2011 Baja 1000: Pre-Run with Nick Vanderwey and Team [Video]

Nov. 16, 2011 By Josh Burns, Video by Adam Wood
Nick, Larry and Mike Vanderwey brought us along for some pre-running on the 2011 SCORE Baja 1000 course.

With the start of the 2011 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 just a few days away, race teams are preparing for this year’s brutal 692.82-mile racecourse. Crews are wrenching on engines, transmissions, shocks, or just making general vehicle repairs. They are filling up fuel containers, coordinating pit strategies, and mapping out race-day gameplans – something it takes a small army to accomplish. But most importantly for Baja, teams are pre-running this year’s course to scout out any new sections, re-familiarize previously traveled terrain, and scope out noteworthy hazards.

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We had the opportunity to pre-run with the #84 Got Milk?, BFGoodrich Trophy Truck team of Nick Vanderwey, Curt LeDuc and Larry Vanderwey the last few days. More so than probably any other off-road desert race, the top teams must pre-run the Baja 1000 course a number of times to run at the fastest, yet safest, pace possible. Baja racing always carry with it a high level of risk – that’s part of what makes this race so unique – but the top teams work tirelessly to be prepared for anything and everything the terrain can dish out. The only way to do that is pre-running.

2011 SCORE Baja 1000 Photo Gallery

Nick and Larry Vanderwey discuss team logistics for the next few days of pre-running.

“What we’re trying to do we’re trying to get a pace for the course, looking for danger spots, the smoothest lines, just trying to get ourselves quicker and quicker so on race day we’re not making any decisions we’re just moving at maximum speed the whole time,” Nick Vanderwey explains. “We know what’s around every corner, what’s over every hill. And it’s also a lot of fun you to enjoy the Mexican culture, you get to eat the tacos, it’s a little bit slower pace than race day. It’s not as hectic.” 
On the trailer is the team's Class 8 race vehicle, which essentially serves as a faster pre-runner. Behind it is the Chevy pre-runner we rode in, as Larry Vanderwey pre-ran another section in the Class 8.

The Vanderwey team is probably most recognizable by its Got Milk? logo and cow-print graphics on its Trophy Truck, which might seem odd until you realize the family business is dairy farming (although they do farming as well). The family got started in racing back in the early ‘90s when Nick and Larry, knowing nothing about the sport, bought a Class 8 racetruck in 1992. They raced it in one race before tackling the Baja 1000 for the first time. They didn’t win the race but were hooked.

The rough whoops of San Felipe were the first stretch of our pre-run.

The Vanderweys then turned to local racing in Arizona for a few years to get more experience. Feeling confident in their vehicle and abilities, the team returned to the Baja 1000 in 1995 but saw an abrupt end to their race after only 40 miles due to mechanical issues.

Baja always offers challenge. We didn’t break any parts on the trail, but for some reason the GPS system (uh, yeah, it’s sort of crucial to marking pre-runs) went out. Nick checks a few fuses while Mike works on getting the system running.

The team decided to go back to the drawing board, and for the next few years they built a new Class 8 truck. In 2000 the new Class 8 was finally ready. The team tested it in a few Best in the Desert races before tackling the Baja 2000 and finished the race. They reruned again in 2001 and won both the 500 and the 1000. The truck was good but still had room for improvement, so they turned to Curt LeDuc. LeDuc not only helped them put the finishing touches on the vehicle, he ended up racing with the team at almost every Baja 500 for much of the next decade, and he still races with them today.

The Vanderweys have raced in the Baja 500 and 1000 ever since 2000, going on a tear in Class 8 by earning Baja 500 victories in 2001, ’02, ’03, ’04 (2nd in ’05), ’06 and ’07. They also earned victories at the 1000 in ’01 and ’06. Toward the end of the 2007 season, they decided it was time to step up and build a Trophy Truck. It was finished the Monday before the SCORE San Felipe race and was able to make its debut – it even managed to make the finish.

Inside the cab of the Vanderwey’s Chevy pre-runner during our run. Nick was driving while Mike plotted the course on the GPS.

Obviously family is a crucial part of the Got Milk? raceteam. Although Nick and Larry both drive, brother Mike co-drives while brother John is the crew chief for the team. This family structure might seem complicated, but Baja has a rich history of families flourishing in the sport. Being a tight-knit family unit can have its advantages.

We met up with teammate Curt LeDuc between running sections of the course.

“I make the comparison of a four-man basketball team; you kind of know what the other one is going to do already,” Larry says. “For the most part, the personalities, the yelling the frustrations, everyone (as brothers) knows what that means so no one takes it personally, and that’s sort of grown on the different members that we have on our team. Everyone knows that when someone elevates their voice that there’s some urgency or some need and that’s it.”

This year’s 1000 begins in Ensenada on Friday, November 18, heading out for nearly 700 miles of Baja brutality before returning to Ensenada. The Got Milk? team will head off the line sixth this year, so with only a few Trophy Trucks ahead of them it was important they know each driver's section of the race well. We jumped in one of the team’s pre-runners (a hybrid Chevy with an LS3 engine and a Ford I-Beam front end) on Tuesday. We traveled from Ensenada to Ojos Negros and on to Valle De La Trinidad and then down to the north part of San Felipe portion of the course.

At race mile 15, Nick Vanderway navigates through the white arch that heads up through the hilly section before heading to Ojos Negros.

After pounding through some of the brutal whoops north of San Felipe to mark a few lines though the section, we then headed up the San Matias pass and up near Mike’s Sky Ranch loop and back to Valle De La Trinidad. From there we went west over the crossover road to Highway 1 (near San Vicinte), took the racecourse along the coast and headed north to Erindira, eventually ending up in Santo Tomas.

The day was filled with adventures – the kind that only Baja can bring. Mike was plagued with GPS malfunctions, a clogged air filter kept slowing the engine, we managed to bust off the mirrors and then reattach them, and we nearly endoed after a “gotcha” whoop in San Felipe caught us by surprise. We met up with teammate Curt LeDuc during the ride, as he was finishing up a little pre-running of his own. The author even manned the GPS during our night pre-run section to mark a few new trails after Mike Vanderwey couldn’t finish the ride when his cold got the best of him.

Since SCORE officials just opened the start section of the course, we ran some of that section this morning. Although we weren’t along with the team in the afternoon, Nick relayed a story about checking out all of the construction in the area and accidentally putting a wheel off the trail and getting the truck stuck. Apparently a bulldozer was the recovery vehicle. Only in Baja.

The Got Milk? BFGoodrich team will have close to 30 people in its support crew on race day, along with any aid available in the BFGoodrich pits during the race. The team has also jumped to a larger tire this year.

“All of our trucks out here are on BFGoodrich tires, and we’re racing on the 42-inch Baja T/A,” Nick said. “It’s the biggest tire out here, and we’re proud to be the first team out here running it. I think it gives us a big advantage. I mean the rocks are huge out here, the holes are huge and it just makes everything that much smaller.”

We were fortunate to tag along with the team to get a closer view of what really goes into a race like the Baja 1000. Yet even with all of this preparation, it’s more clear than ever that nothing is ever certain in Baja. Teams test, plan, pre-run, and put themselves in the best position to win, but in the end it’s still Baja … where anything can happen.

“Nobody can come down here knowing or having any inkling that they are going to win, that they are going to finish, that they are going to make it back,” Larry Vanderwey says. “You have to have the most respect for the place, and count yourself blessed and lucky to get out.”

Be sure to check back with Off-Road.com for more on this year’s SCORE Baja 1000.

Also, check out our
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