This years Baja 1000 was a very unique race for all competitors racing motorcycles and quads. The race would start at 11 pm on Thursday November 14th and the course would stretch just over 885 miles, the longest loop race in history! Starting in Ensenada, heading southeast over the famous "new summit" to Laguna Salada and down to San Felipe. From San Felipe the race course heads towards Gonzaga and the farthest southern point, El Crucero, heading west towards the coast and then back to Catavina, Colonet, Mikes Sky Ranch, and eventually Ojos Negros to the finish. Another addition to this year Baja 1000 was qualifying where the Pro classes would all hang it out over a 3 mile course to get the first starting spot. Qualifying was very important because it is nearly impossible to make a pass at night in the dust with the headlight illuminating your path.
8:30 pm! The alarm goes off on my phone. I shower the sleep away, eat some amazing carne asada and guacamole from Bronco's steak house and begin stretching for my 280 mile 6 hour night race! I head to the starting line ready for my 7th Baja 1000. The SCORE officials mount all the proper tracking devices on the bike and I take a few pictures. 11pm was approaching quickly and Kurt Caselli fired his bike and lined up first, I was second and David Pearson was third off the line. As Kurt sped away two minutes felt like an eternity waiting for the green flag but, eventually I was on my way. The next 15 miles I would experience the worst fog I have ever raced through! It was 2nd and 3rd gear on and off the throttle. I thought, I'm going to get passed and Kurt is just going away! When I got to Ojos I fell into my grove, knowing, there would be no passing until after we dropped down into the desert, where we could race with multiple line choice as long as we nailed our VCP's. I raced steady and smooth through Honda Pits 1,2 and 3, occasionally seeing the light of the 2x bike and getting time splits all around two minutes. Kurt would pull some time on me and then I would answer. Honda 4 was a full maintenance pit, the bike went on the box and TJ, Eric, and the Hilltoppers crew made my 450x fresh again.
Four hours and 200 miles into the Baja 1000 the 2x and 1x bikes were within fifty seconds, both bikes fresh and heading into some of the toughest terrain in Baja, the San Felipe whoops and Old Puertocitos road. I knew this part of the race was a very critical striking point to make a pass and fortunately I was close enough to do so. As I attacked multiple miles of whoops in the dust I could see the tail light of the 2x bike bouncing in the distance. I pushed, really hard! Breathing and making sure I didn't hit one whoop wrong or it could end our race. Around race mile 212 I closed the small gap and made an intense 5th gear wide open pass on Kendall Norman gaining the physical lead of the race. Throughout the next 70 miles and 2 more Honda pits I kept my head down and completely spent all of my energy, trying to build as big of a lead as possible. After cautiously racing over the scary Old Puertocitos road I had finally gotten to the 20 miles of pavement and I could rest. I held my Honda CRF steady at 59 MPH getting to Honda Pit 6 at the "Cowpatty" restaurant and passed the bike to Mark Samuels.
Mark was a last minute "fill in" rider for David Kamo, Kamo had crashed 2 weeks prior during our team mileage run and dislocated his shoulder. David would rehab his shoulder and later take on Timmy Weigands race section. Timmy had a bad pre-run crash and suffered a broken foot and concussion just 4 days before the race. Our team went through quite the mix up but we were quickly reminded by Johnny, "the Boss" that we can perceiver and the win is still within grasp.
Throughout the next 500 miles KTM would close the gap and swap the lead with Mark and David multiple times. Ivan passing Mark in the pits and then Mark passing Ivan back. Racing through gnarly silt, dust, fast roads and super rocky sections. Mark would pass the bike off to David Kamo and the battle was on between he and Mike Brown. David and Brown would have a crazy 60 MPH battle through the streets of Camalu, passing buses and cars with oncoming traffic! Scary, right? David would gain the upper hand after some intense drag racing as the two riders left the pavement. Ivan Ramirez would later battle with Kamo. Kamo stopped to open a closed gate and Ivan blew by him, Kamo would try to retaliate but couldn't push through the sketchy dust and rocks. David would keep the 2x in his sights just 45 seconds behind, sliding the fun roads of Mike's and bringing the bike back to me, eagerly waiting at the bottom of Mikes Sky Ranch road around race mile 760. We would do a full service pit to make sure our bike was good to go to the finish.
The 1x and 2x bike teams were in an epic Baja battle! 760 miles, 15 hours into the race and we were less than a minute apart. I mounted the bike and pushed the speed up to 59 MPH on the short highway section through Valle De La Trinidad, there was no time to lose. I knew Ivan was passing the bike off to Kurt and he was going to be super fast! I was pushing my limits and making up a second here and there. I stopped to fuel the bike at Honda 17 and was told we were 1 minute apart. I was going all out as I passed through Nuevo Junction and the race course jumped up onto a wide open 5th gear road. I held my 450x wide open in a full JC tuck pushing the envelope. As the road came to an end, the barbed wire fence and cattle guard came into sight, I WAS GOING WAY TOO FAST! I aimed for the opening of the cattle guard that was about 20 feet to the right of the high speed road but, I couldn't make it. I threw the motorcycle into a 2 wheeled slide heading straight for the fence and cement/rock cattle guard. I came to an abrupt stop, breaking the fence down with the blast of the motorcycle and smashing my front wheel in the process. I regained composure feeling very fortunate I wasn't hurt or cut by the fence. My feelings were horrible. I had just recklessly thrown away a huge effort by so many people. I sat in the desert for over 20 minutes waiting for a new front wheel, that was plenty of time to curse and call myself every name in the book, what an idiot I was!
Honda Pit 17 to the rescue, we remounted a new front wheel, checked over the bike and proceeded down the race course. I still had over 90 miles to finish of the race and all I could think of was how dumb I was for crashing. My race pace wasn't as fast as I regrouped but, I knew I still had to push and minimize the time deficit. You never know with Baja, I’ve missed VCP's and lost the race (2011 Baja 500). About 5 miles prior to my last pit stop I passed the KTM pit and gave them a thumbs up, thinking the 2x bike was 25 minutes or so ahead and they had the win locked up. As I stopped for the last Honda Pit, the crew told me that I was in the physical lead and the KTM bike was missing. I couldn't believe it! Another huge emotional shock went through my body. The first thing I thought was that their bike broke. So I proceeded to the finish in disbelief. "Did they just lie to me, was that a joke?” I thought. I finally passed the bike off to Timmy in the wash before town and he looked at me and said "what took so long, I’ve been here waiting forever", he was joking and took off to the finish. My team and I celebrated the win with so much joy, like only once before (2012). I walked back to the hotel with my family and was giving out hugs, the mood was all good.
Then, Faye Campbell pulled me aside with sadness in her eyes and told me words that I will never forget, words that came with such horrible surprise, words that stop your life, she told me, "Kurt didn't make it". My heart sank and suddenly nothing mattered, I was ruined.
Kurt Caselli was one of my Hero's. I have looked up to him since I first started racing dirt bikes as an 80 novice and he was dominating Big 6 Grand Prix in the Open Expert class. I remember seeing him jump a huge step up at Gorman and thinking, "man I want to be like him one day". Then as I grew up and my dream became a reality, I had the opportunity to race against him at my first WORCS race, he lapped me twice. I couldn't believe it, I thought I was good. The next year he was walking the course with me, showing me lines and ideas I never thought about. He was helping me! I was his competition, but not really! Then, at one of the lowest times in my life (Ox passing away), Kurt offered me a ride on the US International Six Day Enduro team. I gladly accepted and began preparing. We went to Finland and raced with the best in the world. I rode like junk but, Kurt was winning special tests and proving to everyone that he is the best. We had so much fun those 2 weeks. It was actually more fun after we raced because Kurt was always having a good time, he made me feel like a brother and he was such a team player. My experience was made from Kurt and the team, not racing, racing was miserable.
So Thanks Kurt, I know I have told you before, you are my Hero! Thanks for the advice. Thanks for the laughs. Thanks for roosting me. Thanks for the sick video parts. Thanks for inviting me over and trail riding. Thanks for offering your house. Thanks for critiquing me. Thanks for being a role model. Thanks for pushing me. Thanks for bringing racing to a new level EVERYWHERE. Thank you for being a HERO!
YOU WILL ALWAYS BE MY HERO!!
Colton Udall 1x