On Thursday, November 16th the SCORE series made history as it reached half a decade of racing at this year 2017 Baja 1000. That day I also personally met a 10-year milestone for my involvement in the series and as I reflect back on the many dreams I achieved, I am forced to THINK about, and THANK many of the key influential people who helped in my success. Billy Nicoll, Johnny Campbell, Eric Siraton, Randy Sheckler, Rad Brad Oxley, TJ Jones and of course my mom have played a huge role in my racing career and I just wanted to send a special THANK YOU to these few for teaching me about life, mechanics, decision making, racing technique, strategy, and leadership!
Now, as many of you know, I made a huge mistake on Thursday, December 15th, 2016 at Glen Helen Raceway where I broke my back and right ankle. I’ve spent many days this year dreaming and working towards swinging a leg back over a race bike and exactly 11 months after my injury, I was racing the Baja 1000. This recovery has been very difficult but one I am very proud of achieving and although I am nowhere close to my fitness a year ago, I was still ready to help my team achieve the goal.
My team, Led by 1x Rider of Record Mark Samuels, Ryan Penhall, Justin Jones, Ian Young and myself were all ready to compete against the 1,134 miles of grueling BAJA! And then, of course, the other pro teams 3x Ray Dal Saglio, 45x Francisco Arrendando, 44x Justin Morgan, 66x Santiago Creel, 33x Garret Poucher, and a few others. SCORE decided to start the two-wheel vehicles at 12 am on Thursday and the starting position was based off the TJ Desert Challenge race that happened in September. So it was 45x, 1x, 44x, 66x, 33x and 3x with a 2-minute interval between each competitor. I’d like to reiterate the difficulty of the 12 am start and the added stress it creates on all riders, pit crews and everyone involved with the team, you simply just don’t get the rest it takes to tackle a 21 hour/eleven hundred mile race but safety is the number one factor and we wouldn’t want to get in the way of the Trophy Truck Show.
So the race began, Samuels rode off the start 2 minutes behind the 45x bike and handed it off to me just outside the La Pinta Hotel. I raced the bike out the (12 mile) 37 mph speed zone and into the pitch black of Baja. I settled into a comfortable pace, which wasn’t enough and at race mile 60 at our first fuel stop, I learned that I was just off the pace, losing roughly 1 minute to the 45x bike. I wasn’t worried knowing there was plenty of race left and I just had to get the bike to Jones who was waiting at Rm 110, But not before a huge surprise came at around Rm 90 when our tracking bracket for our Stella III device, BROKE off at the mount, and in slow motion, fell away from the handlebars. DEVASTATING! I am thinking as I found myself picking both the bike and tracker up off the ground. I quickly found a safe place to stache the tracker on the left side of my race fanny pack but not before losing 2 positions to the 44x and 66x bikes.
I finally reached our second Pit, made some adjustments to the race bike, gave JJ my race fanny pack and sent him down the course, falling one more spot behind to the 33x bike. I jumped into the chase truck and headed down highway 3 with JR Stanley to meet back up with the 1x as the course came back onto the highway at mikes sky ranch road. Stanley and I came up with a plan and it was DUCT TAPE! We stopped Justin, ripped the tracker out of the fanny pack, cut the zip ties and began duct tapping the tracker back to its original location just in front of the handlebar mounts. This duct tape job was by far the sloppiest I’ve done, but we got it secure with a few zip ties and some help from our friends from F&L fuel’s pit crew. The job took quite a bit of time, as we lost one more position to the 3x bike, moving 1x basically to last and well behind the leader, 45x. I remember apologizing to the ever so patient Jones as he took off and he assured me that the race was far from finished.
Again, back to highway three I went with JR driving and Jones racing through the next 150 miles. I would get radio communication from each pit as the 1x would pass through and Jones was ripping! Passing back the 3x and 66x bikes before pit 4 at Rm 195. As we headed down the highway in the chase truck from Puertocitos to the end of Gonzaga we passed the 33x, 44x, and 45x motorcycles and watched every racer see a beautiful new sunrise as the sun crested the ocean. The scenery was amazing and frustrating, the dust would hang behind each bike like a chemtrail behind an airplane, drawing exactly each corner and straight away of the race course. I kept expecting to see a racer but it was minutes before one would come into sight. There was 4 race bikes spread out over 20 minutes in the first 300 miles of the race and man was it an advantage to be the lead bike!
As we arrived to Ox Motorsports pit 6 Rm 303 location, I got out of the truck and felt the fatigue catch up. I was no longer the super fit Baja racer I have been in the past, but I knew I had a job to do, and that was to deliver the bike to Mark Samuels from Rm 303 to Rm 524. Jones, after a well executed, amazing ride delivered the 1x bike to me at Rm 303, 19 minutes behind the leader(45x), and 7 minutes behind 2nd place(44x), making up one more spot over 33x during our rider change. I raced the bike to pit 7 (El Crucero) where our amazing chase crew serviced the bike, removing the Baja Designs duel RACER light setup, changing front and rear wheels an air filter and checking the oil in about a minute and half! Great Job Guys! Down the race course I went headed to Bay of La, making up time on the 44x bike but not on the lead 45x bike, those guys were pinning it! As I approached Pit 8, I also rode right into the dust of 44x, just 10 seconds behind, but getting past 2nd place wasn’t going to be easy. The dust was just too dangerous to make a pass and I was forced to settle behind an “just off the lead pace 44x bike” for roughly 40 miles until they entered their pit and I could pass into 2nd place. I kept my hopes high, my confidence higher and the throttle WIDE trying to make up for lost time, it was again, not enough as I passed the bike to an eager Samuels at Pit 11 at Rm 524 North Visciano Rd crossing, roughly 23 minutes down on the leader.
Mark mounted the 1x and rode like a pac man, GOBBLING up time on the leader, the competition was losing 45 seconds every 10 miles! As he brought the 1x bike back for our second full service in San Ignacio the lead was down to 15 minutes. GO MARK!! We were back in the race and the lead for 45x was shrinking quick! He raced the bike out to the Pacific coast and down to the beautiful San Juanico famous surf spot before heading back east through the mountains towards Loreto. Mark would dismount the 1x bike and hand it over to Ryan Penhall at Pit 16 Rm 784 with the lead under 8 minutes. WHAT A RIDE! In the 4 years I have been racing with Mark, I can easily say, that was one of the most impressive rides I have seen from him.
So Penhall raced steady through the washes towards Loreto and into our last full service, at Pit 17 where we just hung the Baja Designs Dual Racer Light setup and changed a rear wheel to stay close to the lead. On he went through the beautiful mountains of San Javier passed the 318 year old mission, tip toed over the 40 water crossings, all while fighting the fierce setting sun. 900 Miles down the peninsula and the race was getting super exciting as Ryan passed the 1x bike off to an eager Ian Young for the last 180 miles, roughly 11 minutes off the lead 45x bike at Rm 953.
Ian raced the bike through one of the most physically demanding sections on the Baja Peninsula, the Santa Rita whoops! It's basically a 50-mile section of non-stop whoops with no rest and cactus lining the sides of the race course, man it's brutal! Myself and the crew, beat down and tired, now 17 hours into the race were waiting for the 1x bike at Pit 20. As Ian arrived looking solid and fresh, he eagerly asked for the 8 minute and 30 second time split, “made up 2 minutes” as he clicked her back into gear and raced into the night. The moral between the team wasn’t confident but it also wasn’t sad. We knew anything could happen in the next 130 miles and man were we in for another big surprise!
Catching up on some much-needed rest as TJ raced the chase truck down the highway towards the finish, I was awoken by Mo Hart at our last fuel stop in Punta Canejo, Pit 21 Rm 1073. Mo comes over the radio saying that the 1x race bike is 10 seconds behind the lead bike 45x, 10 SECONDS!!! WOOOOOOOOO HOOOOOOOOO ! I get the chills and teary-eyed remembering the feeling that came over me, man was I proud! Ian is my 23-year-old younger brother and has been dabbling in racing his whole life, sweating with talent and excited to prove to his older brother and to the team, that he CAN do it! He is capable of winning the Baja 1000.
The moral of the people inside the chase truck quickly changed to excitement and happiness. We were now winning the race on adjusted time and who knew what was going to happen in the last 60 miles of the race. The word got out throughout the team via text and radio and more excitement built! I had planned to ride a pre runner into the course to see the 1x bike pass by just one more time before the finish to be there for support. As I waited for Ian to arrive at Race Mile 1120, I was eager, excited, proud, happy, hopeful and accomplished. Those piercing sharp Baja Designs headlights came into view and there was just one set off in the distance, 3 minutes went by and here comes the 1x race bike with my baby bro flying!! I cheered Ian on as he quickly stopped, making sure I was there just for back up, he was still composed and alert, I was now confident that the win at the 50th SCORE Baja 1000 was ours! I waited a few minute at that location and never saw any lights of a competitor so I rushed back to the truck and headed into La Paz for the finish.
The team arrived at the finish and the celebration was on! Ian had beat us all to the podium and the excitement was high! We celebrated our win and congratulated the 45x team on an epic battle. We had done it, it was our first full Peninsula win as a team for Ox Motorsports. One of the most difficult races in the world! Mark and I have been working towards this goal since we lost in 2014 so it was quite an achievement for the both of us. What was in store for us in the next few days was NEVER expected.
As my brother Ian crossed the finished line after a heroic ride, he popped up an easy stand up wheelie, just like any winner does after crossing the finish line at the Baja 1000. But as he approached the podium stage he totally miscalculated the slippery surface of the freshly painted metal ramp. He set the front end down to try and stop. He made it 10 feet up the ramp and the rubber tires simply just went out from underneath the motorcycle. He was now basically sliding on Ice, it was a stage set by Tonya Harding, media crew and photographers jumped out of the way as the announcer, famous street Luger Rat Sult shouts to the crowd how awesome the finish was. It was a complete and total MISTAKE, one local photographer was hit and injured and suffered a broken left tibia. Jose had surgery Saturday afternoon and is now on the mend. The team visited Jose and he was in good spirits, I know he will heal strong and be walking in no time. We are truly sorry to all those involved in the accident and I want to make it very clear that is was never our intentions to hurt anybody.
I want to send a special THANK YOU to all those involved with Ox Motorsports. The sponsors, racers, pit crews and family have all been a huge pleasure to work with. I will cherish the memories made with all of you so THANK YOU VERY VERY MUCH!
SCORE’s race director decided to penalize the Ox Motorsports 1x bike 30 minutes for an issue that happened after the finish line. After the penalty, the 1x team finished 2nd, 19 minutes off the lead. The team had lost the SCORE championship whether we finished 1st or 2nd and I have to congratulate the 45x team on solid year. Although I don’t agree with the tactics used, I respect your ability to have a strategy.
I take this whole finish line fiasco very personally and I am not very proud to be a SCORE champion at this time. The past 10 years started as a dream, with hard work, my dream became a reality. I have earned 5 championships in the last 10 years with 2 different teams and a bunch of awesome teammates. I thought and believed I was prideful, smiling, hard-working face of SCORE. The TRUTH is, I JUST LOVE RACING AND I LOVE WINNING! So its time to trade in my RIDING gear for some DRIVING gear if I am going to compete in a SCORE event because let's face it, I can’t risk my life racing in Mexico so I can be at the mercy of the “Race Directors Discretion”