blocking the course. After about a half hour digging the finally got moving and the dust train began. Right as we started moving a UTV got out of line and went around everybody. Bad move. Now you have 20+ pissed off racers because everybody else stayed in their positions. But at least we were moving.The worse thing about bottlenecks is that after you get going you are right in everyone's dust. We just tried to keep a good pace and pick guys off. Of course this would be the perfect time for out parker pumper to die. That’s racing! Anything that can go wrong will. Let the sweating begin! The parker pumper is one of those magnificent inventions that you take for granted until it’s gone. Now I was reduced to driving with my visor open until we got into the dust and I would flip it down and sweat. The good thing is it was only about 90 degrees out not the 100+ degrees during the Baja 500. Every Time I faced with a challenge I categorize into two columns. 1. It could kill me. 2. It’s not going to kill me. And I move on. Thanks to Mark Mcmillin for teaching me that philosophy.
A truck up ahead of us missed a right hander and kept going straight. As we approached the turn he had already turned around and was racing us to the turn. I dropped the hammer and just barely beat him as we almost doored one another! My co-dawg Derric Eldridge was yelling Go! Go! Go!. We kept working our way through the silt, whoops, sand, and rock trying to avoid getting flats or overdriving. About 15 miles later we dropped into a sand wash and low and behold that UTV was in front of me. Now I know we are not supposed to nerf smaller cars so Derric flipped the sires on so we knew were were coming. As the UTV turned out of the wash into and slight uphill whoop he lost momentum and bobbled. I couldn’t let off the gas as we would get stuck in the wash as well (2 wheel drive in a sand wash means you have to keep your momentum). And Bam! We hit him. It was just enough to bump him out and for us to keep our momentum. He rabbited off and we didn’t see him until a couple miles later when he was pulled off the course. Hopefully it wasn’t due to the unintentional nerf. Just as I was relaxing into the pace again, Bam! We go nerfed from behind with no warning. We pulled off a couple minutes later and let the faster truck go by. Not sure what he had under his hood, but he was way faster than us. Then got back on course and picked up the pace! Shortly after that we came flying around a corner and a big white cow jumped across the course I mashed the brakes as he just barely cleared the truck. Missing that cow was pure luck.“Just another obstacle.”I told Derric. His response was classic. Go! Go! Go!
We stopped for splash of gas at the road crossing at K77 because I was worried we burned a bunch of gas in the bottle neck. Carter Gibbs from our Mad Media crew was running chase so he fueled us and sent us on our way. Once you cross highway 3 and head north east the course starts to open up and the brush get’s less tall and dense. You can see mountains off to your left that look like folds in a green velvet blanket. After a while you come into these foothills covered with stunning rock formations. It’s easy to forget you're racing when you are enveloped in the beauty of baja. It’s this weird zen that’s happening in the middle of a 300 vehicle war.
We were still seeing broken vehicles parked off to the side every so often. First you have to beat Baja. We kept clicking off miles and I realized we were approaching the notorious “Goat Trail”and I felt a little regret that my stint was coming to an end. As we bounced through the whoops leading to the “Goat Trail” I was searching for a reason to not get out of the truck. But as we picked our way down the narrow rocky trail and hit the pavement I was just glad to hand a clean truck to Justin. We drove just past Valle de La Trinidad and pulled off the pavement to do the fuel and driver change.
Derrick and I jumped out and Justin Park and Don Aumann jumped in and off they went. We jumped into the chase trucks and pre-runner and headed toward San Felipe. Jordan Adams was running chase on the San Felipe side so he led us toward San Felipe.
We stopped for a visual check at San Matias wash and then followed the truck along the road as it skirted “El Diablo Dry Lake”. We got a call from Justin that he had lost power steering. It would take over 45 minutes to change out the power steering rack, so Justin was going to have to muscle it in. Fortunately most of the San Felipe side was rough but relatively straight. We passed through the military check point and pulled off for another visual check point. Justin pulled up to us and started yelling “Fix the leak!” I took one look at it and told Justin he was just going to have to muscle it in. He didn’t want to hear it and started shouting different ideas to fix it. I am hardly a mechanic, I know enough to be dangerous but I know that when these stock steering racks break they are usually done. After a few minutes and a couple of crew telling him it wasn’t fixable he drove on. We did another visual check at zoo road as Justin muscled it in. We made it to the finish! And to our surprise we re 4th! Only off the podium by two minutes. Apparently the two lead trucks were in front of the bottle neck so they had a 30 minute gap between them and the third place truck. It’s just a reminder to never quit, and every minute counts.
The 4th place finish was a great bonus, but I was just glad our whole team had made it to the finish line safe! My goal was to get the truck to Justin and for him to get it into the finish line, and we had done that and more. Best beer you will ever have is at the finish line of and off -road race!
It was nasty hot and humid in San Felipe. I couldn’t help thinking “Why did the race end here?”Kind of like driving to hell. We got to the the hotel and jumped in the warm pool in a futile attempt to cool down. After a few beers it didn’t matter. We showered and headed to the malecon for some of San Felipe's famed mariscos. After a few rounds of spectacular ceviche, oysters, fish tacos, and shrimp tacos I remembered why San Felipe is still a destination even in the heat.
I can’t tell you how much fun we all had. I think the hardest thing about racing is coming home and realizing it’s going to be months before you get to do that again. Go race anything you can with your friends and family. It’s doesn't matter what class of vehicle. I promise you you will have more fun than anything you have ever done in your life.