Baja 500 Ride Report (Very Very Long)


14 replies to this topic
  • wardo

Posted June 09, 2004 - 05:07 AM

#1

Since I wrote this up and sent it to friends and family, it's a bit basic for all you hardcore guys and gals... but since typing a new one more appropriate to this forum would be time prohibitive I decided to cut and paste. Also, I always enjoy a good ride report so I thought I'd reciprocate.

Wardo



Hello All,
Instead of telling the story 100 times, which you all know I am entirely capable of, I'll write it once AND then tell it 100 times. A little background for everyone wondering why I'd want to travel to Baja to race a motorcycle; way back in 1967 my motorcycle obsessed 7 year old mind saw an article about the first Baja 1000... over the years I followed the stories carefully and fell in love with the myth of Baja as well as the race. The day I read about the Harley effort that failed and then was burned on the roadside by a rider looking for the "ultimate solution", Chuck Miller cutting clutch plates from the aluminum siding of an RV for his ailing CR 125, or the SL 70 (!?) that used their tire irons to repair their broken frame, I knew I had to add, and then check this experience off on my life list. So 37 years later, I finally am getting around to it....

In preparation for the Baja 1000 in November I decided to try my hand at the other Baja events put on by SCORE ( http://www.score-international.com/ ). In February I raced the San Felipe 250 with Mike Kay (Thumpertalk user ID: Irondude), and this last week I raced the Baja 500. Due to the logistical challenges and my geographic disadvantage I knew I needed significant help realizing my dream. For this I worked with Tim Morton. Tim runs an outfit called Baja Bound Tours( http://www.bajaboundmoto.com/ ) and has competed in the Baja 500 19 times and the 1000 16 times... he also won his class a number of years. I decided to tap Tim's deep reservoir of knowledge and experience to put together my effort. Tim took care of virtually all the details from providing snacks and arranging lodging to organizing all our logistics and providing our prerun and race motorcycles. In a race environment that is very unforgiving of both ignorance and inexperience, Tim helped to quicken our learning curve and reduce our stress levels, allowing my teammates and I to concentrate on prerunning and racing. He did an extraordinary job, and I highly recommend him for someone considering a Baja tour which is his primary business.

After some last minute back problems, I was seriously questioning my ability to participate. Thankfully with the help of my close friend & PT, it worked out fine. On Memorial Day I flew out to San Diego where I was met by Tim Morton and one of my coriders, Kent P. We drove down to Ensenada in Tim's truck with four XR 650R's in tow. We were staying at the very pink San Nicolas Hotel which was at the center of race activities. Upon our arrival I was happy to see Mike K. again, and he introduced me to Annie Seel (http://www.rallyprincess.com/ ) , a Swedish motorcycle rally star who would be on Mike's team and would end up to be my prerunning partner for several days. The next morning we were off to San Tomas( Here's a course map if you care: http://www.score-int...4baja500map.pdf ) where Annie and I began heading South, prerunning the 90 miles of coastline which would constitute the second half of my race leg. The ride was uneventful, and due to our modest pace I was able to take in some absolutely spectacular scenery.... The course varied from mind numbingly fast to quick paced gullies with rocks, ruts etc. The middle 20 miles were a bit rougher, but not rough enough to rob you of a good rhythm. The section ended in a sand wash and then headed east (inland) for a couple of miles before we met up with Tim, Mike K. and Kent. At that point Mike took Annie's bike and Mike and Kent took off to run the last 175 miles of the course... due to some mechanicals we wouldn't see them in Ensenada until after dark. Tim drove Annie and I back the two hours to Ensenada. On Wednesday, at 6 am I was back out prerunning. I started from the hotel, and rode one block to the sand wash which ran through the middle of Ensenada. From there the course headed east over to Ojos Negros (Black eyes?) which was 35 miles out. The roads were mostly fast adobe with silt on top and rain ruts to keep it interesting. The adobe proved to be a new surface for me and it took a little work to adapt... I really didn't get it until my third pass on Friday morning. The other challenge was dense fog from mile 5-15, it made visibility non-existent and really proved to be a challenge on race day. From Ojos the course crossed Hwy 3 and then headed south on the funnest fast road of my section. The road is a 5th gear blaster with some incredible natural rolling jumps which would be packed with spectators on race day. The road progressively got rougher the further I went, getting more to my liking each step of the way. Finally, after descending out of the mountains on a narrower, rutted rocky trail which would be far smoother by race day due to the prerunning trucks and buggies, I was deposited at Uruapan. From here a quick jaunt South on Hwy 1 brought me to Santo Tomas where Tim filled the bike up with gas and told me Annie was ahead heading down the coast route we had done the previous day. I headed out and eventually (40 miles) later caught up to Annie in the rougher stuff. 50 miles further and we were back to the truck. Wednesday night our teams third rider, Mike L. (Thumpertalk user ID: Mike L.)arrived. I couldn't have been blessed with a better team of riders. All of us are over 40, with years of riding and racing experience, we all got on in a smashing fashion. Thursday I took off to rest my back which was miraculously feeling better every day. I spent the day reading and looking forward to hearing how my teammates day had gone. That evening when everyone returned I heard about the never ending bumps in Kent's section, as well as his very close call with a quad running flat out in the wrong direction on the course. Mike assessed that the lower, Santo Domingo 50 mile loop which had been demonized from everyone I had spoken with, "wasn't that bad". It sounded like a good day was had by all.... On Friday, I was off again at 6 am on the race bike for a shakedown. The plan was to meet Tim, Mike and Kent out at Ojos so we could set up the bike to everyone's liking. Two miles out on the course I was suddenly stuck in second gear. A little fiddling told me I wasn't going to fix it, so I headed back to the Hotel where I caught Tim, et al. I took the prerunner 650 I had been using all week and headed out again to prerun the start to Ojos. By the time I got back the race bike was fixed. Tim, with his infinite network of friends had Steve Hengevelds (Team Honda rider for those who don't keep up with these things) mechanic, Eric, look at the bike... with the clutch cover off, and a simple tweak of a screwdriver he freed up the linkage that rotates the shifter drum. Eric also gave us a tip to fix it on the trail if we had a recurrence, kick the shifter in and back which should release the bind... or break of the shift lever if you're over- enthusiastic. Tim asked me to take the race bike out for a shakedown so I prerode the first 15 miles again. Without the fog I really got a better perspective on the course and was able to move along in a timely fashion. The race bike felt great, the engine was strong, the shifting precise and suspension felt solid. I did notice that the steering stabilizer seemed ineffective and a few other minor things. After getting back Tim concurred on the stabilizer so we swapped it out with another. Kent, Mike L. and I headed over to sign up, passing through the literally thousands of fans at the carnival like "contingency" where there was live music, all sorts of race related stuff for sale and cars waiting for tech inspection. Sign-up took a bit, but was painless once we got to the front of the line. Tech also was a breeze... so we were done until the riders meeting at 7pm. This was one of the best riders meeting's I've ever attended. The head of SCORE, Sal Fish discussed some new rules concerning the portions of the course where we would be sharing paved highway with other users ( trucks, tourists, chase vehicles, etc...). We would be limited to 60mph, and unable to pass other competitors. We could pass non-competitors at broken lines... breaking these rules would lead to an immediate disqualification. The multi time bike and car champion, Larry Roesller got up to tell us that he would be running 60, for the good of the sport and asked all of us to join him. I was convinced.

My race day started at 4:30 am as I'd be starting just after 6. At 5:30 I headed over to the start and got in line. The start order was class 22 (open pro), class 40 (my class), class 30, class 21 (bikes smaller than 250cc), class 50, then sportsman and quads. Two hours after the last quad left the trucks and buggies started. We were starting at 30 second intervals, I'd be the 13th rider to start at 6:06:30. I started slow up the wash keeping my eyes open for booby-traps built by the locals and just getting a feel for the day. At three miles I caught my first rider, and got my first taste of the intense dust that would be my nemesis all morning long... also about this time we entered the fog. The combination of the dust and fog made this some of the most challenging riding I've ever done. Visibility was often only 20 or 30 feet, which is grossly insufficient when you are traveling at 45 feet per second (30mph). The higher we climbed the worse it got, all of us adjusted our speeds so that it seemed as though we were crawling along. The occasional brave soul would come blasting by me, but to a man I'd see them a few turns later picking up their bikes or WAY off the course. By the time we got on the pavement at mile 15, the fog had burned off, but the dust was compounded by the fact that we were now heading east into the rising sun. As I diligently maintained a 60 mph pace along hwy 3, two riders blew by me... maybe they had missed the riders meeting. When we exited to a VERY fast dirt road at mile 19 the combination of sun and dust was just plain scary. I'd be wide open when I could occasionally see, but often I'd have to slow down significantly because I couldn't see were I was going or the sides of the road. This was the most griping section of the day, but I followed Tim's advice and road with my head. At mile 35 we crossed over hwy 3 at Ojos and headed South. There were hundreds (maybe thousands?) of spectators along the side if the road... but I never really saw them as the dust was beginning to abate and I was concentrating on making time while I had some visibility. As I approached the mountains I was catching other riders, so the dust started back in with a vengeance. I was at this point thinking about pitting for fuel, but since the dust obscured mileage markers, I wasn't sure how far it was to the Barnum's pits which were located at mile 51 on the course. After passing hundreds of other pits, and stressing that I had missed mine, I finally came to Barnum's pits right were Rob said they'd be. As I was getting fueled Rob Barnum pulled in the pits behind me, once topped off I booked out of there trying to put as much ground between Rob and I as possible... although I knew I was just postponing the inevitable. I felt like I was really getting my rhythm going and was really enjoying the course. At mile 65 Rob caught and passed me, and soon after while riding in his dust I got cross rutted and did a slow speed high-side. Everything was fine, but it took 3 cycles of clearing the flooded engine to get it going again. Two guys passed me as I did the restart drill, once I got going again it took a few minutes to get my rhythm back. By Uruapan I was feeling great again and 14th on the road. I'd passed a few open and class 40 guys, and in turn been passed by a couple of class 30 and 21 riders. From Uruapan the course heads South along hwy 1 for 9 kilometers. Once again a couple guys passed me on the pavement, but I stuck with the rules as our team had vowed to do. We reentered a very fast dirt road in the town of Santo Tomas and headed east towards the ocean. This whole section I felt I knew well, so I took off as fast as I could. I dueled with another rider for 17 miles, but he and his dust finally got the better of me. As we were dueling we passed a couple of slower riders. I pitted again for fuel just before heading down to the ocean, at this point I was all alone. This time I was pushing too hard to notice the view, spectators or Annie trying to restart her bike in a gully. This section seemed relatively smooth while prerunning, but at race speeds it seemed far rougher. There would be dizzyingly fast (I think top speed on an XR 650 geared as our bike was is 107mph) straight-aways, that ended abruptly in erosion gullies where the sporadic rain washed into the ocean. This lead to some interesting moments as I'd try to judge how fast I could negotiate these washes, and invariably err on the side of too fast. About half way down the coast I was caught by 500x, a rider who was over 50 and absolutely flying. His years of experience were showing. We dueled for miles until I made a clean break in an extended rough section. He would catch and pass me again when I pitted for fuel at the giant shipwreck. One of the funnest moments was when I was cranking along a 5th gear section on a bluff above the ocean, and to my right I was being paced by a yellow Robinson R22 helicopter. As I negotiated bumps and rocks, etc the chopper serenely floated beside me. The last miles of the coast route turn to sandy whoops (bumps) that are fast and fun. This was definitely my favorite part of the course and I was reeling in 500x. Just two miles out from the rider change at mile 173, I knew I could make the pass before handing the bike off to Mike L. As I came over a blind crest in 4th gear, heavy on the gas there was a booby-trap jump right in front of me. I braked hard then hit the gas as I went up the steep face, but unfortunately my braking had left me sideways. I was able to ride out the first 3 swaps after landing, but on the 4th, the 300 pound XR had it's way, high-siding me off at a good clip. I landed head/shoulder first in soft sand, I came up cursing the jumps builders, got on the bike, which started second kick, and took off. As I got going I noticed two things, 1) I couldn't breath through my nose which turned out to be stuffed with sand, and 2) I couldn't see as my right contact had popped out. After the race Annie told me that a rider had been seriously injured on the same booby-trap and required to be med-evaced to San Diego, hearing this humbled and saddened me. Since I only had two miles to go I cruised in, but actually passed a very tired rider. At the last turn of my section I somehow managed to stall the bike for the first time all day, out of the crowd of spectators walks Mike Kay, asking if I'd like him to start the bike... although I was by no means exhausted, I took up his gracious offer as I knew he'd start it as quick or quicker than me. We had a brief conversation about Annie's whereabouts since she was passing the bike off to him. Then off I went, a couple of hundred yards later, Tim took the bike from me and my race was done. I believe we were 13th or 14th on the road at passoff, it had taken me a bit over 4 hours for an average speed of around 41mph. At the handoff, I briefed Mike L. on the bikes status (Engine is great, fork seems to have lost rebound dampening and steering stabilizer needs to be turned up more), and off he went. During the pit two quads and two bikes went by, but I imagine they pitted just up the road. Mike rode 105 miles to El Coyote through the toughest portion of the course, he made excellent time with the exception of 10 to15 minutes trying to start the BRP (Big Red Pig) after a stall. Since he rides an electric start KTM usually, he wasn't as familiar with the flooded routine. Despite this setback he kept pushing and looked great when we pitted him after 50 miles. A quick rear wheel and filter change and away he went. Kent and Mike swapped up at El Coyote, Kent raved about the hospitality of a truck pit while he waited. Kent had endless bumps but also made excellent time, he was the only member of the team to not fall. He did have a close call with a non-competing truck going the wrong way on the course, pushing him off the road with only inches to spare. Also, after looking high and low for ten minutes, he was unable to locate one of his gas pits, so stopped at a truck pit who graciously filled the bike with gas and Kent with Gatorade. Just after 5pm Kent pulled into the stadium in Ensenada, took his goggles and gloves off and threw them into the crowd of spectators. It took our team 11 hours and 10 minutes to complete the 428 mile course. We finished fourth in class and 58th overall out of the 340 or so starters. We were all very satisfied with the result as we had little or no Baja race experience before the 500. Since our original stated goal was to finish, this obviously more than met our expectations. I think our team can thank Tim for this excess good fortune, he provided valuable insights that would have taken years for us to learn, and had worked incredibly hard all week on logistics, bike maintenance, educating us and a million other things.

In closing I'd like to thank my wife, Maria and two daughters for supporting me, Todd my PT for fixing me, my teammates Kent and Mike for sharing this incredible experience with me, Mike Kay and Annie for the camaraderie and helpful advice, Rob Barnum for the pits and finally the incomparable Tim Morton for everything he did for us, without Tim this just wouldn't have happened! As Kent said in an e-mail I got after my return "I will never forget it (the race). It's not often you get a second chance at a dream and actually have it turn out the way you hoped it might, what a great feeling." Ditto....


Regards,
Wardo

  • JackAttack

Posted June 09, 2004 - 06:20 AM

#2

Great job Wardo! :thumbsup:


Sounds like a much better experience than your Baja250 race. :awww:

  • qadsan

Posted June 09, 2004 - 07:01 AM

#3

Great report! :thumbsup:

  • SaltyWalrus

Posted June 09, 2004 - 09:52 AM

#4

Congrats! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us. Sounds like an experience of a lifetime!!! That's what's great about TT, I can live vicariously through people with more time, money and talent than myself.

  • wardo

Posted June 09, 2004 - 09:53 AM

#5

Jack Attack,
Actually I had a great SF 250, the learning curve was a bit steep, but Irondude did a great job of letting me know what was important. After I got over the pre-event stress, the actual racing was easy. I love sand whoops, and since Mike gave me the easy part of the course (I hadn't been on a motorcycle in 3 1/2 years), I had tons of fun. The only downer was stopping to help the rider who hit the cow. Although we didn't finish due to a destroyed water pump housing I still considered the event a success. I had fun, learned a ton, made some new friends, met some great people (i.e. JackAttack) and really what more could you ask of an event?

Wardo

  • Mike_L.

Posted June 09, 2004 - 08:14 PM

#6

Wardo & Kent,

Wardo, great play by play of the race.

I want to thank you and Kent for being such great team mates. Racing the 500 as a team effort has really made me want to continue to do team events. The camaraderie and closeness that comes with a team effort motivates me greatly. Being called in last minute for this effort left me a little apprehensive. Reasons being, not knowing who my team mates are, not knowing if there would be a good connection between us all and not knowing exactly what everyone wanted from the race. It turns out that I could not have planned or arranged for two better team mates then you and Kent. We all seemed to have the same desire to finish but at the same time finish respectively. With all three of us having the killer/winning instinct allowed for us to not only finish but to finish 4th in class, a feat many never accomplish let alone finish. This memory will be shared many times over as it by far rates as the best experience I have ever had. I have been very fortunate to experience many wonderful things in my life, traveling the world, racing many events, meeting great people. The memory of racing the 2004 Baja 500 with two of the best team mates anyone could ever wish for, Ward Ogden and Kent Perkins, will be stored on a pedestal most likely never to be equaled.

Thanks for the memory,

Michael Laenger 407x

  • JackAttack

Posted June 11, 2004 - 11:16 AM

#7

Where is Irondude's Baja 500 Ride Report? :thumbsup:

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  • wardo

Posted June 11, 2004 - 03:16 PM

#8

Irondude is getting married this weekend, so I think his priorities are elsewhere. Congratulations Mike!

Wardo

  • JackAttack

Posted June 11, 2004 - 05:26 PM

#9

He may have two ride reports when he comes back. :awww:


Congratulations Mike! :thumbsup:

:lol:

  • thrtlljnki

Posted June 15, 2004 - 05:16 AM

#10

Sounds like a great time! Myself and 9 others did a ride with Tim and Mike this spring. Tim runs an incredible tour! I imagine his race efforts are much the same. Mike was our sweep rider, so I can just picture him "appearing" out of a crowd to help out! :thumbsup:

  • wardo

Posted June 15, 2004 - 03:01 PM

#11

I heard stories about you Canadians! Sounded like a good time. After the auto performance rallies I've done in Quebec and Ontario with CARS, I know Canadians to be a hard partying fun loving group... who are willing to dig your car out of really deep snow when you blow a turn. Canada, the best neighbors we could hope for!

Regards,
Wardo

  • BajaBoundMoto

Posted June 15, 2004 - 05:22 PM

#12

'thrtljnki', who are you? You guys were one of the most fun times I've ever had down south! I shouldda been paying you guys! And yes, I tell stories about you guys on every ride!
Seen Satan's Anus lately?
Check your PM.

  • irondude

Posted June 16, 2004 - 08:03 PM

#13

Got married, raced the 500, now prepping for the Vegas to Reno...busy last 2 weeks -- yeah, whatever!

NOW Then....Those Canadians are back!!!!!!!!!!!

TTers--Tim Morten of Bajaboundmoto.com and I did a 7 day Baja ride with these 10 whacky Canadians a couple months ago. It was awesome! 100 beers a night, after the tequila...and then 10 hours of the funnest single track Baja has to offer....I only wish Canadians where fighting with us in Iraq--kuz they are tuff f@#$ers! Drink all night, ride all day. And when it was time to hit the titty bars, perfect gentlemen! Man i miss those guys. Freakin good riders all of em. At one point we had 5 guys riding on one wheel down the beach....for at least a mile. Not to mention their ability to run over dry humping rattlesnakes, find every nail on the trail, and educate me about Baja winning HID systems!
Liberals from BC and Quebequios not whithstanding: Our brothers to the north are a OK! :awww: :thumbsup:

  • JohnnyAirtime

Posted June 17, 2004 - 09:32 AM

#14

Glad to see your alive and back after not only the grueling 500... but more the marriage. :thumbsup:

I watched you fellas come off the pavement into the sand wash in Ensenada, bikes and gear all clean, all fresh smellin' like a downy bottle...
Now I'm just jealous I didn't get to ride and join in on the race itself. Maybe next year... who knows.

Congrat's on both or ALL occasions! Hats off to ya!

  • thrtlljnki

Posted June 17, 2004 - 12:22 PM

#15

Hey guys, it's Lyle. I haven't seen Satan's Anus lately, but I have had a couple bad dreams about it!!

Hey Irondude congrats on getting hitched!! :thumbsup:

Offer's always open for you guys to come ride in our neck o' the woods!!





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