#1949 Summers Alba Glazzkraft Racing Baja 500 Race Story
By Alonso Lopez, Driver & Team Owner
First of all, I want to thank God for keeping us safe on this grueling race course. Our most sincere condolences to the families of the 2 fallen racers and to the family who lost their boy in such an unfortunate accident.
As you know, every race starts with the preparation of the race car, chase, supplies, and improvement on parts, from the experience of past races:
Summers Brothers designed and built a new set of thicker/stronger rear axles, the “Barbarian Furious”.
Alba Racing rebuilt us a very reliable motor with their Stage-2 Kit.
Glazzkraft made a brand new set of their full carbon fiber “Bomber Race Body Kit”.
King Shocks rebuilt & added more valves to their IBP shocks to perform better in the San Felipe whoops.
Rigid Industries provided us with a new more-efficient setup of lights for our new front bumper.
Trinity Racing created a new stronger/thicker packaging for their dual slip-on brushed xxhaust system.
Weddle Industries & @Montes Motores y Transmiciones de Competencia (out of Ensenada, BC, very well known for many champion race cars on class 16, 10, 5-1600, etc.) fully race prepped a brand new Polaris Transmission, including the Japanese Heavy Duty bearings supplied by Alba Racing.
Schaeffer’s Oil formulated a new transmission oil to reduce components heating.
OMF Wheels supplied us with a 10 sets of their new lighter wheel centers.
Rugged Radios made sure that we have the best communications available.
Slime provided the number 1 tire sealant on the market.
BFGoodrich Tires / Jackson Motorsports assisted with the most amazing UTV tire all around (only 2 flat tires in more than 2,500 miles of Off Road Racing).
Baja Pits provided reliable pit stops as always. Carlos Orozco and his team is a MUST TO HAVE on every race where they attend.
Roots Off-Road framing the best still images and videos for our race team.
We headed for Ensenada early in the week with plans to pre-run most of the race course. Unfortunately, our pre-runner UTV had some fuel and electrical issues and we couldn’t make it work. We ended up doing less than 60 miles of the 477 race miles. Extremely disappointed in our cancellation of pre-running, we turned our focus to the race car. We headed to San Matias which many of you would recognize as the section where you can run wide open through massive whoops right along Hwy 3. Its a long and bruatl whoop packed section that can really test your machine. We went there with King to adjust the shocks on the race car and get them race ready. If they could handle San Matias then they could handle anywhere else on the course. While testing the race car we developed an electrical issue that took some time to figure out, it also freaked us out. The last thing we need this close to the race is a gremlin, an electrical one at that.
On Friday we headed downtown with our race car and the entire #1949 team to take part in the Baja 500 Tech & Contingency. After contingency while on the way back to camp, we started hearing some weird noises and developed a terrible vibration in the front end of the car. We quickly stopped at a gas station and got out of the car to find the front differential was smoking and oil was spraying everywhere. The front diff bearing broke and annihilated the entire differential. from there I drove slowly to our camp and changed the front half of the 4WD driveline and installed the spare differential. We took the car that evening to the “Papas & Beer Street Party” to display and to represent for our sponsors. The drive their showed no problems. After some food and fun we got the RZR out of the parking area to head back, we had to get ready for the race the next day but on the way back to camp I started to hear the same noise and feel that familiar vibration. I quickly shut off 4WD and drove at 10MPH the rest of the way to camp. We checked the front driveline again and discovered that it was bent. We then checked the rear driveline and discovered that it too was bent. We figured that we must have really damaged the drivelines while pounding the RZR through the San Matias whoops the day before. After stripping our pre-runner of its complete driveline we got it installed into the race car. It was now 4am on race day. I instructed the team to get as much rest as possible!
As we headed to staging the noises and vibration were still there. I told Pancho (my copilot), “No 4WD Pancho, you will have to help me a lot, to get through the Summit and the long wash after that as well as the silt beds.” He told me not to worry as he has raced his Class 16 car many times, and we will get through. We were about to take on one of the most brutal races in the world minus one of our biggest assets, 4 wheel drive.
We started the race 8th off the line and we just took it easy through the wash (after the terrible accident that we were aware of), and started getting used to do not have 4WD. The car drifts more than normal, but it only took me a little time to get used to it.
At RM8, I see a UTV stopped on the side of the course. A minute later I see the #1915 of Thomas Graves and the #1952 of Jonathan McVay fighting for positions. I pass the #1915 and half a minute later the #1952 moves to the side so I can pass him as well.We were in the race and moving along at a good pace!
At around RM18, I see the back of the #1958 of George Felix, and I remember something George and me were joking around about on Facebook few days back. I told Pancho I will get as close to him as I can in the next turn despite the heavy dust and silt. When I make a left turn to go up a hill I’m instantly blinded with dust, I back it down to just work through the dust and the next thing I see is the rear bumper of the #1958. I try to quickly stop but by the time I saw him it was too late. I hit George on his rear bumper, not hard, but still hit him. It’s been a story between George and I about hitting each other. Not in a mean way, but just as competitors.
I could then see that George was pushing another UTV in front of him. He had a chance to just leave that other UTV on the side but he kept pushing him forward and I’m like, “George, come on, you already helped him, now, MOVE”. He finally moves to the side, TOGETHER with the other car, that’s when I realize they were stuck bumper to bumper. We made the pass and moved on up the course. A few miles later on top of the mountain, we can see a huge bottleneck. I was in the middle of a smaller bottleneck on the 2014 SCORE Baja 500, and my race plan was a mess after that. So I stop and think for few seconds and tell Pancho “We will go on their right side until the point where we can’t move anymore, then we will go from there”. As we do that the #2930 of Sean Cook cuts in front of us. I’m like ok, you did that, now move forward. He moves only a few yards to the front and stops, so I put my car in reverse, then move to the side of Sean’s car, and keep moving, I cannot see much, as those little trees hold A LOT OF DUST on their leaves. When I feel that it is safe no more to continue moving along the hillside, I see an opening between two class 10 cars, and move to the left of the bottleneck, where the side of the hill is more even. Then Pancho tells me: “Do I get off the car, and find a safe path?” I tell him: “Yes please”. So he starts moving on the left of the many stuck cars, and I slowly follow him. Believe it or not, that side of the hill was flat as it can be. What all the other cars needed to do was just follow us or try to find that path. We were lucky. At the very end, I hear another pilot on my side yelling at us, like: “Fuc…. UTV’s, if you pass me I will hit you when I find you later, lalalalalala”, stuff like that. I’m like, “Dude, why you can’t tell your copilot to do the same as mine?” Instead of being all frustrated to wait and wait.
When we get to the front of the bottle neck, there was a Class 10 car at the bottom of the uphill, and 150 yards behind, a TT Spec just sit, waiting there, with no intentions to move or even try to pass the moron spectator that got stuck in the middle of the uphill. Both cars have their engine off. I cannot believe there were 50+ cars stuck only because the cars at front where doing nothing. We kept going and pass on the cliff side of the moron stuck at the middle of the uphill with no problems at all. We paid a small price though: We got a flat while going through the bushes and small pine trees but I couldn’t stop to change it, there is no room, and remember, other cars now hate us, and I can hear the roar of some cars moving already. So I waited until we find a sweet hidden spot to change the flat tire. The OMF Wheel took a serious beating from the big rocks but they along with the BFGoodrich Tires held together well.
We kept moving and when we made it to Ojos Negros our crew replaced our spare tire with a good one. Before getting to the “77”, I start feeling rocks and sand on my helmet shield and hands. I’m like, shit, maybe the front skid plate fell. We stopped with some spectators there, and Pancho checked on the problem. Somehow the front left axle got off the front diff (luckily for us, we were not using any 4WD, so there was no torque on it). Pancho strap the axle to the lower A-arm with some heavy duty zip ties, but a little later, we see the axle flying away from us. It was rocky and sandy just before getting to the highway. Our crew was waiting there, with all parts and tools ready, and we changed the axle, refreshed ourselves, and loaded an extra front axle just in case.
We then headed for the “Summit”. We were able to climb these rocky mountains with no problem at all, and by the time we got to the sand wash we could really feel the triple-digit heat in our face. I told Pancho to keep a close eye on the motor temperature as I knew we might have overheating issues. A few miles later I noticed that the car was starting to go over 206F and I told Pancho I would stop when we reach 210F. And we did so it was a long race from then on as I wanted to keep the engine together to finish the race. In fact, we stopped later when the motor reached 216F. We had to stop several times to cool down the motor and lost a lot of time doing so, but at the end, it paid off.
We got to the “Saldana” BajaPits, and the heat was terrible there, over 120F easy, at around 4:30pm. We kept driving, hoping the heat would lower once the sun started going down, but the heat remained. That’s when I saw the #2921 of Johnny Angal on our back; I let him pass and we exchanged positions several times, until I believe he stopped for good, his race was over due to heat.
Before getting to “Borrego”, while trying to move to the side to let other cars pass (I was worried of being hit from behind by a larger class car; the San Felipe 250 race went to hell when car #1209 hit us hard from behind and broke the transmission), I hit big black rock really hard and my steering wheel was shifted 90 degrees to the left. I immediately knew something was wrong with the front end. We got to our pit crew after Borrego and found out the wheel was bent but somehow the tire was still good. We changed the wheel and tire, and kept going.
The San Felipe whoops were brutal, I asked Pancho to get out of the car and add 5 clicks to the rear shocks and 3 clicks to the front. We were running very smooth after that. We got out of the San Felipe loop and when we entered the Dry Lake, it was extremly foggy, it almost felt like a light rain. I could not see shit! That’s where the controversial Virtual Check Point (VCP) was. We drove around it back and forth, trying to hit it, and on my GPS it showed that we hit it, and on Pancho’s (which had more zoom) it showed that we were on the side of it, very very close. This was the VCP in discussion regarding the final positioning before the awards ceremony. It wasn’t like we deliberated skipped it, we really tried hard to hit it and thought we did. The tracking system is not that accurate at all. W then kept driving to San Matias and the Mike’s Sky Ranch loop. That’s when we confirmed with our chase crew that there was only 1 car relatively close to us, 40-50 miles behind, #1954 of Kristen Matlock. I did the math, and with around 120 miles to go, if we could keep a safe pace and not break she wouldn’t be able to catch us.
At around RM440, we saw a car barely holding off a large cliff. The 4 car tires were off the track and hanging onto the cliff, I think trees saved it from going 100+ feet down. It was the #2905 of Marc Burnett. His copilot Fernando Flores came running to us to stop, with a sat phone in his hand. Marc came to me, and told me his car died on him and he had no control and went strait towards the cliff. He asked me if I could pull him off the cliff, but I was so worried that if we strapped both cars to each other and his car fell off that his car would drag mine with him to the bottom of the cliff. But if we didn’t help him his car could roll off of the cliff. In fact, there was a class 16 car that passed less than a minute in front of them, and obviously did not stop. Who would, under those circumstances in the hardest rocky part of that mountain? So, we strapped both cars, and I tried to pull him out. We were supposed to do it at the same time, and Pancho was on the outside of Marc’s UTV to make add weight against the cliff. Marc accelerated and I heard yells to move forward, I had the car in LOW, as we did not have 4WD. I pressed the gas smoothly and felt the strap pulling my car backwards, but somehow, both cars made it safe back onto the race course. After some long breaths, we unstrapped the cars, said goodbye, and kept moving. It should be noted that we DID NOT get CREDIT for the time lost while helping Marc.
We made it to the Ojos Negros valley and told our chase crew to wait 30 minutes and let us know if any other cars would pass by. But no UTVs would pass that point while they waited. When we got to RM465, it was foggy rain, I could see nothing. We drove slow, and the fog went away by the time we hit the Ensenada paved streets. It was wet and muddy there but we made it out of there carefully.
We got to the finish line and were told that we won, we were the top finishers in the Pro UTV class! I could not believe that we just WON the SCORE BAJA 500. By total surprise a few minutes later the #1983 of John Estrada crossed the finish line. There was no tracking on his car and we had no idea he was that close to us. If we would have known we would never have taken it that easy the last 120 miles, perhaps we wouldn’t have stopped to help Marc Burnett. Just kidding. We still would have stopped to assist him, thats what you do in Baja.
It took some explaining to SCORE about the VCP situation, they checked all of the data and finally agreed that we did hit the check point. They finally made our win official!
I want to congratulate John Estrada and Justin Quinn and their whole crew for getting a new car to this Baja 500 and finishing so well. I also want to give special congratulations to Kristen Matlock; it takes more than just balls to drive and finish this year’s Baja 500, and she drove it solo the whole way. Also to David Nance, his finish makes the points championship very interesting this year!
I want to thank and congratulate my chase crew. We are a small family team. We prep this #1949 Summers Alba Glazzkraft Racing Car by ourselves. We won this Baja 500 on a day that we barely made it to the start line with almost no sleep. It requires guts from every member of this team to pull this victory through.
I also would like to thank to all other sponsors, without your support, we couldn’t make it this far:
We will have a great race video in the coming days. We will keep you all posted and will see you all at Vegas to Reno!