None of the established safety rules apply. There are stretches of the race that actually run over Baja's only two-lane highway to get around impassable rocks and canyons. But local traffic control is spotty at best, making unwitting participants out of locals on a Sunday drive.
Some well-heeled competitors have helicopters shadow them on the course. The flying service stations carry everything from tires and transmissions to engines, and they can turn any flat surface into an instant repair shop. But most teams depend on the more normal race pits that are set up about every fifty miles. The pre-paid pits are stocked with fuel, water, communications, and enough energy bars to get you to the moon.
At our pit Blue played a central role as a rolling Gas station. The fifty gallon fuel barrels stayed onboard with hand-crank pumps at the ready. As each fill can was emptied into the tanks of the waiting racecars, the containers were refilled as fast as possible. Anyone manning the crank handles had a very large right arm by the end of the day.
The course has many pinch-points called narrows. Drivers blinded by the dust and amped up by adrenaline sometimes run over each other when the first guy hits the brakes. When everybody finally gets untangled the field is no longer spread out--cars swarm into the next pit like killer bees on steroids.
Normally there are about ten guys in a pit with maybe fifteen to twenty vehicles signed up for service. But last year, there were only five of us manning the pit with forty-three cars, trucks and motorcycles scheduled to drop in during the long day and night the racers are allotted to finish the course. Somebody yelled, "Gird your loins, boys" As three or four vehicles bore down on us all at once, sliding to a stop in clouds of dust. We clambered all over each vehicle hastily inspecting critical parts to make sure nothing would fall off or blow up during the next leg of the race. The engines are too loud for yelling, so we used a lot of hand signals you'd never see in a baseball game.
While we cleaned their goggles and running lights, the drivers, still strapped in their seats, would yell and point to anything they think might be wrong. Water was fed to the driver through a straw while a twelve-gallon dump can was rammed into the car's tank.
Now, the worst thing you can do as you rush from racer to racer is spill gas all over a motorcyclist's lap during a sloppy speed fill. (Well, maybe the worst thing would be to light him up.) But we did okay for a bunch of amateurs.
No wet drivers. No fire in the hole. And most vehicles were out of there in less than two minutes, spinning tires and throwing dirt in our faces as thanks while we jumped to the next racer in line. We even did a couple of quick-fix bailing-wire and weld repairs in that time. After it was over, we swaggered around and gave ourselves kudos and high fives for not killing anyone.
Even when the race cars come into the pit one by one, you can only hope the wind is blowing the other way, Coming and going, they kick up a dust storm so thick, blinded drivers sometimes literally run over each other. And at the end of the race, when you clean up, you find pounds of dirt in nooks and crannies you didn't know you had.High on a mountaintop sits the Weatherman. Like Moses, he passes down race commandments to the hordes below. Every pit and every chase crew is tuned in, listening to his updates and satellite positing reports of individual racers. The GPS even tells how fast they were going as they passed, "Race number 186x passed check point 3 doing 57 miles per hour at 1600 hours." it's easy to patch together a picture of the entire race; who's in the lead, who broke down, what obstructions to watch out for, who's lost, who's hurt, how to get an emergency helicopter... all are broadcast by the guy in the sky.