Coming into the 2019 Baja 1000, the Bomb Squad Racing Factory Polaris RZR Team had high expectations. We were coming off a win at the Baja 400 that gave us the first starting position. When SCORE announced the course for this year, it was obvious that this was going to be a tough technical race. Little did anyone know what Mother Nature had in store for us. This would be my 21st Baja 1000 and I have learned to expect the unexpected.
I had come down with a cold about 3 weeks prior to the race and was having a hard time shaking it. I was literally in bed for almost a week and this put us a little behind schedule prepping the race RZR. I drove it to Cross Motorsports in Riverside, CA to install a new motor and transmission. I then took it to Elrod Motorsports in San Martin, CA to do final prep. Once the car was ready, we put the car on the dyno and Johnny’s Custom Motorsports perfected the tune. He was able to get a few more HP out of it and the RZR was coming together great. We did a final shakedown in Barstow and fine tuned our suspension with All Tech Motosports. After that, we headed to Baja to start prerunning.
We were able to knock out the majority of the course in 3 days. I preran the start on Tuesday and we got ready for Tech and Contingency on Wednesday. The weather forecast had been calling for rain on Wednesday and Thursday for awhile. We were all excited that it would cut down on dust. We got through Tech early on Wednesday, but the rain was coming down across the peninsula harder than most had expected. There was flooding in Ensenada and rumors started to circulate on the condition of the course. Photos were posted online of washouts, sections underwater, etc… The driver’s meeting was postponed a day as SCORE tried to decide what to do. Finally, we were told the race was being postponed 24 hours.
In the meantime, both my co-driver and I had come back down with colds/stomach issues and were not feeling very good. I hoped that with some rest we would start to get better. Otherwise, the rest of our crew had all arrived and we were ready to race.
SCORE announced there would only be 2 changes to the course and neither were major. We would do a ceremonial start, then avoid the flooded wash out of town, and restage for the real start on the edge of town.
Race morning, I woke up and was still feeling sick. Coming into the race, my co-driver and I had made the decision that we were going to solo it. So there wasn’t anyone to hand it off. We were going to have to suck it up and power through it. I felt like once my adrenaline kicked in that I would hopefully feel better and it wouldn’t be so bad. We had preran the first 70 miles the day before and there was a lot of standing water on the course. I was worried about us getting our driving suits wet and freezing in the mountain sections. So we both chose to wear Gortex shells to keep us dry.
I really felt like attrition was going to play a major roll in the outcome of this race. It was an extremely technical course and the conditions were going to make it worse. I came in with the mindset that I was going to run my own race to El Chinero, race mile 535 and see where we stood from there. I really didn’t want to worry about anyone else and definitely didn’t want to push too hard too early and break the car.
Off the start, I felt like we had a good pace going. We immediately caught the Class 5’s and a few Class 7’s that started in front of us. I was a little surprised when the 2905 of Marc Burnett pulled in behind me about 20 miles in. I pulled over and let him pass. He was really pushing and I didn’t really want to go that hard right away. He showed me a few lines that I didn’t know existed. I noticed I was having to work really hard to keep up with him. The power steering was cutting out intermittently. I was having to wrestle the steering wheel and was getting hot and sweating with the jacket on. We tried a few different things to correct the issue, but to no avail. Josh Row driving the 2971 caught me in Ojos. I let him by and stuck with our plan of running our own pace. Those two cars were pushing it and I had my doubts if they could maintain it for 800 very rough miles.
We settled in and were running 3rd physical from Ojos down the Pacific coast. Our first pit was at BFG 1 at Rancho Johnson race mile 136. We fueled the car and everything was good other than the power steering. We caught and passed Burnett while he was pulled over looking like he was changing a belt. This put us back to 2nd physical. Coming into the Highway 1 crossing in San Quintin, the 2918 of Justin Lambert caught us. I let him by and gave chase. We were able to stay fairly close to him as the day turned to night.
The power steering issues were really taking their toll on me. I felt sick and was overexerting myself with the steering. It was dark now and the mud puddles were creating problems with our lights. The mud was covering them and making it really hard to see. At every pit, I had our lights and mirrors cleaned. When we got to BFG Pit 2 at race mile 251, I was having concerns about whether or not I could pull this off. I was already exhausted from steering and my body ached. My co-driver joked that we had 250 miles down and only 550 to go. We had only been in the car about 7 hours and I was already miserable. I started doing math in my head and realized I had about 14 more hours to go. I had a stinking feeling in my stomach and knew this was going to take everything I had to pull this off. It was also tough because I wanted a strong finish, but couldn’t drive my normal pace. Although, we were doing fairly well, all things considered. We were 5th on course behind 2971, 2905, 2931, and 2918.
The race wound through the mountains from one side of the peninsula to the other. It was tight, twisty, rocky, and rough. All the worst things for no power steering. It was also cold and wet. We heard some sounds coming from our clutch and decided to stop and check the belt. Luckily we did and caught it right before it broke. My co-driver changed it quickly and we were back on the road. We worked past El Coyote Ranch and then Mike’s Sky Ranch. I could see a few lights ahead. As we rounded a corner at Rancho Simpson, there was a bottle neck at the water crossing. 2918 was right in front of us. I backed up and looked for a way around. I couldn’t find anything and saw another car coming. I pulled back in line right in front. It was Kristen Matlock in her NA RZR. Once a car cleared, it left an opening for 2918 and I to get through. I tucked in behind and gave chase. Somewhat to my surprise, I was able to keep up and then close on him. We hit push to pass and they pulled to the side and let us by. I was shocked when after letting us pass, he immediately nerfed me from behind. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I was able to get by a buggy and open a little gap coming into BFG Pit 3 at Highway 3 race mile 327. When we stopped to pit, the 2918 went back by.
When we came off the pavement at San Matias, we were right behind 2918. It was really dusty going into and across Laguna Del Diablo. The top 5 were all fairly close through Morelia Junction and into Matomi Wash at race mile 420. The 2931 of Craig Scanlon broke after Matomi. At BFG 4 race mile 454, we were 4th physical. Our car was still working great other than the steering. I was really wearing out and my wrists, neck, and shoulders were killing me. Soon after the pit, we passed 2905. This time it looked like they had something more major wrong. That put us in 3rd physical with over 300 miles to go. I got a little bit of a boost knowing we were back into 3rd, but that soon wore off and the whoops of San Felipe started to take their toll. I started to get very nauseous and my stomach knotted up. Around 520, I had to stop and get out of the car for a few minutes. The quick break helped some and I felt a little better. Another issue started to arise. Our seats had got a bunch of mud and sand on them and our backsides were chaffed. So that was another thing to add to the discomfort.
We made it to SCORE Checkpoint 2 which was originally where I wanted to make it before we started really racing. We made it in 3rd place and our car was in relatively good shape. The problem was, I had hit a wall and questioned my ability to finish this race. We still had over 250 miles of rough and twisty terrain and I was toast. I could barely hold onto the steering wheel and was in some pretty serious pain. It was very disheartening to think that I had over 6 more hours of this and that I was going to willingly put myself through it.
Our pace slowed as I was literally just trying to get it to the finish at this point. 2905 got back by, but then broke again. We made it to BFG 5 at race mile 579. We did a full pit, fueled and gave the car a once over. Everything was good, so we kept on going. From there to the base of the new Summit, was decently fast. But going through the mountain pass back to Santa Catarina was ridiculous. Some of the trail is all rock. It was bouncing us around in the cab and was almost unbearable on my neck and wrists. We were literally going 10-20 mph through some of the sections. It was also cold and that didn’t help the issue. The sun had rose and I was hoping it would start to warm up. We finally made it over the mountains and got to our final pit stop, BFG 6 at race mile 716. Through the whole night, I felt like we were going so slow. I kept expecting a pack of UTV’s to catch us and move us out of 3rd. Now, I noticed when we were in the pit, the 2948 team was also getting ready, so I assumed they weren’t too far behind us.
I kept pushing the best I could. Unfortunately, my body was done. I was struggling to steer the car and was in pain. We made it to about race mile 750 and the 2948 finally caught us. I let him by with a feeling of disappointment that we had made it that far only to lose the final podium spot. But I was in full survival mode at this point and just wanted to get to the finish and get out of the car. We made it back to Ojos and then on to the finish. We ended up 4th Pro UTV Forced Induction in a time of 22:54. I gave it all I had, but we were in the car for over 24 hours and the combination of being sick and driving 800 miles without power steering was brutal. That was honestly one of the toughest things that I have ever done.
I want to thank my co-driver, Donny Powers, for keeping me motivated and going. He also did a great job navigating and prepping the car. Our crew was awesome. They were exactly where they were supposed to be when we needed them. And a huge thank you to all of the companies that support us! This is a team effort and I couldn’t do it without all of you.
I want to congratulate my Polaris RZR teamates, Justin Lambert on winning the race and Wayne Matlock on winning the championship. I’m disappointed we got 4th, but we overcame some adversity to do it. Other than me being sick and the power steering, the race was basically gas and go all race. We didn’t have one flat. The RZR ran great and our suspension was awesome. So I guess there is a little bit of a silver lining. We also finished 5th in points even though we didn’t race the Baja 500. I feel like our program made a big leap this year. We have shown that we can compete at the highest level and that we will be a force to be reckoned with in 2020.
Wes Miller Bomb Squad Racing/Team RZR
Special Thanks to:
Polaris RZR, DWT Racing, Kicker, Elrod Motorsports, Johnny’s Custom Motorsports, BFGoodrich, Fox Shox, Torco, Baja Designs, Rugged Radios, PRP, Assault Industries, Cross Motorsports, DASA Racing, Alpinestars, Safecraft, Factory UTV, All Tech Motorsports, S&B Filters, HMF, HPS Performance, Hostyle, IMS, Lithium Pros, RCV Performance, Airdam Clutches, Desertcraft, Sandcraft, Shock Therapy, Monster Seal, Rhys Millen Racing, Coldcock Whiskey, Heatwave Visuals, and Agenda Surf
Words by: Bomb Squad Racing
Photos by: Get Some Photo