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Taking a Tacoma to the Baja 1000

Feb 28, 2018

When you’ve driven to the end of a continent and back, where does the next road take you?

This was the question facing overland enthusiasts, Richard and Ashley from Desk to Glory. It didn’t take long to find an answer.

Shortly after settling back home, Richard would get an opportunity that proved impossible to turn down: an invitation to join a team competing in one of the world’s toughest off-road races.

In the 2017 Baja 1000, drivers compete in a point-to-point off-road race across more than 1,000 miles of Mexican desert. Linking up with Canguro Racing, Richard would join the chase – the 30-strong group that follows the race vehicle to provide tires, fuel, food, and water.

Baja 100 Canguro Racing Team Truck
Of course, he would need a vehicle engineered to handle just such an adventure. Setting out from Toyota Canada Head Office in Toronto, Richard set out in a 2018 Toyota Tacoma to drive – in true Desk to Glory style – all the way to Mexico.

Toyota Tacoma in Blue Side View

With a film crew along for the ride, Richard captured the drive out to Mexico and the highs and lows of the 37 hours following the Baja 1000.

Toyota Canada caught up with Richard to hear more about the adventure.

What inspired you to get involved with the Baja 1000?

Years ago I came across “Dust To Glory”, a documentary about the Baja 1000.  Eventually, I had watched that movie enough times that when my wife Ashley and I decided to leave our desk jobs to travel through South America (and write a blog about it) she thought it fitting to call the blog “Desk To Glory.” During that trip in 2013, we actually got a small taste of the 1000 from a small campsite in Gonzaga Bay in Baja, MX.

Baja 1000 Desert Racing
We watched the motorcycles and trophy trucks fly past us on an otherwise deserted dirt stretch of Mexican Highway 3.  It took days to wipe the smile off my face.  Since that day, I had wanted to return, but until now the timing had never been right.

After returning from that long road trip (from Vancouver, British Columbia to Ushuaia, Argentina) we settled back into “real life” in Canada.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long before I was itching for a little adventure.  That’s about the same time I got an offer I couldn’t refuse from Dave Connors from Canguro Racing.   Dave, who had done a similar trip through South America, invited me to join Canguro Racing and be a part of the chase team in 2017 for the 50th running of the Baja 1000.

Canguro Racing Team Baja 1000

I also convinced two good friends to join me so that we could document the event, and borrowed a new Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport from Toyota Canada so those two friends, Aaron and Lindsay, wouldn’t have to sit in the tiny back seat of my 1990 Toyota Pickup Extended Cab for our three week journey from Toronto to Mexico and back to Vancouver.

After meeting the team for the first time, Canguro hooked us up with decals and a radio, and we were good to go!  We were now Mexico bound! 

Tell us a bit more about your role - what does being in the chase entail?

The chase team this year was comprised of about 30 people of varying experience and talents. The race truck, a 2010 200 Series Land Cruiser named “Monica”, travelled 1,825 kilometres from Ensenada to La Paz off road, averaging speeds anywhere from 20 to 160 kilometres per hour, snaking back and forth along the rugged Baja Peninsula on the marked race course over 37 hours straight.

Toyota Canguro Racing Team in Desert

The chase team, spread over eight vehicles, takes the easier and more direct route, mostly on the Mexican highways, and essentially creates a web of support for the race vehicle. In this case the chase trucks were Tacomas, Tundras, and Land Cruisers.

The chase vehicles provide fuel and tires for the truck, and food/water for the driver and co-driver at specified pit stops.  They also transport the additional drivers and co-drivers down the course for their turn behind the wheel of the race truck.

A large part of the chase team’s job is to act as communication from the race truck to the rest of the chase team.  Since the radios used in all of the vehicles have a limited range, the chase vehicles spread out along the course slightly (approx. 100-200km) ahead and behind the race truck, and relay communication to/from the race truck to/from the rest of the team.

Truck Racing in Desert Baja 1000

Chase trucks also carry spare parts, tools, and mechanics down course in the event of a mechanical issue.

You were capturing the whole thing on film, which was your favourite moment that made it into the video?  A thousand miles is a long way to cover in 48 waking hours – what were the biggest challenge the team faced?

My favourite moment that made it into the video actually lasted about three hours.

We heard the radio crackle, "This is Canguro Race.  We lost a wheel."  You could almost hear the collective sigh of the chase team.  The passenger front tire came off the truck and slammed into the fender a couple of times before coming to a stop on the race course.  The entire hub assembly was gone with the wheel.

The Chase Team At Night

Dave Connors of Canguro explained the failure, "During prep we used the wrong torque setting on our unit-bearing assembly. Toyota uses an SST for assembly that has a lower torque rating than a standard wrench.  It was a simple oversight, but in racing those are glaringly magnified."

The race truck and most of the team was close to Coco's Corner (a popular pit stop location) so six out of the eight trucks gathered together and hatched a plan.

At 2am, Coco's Corner was looking like a combination of war zone and automotive triage centre.  Torn up race trucks rolled in to find their pit crew and others blasted past on the course adjacent to where we were set up.

The squawk of race radios, rumble of V8s, and frantic crews drowned out any silence. Flickering dust particles, piercing HID lights, and the ever-present Milky Way flooded the darkness.

Team doing maintenance on truck

The two other chase trucks, which were farther down the course, took inventory of spare parts.  A spindle and hub/unit bearing assembly were required as well as a front brake rotor and wheel spacer.  Spindle, check.  Hub, check.  Wheel spacer, check.  Front brake rotor... not so much.  Apparently that spare front brake rotor was still back in the shop at Ely, NV.

Dave just happens to run identical brake rotors on his Tundra (Chase Truck #2) which was one of the two trucks down course.

While Paul May hammered down course to courier the parts, Dave's truck was dismantled and brake rotor removed.  The parts were handed off to Paul, and Dave's black Tundra (now a parts truck) was loaded on the trailer.

Soon, the race truck limped into the pit with a pieced together hub assembly and wheel back on.  Another half hour was needed before Paul skidded into the pits, scrounged parts in hand.  Brian Andreasen (one of the mechanics) was front and center making quick work of parts removal and reinstallation.

One of the most satisfying parts of the race was watching these guys slam the truck back together in mere minutes.

Just a few hours earlier there were jokes about calling the AAA flatbed, but now we were watching two guys strap back into the truck and blast off into the night with 1,340 kilometres to go before the finish line.
Truck Racing in Baja 1000

Even being part of the chase involved some off-roading. How did the Tacoma perform?

There were a few times when the chase plan required us to drive on the race course to make it to the next pit stop or communication monitoring location.  The Tacoma performed great, especially considering we were driving on roads that had recently been torn up by 40” tall tires on 800hp trophy trucks.

A couple of stretches required slipping the transfercase into 4WD, but most of the time the high ground clearance and a little throttle was enough to get us through the rough stuff.

I admit, when there were race trucks somewhere behind us on a two-track “road” we pushed the truck hard enough to find the suspension bump stops a few times, but like our old 1990 Pickup the Tacoma seemed to shrug it off without issue.

What surprised you most about the race?

Sure, I had seen the documentary Dust To Glory, I had even watched a very small portion of the 2013 Baja 1000 pass by a campsite near Gonzaga Bay, but based on my recent experience, I really had no idea what it was going to be like to be part of the race.

Canguro Racing Toyota on Ramp

It's incredible how through all of the planning that was involved in making this project happen, I hadn't really thought much about the race itself.  Don't get me wrong, I had looked at the race map, read the chase plan, spoke for hours with the team members, was involved in the team meeting, and discussed production plans, but I didn't actually think deeply about what we would be doing for those 48 hours straight.

Well, 48 hours with an oh-so-necessary 45-minute nap sometime during the second night.  Until this point, I had never stayed up late enough to watch the sun rise.  By the end of the 2017 Baja 1000, I watched the sun come up not only once, but twice.

View of desert looking out of Tacoma
So saying all that, I think the thing that surprised me most were the emotions I would go through over those 48 hours.  From sleep deprived stupor to adrenaline induced highs as we met the race truck at a pit stop, paced the truck on speed controlled highway sections, or watched the trophy trucks blast past us only a few metres away.

I also wasn’t expecting the whole experience to be as rewarding as it was, but even as a Baja rookie I was able make some small contributions to the team to give me a small taste of the Baja magic.

Would you do it again?

My memories from the Baja 1000 will be the dust, smell of race fuel, sound of 800hp V8 engines, rush of adrenaline, sleep deprivation, fish tacos, the friendliness of locals, and most importantly the camaraderie amongst the team (now, my good friends.)  I'm 100% in for 2018 and get goosebumps on my forearms and a big grin on my face just thinking about it.  All that’s left to do now is count down the days until the 51st running of the Baja 1000.

Baja 1000 Truck Racing Through Desert