Making up the 2006 Baja 500 effort of Team MotocycleUSA were (from left to right): MCUSA test rider Darin Hecker, Ensenada resident Alberto Ruiz, Planet X TV personality Rat Sult, and Baja rider/coordinator Carlos Mix, who is also an Ensenada resident.
The 2006 SCORE Tecate Baja 500 featured a record 438 starters from all around the world and every single one of them was hoping to cross that finish line and become a part of history in the process. When the dust settled only 222 competitors managed to finish in the 18-hours allotted - but every single one of them did make the history books, although maybe not for the reason they'd hoped. Since this is MotorcycleUSA we'll skip the detailed information about the trucks and buggies and instead focus on the bikes and more importantly, our own MCUSA team.
Robby Bell and Kendall Norman brought their Precision Concepts Honda CRF450X in first place overall and first place in Class 22. The win is the first for the 450X although the bike was credited for the San Felipe 250 win earlier this year after race-winner Mike Childress was disqualified for cutting the course. Behind Bell and Norman, second overall and second in Class 22, were Steve Hengeveld and Mike Childress on the venerable Precision Concepts Honda XR650R.
The third bike to cross the finish line was the Temecula Motorsports entry ridden by Brian Pinard and Taber Murphy, followed by Ron Wilson and Scott Meyers. When the times were calculated though, the two teams actually had identical times and were awarded the first-ever tie in SCORE history. So, they share the Class 30 win. As you can see, Class 30 is full of tough competition. That's where Team MotorcycleUSA comes in.
Starting in only our third-ever SCORE race, we were eighth in the Class 30 standings after finishing in that position at the end of the SCORE San Felipe 250. Hoping to move up in the standings with a good showing, our eclectic team led by rider of record and MCUSA test rider Darin Hecker, hit the ground running with an all new cast. Taking over the logistics end of the Baja planning is rider/coordinator Carlos Mix of Ensenada. Alberto Ruiz, also from Ensenada, rode with the team for the first time and proved to be a valuable addition. Infamous TV personality Rat Sult, of Planet X TV, was given the opportunity to be our fourth and final rider of our unified Mexican-American squad of desert warriors.
Although shorter than its 1000-mile counterpart, the Baja 500 goes through the same brutal desert terrain.
The race started with Sult taking the bike from the start in Ensenada through the first 45 miles before handing the bike off to Hecker. Things looked good and Rat was holding a great pace in the early going. Our spotters reported we were running fourth in Class 30 at that juncture. Hecker was off and running for the nasty-ass, silty run to RM140, a few miles before the second check point at Nuevo Junction. Somewhere in that 100-mile stretch a battle ensued between Hecker and the 310x machine of Corey Keysar and Jim Jaquette. Hecker was hot on the tail of the 310x machine when he came up on the first of his two Mag 7
pit stops. The pit went great and within 10 minutes he was tracking them down again.
As anyone will tell you, the dust sucks bad in Baja, so picking your passing line is pretty important. Well, Hecker didn't choose the best line and when he went to make the pass he made contact with the other bike. Our test rider was sent off the course where he augured in pretty hard, considering he reports being pinned in fourth gear at the time. Ouch. Dazed and confused he got to his feet and started moving toward his check point despite having his bell rung.
"At mile marker 65 on the course, I encountered the first rider in a pack and started working through the dust," explained Hecker after the race. "Struggling for visuals, finally I decided to make a pass in a left hand turn on the outside line. I made contact with the other rider, his rear tire made contact with my front tire and sent me end over end off the course at a very high speed. I gathered myself up, climbed back on the bike and did what was expected of me - bring the bike to the next rider 70 miles away."
Rider three was Alberto Ruiz, who was expecting the bike to be in a little better shape for his short but brutal blast from RM140 to RM170.
"When I received the bike at mile marker 138," reported Ruiz,"the handlebars were bent, the clutch and front brake levers were bent and it was kind of hard to ride at speed like that. But, I got to the end of my section with no problems."
Leading the charge in our third-ever SCORE desert race, Hecker (left) had some amazing stories to tell at the finish, including a fourth-gear end-over-end dismount.
Ruiz handed the bike off to Rat Sult for his second stint - this one through the challenging section through Mike's Sky Ranch. Here the terrain really took a toll on the bike and unfortunately, Sult didn't convey to the next rider, Carlos Mix, that the bike had taken some serious abuse here and could have used some attention before he headed out. During his run through Mike's, Sult missed his Mag 7 fuel check point and ran out of gas. Fortunately a twist of fate allowed him to get fueled up and on to the exchange point around RM260 where Mix was eager to get on the bike after months of preparation and pre-running.
"When I got the bike at mile marker 257, I did not ask anything about the bike, I just jumped on in and gave all the gas I could," explained Mix. "After hitting a couple of whoops and rocks, I realized that the front tire was flat and the front rim was bent, besides this, I felt the rear suspension springing funny and it was getting worse and worse all the time."
Once you are on the course, there's no turning back, so Mix was forced to soldier on despite the flat and the suspension woes. Like any experienced desert racer will tell you - the most important thing is to keep the bike moving forward. Get the bike safely to the next pit where you can do something about the problem. The term 'safely' though, takes on a different meaning when you're in the heat of competition.
After the mile marker 320," continues Mix, "I was in a fast section and even with the damage in the bike, I was at full throttle in 5th gear. Then...I hit a rock that normally wouldn't hurt, but with the front flat tire, I flew over the handlebars, and mashed into the ground. By the time I stood up, two old persons were trying to help me and three more were holding the bike, so I got back on the bike again. It was really hard to drive the bike almost 90 miles with a flat front tire and with no suspension in the rear shock, but at that moment, I could not do anything more than bring the bike to the next rider, hoping we could make it to the finish."
By the time Carlos Mix, seen here greeting Hecker at the finish, received the MCUSA bike for his first stint in the saddle, there was a flat front tire and a funny-feel to the rear suspension.
Waiting for his second stint in the town of Santo Tomas was Alberto Ruiz. As another experienced rider and Baja resident, Ruiz was chomping the bit at the prospect of getting a good 100-mile run back to Ensenada. All the pre-running and all the preparation comes to a head and the anticipation is a killer. Your mind is swimming and the sound of every bike coming your way gets your adrenalin pumping. So, when a battered 315x machine pulled into Santo Tomas you can imagine what might have been going through Ruiz's mind: Something like 'What in the name of God happened to this thing?'
"At the moment that I received the bike for second time at mile marker 344, the bike and the rider (Carlos) were in bad shape," remembers Ruiz. "Carlos was really tired due to riding the bike for 90 miles with no rear suspension and a flat front tire. We changed the front wheel and the clutch perch in order to continue my second section so I could bring the bike to team captain Darin 15 miles away from the finish line. My second section was really difficult, and it was even worse with the suspension problems in the rear, but we had to do all that was humanly possible to bring the bike to the checkered flag."
And he did. Riding a calculated pace through the rugged terrain between Tres Hermanos and Ensenada, Ruiz was able to meet up with Hecker despite all the obstacles working against himself and the entire team. Ultimately he arrived at the final swap where a mentally and physically exhausted Darin Hecker was awaiting his final blast to the finish. As you can imagine, he was to say the least, surprised at the condition of the bike at this point - but the finish line was only a short distance away.
For the second time in three attempts, Team MotorcycleUSA.com did everything in their power to destroy the XR650R, only to limp the beast across the finish line and keep our finishing streak alive at three.
SCORE Baja head honcho, Sal Fish, is almost always smiling and a welcome sight as he greet riders at the finish.
The team took the checkered flag in 12 hours, 10 minutes, and 58 seconds, finishing an unofficial 67th overall.
Race Highlights From SCORE:
Steve Hengeveld/Mike Childress [1x] placed second in the class, marking the first time this century that the winning team in the SCORE Baja 500 Class 22 did not include either of these two riders.
The 438 starters marks an all-time record for SCORE races in Mexico, eclipsing the previous standard of 384, set in the 1976 SCORE Baja 500 and tied in the 1977 SCORE Baja 500. There were 464 total entries this year, marking what was most likely the second most in SCORE history, behind the 1988 SCORE Parker 400 total.
Jimmy Lewis/Dave Donatoni [15x] finished fourth in the class and eighth among motorcycles. They posted the best ever finish for a BMW bike, on their BMW HP2.
Brian Pinard/Taber Murphy [301x] and Ron Wilson/Scott Myers [313x] both crossed the finish line in exactly 9:45:10, creating a two-way tie for first place in the class. Pinard and Murphy were 11th in Class 22 in last year's race here, but have now won their second consecutive race after winning Class 30 in the Tecate SCORE SAN Felipe 250. Wilson and Myers were on the Class 30 winning team in the 2005 SCORE Baja 1000, riding that race along with Brian Pinard.
Crack open some Tecates. The Baja 500 is over and the MCUSA entry made it to the finish. Great job guys!
Jim O'Neal/Craig Adams/Tom Willis/Eric Brown [400x] won Class 40, extending Jim O'Neal's claim as having the longest current winning streak in SCORE Baja 500 races as he has garnered a win each year since 2001. O'Neal won his eighth title in this race as he also won in Class 50. That total puts him in fifth all-time in that category, and he is the only person to win two classes in two different years (2002 and 2006). O'Neal's trophy case now includes six trophies from SCORE San Felipe 250 races and from the last two SCORE Baja 1000 races in addition to his eight here. Adams has a long history of being part of winning teams, while Willis and Brown were last-minute add-ons to O'Neal's team.
The record-setting race was filmed for television by Aura360, SCORE'S TV production partner, to air in December as a one-hour special on NBC in the U.S. and ESPN International worldwide.