Final Baja 2000 report part three

Veteran motorcycle racer Haines captured his seventh career Baja victory by riding his Honda to the Class 40 title (riders over 40 years old). Haines teamed with Pete Postell, Kevin Hines and Craig Adams to post a time of 34:47:53 and an average...

Veteran motorcycle racer Haines captured his seventh career Baja victory by riding his Honda to the Class 40 title (riders over 40 years old). Haines teamed with Pete Postell, Kevin Hines and Craig Adams to post a time of 34:47:53 and an average speed of 48.265 m.p.h. 54.

M. Miller of Phoenix, co-driving with R. Arciero of Laguna Hills, Calif., recorded the fourth fastest finishing time for a four-wheel vehicle with a time of 33:05:02 and a speed of 50.766 m.p.h. Miller came back from an early off-course excursion that cost him valuable time and the Chevy drivers made a sensational comeback to finish third in the Trophy Truck category. Miller was ready to call for a rematch after enduring his early-race mishap. "I spotted everyone three hours by driving this truck off a cliff," he said. "We made up over two hours. It could have been interesting if that wouldn't have happened. It was an epic event. I think we could wash it off and do it again." Miller's co-driver, Ryan Arciero's comments: "The truck was as strong now as when we started this race. This was great for us coming back as far back as we were, but we couldn't catch him. The course was phenomenal." Arciero was competing against his father, Frank Arciero Jr., who was co-driving with Mark Post. "I wished I could have raced against him a little more," Ryan said. "I hardly saw him in this race. It would have been fantastic to go nose to nose with him, with me in front of course." #80 Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero drove a remarkable race after getting nearly three hours behind near the start. Miller's Chevy went over a cliff outside of Ensenada and had to make repairs. The duo then came from dead last to pass nearly 180 four-wheel vehicles to place fourth overall with a time of 33:05:02, 50.766 m.p.h.

Gary Weyrich finished second in Class 1 by 47 minutes. Co-driver and brother Mark Weyrich brought the vehicle to the finish after taking control of it at Insurgentes. "My brother started and did a phenomenal job -- he passed 17 cars," Mark said. "This was absolutely the most grueling race I've ever been involved with. The hardest part was La Paz on down. It's very technical and very slippery. The car was very tired. I lost my rear brakes but drove it that way to the finish. The only thing we did was change brakes, the car was flawless." Gary, who drove it to Santa Rosita before handing it off to Charlie Townsley at Insurgentes, was relaxed and happy at the finish line. "I was read to get back in if Mark got tired," Gary said. "I knew it would be the toughest race. Sal (Fish) took us to some of the roughest spots in Baja."

Bekki Freeman, the 29-year-old veteran woman driver from Henderson, Nev., captured the Class 1/2-1600 title Monday night and clinched the Duralast SCORE Desert Series class title. Freeman, splitting driving time with her fiancee and engine builder Adam Wik, along with B.J. Almberg and Mark Bunderson, traveled the course in an impressive 38:37:20 for a speed of 43.486 m.p.h. Freeman's time was a surprising 13th overall among the four-wheel vehicles. With Almberg. Bunderson and Wik driving the first three sections of approximately 400 miles each, Freeman, the only female driver of record in the race, took over just below Ciudad Constitucion while running second in her class, 30 minutes behind Kash Vessels. Driving the final miles of the race, she dueled the final 429 miles of the race with the 21-year old Vessels, son of the legendary desert racer Frank "Scoop" Vassels. Putting the medal to the metal, Freeman closed to two minutes, 36 seconds at Todo Santos, 66 miles from the finish. Freeman caught Vessels physically at mile 164`, getting by him when she took a faster line. She kept pushing it to the finish, beating Vessels by 11 minutes, 51 seconds. For Freeman, the win was her third straight in SCORE's long-distance season-finale, clinching her second Class-1-2/1600 SCORE season point championship in the last three years. It was the first time Freeman had ever split driving time with more than one other driver. Normally, she drives solo or splits some time with Wik. "The past 40 hours were just awesome, we had no flats and no problems at all, what an unbelievable feat for a race of this magnitude," said Freeman. "We started and finished with all the same parts, and to think that three years ago I had never raced in Baja. B.J., Mark and Adam all did wonderful jobs, but I didn't sleep at all after the race started. I was so pumped I spent over $200 in long distance phone calls to the team's satellite phone trying to find out what was going on. As for making up 30 minutes, I guess you could say that I drive well under pressure."

Class winners in the motorcycles were Juan David Ruvalcaba of Ensenada in Class 21 (under 250cc) at 39:07.15, 42.932 m.p.h. to place 12th overall; Geoff Sanborn of Mentone, Calif., in the Sportsman Motorcycles (over 250cc) at 40:09:59, 41.814 m.p.h.; Richard Jackson of Acton, Calif., in Class 50 at 40:25:13, 41.551 m.p.h.; Greg Row of Spring Valley, Calif., in Class 25 (over 250cc ATV) at 41:34:44, 40.394 m.p.h.

Mark McMillin, whose car failed to finish, still remained in the race as the McMillin drivers shifted around between their three vehicles (Corky and Scott were the others). "The Trophy Trucks bunched up all the Class 1's," Mark said. "On the highway at mile 16, there were four, then eight, then 10, then 12 all going together at the same time. We went into the Guadalupe Wash and it was just like an old Riverside start. Dad (Corky) took the right line and smoked us all. I called him on the radio and said 'Dad, what are you doing?' I'm 105 and he's 123 and he's already ahead."

In the Stock Full class, W. David Sykes of Del Mar, Calif. placed fourth. "From the start until Insurgentes, Marc Stein, Al Hogan and I were all switching off," Sykes said. "My truck was falling apart trying to keep in front of them -- they're all damn good drivers. It was an incredible race. Of course the cactus have an ability to jump out on the course. The race had been run beautifully, my crew knew everything going down. This was the way to run a race -- mano a mano. We weren't the best but we had a great time. We conceded first place -- we were shooting for second place. All the people in this class (Stock Full)) are pretty close, we're a tight knit group. We had very little down time." Sykes' co-driver, Joe Haight, offered this comment: "I didn't see one tire on the course. Usually you see some, but I don't think that anyone got a flat. The scenery was unbelievable. A couple of times I said 'Wow, look at this.' It's the race of a lifetime, and the memories will last forever."

The winner of the Protruck/SS/Truck division, Scott Steinberger in a Ford F-150, got his first SCORE victory since the 1997 SCORE Baja 500. Co-driver Jay Reichart, who drove nearly 700 miles, had these comments after crossing the finish line: "The first three minutes we had a flat tire but things went pretty well. I'm pretty ecstatic. We played it smart and just cruised to the finish. Our truck was still in great shape -- we could keep racing."

Jeff Lewis, Chevy S-10, who had won the first two races of the year in his class, claimed his third Class 7 victory here and the SCORE Class 7 season point championship, had never before won a SCORE Baja 1000 race. "This was the best two and half days," he said. "We had ups and downs but the crew came together. There were too many adventures. It was great weather -- we were hoping for more rain but it was fantastic. There was great competition but we pulled it off. We are going to savor this victory -- this was the eighth class championship in a row for Team McPherson."

Darren Skilton, the class winner in Class 3 in a Kia Sportage, successfully defended his title he claimed at last year's SCORE Baja 1000 and his third consecutive SCORE season point championship. "We had a good run, but a hard start," Skilton said. "We were down three hours and got stuck once and I didn't think we would finish. Our big threat was the Mitsubishi team. For a while we were only going 20 miles an hour. Even though it was long and we're tired, it was a special event. The length and quality was perfect. It was very technical and beautiful." Skilton drove the start to La Punisima, then Barrie Thompson drove to La Paz, and Skilton finished the race.

Sammy Martinez, of San Diego, placed second in Class 5-1600. Entering the race, Martinez was fourth in the points race despite finishing just two of the four races in 2000, with placements of fifth and eighth. "We only had two flat tires, so we lost one hour," he said. "I've only had four hours of sleep."

There were some incredible battles throughout the 1,700-mile distance including the Class 8 race for the lead with Curt LeDuc and Chris Wilson before Wilson's vehicle suffered mechanical problems. According to both teams, it was 24 hours of total dicing before the studs came out of one of the Wilson truck's front hubs. In 1-2-1600, the Bekki Freeman-Kash Vessels contest was a dog fight throughout the entire distance with the Nevada-based team claiming victory by just 11 minutes and 51 seconds. Curt Le Duc had a long race within the race versus 83 Chris Wilson. "We had to play the Baja game," Le Duc said. "For 24 hours, we'd pit at almost the same time. But on radio I'd say I was 100 miles ahead of where I actually was. I didn't want to race him -- they were a good team. I'd pull over and let him by -- he was really aggressive and I was more cautious. He would get lost or miss a turn, then I would go by him. After 24 hours, we still had about 700 miles to go. Because he was there the pace was up. We had passed about 40 other cars and were the first non-Trophy Truck on the road. I passed him after San Ignacio and they ended up having problems. Once we had a two-hour lead I took it slower. We backed off the pace."

Bill Robertson of Burbank (Class 1) suffered through one of the most agonizing experiences of the race with a broken torsion tab on his Porter buggy near Catavina (the 400-mile mark). His team had prepared for almost every repair expect one -- torsion tabs. Robertson's vehicle sat for 11 hours before the proper repairs could be made and the team could continue. Robertson finished 13th in Class 1 at 50:45:42.

The Ford team of Robby Gordon and Rob MacCachren started out quickly in the Trophy Truck class on Sunday but water pump problems slowed the veteran team and eventually knocked them out of the race. Both drivers were past Baja winners and two of the best known off-road competitors. With the likes of Gordon, MacCachren, Ivan Stewart, Walker Evans and Mark McMillin out of the longest race ever, the Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 had proven to take its toll of some of the biggest names and teams.

The father/son combination of Dennis (270x) and Jerome (269x) Law, both from San Luis Obispo, Calif., each finished the race solo on their Yamaha 40WR motorcycles. Jerome clocked a 41:48:56, placing third in his class, while Dennis took 54:06:40, finishing 16th in the class. Dennis rode the 1995 Baja 1000 solo, and said he wouldn't do it again. But in 1998, Jerome said "if you do it, I'll do it." So they both did it, with Jerome finishing second in his class by just 50 seconds. "I had so much fun," Jerome said of the 1998 race. "This (the Baja 2000) only happens once in a lifetime, so I was able to convince my dad to do it again. There's nothing really that can prepare you for it. The best thing was to just not think too much about it." Dennis was happy he chose to compete again, saying "Even though its really grueling, I really enjoyed it. The course was incredibly challenging. It's not so much the distance, but it was just challenging" "We planned on going straight through," Dennis Law said. "Jerome only stopped to eat. I hit the wall north of La Paz and was hallucinating, so I got back to the chase truck and rested. I ended up breaking the transmission after that, so that gave me three hours to sleep. We had to tear parts from our '98 bike, which we used to pre-run." "I crashed right out of Catavina," Jerome Law said, "and went over the handlebars. The bike followed me and landed on top of me. I just sat there for a little bit and had to think about things. I kept going, but for 100 miles I only averaged about 25 when I could have been going about 60 because my lights were out. I was definitely one with my bike -- my butt hurt so bad and my leg from the accident. 1,700 miles makes you appreciate 1,000 miles. If all the hard stuff were up near the top, it would have been different. This year it was tougher physically, with the crash and cramping up. I was thinking some crazy stuff and seeing things after awhile."

Clive Skilton finished second in his family, and second in his class (Class 3), as he was beat to the finish line by son Darren. "The interesting thing was that Kia, Jeep and Mitsubishi all had entries here, and each one of them led at some part of the race. The toughest was after San Quentin on the beach. Earlier racers had gone the wrong way, so many later racers were lost or stuck. In the dark, the terrain looks a whole lot different. It was tough because I didn't pre-run in the dark.

Gus Vildosola, who placed 5th in Class 1, was third overall (and first or second in his class) in San Ignacio. "We were right there," Vildosola said. "Leaving San Ignacio we lost the rear right brake caliber, and we were unable to fix it, so we made it the rest of the way without it. We estimated 34 hours, and we were close to that (36:37:17). Basically the difference was our downtime from the brake problem."

Steve Sourapas was third in Class 1 and sixth overall among cars and trucks. "It wasn't pretty at the start," Sourapas said. "I went about one mile and it stuck in fourth gear so I lost 40 minutes. I got back to 10th or 11th after Catavina. There were too many problems at the beginning to be a contender. Once you get behind in a race like this, you can't push it too much. The last 150 miles I drove I didn't see one car, but Doug Fortin Jr. did a great job of passing cars."

SCORE Lite winner Jim Dizney finished his first SCORE race of the year. "We knew we could race our car without breaking it," Dizney said. "We weren't going to do it 100 percent. We were going to back off a little bit and see what was happening to the others." As it turned out, Dizney and his team won his class by nearly an hour.

Ty Godde entered the race tied for the series lead with Jerry Penhall. Goode placed eighth in SCORE Lites while Penhall crossed the line third. "We didn't make good time," Godde said. "Our transmission went out in Catavina, and we lost eight hours but we made it up. We only had three flats the whole time -- BFG tires are the best. The silt and a lot of mud made it challenging. I'm glad there won't be another 2000 race and that it's going back to a 1000."

Another solo finisher was Bob Surmon of La Mirada, Calif., on his Honda XR600. "It was incredible," he said at the finish line. "Everything they say about sleep deprivation was true. I saw a whole mountain-full of fans, and they were all cheering for me! I had to stop and shine my lights up there, and of course there was no one there. Later I saw a bunch of cartoon characters. My girlfriend gets insomnia from a high-protein diet, and I kinda needed insomnia, so I put two and two together. I didn't really want to stop to eat, so I mostly ate high-protein PowerBars. I would tear it open and hold on to it. It was hot and would melt around my grip. Every so often I would take a bite. On my stops I would have canned salmon as my treat -- I felt like a cat. It was better than the silt though -- that tastes like chalk. My bike was flawless -- I didn't have one flat. I've never ridden at night before, and I had to finish without the right lights and I went the last five miles without goggles because they were tinted." Surmon stopped for a 20-minute nap three different times at Honda pits. 96. One of the best battles of any class was in Class 10 where the brothers Steve, Dan and Andrew Myers of Newport Beach, Calif., defeated the team of Dan Hatch of Brea, Calif, Whit Courtney of Prospect, Ky., and Ben Schlimme of Manhattan Beach, Calif., by just 19 seconds. It was the closest finish in any class as Hatch's vehicle physically finished the race in front of the Myers' buggy. But since Hatch started the race three and a half minutes ahead of Myers, the Newport Beach brothers were able to close the gap and take the class victory. Mark Hutchins of Henderson, Nev., held the lead for the first 1000 miles before having difficulties. By La Purisima, Myers took the class lead and fought with the Hatch team throughout the remainder of the 1700-mile race. By Todos Santos (60 miles from the finish), the Myers' buggy led by three minutes and the Hatch vehicle put the pressure on but felt just short at the Cabo San Lucas finish line. Hutchins ended up third, just 50 minutes back.

Class 11 was won by Eric Solorzano, of Tijuana, Mexico. The win was both his third straight victory in this race as well as third consecutive series championship. Solorzano teamed up with five past class champions to form what he called "the Class 11 Dream Team." The drivers included his brother Alberto, another set of brothers, Horacio and Roman Pereya, Martin Garibay and Victor Barajas. "We broke three spindles," Eric Solorzano said, "and we ran out of spindles to fix them. We had to wait 10 hours to get them replaced. Every 200 miles we had to replace the air filters."

Grant Molay, the sole entrant in the European Sportsman class, and his co-drivers all hail from England. Their initial reaction upon first seeing the course? "Oh dear," he said. "We had talked people who had done it from England, but it was difficult to come with any expectations. There were a couple of things we underestimated. One was how difficult the course would be, especially the silt. Also how cold it gets at night. It was my idea 18 months ago to get involved in this. My approach to the whole thing was this was a very light-hearted attempt. Our underlying philosophy was to jump in and lose with style. The big teams were helping us out because we were the underdogs, but they were also having a laugh at us. After only 10 miles, we busted a gear box. It took a year to build the car and only 24 minutes to kill it. We went back to Ensenada and stripped out half the stuff in our car because we had too much weight. We went down to the course near San Ignacio -- it was a perfect part of the course -- we thought that the whole course would be like this. The problem was the siltbeds, we kept getting stuck in them. We came down and did the last part of the course (estimated 20 miles) to come through the finish. We only had three checkpoint stubs and they (finish line officials) couldn't figure out why."

A total of four solo riders survived the race. Besides the aforementioned Jerome and Dennis Law and Bob Surmon, Japanese rider Kenichira Seki was also believed to have completed the course by himself. Seki ended his journey with a time of 76:22:54, and was 30th in the Sportsman M/C>250cc Class, which had 31 finishers out of 38 starters. Not only was the Tecate SCORE Baja 2000 the longest desert race ever held, now it was the richest desert race with a purse over $600,000 in cash and contingency postings. Amazingly, the 185 total finishers (out of 262 starters) represented a 70.5% finishing rate. That rate was the highest ever, as no other year since 1973 when the total numbers of starters and finishers were kept had there been this high a rate. The Trophy-Trucks and Class 11 were the only two pro classes that had less than a 50% finishing rate, as six of 16 Trophy-Trucks (38%) and one of three (33%) Class 1's crossed the finish line. Class 1 saw 15 finishers (out of 22 starters), and three classes (1/2-1600, SCORE Lite and 30) had 13 finishers each. Among the top 10 overall four-wheel vehicles, three were Trophy-Trucks and seven were Class 1. The first two motorcycles to take the checkered flag were 1:20 and 10 minutes respectively ahead of Dan Smith's Trophy Truck. That marked the seventh straight year at SCORE's season finale that a motorcycle was the fastest finisher (Ivan Stewart's 1993 victory was the only time since 1975 that a four-wheel vehicle did not cross first). A total of 284 media credentials from seven countries were issued for this event by SCORE Media operations in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas. Competition Review Board Director Reese King declared the results official at 7:15 p.m. race time (PST) on Wednesday, Nov. 15 after no protests were filed. SCORE officials have decided to hold the results for the Sportsman Truck class pending verification of checkpoint passing times for the three vehicles who crossed the finish line in Cabo San Lucas.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Score
Drivers Robby Gordon , Curt LeDuc , Rob MacCachren , Mark Miller , Chris Wilson , Darren Skilton , Andrew Myers , Mark Post , Mark McMillin , Gary Weyrich