Team Autofab’s 2018 Norra Mexican 1000

I want to tell the story of Team Autofab’s latest running of the 2018 Norra Mexican 1000. This was the 51st anniversary of the first race down the length of the Baja Mexico peninsula and after our team’s great run last year we’re all excited to be back in Mexico and hungry for our first class win after coming in second the last three years in a row.

Team Autofab this year consisted of John Ehmke the owner and builder of the Autofab spare parts truck and our driver of record. I shared driving duties along with Don Moss from Moss Brothers Racing. Joining us again this year were Dan Thunborg and Craig Laws pulling double duty as chase crew and navigators. Our friends Robert and Kaylyn Hudson came back for another race and chase two with Robert’s big Dodge. We also had some extra support this year from the Moss Brothers Racing team for the first two days when Gary and Dennis Dunn and their sons JP and Bailey along with Brain Meadows showed up to check out the happiest race on earth firsthand. We once again entered John’s 75 Ford F-100 in the vintage open truck with rear leaf springs class. There were six entries registered but only four showed up to race in our class.

The race would once again run from the city of Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo at the tip of the peninsula using the same five-day schedule as last year. Our adventure started on Saturday for tech inspection where they close down the street in front of the Riviera Cultural center in the heart of Ensenada. It’s like one big fiesta and off-road car show rolled into one. After getting everyone registered and our tracking unit installed we sailed through tech inspection with no trouble. Part of the team headed off to eat and got settled in the beach house at Punta Banda while the rest stayed in town for the driver’s meeting.

On day one from Ensenada to San Felipe, I didn’t sleep all that well.

I felt like a little kid at Christmas. You know that feeling when you wait for something all year. The anticipation and excitement when you know you’re in for something great. Well after a long night of tossing and turning daylight finally came and we all started making final preparations for the race. John and I suited up. John is to drive the first half with me navigating and we’ll switch seats around halfway.

The race starts downtown at the Cultural Center and we had a short 15-mile transit section east out of town to the beginning of the first special stage. We started first in our class and John did an amazing job of driving keeping it smooth at a good pace. As we enter the small town of Ojos Negros we come to our first speed zone. The new this year tracking system is supposed to warn us as we enter the speed zones and also let us know when they end but ours wasn’t working so we went by the roadbook and the GPS to try to maintain a penalty-free race.

After we cross highway 3 it is the end of the speed zone and we’re off racing again. The run south out of Ojos is very familiar territory for me. This is the area I first started coming to in my Baja travels. John and I and many other friends used to set up camp along this section of the course to watch other Baja races like Score 500 and 1000. I can’t tell you how many times I’d sit out here watching the racers go by hoping someday it would be me behind the wheel.

John was making good time getting past a few others with ease until we came upon a new Ford Raptor. We closed in through the dust and got close enough to hit the push-to-pass feature on the new tracker unit. The way it’s supposed to work is when you send a pass request to the slower vehicle ahead they are to push the button on their unit which lets you know they have acknowledged the pass request and they move over when safe. The only problem was these guys aren’t acknowledging our request. We push the button several times while racing inches off their bumper but they still won’t let us by. Darn, the no nerfing rule these guys deserve to get punted off the course. After maybe ten minutes of this John sees a wide spot and goes for it. We pull up alongside only to run out of the room before we can get by and John has to climb on the brakes to avoid the hillside. Of course the truck stalls but quickly refires and we set off after them again. As we round the corner here they sit on the side of the course probably cleaning out their shorts.

The rest of the stage goes flawlessly and now it’s time to trade seats. It’s my turn to drive and John will handle the navigating duties. I’ve set him up for success with both an IPad running the Leadnav system and a Lowrance GPS unit with the course downloaded on it along with the roadbook from Norra. We had another short 16-mile transit section east on highway three where we turn off onto El Diablo dry lake bed for the last special section into San Felipe.

The first part of this section is across the dry lake bed and I dropped the hammer following familiar tracks from last year. The big block really shines here and we pass a couple of slower cars with ease. After the lakebed comes to the silt beds and I do my best to find a firm path around them vowing to not get stuck this year. We picked our way around the silt and get back on the course line and I’m feeling good to put the silt behind us.

It’s somewhere in here that John says he has a problem. The Leadnav system has shut down. I try to coach him on how to restart it as I drive but it’s not working and now somehow we are off course again. I stop and try to get the Leadnav system working again but all I could get was Siri asking how she could help me. No matter how much I yelled at her through the helmet she wouldn’t cooperate so I checked out the GPS and the roadbook. I showed John where we were in a relationship with the course and showed him which note was coming up next in the roadbook hoping he could then keep us on course. We make it back on the course only to get offline a few more times until we make our way onto the main road. We’re flying now making a great time on the graded gravel road which suddenly turned to pavement. Oops, John missed the note to stay on a parallel dirt road so we hop off the pavement and onto the graded trail alongside. It was winding back and forth and was really a lot of fun. We can see San Felipe coming up fast and now we have to be ready for the many speed zones through town. As we get to the beginning of the first speed zone our tracker once again says nothing failing again to warn us. Now we notice another problem and that’s we have no idea how fast we are going. The tracker unit is supposed to display our speed but it’s blank. The Leadnav is down and we don’t have our speed on the GPS display. So we err on the side of caution and do the best we can to stay under 25 mph. When we get to the end of the first speed zone I put the hammer down only to now have the tracker say we are in a speed zone. What the heck? Oh well, I say, let’s just go by the roadbook and forget about the darn so far useless tracker. We make our way to the finish line at the end of the first day stoked to have the physical lead in our class.

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