When you start any sort of project, you know that there is more cost and more time than you can plan for. Unfortunately for us, that became very apparent when into the wee hours of the night, we had the realization, we aren’t going to make it to the USA 500. The realization came about 4 days before the race. We probably knew in our heads before that, but you just can’t admit it to yourself until every other option has been exhausted.
Once we made that decision we made a call. The first call was to Jim Graham and the Desert Dingos. These guys have been so helpful to us through this build and we still wanted to go to the race, so we asked if they needed a hand. Could we help with their crew? Jim responded that they were really in need of a hand and anything we could bring would be appreciated! So we loaded up and headed out.
Reno is a 16 hour drive from Denver and we loaded up a pile of Kelty camping gear and headed out to the desert. The drive was long and seemed quite eventful, considering how flat and straight the road is to Nevada. We saw rolled trucks, dust devils and more, though stopping at In ‘n’ out was a good way to cross the finish line in Reno.
The Dingos are a great group and they welcomed us in quickly. This is a trait of Class 11 that you can almost be sure of all the time. Everyone knows how hard it is to race this class, that everyone wants to help, there are some secrets, but they are few and far between. For the most part, everyone just wants you to be able to suffer on the course as long as they do, just as long as you aren’t in front of them! We helped with preparations for the race, including setting up pits and dropping off supplies. We distributed fuel and helped with tech as well. It was good to meet some of the other folks as well including the Two Larry’s Racing Team, we just wish we had a bit more time to hang out!
If you aren’t familiar with off road racing, there is a pit service provided by BFG which is one of the better service options in racing that I have come across so far. ProPits is made up of a crew of guys, who I promise you will do anything in their power to make your day. We showed up to drop off fuel, the day before the race and they were ready to make our day already. They offered up food off the grill, a nice comfy chair in the middle of the desert and great conversation. We didn’t want to head out, but a bit of sleep before race day seemed like a good idea. As we bid farewell, we knew the team would be in good hands for Pit 1 the next day.
When race day arrived, the team was ready. Drivers were resting and relaxing before the effort, and the crew was preparing to deploy to their assigned pits. As the car took off from the start line, we all loaded up and headed out. I ended up driving the tow vehicle, a 1951 Chevy flatbed pickup. This thing is a fun truck to drive, and a step back in time! When we arrived at the pits, we set up everything and readied ourselves for anything that 1107 could possibly bring. After setting up a convenient pit with tools laid out, shade structures assembled and tarps on the ground to protect against any potential spills, we were ready and began the wait.
There is a lot of time to sit around in off road racing. It is important to make use of that time for very important things, like sleeping. Yeah, that sounds lazy and maybe a bit irresponsible, but if you are going to be awake for 30 hours, you need to take any opportunities to take a nap that you can. It is important for making proper decisions when you are getting to the most difficult hours of the race. We didn’t really recognize the significance of this right away, the adrenaline was still pumping and the anticipation of the vehicle arriving was consuming us. After a few hours the static of the radio came through with reports from 1107, they made it into radio range.
The car sped into Pit 3 and Crusty the driver, and Ryan the co-driver hopped out. Crusty was exhausted and sat down in our makeshift kitchen. We loaded up Emme Hall and newcomer Toby Fray, fueled them up, loaded up their water supply and sent them on their way. When you finish a pit in the middle of nowhere, there is some sort of charge that fills you and then doesn’t go away. We were recapping what we could do faster or better in the future. We were charged up, getting the recap from the course from Crusty and Ryan. Then we got a text message… 1107 is on its side.
For some reason that took a moment to comprehend. I mean the car left the pit only 10 minutes ago. Could they mean it was on the side of the trail? Could it be side-by-side with the competition? Or is it actually on its side? Well, it turns out, it was actually on its side. Emme and Toby were getting messages out to the crew but we weren’t able to get on the course, because fast traffic was arriving. We tried exploring side roads to try to intersect the course, but that effort was struck down, when our efforts couldn’t manage to get us to where the car was. Finally we were allowed on course and charged out to the car and arrived just moments after the final buggy, #707, drove by and helped get the car on their wheels. We arrived just in time to do a good inspection of the vehicle, get everything secured and send them back on their way.
Again that feeling of adrenaline filled us, as we began heading down the course to get off on the next access road. We were charging along when I got a phone call. “Emme Hall” appeared on my phone and I thought “Oh great, she left her phone on and now she is going to be pocket-dialing me for the whole darned race. I answered and it was Emme! “WE ROLLED AGAIN!”
Again, it took a moment for this to sink in. “Wait, you what? Again?” We were a mile away and we arrived in an instant to see the car on its side in the middle of the course. In an instant, we had the car on its wheels and off the course. In another blink of an eye we had the car inspected, Emme and Toby calmed and strapped back in, and the car was on the road. Emme hadn’t driven the car in a year and, well, lets just say a stock VW doesn’t drive like her buggy or Class 5u does.
We headed back to the pits to wait for updates but they weren’t coming. The radios were knocked out during the crash and they were only working intermittently. Finally after hours of anticipation we received some updates. “Clutch is burned, car is pretty trashed. We don’t know if we can make it. Is Crusty there?” After a conversation with Crusty they called in our pit, we were packing it up. The wave of disappointment descended on our pit as everyone packed up and headed back. After a 70 mile drive we arrived at Pit 1 to see the car.
This is the moment where a race becomes something so much more. The car was sitting there looking a bit rough. Both A pillars had torn in one of the wrecks, the door was bashed in, the roof was bashed in, the clutch was burnt up, there were no fenders on the car and we looked at it and said “We could probably fix this.” However nobody spoke up like Dave. Dave is a fabricator, driver and just a go-getter. In an instant, he combined every inspirational speech that had ever been uttered and charged up the team and the team leader to such a point that nobody could say no.
We descended on the car, Crusty and the Pro-Pits guys dropped the engine, replaced the clutch and got everything back together. Another group tackled the lighting and rewired half of it in order to get the lights back in order. I ended up on the roof stomping it down as Dave welded the a-pillars back in place. This was a group of people who had not worked together before, who all came together to make a pit stop that was as efficient as anything in racing.
The car fired up and the Dave and Toby got back in, ready for another 150 miles of punishment hoping, to cross the line before the time cut-off so they could run the final lap and hope for a finish.
The car tore out of the pits as fast as a 1969 VW bug can tear anywhere and we looked around and saw that the hands that were working on the car were from our Project Baja crew, the Dingo’s crew, the 2 Larry’s racing guys, the Pro-Pits guys and more. It was an amazing accomplishment and it was one of the most inspirational things, I have been able to be a part of. We looked back and could see that the car had missed its turn. It was heading back to the start line! All that accomplishment washed away in an instant, as we tried to figure out how to call back a car that has no radio and whose GPS was on the fritz. Jim Graham got on the radio and called to 1107. He called again and he was getting no response. It seemed hopeless as the lights disappeared over the ridgeline.
Suddenly there was a click on the radio. Jim called again and a click came back. Jim requested that they click twice if they could hear him and they did! We could communicate! The lights peeked over the ridgeline on their way back and I swear to you Pit 1 erupted in cheers! We watched as they headed out on course and then we rearranged our pit strategy. Rather than the bulk of our team heading back to Pit 3, we decided that we would just do a 5 gallon fuel load at pit 3 to make things faster, and to get them back to pit 1. Matt Fisher, Emme Hall and I headed out. Another 70 mile drive and now it was late. We stopped and picked up a Red Bull and a straw, we figured Dave was going to need a bit of extra energy when he got to the pit.
When we arrived at the pit we set up again and threw down some Kelty cots. We rested with the radio on. When we saw lights coming toward the pits. We stopped and watched intently, and finally a car came over the ridge line with what appeared to be 1 light. “Well, if there is going to be anyone on course that has one light, it is probably us.” we said to ourselves. So we got prepared. I was on fuel, Matt was on a full visual inspection of the car, Emme was filling water, getting info from Dave and Toby and of course giving them some Red Bull too. Our pit was fast, it was furious and they were back on course as fast as they arrived. In 30 minutes we got a call. “Alternator is out, Can you go out on course and help?” We loaded up in a flash and in that amount of time, they got the car running. All electrical was a bit funky at this point, lights were intermittent and they pressed on. They made it to pit 1 and they just missed the cut-off to finish the race. So they ran the final 30 miles to the start/finish.
We met them at the start/finish and they told us about their adventure. The lights were turning off and on at times. The GPS stopped working almost instantly. The radio was just barely working and the intercom in the car, was nearly not functional. Hand signals and shouting were the only options, until the mount for the GPS broke and Toby’s hands were tied by holding it. After Dave yelled, “Guard that with your life, it is the most valuable thing in the car!” With Toby holding a dangling GPS through 50 miles of off racing, he began to tire and at one point all the lights went out as they were barreling through a fast section. Dave tried to bring it to a stop as Toby realized he clicked the switch. “My bad” he said to Dave as the lights came back on.
When they crossed the line, they made two complete laps of the course and the car had been on course for 22 hours. Everyone was exhausted but everyone was charged up with excitement about what we had accomplished. The next morning we began our journey back to Denver and we looked over some pictures that our other Project Baja team mate sent over of our new paint job.
This was a great trip and I am really glad that we were able to be a part of this team, during this crazy adventure and I am also really psyched with the new progress we have been making on the car. Check out our site to see some updates and more pictures of our new paint.