** Editor's note: This is a first-person account of Enduro Racing's Ford F-150 overall Truck/Car win and first in Trophy Truck at the Baja 2000 as told by Tom Greene, Manager of Transmission Electronics for Ford Motor Company.
The Enduro Racing Duralast F-150 is modestly co-sponsored by Ford Powertrain engineering (Duralast batteries is the primary sponsor). Ford's express purpose in participating in off-road racing is to improve the durability of the engine and transmission components and quickly learn ways to make improvements. The powertrain is a 5.4L 4-valve engine (same as the Lincoln Navigator's) bolted to a 4R100 automatic transmission with Sport Shift Transmission, same as in the Lincoln LS. The engine makes 605 hp and the transmission utilizes 70% production components with the primary torque-carrying components upgraded for the increased engine output.
I'll attempt to outline what was the most exciting, nail-biting, cliff-hanging event it has ever been my pleasure to witness. No one expected a large "survivor rate" for this race. A typical desert race will see maybe one-half of the participants finish - and sage, experienced participants were forecasting that less than a quarter of the participants would actually finish this gruelling event.
It started with 260 vehicles leaving the line for the longest point-to-point desert race ever run. The bikes and quads (yes, there were some intrepid folks who undertook riding a quad for nearly 2000 miles) took to the desert first, starting at 6 a.m. The trucks and cars followed at approximately 9 a.m. I was at the main pit some 910 miles down the course for the first stop.
About four hours in, we got word that the Enduro Racing F-150's engine was overheating. Since radio communication is difficult on the peninsula, we were not sure if it was mud in the radiator or some internal problem. A satellite phone call to Jeff Lyjak, supervisor of modular V8 engine design and "father" of the Enduro 5.4L race engine, to discuss the situation and another call to the chase crew at race mile 250 helped us come up with a plan: add "stop leak" to the radiator, fill it with water and operate very conservatively for some time to give the sealant a chance to work.
During the first pit stop, we added the sealant and three and a half gallons of water, and sent driver Dan Smith on his way. He took it easy, averaging under 40 mph for a couple of hours, then turned the truck over to Dave Ashley at the scheduled driver-change and pit service point about 410 miles into the race. There the team also took on tires, fuel, another dose of "stop leak" and two quarts of water. The truck seemed to be running cool when Ashley took over, so he took it up to the planned conservative pace of under 50 mph average. The engine coolant temp hit 235 degrees again. Ashley backed the pace way back down, came into a pit area, added another dose of Alumaseal and a couple of quarts of water, and went back out again.
By now, the slow pace to let the Alumaseal work had put Enduro Racing's F-150 59 minutes down to Ivan Stewart (PPI Toyota Tundra) and Larry Ragland (Vortec Chevrolet Trailblazer), who had been bumper-to-bumper for the first few hundred miles. With the pace that Stewart and Ragland were setting, continuing at slow speed wasn't an option, so they started picking up the pace. I was plotting their elapsed time and distances from the radio at the main pit. I charted average speeds of 41 mph, then 44 mph, then 51 mph, then 55 mph, then 63 mph. I could easily conclude that they had "picked up the pace" considerably. The Enduro was closing on Stewart when we heard a sketchy account that Ragland may have lost a transmission but we monitored their pitstop time (their pit was a few miles up the road from the Enduro Racing pit). to be sure. They were in the pit for about an hour and 25 minutes changing the transmission on the mid-engine V drive vehicle. The Vortec went out and resumed the pace it had been carrying since the start: fast, very fast.
The first bike had gone through our 910 mile marker pit area at 10:05 pm, only 16 hours after starting the race. We had reports that Stewart was headed our way with a 30-minute lead over the Truggie of the Herbst team. (A truggie is a Class 1 unlimited buggy vehicle - Herbst uses a large Ford V8 with about 800+ hp in their truggie.) News was that behind the four leaders in the Truck/Car category (Stewart, Herbst's Truggie, Ragland, and Enduro Racing), we had hours of empty race course because the leaders had run off and hid from the rest of the racers. Ashley and Smith put on a charge unlike any you could imagine, gaining on the UNBELIEVABLY fast pace set by Stewart and Ragland - this was a 2000 mile race, and they were running it like it was a 100 mile sprint.
About 1:30 am, Stewart came past our pit, and let me tell you, Toyota has found a LOT of horsepower in that V8 of theirs. It sounded like a big block Chevy at full song as he went by... but I noticed he was having trouble shifting. He missed a downshift to second, and had lots of difficulty getting it into first as he slowed to go through the Federales' checkpoint. Stewart quickly disappeared into the night and about an hour later Ashley came in smiling. The engine temp had been running about 180 for the past 300 miles or so, and the truck was running good.
Smith slid into the driver's seat after getting tires, brake checks, fuel (they put in 80 gallons, in about 28 seconds), some more water and just a dash more sealant. He was then off to "put a move on 'em". The move on Stewart turned out not to be necessary. Shortly before Enduro Racing left, we saw Stewart's truck on a strap being towed back up to their pit. We later learned the engine had expired -- one of Stewart's crew members at a gas stop down the peninsula described the event as "it went 'POP'" -- and that was the end of their race. At the Vortec pit, Ragland's crew were again working on the trans problem. Herbst's Truggie went into a pit for a trans change somewhere south of the mid-point of the race and that moved them back to 25 minutes or so behind the leading Enduro F-150.
So, with a transmission problem in Ragland's GM Powertrain-sponsored Chevy and an engine failure in Stewart's Toyota, Enduro Racing had the lead. Smith was moving along at an incredible pace - and yet, despite that, Ragland was gaining time. We took the pit down and headed south. From then on, the race between Ragland and Enduro Racing got closer and closer. It was now nearing noon and the lead diminished from 14 to seven minutes and then to exactly 12 seconds as we watched from a crossing 80 miles from the finish. Can you believe it -- 1700 miles so far and the margin is 12 seconds? And the Herbst Truggie was only 22 minutes back, a threat for the overall win.
A side comment: GM had 22 pickups and Suburban support vehicles, four semis and a helicopter to support the two Vortec Chevrolet team race trucks. I have a picture of our pit with the six Enduro Racing chase vehicles on one side and six of Chevy's on the other side of the road - one of which was the Hydramatic truck.
We pitted 65 miles north of the finish. Several of the Vortec team were pitted next to us - the offroad race community is a fairly close knit group - so many Enduro Racing people knew the members of the Vortec team. One of their crew asked us, "So tell me you are stopping for something here...", to which Smith immediately retorted "we are good to go to the end" of the race. A true statement, as long as we didn't run out of fuel... it was POSSIBLE we might not go to the end, but Vortec didn't need to know that.
The last 60 miles into Cabo San Lucas was an absolute classic Chevy vs. Ford dogfight. Ragland had started the race one minute before Smith, so he needed to pass Enduro and get one minute ahead to win. With about 40 miles to go, Ragland was right on the back bumper of the Enduro Racing F-150 with about three seconds between them. They went into one of the high-speed turns in the course but only Ashley came out! Ragland had rolled the Vortec Chevy all on his own. We quickly learned from our air support who had talked to the Chevy helicopter that Ragland and co-driver Brian Stewart were out of the Trailblazer and trying to put it back on its wheels. We breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Smith met the truck on course, added one dump can of fuel and sent Ashley off for the finish line. Ashley was the first four-wheeled vehicle to finish. Later on, Ragland got the Vortec Chevy righted and Ragland crossed the finish line about an hour after Enduro Racing.
The Enduro Racing Ford F-150 is the overall Truck/Car Champion of the Baja 2000. Dick Landfield, the owner of Enduro Racing, thanked the team for their effort and fantastic results! Team Duralast had covered the peninsula in a time of 32 hours, 15 minutes, and 39 seconds at an average speed of 52.061 mph.
Some post-race statistics: Dave Ashley and Dan Smith had started the race with the philosophy of driving slowly enough to win, and they did just that: the end-of-race inspection showed the original brake pads still had 50% wear left on them, the chassis was 100% intact and the engine and transmission were just fine. They had only ONE flat the entire race, a testament to BF Goodrich tire toughness. It occurred just prior to the mid-point driver change and resulted from an encounter with a VERY large rock.
Oh, remember the grim forecast for finishing percentages? During the awards ceremony, it was announced that this race had resulted in the HIGHEST finishing percentage of any SCORE race for which there were finisher records. Over 70% of the starters completed the race in the time limit of 80 hours. This was a testament to the preparation the teams made for the race and the care they exercised during the event.
About 25 people supported the Enduro Racing effort with one semi and six four-wheel drive trucks in contrast to Vortec's 26-vehicle support team and about 20 vehicles supporting Stewart's Toyota. It was an absolutely incredible result and one for which we should acknowledge their efforts.