My background with The Project Baja Team is brief. I was asked to join as a chase crew member through my fiance, who’s older sister is married to Matt Wilson. I was excited to be a part of this experience. I grew up racing motocross and supercross and did enduros to train. It was always a dream of mine to race the baja 1000 on a dirtbike like Johnny Campbell did. I remember getting my first glimpse of baja in the old Terraferma dirt bike videos, so it was an easy decision to say yes to this opportunity.
The day came to fly out to San Diego to start this adventure. I went into this scenario with the same attitude that I always do on race day, “ just go with it.” Once we got situated in San Diego, Justin (another crew/family member) and I drove to go get his brothers car and some long overdue In-N-Out burgers for everyone. I discovered that you can get animal sauce to go, which was awesome. So we feasted and passed out. The next morning Maddie and I had some coffee and a nice walk on the beach and prepared ourselves mentally for the challenge that was ahead of us. Our entire chase crew, minus the Fire Guys, piled into our new rental chase vehicle, which was a 2010 Ford Explorer. We crossed the border with no issues, suffered through Tijuana, and finally saw some beautiful coast and terrain. I realized the reality of how dangerous the highway could be after watching an old pickup try to pass a line of cars on a blind hill combined with a blind corner and a semi at the front of the pack with oncoming traffic. Somehow he managed to wiggle his way through. Once we got to Ensenada, we immediately walked down to contingency where our team was almost to the front. This backdrop was every bit of the word crazy, it was awesome. I felt a sense of peace amongst the chaos knowing that I was going to be a part of the race environment that I had been longing for and missed so much. I could see a fire in Maddie’s eyes as well and knew she was hooked. Later that night we did some final tuning on the race car. We then turned our rental into a chase vehicle by attaching magnetic trailer lights to the back of the roof, drilled holes in the hood behind the trim molding to attach two more lights, put reflective tape everywhere, and installed the gps and radio.
We stayed the night at a hotel in Ensenada. I finally felt like we as “Chase 2” were ready to do this. I woke up eager and excited. I had butterflies and I wasn’t even racing. We numbered up our truck and were ready to go. Our crew consisted of myself, Maddie, and Bobby. Our plan was to start ahead of the car and wait at race mile 14.5 so we could see some of the race and take photos as they passed. We fueled everything up and met up with the Fire Guys aka “Chase 1” and had some amazing tacos across from the starting line before we left. We made it to mile 14 and it was great watching some of the other classes race as well as the ridiculous locals driving on course. Once our team passed we headed up to highway 3 and kept intercepting them as the course crossed the roads. They were making great time, averaging 30+mph. Chase 1 went a different route down a chase access road to get some more footage as we headed toward race mile 80 where the first pit stop and driver change was to occur. The pit was flawless other than the fact that we were consuming way too much fuel. Paul and I poured almost fourteen gallons into the fuel cell. Just before the car left I noticed a peculiar stream of fuel running down the cell and thought we had a leak. We continued down hwy 3 until we had to make a random pit to address jetting, timing, and the fuel issue. Fisher and I had an “ I told you so” moment once we realized the fuel cell was leaking. We fixed the problem and had to follow the course from hwy 3 to hwy 1. I had a really fun time driving this leg. We had to avoid booby traps, cliff drop offs, 3 feet deep ruts we had to float on top of all without getting run over by a trophy truck. I’m not being sarcastic, I really did enjoy it. The rental took a beating but we made it. The car reached the next pit 30 minutes before we got there and 15 minutes before chase 1 got there, so we missed a driver change.
By this point it had been dark for hours and I had no idea what time it was. All the chase vehicles met up outside of a place called The Bar. The racecar had been getting stuck a lot so chase 1 left to go find it. We waited awhile and decided that we would go to the entrance of one of the access roads we thought chase 1 went down and relay the radios so we could figure out what was going on. Unfortunately this is when we discovered our gps was no longer showing us where the chase access roads were. Luckily we had the BFG racebook and were able to navigate the old fashioned way. Once the car finally made it to the pit in front of The Bar we cleaned out the air filter, it was a silty mess, and they were on their way with a much stronger running car.
We and Chase 1 continued staying with the car as chase 3 went further on and ended up parking off the highway in front of a school. By this point I still had no idea what time it was. Both Maddie and Bobby had a chance to sleep and I was definitely ready for a nap. We kept chasing the car and navigating our way through access roads to maintain radio communication. At one access we pulled up to the course just before the coast and luckily re-parked our truck because our team blew a right hander and would have creamed us. They got back on course and got stuck almost immediately. There were huge silt hills, I got out and walked up one just to see the terrain and it looked very very tough. Chase 1 was on course helping them a lot and we kept pressing down the highway turning right wherever we could to gain access to the course. At one point we pulled up just in time to see the car go flying by with chase 1 right behind it. We decided to go meet up with chase 3 and wait for the car and chase 1 to meet us as well. At last I finally shut my eyes. It felt like I was asleep for five minutes when Gina woke me up saying “sorry Tyler but we need you.” In reality I was asleep for an hour or so which I was grateful for. I woke up confused and didn’t know what was happening. Apparently the cars rear end was busted. We were thinking it was the left rear trailing arm. We gathered all the tools and parts we needed and the Matts, Bobby, and I were off. I ended up driving on the course to try and find them and that was my first encounter driving on the silt. We put it in 4WD and I buried my foot in the pedal keeping the momentum up so we didn’t get stuck too. We finally found them with a broken stub axle in a perfectly level spot to work on the car. We fixed everything and headed back to the school where chase 3 had been waiting.
We all decided to call it due to the fact that we had timed out and would not have any support if we decided to press on. The guys gave stickers and autographs to all the kids at the school we parked in front of and we packed up and headed north to find a hotel to stay at. We made a wrong turn and ended up in some random neighborhood where a gang of little boys bombarded our caravan for stickers. One boy was so excited he popped a wheelie on his bike and rode it until he fell on his butt. It was pretty sweet. So when he got back up he thought it would be a good idea to climb on the back of my hitch basket rack so naturally I hit the biggest bump in the road and made his tailbone feel even better. We made it to a really nice resort right on the coast. The beach was amazing, it had sand dunes. We all ate and drank and shared delirium and then went to bed. We stayed another day to just relax and recover. Later that night I managed to convince the manager of the hotel to let us drive the race car on the beach after dark. It was a nice setting watching the car rip by as the sun set with a beach bonfire and beer in hand.
The following morning we packed up and headed north toward the border with one last stop in Ensenada for fish tacos and margaritas. We waited in line for two hours at the border. I found myself envisioning a scenario where a mexican street vendor was going to walk by my driver door and I was going to open it really fast, knocking him over. It was slightly frustrating, I don’t like Tijuana. We made it back to the Naval Lodge in San Diego safe and exhausted. It was an amazing trip with an amazing adventure. My fiance is now hooked on off-road racing, thank you baja. We will definitely be back and maybe one day I will race my dirt bike for team Project Baja in the Baja 1000.