Chasing Baja

By Greg Banfield aka Motoman

Contingency row

Photo courtesy of

Ever since I can remember I have been enthralled with the thought of automobiles and motorcycles. I think it all started with my Matchbox® collection and making little courses with my marbles on the carpeting. Imagining racing, jumping and crashing the cars and trucks. Once I got old enough to get behind the wheel, the monster inside of me came crashing out! Figuring out how to peel out or do wheelies on the tractor, sending my dad’s prize possession (Buick Riviera) in an endless donut of spraying rocks, or sending my first car (Maverick) six to seven feet in the air because it was cool! Quarter tank of gas and $1.00 at the car wash wasn’t uncommon everyday from the ride to and from school. If there wasn’t snow, there was mud, if there wasn’t mud there was dirt. I had to get it sideways at one time or another! The carwash saved my butt from my dad knowing how much fun I was having everyday. I had to subsidize my gas allowance so he wouldn’t catch wind of how much gas I was really going through for a 4 mile ride to school!

Ok, so what’s the point you ask? Well, I guess the natural progression of this bottled up energy would get me into offroading. I have found there is not just one type of wheeling that I like or specialize in. I like it all! I like to get out there with man and machine and endure whatever this planet can dish out. It has always been a dream of mine to be involved with the Baja experience. The stories of Stroppe, Garner, McQueen, Stewart, Gordon, etc have sparked my imagination of what it would be like to embrace the rugged outback of the Baja Peninsula.

Everyday I peruse the Early Bronco Mailing List (EBML) and the Broncofix list (EBE). All of us users have been watching the messages about Phil Moulton putting together an early Bronco for another attempt at the Baja 1000 for 2003. I know the majority of us sit there and dream of what that would really be like to race a vintage Bronco through Baja! I surely have. So when the call came out to the list that Team LocoPony needed volunteers for support of their race truck, I contacted Phil immediately and asked if they could use my help. As MY luck would have it, they were one chase truck shy.

I have 14 years of seat time and money invested in my Bronco. I have relied on that truck in some pretty inhospitable places around the country. It has always brought me home. Would it have what it takes to chase a race truck through Baja? Over the years and with the addition of a tow rig, my Bronco has become less streetable. I needed a plan to get my Bronco ready for 1000 miles of Baja pavement and endless miles of offroad depending on the needs of the race truck.

A comprehensive list of tools, supplies and parts was put together and discussed between the team. All chase trucks were required to carry 90% of what was on the list and any special needs their trucks may need. All trucks (race, chase and pit) needed to have FRS radios. These radios are in a special business band and generally reach out 10-20 miles. All vehicles were required to have GPS units. All vehicles had to carry 2 days worth of clothes, food and water. Anyone else tried to put all this in a Bronco?

Along with prepping my Bronco, a dependable co-pilot was a must. This would be the man or woman that would keep you on track and in good graces of the GPS gods! Long time friend Dave Horvath was tracked down in Virginia and asked to come along. He graciously agreed. We have spent a lot of time together in the deserts of the southwest.

In the middle of all this, it was decided that Chuck from BC Broncos would enter his own race truck under the name Old Horse Racing. The four chase trucks and 2 pit trucks would support both efforts. This created more of a logistical nightmare for the crew chief Jack Covert. Now the fun starts, developing a plan of attack to support 2 race trucks, 4 chase vehicles, 2 pit trucks, and a driver van.

It was decided that Jack Covert, Dan Wright, and Jerry Ornellas would create the primary plan to support the race. At the last minute Jerry was not able to go due to an injury. Hope he is doing better! Rich Clark took Jerry’s place and fit in great. Dan, Rich, and Jack’s expertise was used in navigation, gps prepping, fuel stops, pit stops, first aid, and keeping the team motivated and focused on the tasks at hand. Here’s a quick rundown of our team.


BC Broncos

Team BC Broncos

Photo courtesy of Dan Wright


Team LocoPony

Photo courtesy of Phil Moulton

"Old Horse Racing"

Team LocoPony  
Driver Phil Moulton
Co-driver Mathew Miner
Team BC Broncos  
Driver Charles Atkinson
Co-driver Jason
Co-driver Patrick
Co-driver Art
Chase 1  
Driver Rick Clark
Co-driver Liz Miner
Chase 2  
Driver Greg Banfield
Co-driver Dave Horvath
Chase 3  
Driver Tyler Glover
Co-driver Mike Humphrey
Chase 4  
Driver Kathy Byran
Co-driver Tim Byran
Pit Truck 1  
Driver Jack Covert (Crew Chief)
Co-driver Evan and Tara
Pit Truck 2  
Driver Dan Wright
Co-driver Gary
Driver Van  
Driver Sam Suhr

Wednesday during a pre-run of Mike’s Sky Ranch, Kathy in Chase 4 had a catastrophic failure with her new motor. A search party and rescue truck was sent to this remote area to retrieve the truck and crew. The plan was altered to use only 3 chase vehicles for two race trucks.

Now it’s getting close to race time. Dan and Rich pass out all the maps, cheat sheets and loaded GPS’ to all the drivers. One last meeting is held to ensure everyone is up to speed on how to read the maps, gps’ and to make sure they know their job. The driver and copilot of the race vehicles go line up for the start. We are over 100 vehicles back at the start line. Expecting an 11:00 am departure. Both LocoPony and Old Horse Race trucks take off on time!

The race trucks are well on their way to Waypoint #1 now. This is the first time that the chase vehicles will see the race trucks cross the road. We anxiously listen to the radio for their positions. Soon, Locopony screams onto the road for a few miles and then dives back off onto the course. It was our duty to follow the race truck through the pavement section and maintain radio contact and pace the race truck to the next waypoint. Chase 1 and 3 wait for Old Horse and do the same thing.

At Waypoint #4, news comes in from the radio that both race trucks are having issues. Old Horse is now ahead of Locopony and complaining of low power, loose steering and the windshield frame has to come off. Jack sets up a temporary pit area at Waypoint #4 to accommodate Old Horse. We wait patiently to find out exactly what’s wrong with Locopony. Meanwhile Chuck comes screaming into the pit area. We find a loose tie rod and tighten, remove the windshield frame (everything was sticking to the lexan) and put on a fresh air cleaner and send them on their way.


Villa De Trinidad

Villa De Trinidad

Photos courtesy of Keith Auble,
We (Chase 2) paced the race truck on the road and waited for them to fuel up at BFG Pit #1. The driver’s van had contacted us for instructions on where to do the change. Chase 1 & 3 remained back at Waypoint #4 to assist Locopony when they get there. Chuck enters the BFG Pit #1 and takes on 15 gallons of fuel. He is off to Villa De Trinidad for a driver change. We (Chase 2) and the driver van race to the rendezvous point and wait for Old Horse. Meanwhile Chase 1 & 3 make it to our location. Chuck and Jason get to our position and we change out the crew to Art and Patrick. We get them strapped in, radios changed over and their camelbacks filled so they have fresh drinking water. Once again change out the air filter and give the vehicle a once over. Chuck and Jason had smashed the lights on the roll bar, so we started formulating a plan to give them new lights at the next pit stop. OFF THEY WENT into the night! The next time we would be seeing them was 5 hours away. They were traversing the rocky section through Mike’s Sky Ranch.
Chase 1,2, & 3 filled up with petrol and stopped at a local taco stand to get filled up for what was going to be a long night. Tires were air down and cold weather gear put on for the offroad short cut to the Pacific coast where we would meet up with Pit Truck #2, Driver’s van and Pickup (extra support from Kathy and Tim).

Photo courtesy of Liz Miner

It wasn’t long and we were out of radio contact with Old Horse. We knew they were past the point of no return and the next time we would hear from them would be BFG Pit #2 on the coast. Locopony was with Pit Truck #1, welding up broken front shock towers. They were trying to get them repaired to make it to the next checkpoint. We were now out of communication with them.

As we came down the coast we met up with the support team. All chase vehicles were gassed and aired up for the long jaunt down the coast highway. We arrived at BFG Pit #2 just as Old Horse pulled in. As they were getting fueled up we noticed gear oil leaking from the rear passenger side axle. It had saturated the brakes, axles, tires, wheel wells, etc. Art and Patrick had suffered 1 flat tire, broken rear driveline and only Bronco headlights to get them to our location. Mike and I replaced the rear axle. The outer race had split and caused it to leak. The air cleaner was replaced. New offroad lights were put on the front bumper, spare tire restocked, and stuck throttle fixed. Art and Patrick were sent off into the cool night air on their own.

BFG Pit#3  Broken Axle Adding Oil
Photos courtesy of Dan Wright

While tools were getting cleaned and put away, Dave and I (Chase 2) headed to the next access point. An access point is a point in the main highway where the racetrack is accessible if needed. We waited at Access point #1, then as radio contact was made with Old Horse we continued to the next access point. Chase 1,3 Pit Truck #2, and Support pick up soon caught up with us and we continued on to BFG Pit #3.

Still no word from Pit Truck #1 and Locopony as we rolled into BFG Pit #3. The wind had picked up and it was so friggen cold you wouldn’t believe it. Dave and I were in the only open topped, no door truck out there. While waiting to hear from Old Horse we aimed the Bronco into the wind and tried to get a 20-minute nap. Wasn’t long and here comes Old Horse. The race truck made it through the last part fantastic. Minor issues were addressed and with a driver change to Chuck and Jason, and they were sent on their way.

Dave and I were ordered to go to BFG Pit #4 and wait for radio communication from Old Horse. It was now 3 AM and Chase 1&3, Driver’s van and Support Pickup were sent to the Baja California side to catch the race truck on it’s way back up the loop. And also support any of the needs of Locopony.

Tyler offered me a pair of insulated coveralls. Thank GOD! It was cold. I got into Pit Truck #2 and heated up my gloves and boots. Once all my layers were on, I was super warm. Dave got himself into a down sleeping bag in the passenger seat for the hour trip down the coast to BFG Pit #4. The race truck wasn’t due in for about 4-5 hours. Dan and Gary (Pit Truck #2) caught up with us at BFG Pit #4. Since we had no radio contact with Old Horse, Dan told Dave and I to get a nap. We parked the Bronco on a nice flat spot, heated up the Flowmasters and climbed under the Bronco for 3.5 hours of blissful sleep!

Is the sun out yet?
Photo courtesy of Dan Wright

We awoke to chatter on the FRS radio. We were unable to decipher what Chuck and Jason were saying. Dan figured out a way, using clicks of the mic to determine if they had a problem, how far out they were and if they needed help. Dave and I (Chase 2) were soon put into action to head out on the track backwards to find Old Horse. We lightened up the Bronco, set the shocks to 5 and aired down to 17 psi. While finishing up, another racer stopped and told us Old Horse was 17.8 miles out and needed a coil. Dan stocked us with 2 new coils and we flew out to Chuck’s location. What an incredible rush to actually be out on the racetrack. Dave and I were in strict communication looking for oncoming traffic and would dive off into the desert to stay out of their way.

Soon we reached Chuck and Jason with Old Horse. Chuck and Jason were covered with dirt from head to toe, ready to get back in the action. The new coil had a direct short and would not work, the other coil had the wrong ohms. Old Horse had 20 minutes to make it 58 more miles (40 of it on pavement) to the next checkpoint. Chuck decided at that time we could not retrieve another replacement in time. While we worked on the race truck, Chuck and Jason had great stories about the infamous silt beds. One of the first vehicles they encountered stuck in the silt was Jesse James in his buggy. He was trying to wave Chuck off, saying he couldn’t make it. Chuck, with an awesome throttle burp, threw a rooster and blasted right past all the celebrities suck in the silt.

The stories continued till we hitched up to Old Horse and began the 18 mile tow back to BFG Pit #4. Dave drove the race truck so Chuck could rest in my rig. Jason was instantly asleep in the co-pilot seat. It was a solemn ride back.


Towing Old Horse Race truck back to pit area Fixing the coil

Photos courtesy of Dan Wright

Once we were back at the pits, we found another coil that would start the race truck. They were topped off with fuel, tires aired up and Dave drove back to Ensenada with Chuck in the copilot seat up the coast highway. I stayed back with Dan and Gary and got fueled up for the long journey back to base camp (about 400 km). Meanwhile, Dan had heard on the radio that Locopony had gotten repaired and made it close to Mike’s Sky Ranch before losing a rear driveline. They subsequently timed out which ended their attempt. Phil had broke down merely feet from where Kathy’s rig had blown a motor. All support crews were on their way back to base camp. All accounted for!

During the race, everyone was running on pure adrenaline. Once the race came to an end, it was hard to hold our eyes open. Everyone was totally drained. We were all extremely proud of how everyone pulled together and did a tremendous job. We all headed out to the Bronco Steakhouse in Ensenada for the evening (how appropriate). Steaks and margaritas, stories of the race, enjoying new friendships, exchanging numbers, critiquing the team, etc. was all part of the chatter around the table.

Once dinner concluded we all went back to our respective cots, beds, and floors and fell into a deep sleep. Dreaming of the time we ran where champions have run, enjoying and enduring the ruggedness of Baja California, with the sportsmen that raced with us and that have come before us.

Viva Baja 1000, 2003

God Bless


Dave (Co-pilot extraordinaire) had a few words to say about the trip.  This is taken from an email that he sent to the team once he got back home!  Click here!


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