Winning The Baja 1000 With UTV Inc.
Well the Baja 1000 in my mind started around the time I had finished my 3rd off road Race. I started thinking to myself ‘man I would Love to Race the Baja 1000’. This was Long Before I knew or anybody knew that this year the Baja 1000 was going to be one of the longest races in the 47 years of the Baja 1000 Races. I was pretty fresh on Baja thoughts because the month before I had just raced the Baja 500 and Finished in 4th Place. Not so great but when you know that half the people that start a Baja Race never finish it, 4th Place is Pretty Great.
So I start thinking: I need another Chase Truck with more tools, spare parts, GPS’s, 2 Way Radios, more Satellite Phones, and I would Like to Turn a New Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 into a machine just for the long distance races. Now you have to understand I JUST built a Polaris RZR XP 2 1000 into a Racer 3 Months earlier. Why in the hell would I want to start all over and build another car and Chase Truck? I am also Thinking I would Like to Build what we call is a Pre-Runner Polaris RZR XP 4 1000 with 2 Way Radios and GPS etc so I can go down to Baja before the Races to drive the race course and check out what I have gotten myself into. I am Out of control, I am Hooked, I am Addicted and I am burning thru money like nobody should. I am making other peoples bad habits look cheap!
So Part of the Plan is a new race car. I go over it in my mind day and night. What to change and what not to change. I’m thinking more fuel for longer runs between pit stops and more room for spare parts. Also I have to build it lighter than my 1st Racer. These are my Goals. Second Part is to build a ‘Pre-runner Car’ with the same Lone Star Suspension and Fox Shocks I and running on my current 3 month old race car. This way I can pre-run the course and know what we are up against.
Third Part is Buy and Build another Ford F350 Service/Chase Truck and stock it with tools, Spare Parts, Spare Tires, Welders, Generator, Lift Kit, Tires, Wheels, Radios for off road communication, GPS Systems, Satellite Phone, Racks to carry parts, and Killer LED off road lighting from Rigid Industries so we can see where we are going and see what we are working on at night.
Fourth Part of the Plan is I can’t Drive 1275 miles nonstop thru the roughest terrain on earth myself. So I need Drivers, and I want Good Drivers to help. I’m thinking I want a new driver every 300 to 400 miles so we will all be fresh and on top of our game. Now I am in search for what I am calling ‘The Dream Team’.
Fifth part of the plan is the ‘Support Crew’ and ‘Co Drivers’. I need 3 Drivers, 4 Co Drivers or Navigators, and 4 or more guys in the Chase Trucks for pit support.
What should I do?
I am Fucking Nuts! I think to myself day after day, and I’m still thinking about doing this. When I get something in my mind that I want to do, I am pretty well screwed. I’ve been told I have no self-control and when I try to do something, I give it 110% and do it right or to the best of my ability.
So I pick up the phone and order 2) brand New 2015 Polaris RZR XP 4 1000s. For a couple of days I think I can get away with using my Current Ford F-350 and My Ford Raptor as chase trucks, but I still have that chase truck #2 sitting in the back of my mind.
So all this stuff has been mind boggling for about a month, we are still racing the old car and doing ok plus learning at every race. The shipping truck shows up with two new 2015 RZR XP 4 1000s and I tell my guys about ‘The Plan’ and they get to work. All while trying to keep up on their normal daily duties at the shop. They work 12 to 14 hours a day on the New Racer and the New Pre Runner. The poor guys would work 6 to 12 or more hours on something and when they got done, I would walk up and say ‘Oops I really don’t like that’. They would throw their hands in the air be pissed but always start over.
The New Chase Truck
Well ya couldn’t get it out of my mind either, so I pull the trigger and traded in my old Hummer to get the truck coming. I call Chris at XTC Motorsports and tell him to get all the same parts coming as Chase 1 since I just bought a new truck. Then I start ordering all the parts, tools, GPS’s, 2 Way Radios, Antenna’s etc etc to make a copy of Truck #1.
The Pre Runner
I tell the Guys what my goals are for the Pre Runner. Same Bad ASS Lone Star Racing Suspension as the Race Cars. Same Bad Ass Fox 3” IBP Shocks as the Race Car. Comfy Twisted Stitch seats for long hours of pre-running, and another GPS, 2 Way Radio and Antenna from PCI Race Radios. I also start thinking this might be a good time to get the old airplane its annual air worthiness Certificate. Just in case I need to make a quick trip or two to Mexico to check out the course.
The Race Team and Pit Crew
Well this is a harder problem then just throwing money at it. I am Thinking I need Fast Guys that are always in it to Win It. None of this take it easy, save the car stuff. We need FAST. I start making a list of who is not already racing. Who is fast and might be willing to take a week off work with no pay to take a chance on my team getting it right, so that they don’t waste a week with a car that only makes it a couple of miles? I start thinking to myself, Branden Sims, I know he is fast and can handle the car. You see the other problem is, fast don’t matter if you can’t keep the car on all four wheels. Now I have been in front of Branden and behind him so I have a pretty good Idea he can do what it’s going to take. So I call him up and he says “Oh ya! That’s awesome! Thanks for calling me, let me see if I can get time off work and I will call you back on Friday.” LOL, Friday comes and goes and I never hear from him. I am thinking to myself; ‘really, what the heck, I just want a simple YES or NO here. I’m not trying to plan out a huge race here.’
Next I start thinking I will do the first 200 miles, then it will be night time, so I need somebody Young and Fast to Race the Night Section of Baja Darkness. If Branden is in he can race the next day section as he will be able to haul ass during the day. Then I will get back in and finish! LOL, yah right, that’s if we make it that far. Well Branden still hasn’t called me back, so I start thinking who else who else? I call Branden Back and tell him I need an answer, he says he needs a couple more days. I start thinking ‘hmmm who else do I know that has been racing, has a lot of RZR seat time and can haul ass?’ So I come up with somebody and call him up. He says “oh hell yah!” Then he asked what the dates were and then “Nope sorry I have stuff going on that week that I can’t get out of, Sorry.” So back to Brandon and now he’s in!!
Next thing you know, Jim Quinn walks in my shop and I tell him ‘Hey I was just getting ready to call you and ask if your Son Justin Might be interested in racing the Baja 1000?’ You see back in the days of Yamaha Rhino racing, LOL ya, Yamaha Rhino 23 HP Racing. Justin used to race with us short course and he was about 14 Years old. I remember him being pretty good too! Him and his Dad currently own Polaris RZR 1000s and Ride a lot! He has also been racing sprint cars for the last 4 or 5 years as well. Somehow after talking with Jim, less than 5 minutes later Justin calls and he is in for the 330 Mile Night Section with co-driver Craig Hamer. Craig is one of my top fab guys that’s building the new race chassis.
Ok I am getting confused, you guys still with me? Want to hear more? So now I am starting to ask guys to take a week off work and pit Crew with us. Also, I am still trying to find another co-driver for Branden.
Our lineup of drivers/co-drivers looks like this:
Johnny Angal “Jonny Lightning” / Eric Ringler “Boner”
Justin Quinn “Quinny” / Craig Hamer “Hammer”
Branden Sims “Backpack” / Shawn Smith “Selfie”
Brian Bush “Brian Bush” / Nate McCasland
Pit and chase crew:
The Pits and Mapping
Now I am mapping and planning pits and spending days with the current race GPS files and Google Earth laying out what I think will net us the least amount of pits for fuel, stops for Driver Changes, and spots that are somewhat accessible to my trucks. To tell you the truth, I have no clue as to if this is a good strategy or bad. Most people say you want more pits so you can take a break, get a cold drink, a snack and check the car over. I am thinking drinks..? Snacks..? Picnic..? Yogi Bear..? I have a lot of faith in my guys work and the Polaris RZR Drivetrain, so I am sticking with the least amount of stops as possible. As I am planning, I am coming up a little short on drivers. I know I want to keep fresh drivers behind the wheel so I call Branden and ask him what he thinks about adding another driver? We talk and are thinking of giving Brian Bush a 130 Mile Section and Branden says “Let’s do it!”
So now we have a full Team and Brian also has his own chase truck with tools but not many spare parts. When I ask him, he says he has a spare axle, a used belt and that’s about it. I know he also carries a few old Datsun parts in the truck to make it look good. Now we are running out of time. I have been working on nothing but race stuff for over a month. Mexico Insurance, copies of titles and registration for each truck and trailer, maps, ordering small parts, tools, Satellite Phones, Extra Fuel Tanks for chase trucks, lighting for race car and chase truck, on and on and on. I think it is finally all coming together. I know in the back of my mind that half the people that start a race will NOT finish it. It’s no easy task, Baja will chew you up, spit you out and leave you broken and busted in the middle of no place. There is NO 911 Here, No ambulance is going to just show up when you do screw up. This is Baja you’re pretty much on your own.
Camp RZR and Fox Shock Tuning
It is now about two weeks until race time. My guys are busting butt to get the race car done and then I tell them “Hey, I am going to the dunes for Halloween and Camp RZR, so get the Pre Runner done so I can drive it and get the shocks set up for the race car while I am there.” I know I can get some work done on them by Fox Shocks if need be, because they will be at Camp RZR also. They drop what they are doing and in three days working 16 hours a day they get it done and I head to Glamis.
All I can think about is Baja. I’m not having fun… I’m not dunning… I’m flying up and down the roads trying to go as fast as I can. I think I’m practicing for Baja, but I am kidding myself! The dunes have some whoops and bumps but still nothing like the brutal Baja desert. I know I should be at work, working on Baja stuff not out at the dunes. I get ahold of the main guy at Fox and tell him my concerns and ask him to please drive my pre-runner. This car is running the same parts as my racer and ask him to tell me what he thinks. He takes it for a ride, comes back and concurs that we need to make some changes. He takes the shocks off and gets them done. I now go with him for a test ride and I am holding the car wide open and it’s sucking up everything Glamis is throwing at us! Woohoo! I am feeling a bit better now!
Getting Done and Packed
Everybody is helping now! We have finished the car and taken it to Wolf Designs for a pretty wrap. We need to build a chase rack for the new truck, install 2 way radios, GPS, Satellite phones, Rigid LED Lighting, generator mounts, fuel tank mounts and get shit loaded up. Somehow after lots of hours and long nights, it is getting done!
OK, OK, I know you only want to hear the Race Re-Cap, but did we ever test the car?
Testing the Car
Well the 2015 RZR XP 4 1000 seems to have a 71-72 MPH speed limiter on it. That isn’t going to win the Baja 1000. Nope, no way, never, isn’t going to happen. So I call up my buddy at Queen Racing and ask him if I can send him my ECU to have him remove the speed limiter. Little did I know, Mark says he will get in his car, at 4 in the morning, come to my shop and do it here! He is also going to check the tuning, air to fuel ratios and richen it up if we need to as I will be running race fuel in Mexico. I don’t want to get some low octane fuel at the gas station and you are not allowed to haul fuel into Mexico. I also have a full Muzzy’s exhaust that they sent me for the racer. I want to install it for a bit more free flowing exhaust and power. So we get it all done; Muzzy’s, Queen Tune-up and we are testing it. The RPM is going way to high but the car is hauling ass! We are hitting 85 and 86 MPH and it is still climbing! So we install some new clutch weights and still too high. Damn, we are leaving for Mexico in 1 day and I don’t have any heavier Polaris clutch weights. I like to run as many Polaris parts as I can since I figure Polaris has spent millions and millions in the last 7 years making parts that will last and live in their off road machines. I don’t know what to do, so I take the exhaust off and that helps out. LOL, too much power isn’t a good thing when you need to race 1275 Miles! We also make a few other small changes and now we have it under control.
I take the car out ripping thru the desert and its working great! We learned a lot with our first build and implemented those things in this new car. It now has 60 miles on it and I take it back to the shop to start looking it over. We find the battery cable is touching the driveline and that’s not a good thing! We get it tied up out of the way and we load it up for our trip to Baja tomorrow morning.
We all meet at my house at 5am and head out. It takes us 7 hours to get to Ensenada. We need to get our new chassis inspected, pick up our 3) 55 gallon drums of race fuel and head to registration. All is good at chassis tech, we also get our fire suits and helmets inspected and across the street is the race fuel pickup. Now that that is out of the way, we the head to registration to get all signed in! We all head to the hotel to get settled in for the night.
Polaris is also having a little party for Baja racers that are racing Polaris machines. So we head to the Polaris RZR Baja Assault Party. Food, drinks, live band, free swag and everybody that I am racing against, LOL. We hang out for a while, shoot the shit, tell lies about how fast and light our car is and try to psyche everybody into believing that we are the fastest best racers in the world and they don’t have a chance! When really we are hoping, praying, crossing our fingers, rubbing our lucky rabbit’s foot (he wasn’t so lucky or I wouldn’t have his foot) and thinking we have a chance. I hope Baja doesn’t chew us up and spit us out.
I am not sure what the hell it really is? We get to show off our cars to the locals, who come out by the thousands, we get to hang out and check out the race cars and we roll thru a street lined with 70 or 80 vendors selling product. If you win the race, those vendors will pay you a small sum back for running their products. Also film crews and camera men run around like mad men getting pictures and hoping they got the great photo of the car and crew that’s going to win the race. We hand out stickers to the crowds with our company logo on them and normally try to slide over to our competitor’s cars and get one of our stickers on their cars. However this race I am not in the mood for games. I have spent long days and nights for months getting ready for this. I have spent piles and piles of money that in a split second could be all for nothing and leave me chasing the Baja win for years to come. Anyway, we get in the contingency line at 12 Noon with the other RZRs and UTV guys. We all roll thru together we get done around 7 pm. Tomorrow is race day, we will be starting around 2:30 PM and I will be doing the first 200 miles of the 47th Baja 1000!
I don’t fall asleep till around Midnight and now I have to wake up at 5AM! That sucks! I head to the coffee shop to get a cup and think to myself; here we are, this is it, this is what we have all been working towards for the last three months. I start 4th, I think I can pass the three cars in front of me within the first 30 to 50 miles to run in clean air. I plan to lead the race until the 200 mile mark, LOL. I think I am fast, but everybody thinks they are fast. I am confident, I am cocky, but if all the guys I am racing against aren’t then they probably shouldn’t be here. I’ve been told I am too cocky and I think my shit don’t stink, but that is so far from the truth. Yah, maybe I am extra confident and a bit too cocky but I believe in myself. I believe in my team or I wouldn’t be in Baja ready to do battle against some of the best UTV racers in the World.
Holy shit, we are up to the line and we are off! We are racing! We are flying thru town, the cars running strong and after 20 or so miles I pass the first car in front of me. Then the second, then the third, now we are leading the race! We are watching the rearview mirror for the fast guys that are going to run me down. We are already getting tossed about like rag dolls in the car. Hitting silt beds and dodging spectator traffic that is heading home on the same roads as us. We had taped some Power Bars to the roof and one just feel out of the package and into Boners lap. I tell him “It’s time to eat!” LOL he’s like “WTF?!” A little while later the other one falls into my lap while we are in a long whoop section. As I open my helmet visor to try and take a bite while bouncing thru this nasty whoop section with on hand on the wheel Boner looks at me and says “What are you doing? Throw that shit out!”. I think we are flying and after a hundred or so miles nobody ever shows up to do battle. We keep watching the mirror for another 70 or so miles. We are now passing other race traffic! I tell my co-dog Boner; “Man it’s kind of boring up here in the lead by ourselves.” That’s the cockiness coming out, LOL. Anyhow, I don’t know if any of you read my Baja 500 race recap about catheter’s and sitting in wet pee pants all day, but so far so good, LOL. We pull into the pits, Justin and Craig get in the car to do battle for the rest of the night. I guess I should tell you all now Justin has never driven the car before, but they speed off into the night.
We load up the chase truck and head to the next pit at mile 400ish. We are getting race reports from home and hear we are doing well, still leading. Justin and Craig make it to the next pit, fill up with gas and they are off for another 130 mile section. They are still leading but Matt Parks’ car is closing the gap. The next report we get is they are on our ass and they make it in the lead when we pit at mile 530. We fill the car up with gas and notice it is now missing fenders, the spare axle which we had mounted on the car was now tore off and under the spare tire strap. Then we start to hear stories of us getting tangled up with Matts Jagged X car. Branden gets in the car and speeds off into the day.
Branden has a 400 mile section that he is doing with a pit half way through. He is doing great, he has an issue with a broken heim joint but gets it repaired with the spare we carry on the car. Without losing a beat is back at it and leading by about 20 miles. Someplace along the line right before he is scheduled to pit at mile 707, we get a call that he broke another radius rod that also punctured the tire. He needs parts but he manages to piece the car back together while his co-driver takes the time to snap a few selfies and repair pictures. We tell Branden to back track to the last road crossing but not on the race course. We will meet him to do proper repairs and a fuel service so he can make it to the next pit. During this down time we now lost the lead. We have been passed for the lead by Parks/Jagged X and Marc Burnet in the Can Am Maverick in 2nd place. We are now sitting third position.
Branden will have none of that and slowly passes both drivers to gets us back the 20 or so mile lead we had before the repairs needed to be done. He is a machine and we even put ‘Selfie’ in the car with him, who seems to be more interested in getting race pictures and hooking his phone up to the intercom to play music. They make it to the next pit and we are still in the lead with no problems. They jump out out of the car and Brain and Nate jump in while we are fueling the car. Brian and Nate speed off into the Mexico dust, they now have about a 200 mile section. We are counting on them to keep the lead and keep the car in one piece. We know Brian is a safe driver that will get the car to the next pit. As we get our updates, he is getting it done. He loses a small portion of our lead but we also find out the gas gauge was on empty. He stopped and bummed a ½ gallon of gas we didn’t need, but we never told him before the race not to pay attention to the gauge. We did know 100% that the car would make it to the next pit with a reserve of fuel. He must not have understood that we just spent months figuring that out, but it’s all good.
We start getting communications with Brian when he is about 30 miles or so out. Brian has been racing with a shitty microphone in his helmet all year that he still has not had fixed for some reason. We are getting a lot of engine noise and a little of what he is saying. We assume the worse and interpret him to be saying “Broke this, broke that, but still moving.” Everybody is frantic as he pulls into the pits. He says “Oh no, everything is fine, I am a racer. My dad let me drive his VW when I was 12!”, or some shit like that. As we sat and waited for Brian to come in I’m not sure I could even believe that we just lead most of the toughest off road race in the World. 1275 Miles of brutal, remote, off road racing. Think about it, 1275 miles that’s like racing From Los Angles, across California, across Arizona, across New Mexico and to the middle of Texas. Driving as fast as you can on dirt roads that have never seen a grader.
Boner and I jump back in the car now. We have 130 miles to the finish line and Matt Parks of Jagged X, the Polaris factory backed car is about 10 miles behind us. I start hauling ass and hear reports that we are pulling away from them. We get some nice straight sections that we are able hit 70 or so MPH on. It is pitch black outside, so we are ripping thru the desert seeing guys on motorcycles and I think ‘Hmm he must be lost. He will probably pull in behind us and follow us in.”, but he doesn’t. We now hit what I would describe as a tunnel of bushes. They are lining the road that is filled with 3 foot deep silt. Everything is covered in white dust and I tell Boner how it looks like snow. We now have about 35 Miles to go and as we slide around a corner we hear some bad noises coming from the back of the car.
I pull over and Boner jumps out to take a look. Not my boner, but my co driver, Boner. He says “Broken this, broken that, flat tire! Call the chase truck and tell them we need another rear radius rod!” Now I am thinking it’s not over till it’s over! He then says “It just looks like it came unscrewed.” and I say “Want me to get out and help?” He says “Yes our radius rod just came unscrewed and if we can get it screwed back we will be good to go.” A couple of minutes later we do just that, but we also have a flat tire from the rod going thru the tire when it broke. Boner starts getting the spare tire out and I start digging a hole in the dirt to make room for the tire to fit on the car. All is good right? We have not been passed, we are still in the lead and all we to do is just need to install the spare tire, put the tools away and we will be back in the race with only 35 miles to victory.
Ha-ha, yah right, guess what is thrown at us next? Huh, huh, ready for this shit? Ready to hear grown men cry? We have been up for the last 32 hours. We have had the shit beat out of us being tossed around in the race car. We have overcame everything that has been thrown our way, really now this? How could this have happened?
We run larger wheel studs on our race car and we have to drill out the holes in the Method Wheels we use. Somehow, this one wheel, the wheel to save the day, never got drilled out. It will not fit on the car. Yah, we are sitting 35 miles from the finish line with no spare tire and a flat. Matt Parks / Jagged X team is coming for our glory. ‘Fuck me, fuck that’ I think, I tell Boner to give me the flat tire back we are going to run on it as long as we can. We get it on and jump back in the car and head out. We are now doing 30 to 40 MPH and Boner says something to me and I can hear in his voice he is a broken man feeling defeated. So close to victory, I don’t say anything and continue driving for the next 15 Miles on the flat tire. I am thinking to myself ill drive this thing all the way to the finish line, I don’t care if we drag half the car along, as long as we make it to the finish line.
All the sudden out of the blinding dust I see lights and a sign that says ‘MAG 7 Pits’. I think I am going to pull in and see if these guys have a drill and a ½” drill bit. I pull in and the guy comes running over, I ask him and he says “YES.” Oh my god! I think ‘Yes, yes, yes!” Boner jumps out of the car, they drill out the wheel, install it and we are back in the race!
A couple of miles down the road my pit crew is standing ready to help us with anything. They have another spare tire for us but knowing we only have about 15 miles to go I think I don’t need it! Then I think ‘Well, this is Baja, and it isn’t over until it’s over’, so I pull over. The guys remove the flat spare and put a good spare tire on our rack and we haul ass. This is where you all think we have it made, 15 miles to go and still in the lead right? Yah, well kind of. The next 15 miles we hit some of the largest whoops of the race and then to top it off we come to a boulder section called ‘The Stair Case’. Really?! I think 1240 miles and now this section of huge boulders running downhill like a staircase? We hit it and fly down getting tossed around again like rag dolls. Then through what looks to be a dump, all the while thinking damn we must be close. Where is the nice smooth black top road that will take us to victory? Please, please, road where are you? One more turn and then we hit the black top road! Yes! Yes! As we round the next corner a truck pulls up next to us taking pictures. Boner is saying things like “Fuck Ya!” while I am still racing. As we pull up on the podium and ask “Are we in first place?” just to be sure. They say, yes. As I sit in total silence not realizing that my team, my plan, my dream had really just come true. You know as I stood and watched the Parks/Jagged X team pull up in second place I kind of felt bad. Knowing that they fought as hard as we did and just came up minutes short. Congrats for pushing us so hard for so long.
You know I may never finish another desert race and may never even attempt another Baja 1000 but it is nice knowing nobody can ever take the proud moments that our Team and I worked so hard for.
Thanks To all my guys and Teammates! I could have never done it without you all.
Polaris RZR, Lone Star Racing, Method Race Wheels, ITP Tires, Score International, UTV Underground and the Mad Media Team, Jeff Geiser and Pistol Pete for Tips, Tricks and answering all my stupid questions, CR Designs Custom Paint, Wolf Graphics, Six Speed, Fox Shocks, PCI Race Radios, Impact Racing, Chris at XTC Motorsports, Taylor and Jason From Rigid Industries and my Bad Ass Dad for always believing in me. And to all my fellow UTV racers who had the balls to even take on 1275 miles of Baja!
This is a sad moment for me as I almost start to tear up. I just pushed a team of Guys towards a pretty much unreachable goal and we reached it. Although we may never conquer such feats again, I believe this is one we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Thanks to all the guys at UTVinc and especially my boy Nick who is always there for me. 5:1 odds LOL we need a new rookie bookie.
Johnny Angal – Driver Of Record & Owner of the 1919 UTV Inc. Polaris RZR
About the Author:
Johnny Angal is the owner / operator of UTV Inc., a manufacturer of high end parts and accessories for the UTV off-road industry. As an avid UTV enthusiast, Angal made the jump to UTV racing early in 2014. Since joining the Pro UTV ranks in desert racing, Angal has put his Polaris RZR race machine on the podium 2 times including winning the 2014 SCORE Baja 1000 in his first attempt while competing in only 6 races in his career. The rookie off-road racer has quickly gained the attention of the UTV racing community. His driving skills and race vehicles are representative of his company, UTV Inc..