Baja 1000 Recap - November 2020
Thank you so much to all our wonderful sponsors who help make our dreams a reality! We couldn’t do what we love most without the sponsorship of Trion Solutions, Driveline Retail Merchandising, BDS Suspensions, Wonolo, CareerBuilder, JKS Manufacturing, FOX, Retail GIS, BFGoodrich, Hayes Companies, and Accelerate Print Group.
We are so thankful for all our amazing sponsors, friends, family, and volunteers who have supported and continue to help us along the way. The 2020 Score International Baja 1000 off-road championship was a test of determination, grit, and teamwork. We are extremely lucky to have the incredible support system we have today. The Score International Baja 1000 had some of the toughest terrain we’ve seen yet, but our Jeep persisted for 181 miles.
The list of repairs from the Baja 500 run was extensive. With a short timeframe to get back up and running for the Baja 1000, we reached out to BDS Suspensions for advice. Their team’s extensive knowledge and willingness to help us was amazing. We ended up completing a front-end shackle reversal and installed FOX 2.0 shocks, which held up tremendously throughout everything Baja threw at us – a first for us in our two years of racing in Score International events.
In the days and nights leading up to the race, we worked on a few last-minute touches including adding a fuel gage, installing a new battery, setting up helmet communications, and zip tying everything in place.
Driver of Record Dave Orzolek, Co-Driver Kyle Bennett, and first-time off-road racer Yong Kim, CEO and proud sponsor of Wonolo, were able to pre-run the course from Race Mile 70 – 125, which felt great. Yong Kim got some drive time in to get a feel for what he signed up for and navigated this downhill crawl like an expert.
We loaded the Jeep on the trailer in preparation for heading out early on race day and headed to a local steakhouse for team dinner. We had our final meeting before the race to strategize. Drivers tried to get some rest, but the energy was high as anticipation set in.
RACE DAY - STARTING LINE
We headed out early to get to our 10:15AM start time, went to turn on the Jeep, and realized the battery had died from the Stella install the day before. We jumped it and thought it would be fine.
We quickly realized we did not have communications between our Race Jeep and Chase Truck. On a mission to get a replacement antenna for the Chase Truck and two new antennas later, we could not locate any, which essentially left us to rely on text messages to communicate between the Race Jeep, Chase Truck, and Weatherman if needed.
RACE MILE 7
By Race Mile 7, the battery stopped charging and the engine turned off. The cable to negative battery terminal pulled out, so we couldn’t restart it. Edgar from 212 helped us out by giving us some of their spare battery terminals and a jump box. They saved the day and we got back up and running. We thought this explained the battery not charging, but realized we were wrong a few miles later.
RACE MILE 10
At Race Mile 10, we missed a turn that wasn’t marked. Kyle tried to do a K-turn, but it stalled and wouldn’t restart. Spectator Martin offered to trade us our brand new, completely dead battery for his used Suzuki one right out of his vehicle. Thankfully it worked, and we were up and running again.
RACE MILE 17
To distribute the weight throughout the vehicle, Dave welded a new tire carrier to the back of the Jeep before leaving Dallas. It lasted until Race Mile 17, where everything but one part at the bottom completely collapsed. We were able to recover the spare tires and used the grinding wheel to remove the final part of the tire carrier before carrying on.
RACE MILE 47
With no pre-race parade for fans and spectators, some decided to take matters into their own hands. Passing by tent after tent of fans, we got a lot of use out of the horn. Apparently, we honked just a few too many times and it shorted out at Race Mile 47.
RACE MILE 49
By Race Mile 49, we lost the wheel studs and the lug nuts failed. We lost three off the driver’s side rear tire, so we pulled one wheel stud and lug nut from the front wheels, and one lug nut off the three other wheels so we had four on each wheel instead of five.
RACE MILE 50
At Race Mile 50, we came to a halt when we realized a spectator toting a four-wheeler had blocked the tight mountain pass with his pickup. Spectators will do just about anything to get a look at all the racers, but it didn’t end well for him when his truck bottomed out on the mountain rocks. Without another way to pass him, we jacked him up and out of the hole he was in, then towed him out of the way to get past him.
RACE MILE 52
As we continued, we saw 127 Brenthel had completely snapped an axel and blocked the impending hill climb. The same guys behind us caught up and helped us push up and around the stopped trophy truck through boulders blocking a path around it.
We had made quite a few modifications to take weight off prior to the Baja 1000, but it cost us valuable traction. These guys hopped on the Jeep and hung on, giving us enough weight to continue climbing up. This fiasco cost us over an hour, but we were happy we had the extra help to keep us going.
RACE MILE 60 - 62
Chase had been tracking and listening to Weatherman as best as possible without radio communications, but the Stella tracking still showed us slowly climbing and descending. Race Jeep had radioed to BFGoodrich pit for assistance in getting replacement wheel studs and lug nuts, but the message was not communicated clearly – by the time Chase was notified, they thought Dave and Kyle were stranded at the top of the mountain somewhere without a way down.
Racing against the nightfall clock, Chase met up with Team Manager Melissa’s close friend, Ted, who navigated Chase through a local farm and up the mountain. The Toyota Tundra Chase made it up to meetup and began calling every Auto Zone in the area to see if they had replacement parts. No Auto Zone in the area carried what we needed.
Luckily, Ted had a Jeep Cherokee sitting at his place nearby and offered us anything we needed off of it. We took a short detour to get there, grabbed all the wheel studs and lug nuts we needed, swapped Driver Kyle for Yong, and headed back to the course running like a dream. A huge shoutout to Ted – without him, we wouldn’t have been able to make it much further!
RACE MILE 70 - 153
Once power was restored to all the wheels again, our average speed went from 9 mph to 31.8 mph! We were running so well that we beat our Chase Truck to our planned mini pit stop at Race Mile 80, so we continued forward.
At Race Mile 100, our Chase Truck camped out and built a fire to get a visual on us as we passed through the wash. We continued onward toward what would have been the BFGoodrich Pit Stop at Race Mile 153.
By the time we made it to the BFGoodrich Pit Stop, we rolled up on a sleeping Chase Team and a closed BFGoodrich Pit. We fueled up from our own supply Chase had brought and switched drivers and navigators. Yong navigated for Team Mechanic Jimmy as they entered the coastline beach.
RACE MILE 160
A few miles in, they were stuck in thick, muddy sand and had to dig themselves out. Chase caught up with them from an access road and that’s when we realized we had missed two critical timing checkpoints.
RACE MILE 181
At 2AM, Driver Dave and Team Manager Melissa decided to continue for fun but ran into super dense fog and mist. Approaching the beach, the fog got even worse. We ended up breaking the rear axle while climbing up a sandy hill and landing in a deep crevice, then called Chase to pull us out. It took Chase about 45 minutes to get to us, but they were able to successfully pull us out and get us to the highway.
With adrenaline pumping and lack of sleep, we made it to the next gas station before the Jeep finally gave out. We realized we’d lost the two spare tires somewhere along the way, too.
Realizing we needed to tow the Jeep, we decided to sleep in the Chase truck for a few hours before attempting to navigate back home. Driver Kyle and Mechanic Jimmy took one for the team and slept in beach chairs outside. The next morning, we ran back to the house to pick up the trailer to tow it back safely through the mountains.
Given generous sponsors, supportive family and friends, and the drive to continue our off-road racing adventures, we are happy to announce the newest addition to the Neverland Off-Road Racing team – a Class 7 truck that will be ready to begin racing next year! We are considering running the Class 3 Jeep and the new Class 7 truck in the Best in the Desert Race Series and possibly only running one in the Score International events, but it will ultimately depend on what our 2021 sponsorships look like.