There is a race held once per year on the Baja Peninsula that is not so much about being first to finish, and instead more about showing team comradery and having fun. Unlike most races, this rally occurs over a period of four days (five including Contingency) and encourages participants to make the most of their experience. Days start late (compared to normal race starts) and end early (by race standards). Competitors often enjoy a regular night’s sleep. There is time to work on the vehicles each day. And everyone involved in the race comes together at night. This is the NORRA Mexican 1000. Two thousand fifteen represented the organization’s sixth year of success, after being dormant for decades once SCORE replaced the original racing organization. When Mike Pearlman (son of Ed Pearlman, the original head of NORRA) resurrected the old race, he wanted it to stand for and represent the same things it did decades ago, invoking the true spirit of Baja. Part of the fun in this is that lots of the original race cars and trucks—as well as many classic tributes—show up to compete. There is nothing quite like seeing dozens of classic race cars and trucks pound their way through the rugged terrain of Baja.
Being a sponsor of the Mexican 1000, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know some of these teams who run our General GrabberTM race tires. One of the wildest and entertaining teams to watch is the BFI Racing crew. These guys have been beating their classic Suburban through Baja for years, and have become well-known favorites at this race. Their enthusiasm is only trumped by their ability to have a great time, so we got them to sit down for a few minutes (a feat in itself) to tell us how their trip went in a Suburban that has just enough modifications to make a winning race truck. Strip the stickers off this original SUV, and you can barely tell the difference between this race version and a common classic.
What sets them apart is that this year the BFI crew brought home their fifth win in their class. These are not rich guys, they are not automotive engineers, and they’re not Mike Pearlman’s cousins. Instead, the BFI team is a perfect example of how some friends and family with determination and some skill can come together to make a winning race team. They’ve accomplished something that you can, too, and the best part is that there is enough room for you to come and race next year in the 2016 General Tire Mexican 1000! Start making your plans now….
The BFI Racing team’s story starts in Ventura County, California. Made up of old high school friends and family, these guys and girls got together after work for weeks prior to the race to make sure the Suburban was ready for Baja.
From Home to Contingency, Ensenada, Baja California 4/25/15
While most racers wait to have problems on the race course, the BFI guys started early, blowing a radiator in their tow vehicle before actually getting out of their home town. After getting things patched up, they made it across the border in time for the Contingency celebration and to have their vehicle inspected and certified as race ready. Our General Tire team got the chance to catch up with them a bit at Contingency before they headed out the next day on four of the most memorable days of their lives.
The BFI team is made up of Mark Harber, Perry White, Darin Ekdahl, Toki Coe, Kelly Adams, Roger & Sherie Queen, and Kendra Rachels.
A front hitch is a great point for extracting a vehicle with. It doubles as a good place to mount a bottle opener. You might also notice the hula pig sticking out from behind the bumper tubing. Only the lower half of the pig would make the entire ride to San Jose del Cabo, unfortunately. The top half has yet to be located.
Race Day 1, Ensenada to Bahia de Los Angeles 4/26/15
The first day the BFI Suburban came out of the gate, it ran smoothly and the 400ci small block purred as it should, pushing the big ‘Burb headed south. Things were going good, but they noticed the Suburban’s braking abilities slowly diminishing. After replacing a leaking brake line, it was back to racing and an evening finish around 9pm in Bajia de Los Angeles.
After some food and drink to quench the pallet, the BFI team took a look at what the first day of the race had done to their Suburban. On the surface, everything looked good. But earlier in the day, a terrible rubbing sound started to occur that was quickly diagnosed as a front driveshaft. The transfer case crossmember had fatigued and started to drop at an angle, allowing the front driveshaft to start rubbing as the suspension oscillated over bumps. Out came a welder, and the crossmember was given some “Band Aids” to finish the race with.
The first leg was over; only three more days to go.
Talk about a cool classic beach vehicle! Except this one as doubling as a race truck for the next few days.
The rest of the BFI team was waiting for the Suburban in Bajia de Los Angeles when the 8,000-pound race rig pulled in. After a fill of food and drink, it was off to whatever accommodations you could find in the sparsely populated town.
Race Day 2, Bahia de Los Angeles to Loreto 4/27/15
Leaving Bajia del Los Angeles, the four BFI racers who were in the Suburban noticed a lot of squeaks and rattles that weren’t necessarily all there when they started their endeavor just 24 hours and 430 miles earlier. It was of no consequence, as the Suburban was still rolling and running well, and the once-over the team had provided for the old ‘Burb the night before had ensured it’d make it through another day of racing.
The race brought the Suburban through San Ignacio and a few other towns where they were able to incur time penalties (thanks to police officers telling them to go faster) for speeding.
In one of the dirt stretches between a couple of the towns, the big blue Suburban came up on its competition, dead in the water. Marcos Tavares in the Tres Burros truck had broken down and had no help in sight. Instead of racing past, the BFI crew showed what the true spirit of Baja is all about. A tow strap was quickly broken out and the Tres Burros F-250 was attached to the back of the Suburban. Averaging about 41 mph the Suburban dragged its competition about 10 miles back onto the highway and to the nearest liquor store (as requested) to wait for help from the Tres Burros team. Unbeknownst to them at the time, the BFI families back home were watching a “fierce race between the two class competitors” online thanks to the onboard vehicle trackers. No one at home knew that the reason the F-250 and Suburban were running neck-and-neck on the live-feed map was because there was only about 15 feet of tow strap between the two.
With the competition temporarily out, it was still a race day as the Suburban got back on course and entered into the white gravel roads. Later, the rear passenger racers would express some concern they had about the fact that the rear of the long ‘Burb would swing back and forth in a half-controlled motion. It must not have felt as bad in the front.
With good karma on their side the BFI crew pulled the Suburban into Loreto for the night to join the rest of the racers and crews at the Baja Social Club gathering.
Ripping through San Ignacio on Day 2 actually cost the BFI crew, but it’s hard not to when the cops (and everyone else in town) are literally waving and screaming at you to hit the throttle and go faster. All participating race vehicles had trackers that let NORRA official monitor the action, and speeding through speed limited zones like towns can cost you lots of time penalties.
The BFI guys at one of the Pemex fueling stations that inhabit Baja. Having an engine tuned to run on pump gas (and even bad pump gas) can be a big advantage for a team that no longer has to carry as much fuel.
Racing through Baja takes you through absolute wilderness back into towns, over windy mountain passes, and onto miles of pavement highways. It’s a race that has a bit of everything and tours you through some good examples of what Baja California has to offer.
BFI chase vehicles, ready to lend support to the race truck, if needed.
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In case you’re wondering where the “Tres Burros” race team and hotel name came from….
Race Day 3, Loreto to La Paz 4/28/15
The morning of Day 3 started with about 95% of the body showing up at the race start in Loreto. With a pesky hood pin issue, the decision was made to ditch the hood with one of the chase trucks before it became a sail.
There were nasty sections on Day 3 once out of town. Rough rocky sections pounded the Suburban and reminded the piloting crew that there were four leaf springs providing the suspension. To make matters worse, the vacuum pump went out leaving the Suburban yet again with bad brakes.
After spotting the BFI Suburban at a highway section we’d stopped at, they quickly disappeared into some bad silt beds where they came across a number of stuck trucks. Again, out came the tow strap and help was again lent out to fellow racers…along with a couple well-deserved beverages that were much appreciated. The silt bed debacle provided close to an hour of hang-up time, but with most everyone helping each other and successfully getting out, the team was off again and racing toward La Paz. The Suburban pulled in for the night, but leaking transmission fluid from overheating in the silt beds. Rubin Garcia of Ventura 4x4 got under it that night and helped pull the transfer case off to see if they could fix the culprit seal. If they could stop the transmission from leaking and it could hold together for one more day of racing, that’s all they would need.
We spotted the blue BFI Suburban lining up in Loreto for the race start. They’d already ditched the hood due to a hood pin issue…and maybe to gain a little bit more engine cooling?
Race Day 4, La Paz to the finish line in San Jose del Cabo 4/29/15
It seems like every racer in the Suburban on Day 4 vividly remembers a local—the same one that had given them the same warning each year for two years prior—saying “Be careful. This road is very, very slippery.” And the local was right. Day 4 would take the racers from La Paz up onto a rocky mountain road just barely wide enough to allow the Suburban to progress forward. This was a white-knuckle road, and driver Mark Harber had never actually looked at the view. For the first time in the five years of racing the Mexican 1000, without any other vehicles around, Mark stopped to take in a spectacular view from their death-defying position on a tiny, crumbly dirt road cut into the mountain side overlooking the coastline. BFI Racing had decided to take it easy that day. With a first place finish looking like a cinch, all they’d have to do was finish in one piece, under their own power.
Day four was the shortest leg of the race with only about 170 miles to complete. Mike Pearlman knew that after three days of racing and good times, some of the teams wouldn’t be 100% and would appreciate a short day that could be filled with celebrating instead of racing. Details like that help make the Mexican 1000 known as the most enjoyable off-road race there is.
But just because it was a shorter race day, doesn’t mean the miles were going to be any easier. Silt beds and windy passes had made the 400ci small block churn hard, but the temperature hadn’t yet spiked. Earlier in the race, the team had already had to construct a makeshift coolant overflow reservoir out of a used brake fluid bottle after losing the overflow reservoir somewhere on the track, so cooling issues seemed to have been handled. But by the time the Suburban hit the highway on Day 4, coolant steam was rushing over the windshield. They pulled over to find that this time the Suburban had thrown a belt. It was a simple enough fix after the steam in the engine compartment cleared out.
While the team worked on the Suburban on the side of the road, they lost count of how many passing racers stopped to see if they could lend a hand, tool, or parts. That’s just the kind of race it is. Minutes later, back on the road, the Suburban came across the red 1957 Chevy Rippin’ Rooster, driven by Jim Riley. The Rooster’s (second) engine was dying, and it needed oil in a bad way. The BFI crew broke out what oil they had left, and high-tailed it for the finish. That was when the engine started to have fueling issues. As the truck sputtered towards the finish line, it suddenly came back to life as they raced to the end. The last five miles of sand wash had been brutal, and the Suburban’s powertrain wasn’t happy.
Leaking transmission fluid, running hot, the Suburban crossed the finish line successfully under its own power to win its class in the 2015 General Tire Mexican 1000. We can only hope the BFI Racing team has as great of an adventure next year as they did this time around.
The BFI Racing team would like to thank Curtis Welding (who loaned them a racing engine five years ago and still hasn’t gotten it back), Fibercare Baths, Motion Tire, Diamond D’s Concrete Cutting, DLoza Construction, KGS, Snell Inspection, Stephenson and Sons, Coldcock Whiskey, King Shocks, and Ventura 4x4. They’d like to dedicate their win to their friend, Richard Boyle.
In San Jose del Cabo, the #73 Suburban crossed the finish line with a first place finish. They’d won their class for the fifth year, making one of the most (if not the most) winning teams of the new NORRA Mexican 1000.
The best part of the whole experience for Mark Harber was having his family at the finish line to watch him come across in first place this year.
At the awards ceremony on the last night of the race, the audience showed how popular these guys were with the rest of the racers and crews as applause erupted with the crew’s acceptance of their fifth first place trophy.