Murray Racing: 2015 Baja 500 Race Report June 11, 2015
Murray Racing always gets excited about racing the Baja 500 and especially this year because we were taking our new Can Am Maverick Turbo out for just its second race. We brought it out at the Silver State 300 a month ago when it ran flawlessly except for several wheel issues that had never happened before with our ITP wheels. We tried running a different wheel that didn’t hold up so we’ve switched back to the one we’ve used for years. Wednesday: We set out from our new race shop in Anaheim with the usual crew of Jason & Derek Murray, Bill Kugel, Monty Aldrich, Bob Jones and Aaron Juarez. We had expected a couple more guys but they failed to show up despite saying for a month they would be there. So just 6 people to race/chase for over 500 mile in Baja……Yikes! Oh well, we knew it would just add another dimension to the race and provide even less sleep which is skimpy at best. Heading south in I-5 we made the usual stops along the way for parts, food, drinks and other stuff. We got over the border and stopped in Puerto Nuevo for a great Lobster dinner. Later that evening we pulled into our rented house in La Bufadora which is about 30 minutes south of Ensenada. We off loaded and prepared for pre-running tomorrow. I slept maybe 2 hours that night because I was worried about the logistics of the race with only 6 people. Logistics, pits stop locations, chase vehicles tools/parts, job assignments and race strategy are my usual jobs at each race. Two guys in the race car and two in each of our chase vehicles and not a body to spare anywhere….hmmm! I also realized that I was going to have to fill in as navigator to replace one of our guys who didn’t show up. I love navigating but I didn’t have my race helmet. The Lord blessed me with a BIG head and none of the other helmets we bought were XXL. I hoped to buy one from Rugged Radio as I was due for a new helmet. No luck……they didn’t bring any down. 

Thursday: In the morning we set out to pre-run using our “retired” Maverick 2 seater and Maverick Max 4 seater. Old race cars make the best pre-runners because they already suspensions, radios and GPS in them. Aaron also brought his 2015 Can Am Maverick down and we had him install some new ITP 15” Ultra Cross wheels/tires to see how they handled. 

Jason and Monty took the Max 4 and headed to town to start his pre-run from the start line to RM110. Aaron and Bob followed them in case of a problem. Derek and I left the house and headed south to run the west coast route up to Ojos Negros. I drove down Hwy 1 to San Vincente and expected to turn the wheel over to Derek there. He surprised me by saying “no you drive and I’ll plot the dangers on GPS”. I had the time of my life driving the Mav 2 race car the next 120+ miles to Santa Tomas….but had to keep reminding myself to slow down because there was no one around to help us if I broke something or went off course. The weather was perfect and beach views were awesome! A few hours later we arrived in Santa Tomas and refuelled. At the same time Justin Lambert and Justin Sheakly of Cognito Motorsports pulled up to the gas pump and after some chit-chat we all decided to have lunch together. All the race teams are made of great people who compete hard but are willing to help you out and/or share their comraderie. BTW: The tacos here were lousy compared to our favourite Taco Stand over in Valle de Trinidad. We all left together but we let those guys lead out on the final leg to Ojos. Derek took the wheel for the final run to Ojos and he picked up the pace which was a blast especially through the forest and the final flat stretch to Ojos. All went well and I know Derek and I felt good about logging the danger spots in the section we would be racing on Saturday. 

Friday: Contingency/Tech day is always fun but it takes too long…sometimes 8 or more hours. Bob Jones and I got up at 6am and drove the race Turbo downtown to get it in line and wait till Tech opens at 10am. We drove the race car easily in order to put a nice heat cycle on the clutch belt which is important for durability. Cory Sappington #1904 Can Am Turbo of Desert Toyz was already in line holding us a spot so we Can Am’ers could hang together. Cory’s team and Murray Racing always help each other out whenever we can. Go Can Am! While in line we spoke with Johnny Angal #1921 RZR behind Cory. Johnny was the current SCORE point’s leader going into this race. Jason Murray came down later and he tried to tease Johnny about us giving him a run for the win….. More about that later. Once the line stated moving Murray Racing gave out a ton of “steekers” to the kids, water bottles, lanyards and signed a ton of autographs. The fans made anyone who was wearing a Murray shirt feel like rock stars! Tech: Being we were racing a Turbo SCORE had acquired their own stock ECU in advance with the idea they would install it at tech inspection, but they didn’t have them when we pulled in. They called a few SCORE officials but no one seemed to have them so after much delay and waiting in the pits and conversation SCORE Techs finally got things worked out and we were now ready to race. Everyone went back to the house for final prep of the 1917 Maverick Max and load the chase vehicles while I stayed to attend the drivers meeting. At the meeting everyone was warned that there were several speed traps and 67 virtual checkpoints on the course. Speeding and/or missing a checkpoint would result in being charged extra time penalties. Later we all went out for a quick dinner then came back to the house to “double and triple check everything” as Derek likes to say. It pays off because we always find something that was loose or overlooked and we’ve not had a DNF in over 35 races with the Best In the Desert Series of races. Saturday: Race Day came early but we felt pretty good physically and mentally. The Can Am Turbo Max #1917 was ready for Battle! Derek and I jumped in the Chase Van with pre-runner in tow and headed towards Mexicali some 3 hours away and RM 105 which would be the first pit stop. Bob and Aaron in Chase 2 and pre-runner in tow escorted Jason & Monty in the race car to the Start Line in downtown Ensenada. Chase 2 would then head south on Hwy 1 to wait till evening for the race car to arrive from Valle de Trinidad with Derek and I in it. A couple hours later or about 1pm the 1917 of Murray Racing was off the line……the Baja 500 was started. 

Start Line to RM105: The 1917 Can Am Turbo of Murray Racing was the 2nd UTV off the line and Jason passed the lead UTV pretty early in the race. He built up a good lead when our other competitors got stuck in some kind of traffic jam further back. Our early lead didn’t last long because he had a wheel crack caused by a rock that wedged itself behind the rear brake calliper scraper and punctured the aluminium alloy wheel. By the time Monty got out and changed it the UTV’s of Angal, Cognito and a couple more passed us. Jason pressed hard to catch up but he rolled the car on its side in a silty turn that dropped us further back but fortunately they got the car on all 4 wheels again. They came into our pit at RM105 in 6th place for a new spare tire, visual inspection for rollover damage and fuel. Jason left quickly and headed southeast towards Laguna Salada and the notorious 40 miles of whoops. 

RM 140 to 267: Derek and I watched them drive under the Hwy 2 over-cross at RM 140 and then we chased them south on Hwy 3 keeping in radio contact along the way toward the next pit stop at RM267. There is a mountain range between us and the race car now. Jason radioed that the whoops were brutally tough for the next 40 miles. He said he was watching some of our competition attack this section trying to pull away from him. He saw a lot of vehicles from different classes stopped on course after breaking something. Sure enough he passed several UTV’s who broke and we were again 2nd on course. Yes! Our Lone Star suspension and FOX Shocks were awesome! 
Derek and I arrived at RM 267 in time but in the process of parking the van with pre-runner in tow we got stuck in the soft sand all the way up the rear differential. We finally got it unstuck after 40 minutes with the help of many locals helping to shovel, tug, push and sweat. Derek and I used a lot of energy we were trying to conserve because we knew we would be in the car for the next 7-8 hours. 

As we were putting on our race suits, gloves, shoes, ear buds, finding waters and energy bars etc., we suddenly heard over the race radio “we’re out of gas at RM 255!” Derek and I looked at each other and thought…….WTH that is 12 miles back! There should have been plenty of gas to get to RM267 because it was topped off by someone not on our team at RM105 and he assured us he got it completely filled….but was it? At this exact moment the lead UTV of Matlock pulls in and he has significant suspension damage from all the whoops. I throw a dump can of gas in the front seat of the pre-runner and send Derek out to find the race car. It took a long time to find the car and refuel it, but no one had passed me in the pit so I figured there was carnage back in that whoop section. Finally, a UTV approaches but its 1932 of Jagged X and they have problems too. A few minutes later Derek and Jason show up in the race car. Where is Monty with the largest helmet? Jason says he is way back loading up the dump can and driving the pre-runner back. OMG! I had no choice now but to put on Jason’s helmet knowing it was too small, but we had to go as we were now in 4th place. Derek wasn’t happy either because we left without his catheter (pee tube), ear buds and no water or snacks for the long run to the finish 250 miles away. Regardless, we took off knowing we’d have to suck it up to stay up front of the pack. 

RM267 to 360: Once we rolled away we got our act together and were clipping along at a good speed as I was getting adjusted to the GPS, various gauges and my helmet. Night fell upon us and we flipped on our Lazer Star lights which made it a breeze to see well into the night. We entered a couple different speed traps of 37 and 60 MPH so I was constantly telling him his speed to avoid speeding penalties. We get up to Valle T at RM 320 and pass two UTV’s while they are in their pits. We’re now 2nd again! The rest of the way across the mountain was painless except the helmet I was wearing started to feel like a vice. I tried to focus on my job of navigating but now I had a bad headache. As the miles passed I started to worry that I wouldn’t be able to go to the finish some 150 miles away. It didn’t take much longer and I knew I’d have to get out because I wanted to take the helmet off NOW. I made the painful decision, reluctantly, to get out and turn the seat and helmet over. When I took the helmet off I had a hematoma the size of a silver dollar sticking out my forehead and it was bleeding some. I’ll never leave my helmet at home again! 

RM 360 to 430: Derek wanted to push hard and run down the leader but in the fast section along the coast and cliffs he lost the brakes. He had to run a more conservative pace now until the next pit at RM 430 in Santa Tomas some 30-40 miles away. We had no radio contact with Derek until he came down the hill into Santa Tomas when he warned us he had no brakes. He diagnosed the problem from the car as being a loose banjo fitting on a rear calliper. It’s caused by a rock hitting the fitting and loosening it just slightly to allow brake fluid to leak out when braking. Once he stopped in the pit we quickly tightened the fitting and fuelled the 1917, but not fast enough as 1932 of Jagged X got by us again. So were now in 3rd but with 80 miles to go to the finish. Derek caught him before Ojos and we were back in 2nd with 60 miles to go. 

RM 470 to 510 and the Finish Line: As the Chase Teams drove to the finish line all seemed to be going fine……………….until we got another radio call from Derek…… informing us he had another wheel crack and the 1932 got by us again. Nothing anyone could do now but hope Derek could run him down and make another pass. As usual we did not have a single “flat tire” with our ITP Ultra Cross, just an issue with rocks taking out the wheel itself. 

We were now standing at the finish line with the Jagged X team….and a big crowd of fans still there at 2:30 am Sunday morning, staring at the final turn into the finish line. We heard a UTV coming but who is it? It was the 1932 but with Derek 2’ off his back bumper sliding around the turn for the final sprint of 50 yards to the finish. The crowd and the teams went crazy but that’s the way they finished. After some 510 miles to finish this close was awesome. To be truthful the 1932 finished a few minutes ahead on corrected time being he started several minutes after us Saturday afternoon. 

Awards Ceremony: We had breakfast with Bill and Brandon Schueler of Jagged X. We both speculated that our teams probably got hit with some penalties so we headed to Awards to get the official results. The meeting was to start at noon but they kept everyone waiting till after 1pm. We figured lots of penalties and there would be some surprises announced. We were right! The 1st PLACE UTV award went to Matlock as we expected. 2nd PLACE went to the Murrays! 3rd place went to another team. Unfortunately, the 1932 of Jagged X came in 4th. 

Championship Standings: The 1921 of Johnny Angal started the race as Points Leader but he did not finish this race as he succumbed to the whoops back near Laguna Salada. The Murrays are now #1 currently with the 1 throw out race option and we are pumped about it. The overall points total between us, Jagged X and Johnny Angal is tiny with two races to go….the Imperial Valley 250 in late September and the Baja 1000 in mid-November.