Riding the Baja 1000 by Brian Cornelius

What’s it like to ride the Baja 1000 you ask?

The race started and I got the bike from Tim at mile 120. He had done his job and the Honda was in one piece. My goal was to ride a good, comfortable, but fast pace, get the bike to Brent at mile 220 and most importantly do it without crashing. I did just that, my section was mostly desert with lots of rocks, sand, dry lake beds, and a 20 plus mile section of the toughest whoops I have ever ridden. I got through the whoops in one piece and even managed to pass a couple of bikes, it felt great to pass other riders on such a tough course. I was not prepared however, for the amount of spectators. They were everywhere! At times it seemed like thousands of them on both sides of the course and even some out in the middle of nowhere, spectators! Brent Durfee, our teams 3rd rider and the chase crew Mike Schmahl and Malcolm Bottorff were waiting at mile 220 as planned and it felt great knowing that I did my part to get team 211x to the finish line. Now it was up to the other 4 guys.

We had a jammed packed week planned.

Each year the layout for the Baja 1000 course changes, for 2008 the Score/Tecate Baja 1000 was going to be 640 miles, starting and finishing in Ensenada. With 6 riders on Team 211x we were all going to ride about 100 miles each. We had a jammed packed week planned. Our plan was to pre-run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. We would each ride the race bike to make any final adjustments on Wednesday and then registration and tech inspection on Thursday. Friday morning the first bike leaves at 6:30am and then every 30 seconds another hopeful participant takes off. Three hours after the first of the bikes leaves, the first Trophy Truck takes off. The plan was to cross the finish line before midnight and then celebrate on Saturday.

In preparation for the brutal terrain of Baja and sections of night riding we went with Baja Designs dual 8-inch La Paz HID lights and every other trick, built to last part. Orchestrating the team of riders, chase crew, and logistics was a task handled by Jimmy Sones who is a multi-time Baja winner, Del Munoz, Mike Schmahl, and Malcolm Bottorff from Tucker Rocky. The bike we would be riding was a new 2007  Honda CRF450X with Honda/JCR (Johnny Campbell Racing) pits, the perfect combination for winning, well for us, finishing. The riders consisted of Tim Pritchard from Tucker Rocky, Brent Durfee from Dunlop, Brandon Baldwin from Motion Pro, Dave Cullinan from Two Brothers, Lance Kerr from MSR, and myself from Paragon Powersports. Team 211x Tucker Rocky / Dunlop / Motion Pro / Two Brothers / MSR / Motorex / and Yuasa were all set with veteran riders, but Baja 1000 virgins. This was going to be an adventure! The crew was completed by Vadime, the drunken Russian from Monteclair Yamaha. The Baja 1000 is a bit like Christmas. You spend a lot of time and money preparing for it and when the big day finally comes it is over before you know it.

It all started in August of 2008 when I received a phone call from Del Munoz, the national sales manager of Tucker Rocky Distributing, one of the largest distributors in the motorcycle industry. He was organizing a team for the Baja 1000 in November and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. Living in Southern California I usually trial ride in Baja a couple times per year, but I have never had the opportunity to actually race the Baja 500 or Baja 1000, until this year. The only catch was I had to bring sponsors to the table to help fund the event. A quick call to my friends at Motorex Oil and Yuasa Batteries, and yes, I was in.

 

Needless to say, I was pretty excited! Del said that the goal for the 1000 was to finish safely and have fun. This was good to hear since I realized years ago that I would never receive a call from Team Honda asking to partner with Johnny Campbell.

After completing my stint as rider I spent the rest of the day and night in the chase truck meeting the bike at certain spots for the light install, a rear wheel change, and general support. At about 10pm we arrived in the town of Ojos Negros, which was at race mile 600. This would be our final chase spot and only opportunity to cheer on our final rider, Lance Kerr. Who was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 pm. By midnight we were getting pretty worried.

Thanks to the GPS unit on the bike and a friend in The States tracking and texting us updates to our rented sat phones, we learned that Lance was stopped at mile 543. Unfortunately we had no idea why. Did he crash? Was he hurt? Did the bike break? We all had our fingers crossed that everything was OK. A long hour and a half later we received the text that we had been hoping for 211x was moving again! Another hour and a half later and after dozens of bikes, quads, and Trophy trucks had passed, Lance arrived. He was OK, but he had run out of gas and a police truck on the course picked him and the bike up and took him backwards on the course to a helpful pit. They were able to give him a gallon of gas, just enough to get him to Honda pit #12. (Later we found out that our 5th rider Dave Cillinan, missed Honda pit #11) In addition, because of the coastal fog and the dusty beat up racecourse he hit a rock and ripped off the chain guard and bent the rear sprocket.


In the photo: Brent Durfee, Brandon Baldwin, Lance Kerr, Tim Pritchard, Dave Cullinan, Brian Cornelius

Fortunately he was able to push it to another helpful pit to borrow some tools and get the bike rolling again. Our team manager Jimmy Sones had some parting words for Lance. ¬ĚStay on course the next 40 miles, watch out for booby-traps, and get the bike to the finish. At 3 am Saturday morning we were all in Ensenada to welcome Lance across the finish line.

Other than a couple minor setbacks, we accomplished our goal. We finished 6th place in the Sportsman Under Class, 101st overall (out of 347 starters), with a time of 19 hours and 54 minutes. We were all in one piece and had a great time. What an adventure!

If riding the course or racing the Baja 1000/500 is a dream of yours give a call to Tim Morton at Baja Bound Adventures. Visit www.bajaboundmoto.com or call 888-664-2252. He’s a great guy with tons of experience to make your ride go as smoothly as possible.