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About a month ago, my phone rang. "Richard, this is Pete. I want you navigating for the Baja 500 - you in?" I made a couple phone calls to see what my family schedule was going to be like and got the okie-dokie. I was in. I called Pete back and let him know it was a go.

Pete gave me three options - the first 250 miles the last 170 or the whole enchilada. After the 6 hours of Henerderson (okay, I know, I've never posted that story - I WILL one day, provided I can remember what went down...) I knew I didn't want to do a full Baja 500 of 420 miles. 250 should be good. I also knew a lot of the course we'd be running from doing the 1000 pre-running and race.

I met Pete and his crew at his shop on Saturday, May 26th. The Trophy Truck was missing a lot of the body and there were parts and people everywhere. The prep work was underway. I was ready to hop in and do what ever I could. Some of us spent the first part of the day trying to replace a couple of monster sized heims in the rear end of the truck on the upper supension links. They'd siezed to the bolts that held them in and did not want to come out. The engine was freshly installed and some of the crew were working on getting it running and tuned up, there were tires that needed to be set up, electronics to go over and all sorts of small detail things. Sunday was pretty much more of the same - get the truck ready for a quick test on Monday morning and the Race on Saturday. I got to play fiberglass cutter on the new hood and rear fenders - man that stuff itches.

Pete Eddie and I loaded up on Monday morning and headed on down to Mexico for a week of pre-running. Pete and I were in Big Red, his F-250 pickup, with good ol' Harbor Freight (the pre-runner) in tow and Eddie drove Whitey Ford with the Trophy Truck behind it. It was a good drive. Pete and I discussed the week's plans, the race and in general, shot the shit. Pete enjoyed terrorizing me with Disco (Don't you know that crap's dead Pete???) on the radio - but I was able to hold my own against him - unfortunately, I can remember the majority of that damned music - name of the song, band, etc., so Disco Trival Pursuit was the underlying theme of the trip.
We got to Tecate, Mexico and Eddie and I switch places and I did the 80 mile drive on down to Ensenada. We got to our hotel - the Villa Marina, parked the trucks and wandered off to Pete's favorite little taco shack for a couple tacos and adult beverages. Its'a killer place. Only has two 10' long picknick benches for tables and it's two very, very nice women that run it - if I could remember the name, I'd tell you. Get the camarones de ajo (garlic shrimp). It sits right on the main drive into Ensenada so Eddie, Pete and I watched the traffic go by. Every now and then we'd see a race team or a pre-runner. The largest of which was Robby Gordon's Monster Energy setup. Two support trucks, two Uni-Mogs (Dakar support trucks - seriously cool vehicles), the Dakar Hummer and a Trophy Truck.
After eating our food, a couple of Mexican 12 oz curls and enjoying the scene, it was time to head back and prep for Tuesday's pre-running.

Tuesday morning the three of us packed into Harbor Freight (both the pre-runner and the race truck are three seaters) and headed out into the desert. Pete and Eddie had been down the weekend before getting the course marked and into the GPS. This week we'd spend checking out different lines, getting more detailed info into the GPS and just getting to know the track better. Harbor Freight is just about perfect as a pre-runner - not enough hp to tear anything up, enough suspension to make the ride smooth and fun. The truck's a blast and works great - and it will run on Pemex!

We dropped onto the race course just outside Ensenada, I believe at race mile 19 (rm 19), K19 on Highway 3 (kilometer 19). Usually I'm pretty good about recognizing things, but the first five miles or so looked completely alien to me. We finally came down a section that started to look familiar and when we passed the 'clinic' I then knew exactly where we were. We jammed on down the course and started heading up a small hill. At the base of this hill was a fence with the gate shut. On the other side of the gate were a couple of hombres that appeared to be controlling the gate. We pulled up to the gate, one guy opens it, one comes up to the truck and informs Pete that it's going to cost three bucks to go across the land. (The race course runs over a lot of private ranch land). Pete hands him the money and the guy gives us a receipt!!! It should still be in HF's side pocket where the steekers reside...

We ran along the course for a couple more miles and then came to the Ojos road. I hopped out, opened the gate, Pete came through, I closed the gate and off we went. I like the road to/through Ojos. It's fairly smooth, surface wise, and has a bunch of rises and dips - sort of a roller coaster and it's FAST. It goes though the tiny village of Ojos Negros (Black Eyes) at rm 35 and K39 on Highway 3. The kids come out in packs; "Steekers, Steekers!" We try to hand out one sticker to each kid we see, but like Pete said, "I bet that one big kid gets ALL of them from that group". I have to agree and doubt evey kid ended up with one either. As we get about half way though Ojos, we meet the local Polica. They're heading towards us in their car and start signaling for us to stop. Pete does. The cop car pulls up along side and the guy driving the car asks for STEEKERS!!! Cops with Steekers and Gate Guards with receipts. Mexico's cool!

We passed through Ojos, made a decently fast pass over the famous Jump and then got to the dump. We'd noticed on the map that the return part of the course looked awfully close to the outbound part of the track. Sure enough - just past the dump was a cross road that lead us right to about race mile 382. It was the perfect place for one of the pit chase crews to stop at the track and render any help to the truck if necessary. We made notes and then went on down the course towards Tres Hermanos, seventeen miles from Ojos at rm 52.

Out of Tres Hermanos the course drops into a sand wash. The wash runs along for a couple miles and then drops into a seriously nasty silt bed. We hit it with a bit of speed and "Poof" - instant cinnamon brown sky. The hood of HF disappeared in the cloud and then just as quickly as it came over the hood, it was gone. Silt's nasty. It's like talcum powder and it doesn't take squat to make the stuff fluff up and obscure everything in view. We got through that crap and then headed up over the mountain pass. It's a tight, twisty section of the course that runs up the side of a mountain ridge and I enjoy the crap out of it. It's fairly rough, my side of the truck is on the "bad" side and the view I have is KILLER. There is one tightening left hander that makes me a tad nervous, but other than that, it's a killer section of the course. It ends with a fairly famous (infamous to some, I'm sure) steep uphill. Once you crest that it's fifteen miles or so of running the top part of the mountain ridge towards highway 3.

This is another fun section of the course. It starts out with slower, rougher terrain and then gradually becomes sandy, sweeping switchbacks and fairly fast. It has a lot of dips and rises too. We cruised along taking it all in - making notes, comments about the track, watching for rocks, alternate lines and the likes until we come to the intersection with Highway 3 at KM 77, rm 78. Turn on the highway, head south for a couple miles then duck off the highway to the left and start running the course again. This section has just about every type of terrain imaginable. It starts out fast and fairly straight. It follows a lot of ranch fences and goes through a couple of them, over cattle guards.

The course goes from following the fences to heading out into the unfenced desert. The track sweeps back and forth, with a few tight(er) corners thrown in for good measure. It also starts getting a bit more rough and whooped out. By the time you get to the last five miles, its tight, twisty, rocky and rough. It ends with the famous Goat Trail section - about a quarter mile long down hill that drops onto Highway 3 at rm 110, KM 117.

Okay, I'm done for now. More tomorrow.

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