Final night before the last event of the year. It's 8:30pm and I'm happy to report that Robby Gordon is in bed, sleeping. The truck has been shaken down and given the once and twice over, so theoretically he should be able to run without major problems. None of us want to endure a situation like last year where the truck had transmission problems from the time we unloaded it.
Today the truck went through contingency where it was inspected by the SCORE tech group. It's quite a fan fare at contingency. The streets in the near area are shut down and the locals come out in droves to take photos, get autographs and buy t-shirts from the vendors. It was pretty impressive, the crowd just got bigger and bigger as the morning wore on and they all knew Mr. Robby Gordon. You kept hearing his name with a Mexican accent as the people filtered by the truck. When he showed up he couldn't keep the Sharpie out of his hand. If he signed one shirt, he signed a thousand.
The night before contingency, Robby took the truck for a last spin to make sure everything was okay. Mike Held rode with him on a quick 15-20 mile loop in the middle of the night at the starting point in the middle of nowhere, "Ojos Negros". When the ride was over, Mike climbed out of the truck with a genuine look of shock. He said it was the most insane experience he's ever had in a motor vehicle. And this after pre-running all day with Robby in a truck specifically built for Baja. Basically, it's heavy duty in its own right and would probably be able to compete in the race as is.
Mike couldn't stop talking about his ride. The speed apparently was unreal. For starters it was dark, so visibility was low. Add to that fog and dust. Then step on the gas and run 115mph next to a row of telephone poles before hitting a jump (that according to Mike he never saw) and fly 90 feet, hitting the ground under full power. The whole experience sounded incredible, something I'm sure he'll write a little story about some time.
Early call in the morning tomorrow, 5am for all of us to drive up to Ojos Negros. From there the 14 hour journey begins with a well orchestrated series of pit stops, helicopters rides, and chase vehicles. We have some 50 people working to get Rob to the finish.
The course is supposedly very tight and twisty with a lot of low speed sections this year. In our pit meeting this afternoon Robby told everyone he was going to "cruise" on the first loop, then evaluate the competition and his standing for the second loop to see who he needs to race to the end. The slow stuff is very technical, so mistakes can be costly. I had to laugh at his plan, I've seen him speak of such plans all year and try to push it from the moment go. Why would this be any different?! But that's what makes him good.
Guys to watch are obviously Ivan Stewart and Larry Ragland, but don't rule out Pops - Bob Gordon. He won the Class 1 Buggy division last year and finished third overall, only a few minutes off of Ivan. Rob thinks a buggy could be the ticket this year with all the technical stuff. Bob does too for that matter. As for Ivan, his fearless prediction was that Robby would break three of four times because the truck isn't proven yet. Hmmmph. We'll just have to see.
May the best man win out here, it's a crazy sport - but then again Robby is a crazy person.
Reality Check. Mike Held
Over the last few months, Team Gordon has been preparing for the Baja 1000. This race is one of Robby's favorites. You can tell because when you ask Robby about Baja, he gets that twinkle in his eye. There is definitely something about racing in the dirt that gives Robby Gordon therapy, some sort of soothing therapy.
The past few days have been very tough with Greg Moore's untimely and tragic accident. Any sort of therapy is welcomed around here.
Being very close to Robby, he wanted me to spend some extra time with him for this Baja 1000. We pre-ran much of the course all day on Tuesday, some 14 hours worth. The course this year is two loops that begin just outside Ensenada, Mexico and end in the same place. After we pre-ran over half the course in the pre-runner, we met up with the race team to "shake" down the race truck. This was a good idea since I was scheduled to be Robby's co-driver for the second loop of the race. Robby's friend and owner of CalTime Metals, Greg Till is the primary co-driver and has been for years. This course however is very rough and Greg only wanted to go one loop. I thought I would be up to the challenge.
The race truck is a different animal. This is a weapon, built for speed. Of course, after all day of pre-running, I was the expert of Off-Roading and was up to the shakedown of the race truck. In fact I was looking forward to the speed.
We began the shakedown at 11:00pm. It was getting cold in the desert. Remember, the race truck has no windows and no heater. The engine sits rights behind the driver and is blasting 600+ horsepower right in your ears.
I thought to myself, this is going to be great. And as the preparation began, suddenly reality began to creep in. The race truck started with a roar. We adjusted lighting and seatbelts and radios and trip meters and fans and gauges. We were going to do the shakedown on one of the fastest places on the course so Robby could get a feel for the truck. He looked over at me with a sheepish grin asking me, "Are you ready". "Let's get it on," I replied. And with that the Toyota put me back in my seat as the Turtle Wax Extreme vehicle began to run through the gears. It was very cold and very loud. Not to mention, very fast. We sailed over moggles flying some 90 feet and landing without the slightest impact. It was amazing. We ran over 125 miles an hour in between barb wire fencing and telephone poles on either side. And as we did, reality crept in a bit deeper.
This race truck is not a pre-runner. This is a rocketship built for the desert to be piloted only by the most qualified, Robby Gordon. There was never a question in my mind that Robby was out of control. In fact, quite to the contrary, he was very smooth and very fast. We decided to turn around and return down the same path back to the pit which was set up along the road side.
There was only one problem. The air was full of dust and you couldn't see anything. I mean nothing. "Let's go" Robby said. You need to see what it's going to be like when we are behind traffic. He stepped on the throttle and the rocket began to scream again. All I could make out was that we were traveling faster than I could see. Visibility was horrible yet we were moving at well over 100mph and jumping this truck some 20' in the air. Honestly, I was scared shitless. All I could think about was "how the hell am I going to do this for 7 hours?" I have no idea where we are going or what's up ahead. What happens if we need to fix something? My mechanical aptitude has waned the past few years since I obviously don't do that for a living. Did I have my life insurance paid up? Did my wife really know what I was up to? Reality check big time.
I made the instantaneous decision at that moment I was going to have to forfeit my position as the co-driver to someone more qualified. For a previous college football player and all around jock, that decision played havoc with my ego, but my wife and three kids I was certain, would be happy I made that decision.
The point here is that be it therapy or not for Robby Gordon, the Baja 1000 and this particular Turtle Wax Toyota race truck is the real deal. These competitors race purpose-built race cars in a setting where there should never be a race.
Now, more than ever before, I have a newfound respect for my partner and friend. And for the record, I am man enough to admit, this business is for those who truly have "No Fear".................. or at least, never admit it.