2016 Baja 1000 Shock Therapy Pre Run

Shock Therapy

Suspension Tuning
Aug 10, 2014
As some of you may know, we are at the races pretty much every weekend so last November we entered the Baja 1000 with a XP1000. The car is owned by a great friend of mine named Paul Champion and we decided to partner up with driving duties for the race. Now having been in over 15 Baja 1000's in Trophy Truck, class 1 and class 10, I can tell you that the race is crazy cool. The pre run (running the race course in advance to mark hazards in advance for the race) is just about the only guarantee you have in the whole process, plus you get to drink beer, have fun and talk smack so it pretty much is my favorite part. This report is intended to give those who have never been down to Mexico a feeling of what it is like. Now, if you are not a fan of long winded race reports then this in not for you so here are the cliff notes below if you want to skip it.

1. 4 days, roughly 200-250 miles a day

2. Lost a belt before we even started the pre run

3. Run the Pacific coast for 50 miles

4. RM 130 rescued a guy that had no business being out there pre running in a rental car

5. Lunch and beer on the ocean at RM 170

6. Dinner and sleep at RM250, Rosario, Mama Espinozas

7. Day 2, run till RM 290, beer break

8. RM330, class 1 pre runner rips a hub off

9. RM 350 radius rod repair

10. Run at night from RM 380 to RM 480 a cow almost kills us

11. Day 3, class 1 is repaired, start at RM 480

12. RM530, a RZR rolls due to a local on the course

13. Valley de Trinidad, beer and tacos

14. RM620, head to San Felipe and the beach house

15. Killer dinner and Tequila, pass out

16. Day 4, Rolled car is repaired and we start at RM620

17. Super rough till RM720

18. The famous Goat Trial

19. Fast home stretch

20. Back in Ensenada ready for the race

21. Day 5, go to race Contingency and run the first and last 40-80 miles of the race, all done.

We invited a few customers and friends to joint us for the pre run in their big cars, stock RZR's and custom RZR's. Our goal was to mark things in the GPS to help us in the race but most of all it was to have FUN. Our first day was Saturday morning with the plan to run 200-250 miles a day and finish up on Tuesday night. We started our pre run at Race Mile 80 because the first 40 miles of the race is always closed until the day before the race since it runs through Ensenada for the start and finish. We started by leaving Estero Beach (our hotel) and hit the highway from Ensenada down to the course at RM80. One of the RZR's lost a belt going 75 mph down there; I think he was a little excited and nervous on the first day. We hit the course and get into a groove as we climb over the mountains on mostly graded fire roads to the west coast beaches. These are the sections you see the most of in race videos with the course right on the beach and cliffs of the Pacific Ocean. At our first beer break at RM 130 we run into a guy who was off to the side in a XP4-1000. He had a flat with no spare. As we talk with him a bit, we found out he had RENTED this RZR to pre run the course! He had no tools, no spare and no wheel lock key for the lugs! Really? He was from Finland and had no idea what he had gotten himself into. So funny. We busted out the tools and got his tire beaded back up and 20 plugs later it was holding air. Gave him a map and pointed the way back to the highway and told him to get that car back to town before he is stuck out here all night. We continue on. At RM 170 we had just finished up a nasty mountain section that was slow going with a lot of rock crawling. Perfect time for lunch. We stop at a dilapidated building (which describes pretty much every building down here) resting on the cliffs overlooking the ocean where some of the best tacos in Baja are made. After some beer and food with other racers we head on. At RM 190 we run through some tidal flats that are mostly ocean water mixed with sand, rock and dirt. No one got stuck, but we knew this would be a nasty bit in the race that we had to get around once the big horse power trophy trucks had torn it up. So we marked a way around the wettest part and we head off. RM 210 the course heads inland up some big washes and rocky mountain trails; up here the views are stellar with the ocean on one side and on the other side the Baja mountain ranges that just barely hide the gulf ocean waters behind them. Headed down the mountain the course gets ugly. Nasty sharp rocks with silty powdered dirt just enough to keep you from seeing what is about to cut your tires up with 40 miles of this crap and we were ready to be done for the day.

10 hours in the cars to RM 250, we arrive at Rosario, a little town that has pretty much two things, a gas station and Mama Espinozas. Mamas is very famous in the racing world. It is wallpapered with signed, famous and historic pictures of racers from Mickey Thompson, Parnelli Jones and Larry Ragland as well as today's drivers like Rob MacCachran, Brice Menzies and BJ Baldwin. We stayed the night at Mamas and were all set to go at 6 am with a killer breakfast in our bellies and fuel in our tanks, we hit the course again at RM 250. After 15 miles of nasty 3ft sand whoops we hit a mountain section again that is just 5-10mph rock crawling for a 4000 ft. elevation climb away from the beach. We pass 5-6 cars that were broken on this climb but there no one was to be found so we assumed they were back in town getting what they needed. At RM 290 we take a beer break at 9am (I know, I know, but its 5:00 somewhere right?) and talk with some other racers at the cut off for Class 11. If you don't know, that is the stock VW bug class. These guys are nuts. To get a stock bug to just climb any of this stuff is amazing not to mention finishing the race. This cut off in the course is so the class 11's can lose 300 miles and maybe, just maybe make the finish on time. Beers finished, we head on.

At RM 310 we get into some high desert rock, silt and faster sections that are really fun to rip. Just as we get a rhythm going at RM330 we hit a big issue; our Class 1 pre runner hit a huge tree at 60 mph and rips the whole right rear hub off the rear trailing arm. The tire passes the car on the right as the car comes to a sliding stop about a hundred yards later. DAMN. Now we are 80 miles from Rosario and 40 miles from our chase crew with the trailer. Forgot to tell you about our chase crew. When your on one of these pre runs you need a chase crew that will be WHERE you need them, WHEN you need them with fuel, parts and beer because more often than not, you won’t have any of these things where and when you need them without the chase crew. They will leap frog the course on the highway to get ahead of you and be ready in the right spots as you come through. In this case, there was no access to this part of the course so we never planned for them to be here. After staring at it with our hands on our hips and brains smoking a bit, we take my RZR 20 miles through the desert to the nearest highway and run to the chase crew 20 miles back up the highway. We bring the truck and trailer back through the same track we blazed in the RZR and get the car winched up. We drug that thing up the trailer with a 12,000 lb. winch, some wood, plastic and a jack pad under the hub-less arm and we are good to go. The truck and trailer head out for a 4 hour drive north to a welding shop for repairs. Luckily, we have some race buddies with shops down there that are always down for some midnight repairs.

With the big car loaded and headed north, we get going again. Not too much later we hit some really nasty rock sections that just rattle your teeth out. The course is a single track that is just barely lower than the surrounding terrain, but loaded with sharp rock that is buried tight in the dirt and it does not budge. At RM 350 one of the RZR's with us shears a radius rod bolt. We pull over to fix it. Unfortunately, his car is the only one with stock radius rods and stock hardware so we didn't have a spare to make it a quick swap. We pulled one of the only stock bolts left on my car out of my sway bar system that just so happens to fit perfect and get him on the road again. Now, as luck would have it the next 20 miles of course was 10 ft. wide, off camber, mountain switch backs with a 2000 foot drop off the side to the canyon below and I now have no rear sway bar functioning. Damn, that is a puckering situation to crawl rocks off camber with no rear bar. You find yourself leaning up hill in your seat constantly, as if it would actually help, ya right.

RM 370 the course opens up and the speeds run up too. Way too much fun! 50-60 mph drifting and jumping constantly. As the sun disappears we realize that we have another 100-120 miles to go and we will be in the dark for about 4 hours. I have never been a night time race fan. I find myself constantly frustrated because I know how much faster I can go if you can just see farther or wider or just better in general, but that is what we got so that is what we do. Temps drop to 45 degrees pretty quick and the course gets slow and rocky again. Going to be longer than we hoped. At RM 430 we open up again to about 50 mph and just about die! From out of nowhere a 1500 lb. bull darts across the road with his 4 ft. horns flailing away. Visions of impalement flash through my head as we just miss him by inches. This is the reason the two tubes in the windshield area of the cage are called "cow bars". Really. Just as my hands start to become permanently frozen to the steering wheel we finish up at RM 480. Perfect timing, for me at least. We hit the highway for a couple of miles to get to our hotel in San Quitin. Killer dinner and some more beers and we are fat and happy again. It is midnight by now so we hit the sack.

6 am and we are up for some quick car prep, air cleaner cleaning and general maintenance. As we work in the parking lot we notice the truck and trailer are back with the big pre runner on it. With rear arm welded up with a new axle, CV and stainless brake line ready to go! They got the car all fixed up at 4am and got to the hotel by 5. Damn our Mexican fabricator buddies are just plain bad ass! We get some breakfast and let the other guys sleep in. Hit the gas station and get on the race course at RM480 with everyone in tow including the fixed pre runner. The next section of track is very easy. Flat graded roads that cut through the mountains headed the back way to Mikes Sky Ranch (another famous race stop) toward the east side of the peninsula and the gulf. We run pretty high speed (45-50 average) for the next 40 miles or so. Now keep in mind that we are all on radios in the group so when we see an issue up front we call to the rest and let them know to look out for it. So we are almost to Valley Trinidad (for the best tacos ever) and a local Mexican is running 40 mph backwards on the course in his Ford Explorer. I call out on the radio "Local headed your way!" Next car in line calls out "Copy, just passed him." Dallas in the third car in line says "copy." 10 seconds later we hear from Dallas "uh guys, can you come back and give me a hand? We need to be turned back over." What? Really? After making sure they are ok we head back. They are on their side and it is clear they rolled a few times. Apparently the local in his Explorer took his left hand corner on the INSIDE just as Dallas was taking the same corner to his right on INSIDE and both of them met right in the middle of the blind corner. Dallas locked it up just before impact, which put him in the ditch on the side of the corner and hooked a tire in a ditch flipping him over on the cage twice. The local never actually hit him but never stopped either. He was long gone. Everyone was just fine but the car took a good hit. The cage was smashed down quite a bit, one rear trailing arm was bent and the cage pushed the dash of the car in which was shorting the electronics and preventing us from driving it away. Get on the radio and get the Chase crew over with the trailer. Easy access so it didn't take us long. Dallas got all loaded up and headed into San Felipe (our stop for the night) to get a head start on fixing the cage. We take off and get to Valley T for tacos.

With our bellies fat and happy again we hit the course at RM560 and run past Mike Sky Ranch and back down the valley towards Borego. At RM 585 there is a whoop section that runs next to the highway for 6-7 miles that is pretty famous. It is one of the rare spots you can film your car in the whoops from the chase truck and this section is shown in most every race video of Mexico with Trophy Trucks running 3 ft. whoops at 100 mph. We hit this section and pin it. My car would run 55-65 mph through these whoops but some of the guys in their stock RZR's are relegated to a 25-30 mph max touching the front and rear bumpers through each whoop. The big pre runner with its bypass shocks and 550 hp would run 80-90 mph all day. Dam I wish I had a big car for this stuff some times. Just kidding, I love my car. As we get past the whoops we head off into more sandy, rocky, whooped out course. At RM620 we stop for a beer break again and I notice that one of my rear CV's lost too much grease due to a crack in the boot I actually knew about 300 miles ago. Running the whoops without enough grease got the CV so hot it melted the rest of the boot clean off. Oh well, I knew it was coming. Dammit! I just remembered that all our CV parts are in the truck that took Dallas to San Felipe! Good thing our pre run was done for the day anyway. Now I have to nurse my dry CV back on the highway 30 miles to San Felipe. Off we go at 55 mph with the CV clicking it's ass off! Every 5-10 miles or so when it really started to pull the car to that side we would stop and cool it off with a beer. I know, what a waste right? Nothing else in the cooler man, what else are you gonna do? After 3-4 beers we ran out. So we looked around and the only thing else to do was to piss on it. Yup, we used the recycled beer and cooled it off the last two stops. There is a picture of this somewhere but I will never share it.

Into San Felipe we go and pull into the beach house at Pete's camp with the car smelling like hot piss. Man, happy to be here. Killer patio on the water and room for everyone to shower up and get some dinner. Our chase crew really stepped on the gas here. While they were in town trying to get Dallas's car fixed up they stopped at the fishing docks and got some fresh shrimp and swordfish. By the time all of us had finished a shower and a beer they had the first course ready to eat. Tapatio, lemon seared ceviche shrimp. Oh damn, it was melt in your mouth amazing! Main course was a tortilla soup with Marlin grilled steak in a tomato pepper sauce and pico de gallo and grilled, shrimp stuffed Poblano peppers. Dessert was a fried, sweet bread with a super smooth chilled Tequila. Now I am NO foodie and I would NEVER take a picture of my food and post it, but this just about converted me. After sipping our dessert turned to shooting it, people started to slowly disappear into bed pretty quick.

In the morning we woke up to a sun rise that crested the ocean and reveled the silhouette of a Dodge 2500 truck half buried in the tidal sand a ¼ mile off the beach. Many stories about how it got there but all I know is that it has been there for the last 7 years or so. The chase crew started on breakfast while half of us went to work prepping our cars and the other half took Dallas’s car into town to fix the cage and rear arm. As I grabbed the CV parts I needed before they left and proceeded to work on my car; I yell out “Hey Jason! Can you get the rear tire and hub off my car while I prep another axle?” “Sure” he replies. Paul and a couple of the other guys that were with us the day before started chuckling under their breath. Jason gets half way through the hub R and R and says, “I think you hit something back here. I smells really bad!” Everyone lets their restrained laughter fly out loud and Jason has that “what gives” look on his face. Paul runs over there with his phone and shows him a picture of me pissing on the hot CV with steam rising off the hub he is elbow deep into working on. “Damn! Really” he yells as he turns and makes a dash for the bathroom to wash his hands. Needless to say, I had to watch my back the rest of the trip for pay back and luckily it hasn’t come yet.

We get all the cars done and have breakfast. Once again the guys killed it with seafood Cioppino, handmade tortillas and beans. Great way to start the day, let me tell ya. As we get all suited up to start the 30 mile highway drive back up to RM 620 we get word that Dallas is on his way back with a fixed car. No way right? Well the shop they were at pulled the cage up with one tow truck while holding the car down with another tow truck. Then they bent the front A pillar back into place and bolted it down to the factory mounts like it was nothing. Then they sliced the trailing arm and pulled it with a winch until it was toed straight and welded up some plate from a manhole cover as a gusset and it was good to go. With the cage off the dash they were able to fix the electrical short and get it started right away. Dallas was going to meet us at RM620. Off we go for some gas and refill the coolers. We make it to the race course by 9am and get a run at it. The next 30 miles were no big deal, lots of whoops, some sand, some hard pack and a portion of a dry lake bed. But, the next 70 miles were terrible. Super rocky with whoops that were mostly made up of sharp rock that you could NEVER get on top of. Slow going and harsh. The kind of stuff that will make a guy burp his breakfast Cioppino and still want seconds. At RM720 we reach Borego again and grab some beers and burritos. Home stretch is here. This year’s 1000 was actually 860 miles long and the first 40 miles are still closed so we only had 100 miles left to go. Back in the cars and off we go.

The next 20 miles were actually on the highway and the only thing to mention are the Military check points every so often. It is no secret that the Mexicans and especially the kids LOVE race team stickers or “STEEEEEEKERS” as they all yell out. It is a lot like large Koi fish in a pond at the zoo or some other famous spot when you toss fish food into the school. The whole mass of them get onto each other’s backs, half out of the water with their mouths open to be the first one to get the prize. Now you get what it’s like with a crowd of kids as you pull out a steeeeeker. We brought 3000 steeeekers with us and came home with zero. At the military check point steeeekers can help a LOT but what really gets you cleared through with expedience are energy drinks and a steeeeeker. These guys are up all night and need the boost and a steeeeker to take home to the kids. We blew through just about every check point with only the first car having to slow down enough to toss a Rock Star and steeeeker out the window.

We drive right by Valley de Trinidad as we did on Day 3 at roughly RM750 to get to the Goat Trail where the course gets off the highway and back into the desert. The Goat Trail is well known because it isn’t easy. The highway is literally cut into the mountains at this point and the Goat Trail is barely cut out of the solid rock hillside next to the highway and heads up the mountain at a quick pace. It might be 10 ft wide at the most with sections of it that are less than 7 ft. wide for sure. Keep in mind the mountain cut is on your right and the drop off of the left side quickly gets up to 1500 ft. or so. It always amazes me that a Trophy Truck could ever make it up this trial, with the passenger truck fender touching the cliff wall the driver side tires are just barely on the trail if at all! Makes you tense up in the biggest way possible. We are able to run it with little effort slowly in 4wd and being much narrower than the trucks but it makes you pause every time. At the top it opens up into high desert terrain with some trees to slalom in and out of until RM780 were we cross the highway again. From here the course gets a bit sandy and fast. Man is this section fun. Just flat floored from 35-65 mph through whoops and turns, in and out of mountain areas and back to the flats all within 10 miles or so and back at it again. At RM810 we stop for a beer break and salute the sun as it is now starting to set. Almost done now with just one last sprint until we cut off the course and back to the highway at RM830. We all take off like horses that know they are finally done hauling your butt around and can’t wait to get back to the barn. The last bit is really cool because is it full of house size granite boulders. You dice in and around them as they tower over you and sometimes you are driving on top of them as you transfer to another one. A fitting bit of scenery to finish our trip with. We reach an area called “the meadow” where the boulder field ends and the flats start right at the highway. This area is used for pits quite a bit as well. All done! Seems like a perfect spot for a beer break. We congratulate each other for keeping their car together, swap stories and give my brother a hard time for still smelling like piss. A night in our own beds starts to sound really good so we pack up and hit the highway. 25 miles into Ensenada, 50 stop signs and 20 signals later we are back at Estero beach at the hotel.

We wake up Wednesday glad to take a break and relax a bit. The first 40 miles of the course isn’t open until Thursday. That is also contingency which is where you push your race car through a giant party, lined with all the supporting vendors and race sponsors. Team interviews and pictures are part of it but at the end is tech for the race car. We finish contingency and tech and hop back in our cars and hit the course right there. Contingency is held at the starting line in town so we just jump on the city streets that are actually race course and hit the famous wash that leaves town. This is where all the big horse power cars get good air in front of the crowds as they start the race. We head out of town and through some residential areas. It turns into mountainous single track within 10 miles or so and you make your way through the hundreds of hairpin turns that are just ripped up and turned into silt by the thousands or race cars and pre runners that have hit this section over the last 30 years. In the Baja 500 held last June there was a huge bottle neck that stopped hundreds of racers for over 2 hours in the race at RM23. This year SCORE changed the course to avoid this spot. We are routed onto the highway for 5 miles and back on the course headed south towards the ocean. At RM40 we get onto the section of race course that we skipped on day 1 because we started our pre run at RM80. At RM46 there is a huge silt bed that is, no joke, 3 ft. deep. As we enter this thing at 40 mph the car decelerates like we just drove into 1 foot of water on the highway. The silt was washing over the hood of my car and hitting us in the chest and helmet like 50 lbs. of baking powder. Complete and total brown out! You don’t dare let off the gas because you will be stuck for sure, but you can’t see where your headed either. Dan Ragland once told me some years ago to just let go of the wheel in the silt and you will be fine. What? Well he was right. The ruts under the silt are so deep and burned in that if you let go of the wheel and floor it the car will go where it needs to like a slot car on your kids play set. After 30 seconds of full boost at 15 mph we cleared the brown out and got onto some hard pack. Damn that was nasty. It took 10 more miles for the 100 lbs of silt that ended up in the car and in our laps to blow out! We knew this was going to be bad in the race so we actually planned a route around it by about 20 ft just in case there were cars stuck in it when we got there on race day. RM70 and we are up on top of the mountain ridges headed to the Pacific. Killer view again as we drop down into the valley below with the main highway winding through it. As we merge onto the highway at RM80 we realize that we are truly done with every mile of the pre run. Ya, pretty cool. As we race back to the hotel on the highway our thoughts now shift to those of the race we are going to be running tomorrow. Preparation, pit plans, gas stops, chase trucks, crew management and last minute additions to the race car and of course, what are we forgetting right? The fun part is over and now the serious stuff begins. But that is another story.

Justin Smith



Active Member
Jun 5, 2015
Nice write up and video...the CV cooling technique and after story was pretty funny!

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