It's been a few years since I drove or rode in a desert race and I was itching to do it again. It's just an expensive hobby, but having a car offered and knowing that race gas and an entry fee was all it took was the perfect opportunity!
Just a day before we left D had the sniffles so we knew it wasn't smart to head to Mexico and get even sicker so we decided I was doing this trip solo also. My first thought was, why drive the truck?? I might as well ride the Triumph! It will be cheaper and compared to most rides I've done it's short!
I hymned and hawed over whether to take the truck or bike up until the morning of the trip. Finally, I decided there was no good reason NOT to ride the bike. So, I dialed up some Mexico insurance via AAA's website, printed it and hit the road!
The worst part of the ride by far is getting from Phoenix, down the I-10 (Superslab!) to the 85 highway. Once I turned onto the 85 the traffic was cut in half and there were no more semis. After Gila Bend the traffic cut in half again. That made it much more relaxed riding and the MPH's were lower so it was easy to relax and cruise!
Ajo has been mining Copper for many generations. It's sort of a nothing town, but it's also surprisingly pretty as well.
Just before the border I stopped. This area is part of the Organ Pipe National Monument. It's absolutely gorgeous. Who would think such a pretty place is also the most dangerous national monument in the US. Park Rangers carry machine guns thanks to the drug runners using the park as a dirt highway.
Fueling up at the border and staring down the BP.
As I crossed I got the green light. (On the Mexico side they have a bar and a red/green light. If it's red you go to inspection) So I was very glad to get the green light.
Just after the border I stopped at my favorite taco stand in Sonoyta, MX. I've been stopping here since I became an Arizonan about 14 years ago and it never changes. Always tasty!
Time to get to Rocky Point to meet up with the rest of the crew.
Down in Rocky Point my memory lead me to the right area except that now there is a nice paved road to get you there. My memory still leads me to the "sand highway" which is how you used to get to Cholla Bay. As I road the Triumph down the sand highway I could see the nice paved road about 100 yards to the side of me so I took the next side road over and enjoyed the pavement! Haha.
This is competition hill where folks ride their dirt bikes, quads and UTV's all day. Tomorrow this would be part of the course. You'd have to run to the top, turn around and back down.
The end of the Sand Highway leading into Cholla Bay.
We had a big group at this race. More than 50% of the cars were friends.
Reuben's really nice Fraley built chassis car. He won the 1600 car class and got third overall. In a car with well under 100HP that shows just how fast 1600 cars are for the money.
Will's car that he built himself. Pretty impressive.
Side Note: If you've got the itch for a sketchy ride these ultralights are all over the place selling rides.
This is my buddy Brent's car. We've raced together for years in a 2 seat 1600 car that we built while I was in college. This race he had a ride in a nice Jimco 10 car so Bruce was racing this one until his new car is finished.
Here is the 10 car that Brent is racing lately. Crazy fast car!
Yes, we were basically racing right on the beach!!
DocBaja was racing this 7swe got our hands on until his car is finished.
The Strunks were down at the race in force. Bucky and Shane were racing the trophy truck and Shiloh was on his 450 quad. I think Shiloh took 2nd place too!
As we headed to dinner the night before the race I was glad to be able to have a garage for the Triumph. Considering the wind was about to come up at 70-80MPH I was even more thankful!
This restaurant/bar was about 50 yards from the main pit of the race. Nice and convenient! This place was immensely more upscale than I remember it as a college kid coming down in 1999. This whole town has gotten a lot fancier as the years went on. I'm not convinced that's a good thing, but I guess things always change. On the plus side the food was delicious as apposed to frightening so that's a change I can get behind!
Is that Waldo?
Not a bad place to be!
There are even more sky scrapers going up along the beach. Pretty soon there won't be any sand left. Some might say that a bunch of offroad vehicles riding along the sand dunes is bad. That may be true, but I'm pretty sure that paving over the sand dunes with parking lots and hotels is a little worse for them.
This is how every bedroom should be. A man and his motorcycle sleeping side by side.
The next morning we were up early. Our race didn't start until the afternoon, but the sportsman race started at 7am. We had Bryan racing the Honda Pilot, Docbaja racing the 7s and Derek racing the 1315 car.
We noticed that the team with the "king of the hammers" style truck didn't have any pit support besides his wife and young daughter. The large 11 Gallon dump cans are HEAVY even for two adults so we decided to help them pit and fuel as needed. At the end of the race she said she'd buy us some pitchers of beer, but we just said "come on down and help us during our race." Although it was said somewhat jokingly because in desert racing you just help everyone else out. You don't worry about getting paid etc. She responded "Okay, we'll see you there!"
Sure enough, just before our race started she and her husband pulled up ready to help! Awesome! I had no idea how much I'd need their help too!
So, here she is in all her glory. It's at least a 30 year old racecar, but the more important part is that it's been sitting for 10 years! Brent and Derek did a little refresher on her to make her run.
The main issue we'd seen so far from the sportsman race was that the fuel cell foam is degrading so bad that the particulates were clogging the fuel filters and fuel pump.
Derek had carried spare fuel filters during the race just in case one clogged up. I was going to do the same. Time for the Pro race!
Brent was ready too.
Just as I pulled down the ramp into the staging area my motor started to burp and died. DOH! I let the fuel pump keep running for a few seconds and then restarted and it ran for another 50 yards and died. WHAT!!?? We hadn't even started yet and I was dead in the water! I pulled forward to the race staff to ask for a flat head screw driver.
Sure enough someone had one and we changed out the fuel filter #2. I was hoping that did it. I pulled up to the start line. Cars were being let go 2 at a time, every thirty seconds. I kept the motor off just hoping for the best. I was at the back of the 1600 car class and was staged next to a Bajalite truck. By all means this truck should blow my doors off so that was nice.
When the flag dropped I sped off and started to leave the Bajalite to my amazement. Too bad that was only the first 50 yards of the race!! The motor sputtered and died!!! ARGH!!! I was pissed.
I pulled into the center of the circular infield and got out. I didn't know what to do. We changed out the other fuel filter to see if that did it. Sure enough I sped a whole 50 more yards and the engine died! GRRRR!
Wouldn't you know it, karma does come around. The family we had pitted for that morning came over and offered their help. They towed me back up to our main camp/pit where we were going to work on the car. After we got back to the top Derek brought a CO2 tank over with an idea. Maybe it was the fuel cell pickup that was clogged and so the pump wasn't able to bring up enough gas to keep the engine going. He blew air back down the line and sure enough now the pump was flowing ten times the fuel that it was just a minute before.
Sure it was a temporary fix, but cleaning out the entire fuel cell while the race raged on was not an option! I put my fire suit back on, belted in and ran back off to join the race. It felt great to be in a working car! I was flying along and I was utterly surprised at how good the cars suspension worked. I knew it was a bit soft compared to the 1600 cars we'd raced before, but this course was not a particularly rough course so it was perfect.
This is me coming down from competition hill.
This is where I blew the motor later in the day.
I was flying along loving every minute. The car was shifting pretty badly, but I've gotten used to that as a constant VW problem. After half a lap I was using both hands to try and shift gears! It was getting more and more tough. To the point where it would take 5-10 seconds to get the gear I was going for. 1600 cars are all about momentum to taking forever to grab a gear was bad. I barely made it up competition hill, but I was just glad to make a full lap without any issues.
Just after starting lap 2 I realized I just plain couldn't shift anymore. The clutch was long gone! I got stuck in a silt corner and just prayed as the trophy trucks and class 1 cars blew past me. After a course worker tried to pull me out and just got his Rhino stuck I tried something new. I put the transmission in first gear and hit the starter hoping it had enough power. Chug...... chug....... chug.. chug.. chug chug chug. WOohoo! I had the car running in first gear and first gear only. I limped back to the pit and we put some more fluid into the clutch reservoir. Then I was back running! WOohoo!
And then..... During the next lap I was going down the Sand Highway which was the fastest part of the course and whammo! My front left tire came off. Just came off and started spinning along next to me. DOH! At this point I'd had enough issues that I was just laughing. This was hilarious!
I didn't want to slam on the brakes and risk burying the tireless wheel into the ground so I just down shifted and came to a stop. I was just thinking how I needed to walk back and find the tire and then BAM! I felt something hit the car. I looked to my left and my own tire had run into me!
I was laughing so hard at this point I knew I was having a better time than anyone else in the race. I've actually finished the Baja 500 on three wheels so I knew the rear weight bias of a 1600 car meant it could be driven still. I started limping it back to the pit and said, Hello! Thankfully all of the great friends removed a lug nut from each wheel to get enough to remount the front left. Then, again, I was off!
This time I entered the course just behind Bruce in 1699 and just in front of Will in his red 1600 car. Once Bruce saw me behind him he assumed that some car had come up and passed Will so he kicked it up to double time and the race was on. My entire goal was just to keep up. If I could do that in this old clapper of a car I would be happy. On the sand hill he left me, but for the rest of the lap I was closing on him. Little by little, but I was elated to be doing it!
I was fighting through his dust and my clutch was once again almost dry so each time I wanted to change gears I'd have to triple pump the clutch pedal and then use 2 hands to shift! It wasn't ideal, but I was driven to catch Bruce and pass him at all costs!
As I got within about 20 yards of him I heard a noise that I'm very familiar with. My 4cylinder VW sounded like a V8.... Damn. I know that noise. I just lost a cylinder... DOH!
I pulled over to see what was up. I've seen a blown cylinder where the spark plug is hanging by the wire still with the threads attached to it OR I've seen a plug wire simply come loose. One was catastrophic and the other was an easy fix. I got out and mine was somewhere in between. Oil was pouring out of one of the cylinders. DOH!
That was the end of my race so I started my motorboat sounding racecar and started limping back to the main pit on a side road. On my way back I saw a guy that I'd seen on each one of my laps. He cheered me on when I rallyed by at full speed. He was disappointed when I limped by in fist gear, and he'd cheered me again when I raced by with the car fixed. This time he held up a beer and pointed at it when I came by with my motor blown. It was exactly what I needed! I'm in! I pulled over and we BS'd for while while I drank one of his beers. We talked about racing and all the issues I'd had. What a trip!!
Docbaja came by and towed me back to the start line. We BS'd about all of our race experiences and headed to dinner and awards at Playa Bonita.
We went to bed and this is the view I woke up to in Cholla Bay.
Time to head home. It was COLD!! I stayed with the group until Why, AZ and then I cut out and made for home. This small section of rock near Ajo is beautiful so I had to stop and check it out.
And that was it! A great quick trip!