12:15 AM – Friday, Nov. 19
Nick’s nighttime ride during the 37th SCORE Baja 1000 was made more difficult by the fact that his predetermined fuel stop at the remote Baja Pits was not available since the fuel was being held hostage by the local government at a checkpoint. Instead he had to go panhandling pit-to-pit for petrol. The good folks at Honda took care of him: Would they have done it for a non-Honda team too?
“I gassed at San Ignacio without a problem or a warning (of the fact that there would be no fuel at the next Baja Pit),” explained a disgruntled Nelson. “At this point I was in 3rd place and no trucks had caught us yet. Just short of my next scheduled Baja pit (el Datil) I came over a rise at about 70 mph only to see a large ditch with the crossing far to the right. When I grabbed the brakes the lights went out (total darkness) and at 60 mph or so in a sideways slide I realized I couldn’t stop in time and let off the brakes just in time to straighten out before I hit the ditch. Much to my surprise I popped out on the other side unhurt and stalled out.
“Out of nowhere about four local kids surrounded me and helped me by push-starting my bike that would not kick over. A few miles later I got to el Datil and much to my surprise there was no Baja Pit to be found. After passing through the entire village I had to go backward again on the course to borrow gas. That’s when the first truck (Robby Gordon) passed me at the only moment that I was going backwards.
“Just my luck I was able to borrow gas and got on my way. The next pit was San Juanico where I easily found the Baja Pit. The pit leader informed me that there was no fuel for the whole lower half of the pits. He had taken it upon himself to buy Pemex (Low-grade Mexican petroleum) for whoever needed it. Despite my disappointment I was very grateful for what he did. I had him radio our chase crew to let them know of the problem. At San Juanico I also discovered that the air filter had fallen off and was laying in the bottom of the air-box for who knows how long! For the next 150 miles I bummed gas from Honda pits, each time with a new sob story.
“They (Honda) were glad to help and we could not have done it without their assistance. From there it was pretty uneventful all the way to Insurgentes besides tagging a huge rock and getting passed by many of the top trucks.”
We had two more pit-stops to cover between Ciudad Insurgentes and La Paz. Frank was already on his way to pit 16 at Santa Rita with the parts bike in his truck. It was supposed to be our second-to-last stop before the finish line. It was well past midnight at this point when we finally made our way to the desolate and remote Santa Rita pit area. It took so long to locate this out-of-the-way location we couldn’t spend much time waiting around. After about a half an hour and a handful of trophy trucks bikes and buggies went past it was decided that Nick should stay along with his gear in case anything happened to Jeff. We were on the road again, off to the final pit stop along the coast about a hundred miles north of La Paz to make sure all was going well for Henderson down the home stretch.
3:00AM – Friday, Nov. 19
As fortune would have it, a short time after we left, Jeff showed up with some serious troubles for the skeleton crew to deal with. While riding at top speed, a nut on the bottom of the right A-arm in the TRX’s front suspension came loose, dropping the front-end into the ground and sending Jeff sailing through the darkness. The impact from his trip over the bars fractured his wrist, but the resilient Californian managed to make his way back to the bike, start it and ride it to the pit with one good hand and only three wheels pointing in the proper direction.
Back at Ciudad Insurgentes, Nick waits while Jeff buckles down the backpack full of survival gear in preparation for his midnite ride.
“When I first got on the bike (at Ciudad Insurgentes) I was only thinking about riding smooth and making up time on the leaders,” Henderson recounted. “When Nick handed me the bike he said to be careful of the fog because it was hard to see and to just be safe. I left the pit confident with the bike and my pre-run the week prior, and I was feeling really focused, more than in some previous races. Still, there were the high speeds, darkness, dust, and the looming thought of Trophy trucks and booby traps.
“The terrain in my section was very sandy almost the whole way and the first 60 miles was fairly smooth with high-speed straights. There were small rises and a few 90-degree corners that could sneak up on you though.
“A 5- mile pavement section at one point was a nice breather because it was about 40 miles of whoops after that. The whoops were very sandy and there was cactus and bushes on both sides. There wasn’t much room for error in the whoops or you would be in the cacti. The quad ran great and soaked up the whoops good as long as you didn’t try and sit down or let off the gas. It worked especially good considering the 800 miles of racing it did before I got on it. There were some fast roads after the whoops, and then before pit 16 the course slowed down and there were more turns and rocks. Overall it was mostly flat and whooped-out sand.”
That is where things took a turn for the worse.
“Right after the 40-mile whoop section I was in 5th gear and all of a sudden the front wheel lifted and the right bottom A-Arm stuck in the sand,” Henderson explained. “I hit the rear brake, but it was too late. The front end stuck (into the ground) and that picked the rear end up and sent the bike end over end into the cactus. It happened so fast, and I flew about 60 feet, landed on my back, tumbled and somehow got my hand in the way. Luckily it was sandy and I flew straight down the track not into the cacti.
“After I got the bike out of the cactus and rolled it over I found the problem and tried the spare bolt I brought with me but nothing worked, so I had to just ride it after about 10 minutes of trying to fix it. I hung off the left side to try and keep my weight off the front and right side. 1st gear was all I could go while dragging the A-Arm. It seemed never ending and I had to keep pulling over for buggies and trucks so they wouldn’t kill me.
Baja Pits are usually easy to find and are a sight for sore eyes when you’ve been riding for 2-3 hours.
“After about 10 miles I came across some Mexican guys camping out in the middle of the desert. I asked if they had any bolts and they looked and I found one that kind of worked. After about 15 minutes of getting the bolt to fit I was off in 4th to 5th gear. Eventually I made it to the next pit. By this time I could hardly hold on because I had fractured a bone in my hand.”
Frank and Nick sprung into action and came up with a way to resolve the crisis. It took awhile to get a nut screwed on, but the bad news was that the custom-fabricated A-arms had a non-standard nut and no one seemed to be able to come up with one that would fit the bill.
Nick in particular realized the gravity of the situation. He had just finished his leg a few hours earlier and was going to have to tack on another couple hundred miles of riding with little reprieve. But rather than throw in the towel, he was determined to get the job done. This is the kind of thing that separates the men from the boys. If the repairs would hold and he could make it to La Paz, Nick will have ridden nearly 500 miles of the 1000-mile race, almost entirely in the dark.
4:00AM – Friday, Nov. 19
Once underway Nick noticed the front end was coming apart again so he slowed a bit in order to keep an eye on it. When he came across Baja Pit #17 at Punta Conejo and had them weld the nut on before setting off once again. Baja Pits passed along a message from Nick that he would need fuel at this easy to find access road 25 miles outside of La Paz. We had been awaiting Jeff’s arrival, unaware of all these events that were taking place 100 miles away.
“The first 60 miles I was going really slow because the front end was really loose and I was worried about it falling out from the under me,” Nelson explained. “60 miles from La Paz I welded the ball joint to the spindle and gained a lot of confidence after that. WFO to the finish line, at least as WFO as you can go after being on the bike for 470-plus miles.”
Meanwhile, the rest of us were waiting for Jeff to arrive at the coastal pit stop north of La Paz. At this point we were all exhausted and no one was even able to recall the name of this place, but I can tell you it was cold and I was unable to stay awake any longer. I gave in to the darkness and took up residence in the front seat of the truck overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I let the sound of the waves on the beach lull me to sleep. Unfortunately that peace would only last for about 45 minutes.
A sudden rush of activity woke me with a start. Jason was now in the back seat and we were doing about a hundred down the nasty dirt road on our way to an upcoming pit to make sure Nick was okay with the hastily repaired TRX. Frank was finally able to make radio contact after the repairs had been completed and he made his way out of the valley he was in. Neither radios nor phones seemed able to poke through from Punta Conejo.
Sometime around 5:00AM – Friday, Nov. 19
(Things are a bit blurry at this point)
By the time we reached our destination at this obscure road crossing we were met by two carloads of die-hard Mexican race fans. These people had been at this remote location for the entire night (I assumed by their haggard appearance), helping the lone flagman to direct traffic from the main road to the hard-to-see right-hand turn towards La Paz. A lone beautiful se¤orita stood out like a sore thumb in a crowd of partied-out local boys. She was adorned in what appeared to be last year’s version of the spandex Tecate Girl outfit. For a moment I forget the 3mm of plaque built up on my teeth, the fact that I hadn’t showered in 24 hours and had the same clothes on for that same period of time. just for a moment.
Off in the distance we could hear an approaching 4-stroke wrung to nuts, followed by the tell-tale dust cloud. Moments later, Nick arrived with a nearly empty fuel tank. Between his hasty recap of the last few hours and the howl from the buggy that went by, we managed to get the whole scoop on what happened and the news of Jeff’s injury while fueling up the bike. Nick took off for La Paz like a bat out of hell.
We made our way down the last half hour or so of driving and arrived at La Paz just before 7 a.m. We waded through the commuter traffic towards the giant inflatable Tecate and SCORE Baja 1000 signs off in the distance, just as all the racers before us did. We made our way to the support truck parking area right about the time Nick had navigated his way through the local traffic and stopped at the finish beneath the gigantic inflatable archway for the final checkpoint. Nick had brought home the embattled SoCal Fab Shop Honda TRX450 to a respectable 4th place finish in the class-using only one set of Maxxis tires in the process.
Although the Baja win had eluded them once again, the fact that they all survived and finished this race was a testament to their fortitude and determination.”Great,” said Greenhaw after downing a can of cold Tecate. “Now we have to give it another try next year. I was hoping to retire after this one.”
“I can’t say enough for my team, racers and the pit people,” explained Nick (Yellow jacket) after the race. “Everybody puts forth a great effort to make this possible. I Want to thank Thad my crew Bill Nelson, Ken Anderson, Frank Quiroz, SoCal Fabshop, Maxxis (Harry Tripp), Fast Company, Denton Racing (Scotty, Donna + Gary), Elka (Martin) and AC Racing (Mike Meade).”
A couple six-packs of ice-cold Tecate beer showed up out of nowhere but disappeared quicker than a bag of stickers at a fuel stop or taco stand. The team posed for a few photos and signed autographs from the multitudes of giddy school girls (and boys) at the finish line. The post-race party in La Paz was off the hook, but what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico, so we’ll just say that it began with a huge dinner and a multitude of drinks and ended with a dizzy cab ride back to the hotel for a well deserved rest.
But the adventure was far from over. We still had to drive back to the Ensenada, a mere 1200 miles north, the next day. The drive back gave me time to reflect on my first Baja experience. If you’ve never been to Baja, get there sometime to be a part of one of the wildest race events in the world. And if you have the cojones and the means to race it, do it.
Check back with us next year, because we’re going to do Baja again-one way or another.