Autoblog Did the Baja 500 Too!
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-05-08 12:20 PT

While we were in the big, desert crushing 6.2-L V-8 HUMMER H2 SUT, our good friends from Autoblog rode shotgun in the tiny, little 5.3-L V-8 HUMMER H3 Alpha SUV at the SCORE Baja 500.

Kidding!

The HUMMER H3, driven by Chad Hall, won the Stock Full Size Truck Class in 13:09:53 for Chad's first win in the Baja 500 and his second class win this season. The H3 was the first production vehicle to cross the finish line.

Check out Jonathon Ramsey's extreme Mexican adventure in the H3 Alpha at Autoblog - and we're not talking about the bad chicken flautas!

In The Dirt
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-05-08 12:20 PT

I'll let this picture and video tell their stories of what it's like to race in the Baja 500. It's rough and tumble and extremely competitive.

From races like the Baja 500, HUMMER has made more than twenty production changes to the H2 SUT. Most of the changes were updates to bushings materials, for increased durability, and rerouting wires, to prevent fraying and wear from off-roading.

Odds and Ends
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-01-08 22:43 PT

We're still working on video from inside and outside the H2 SUT. Until then, here's a few other interesting items from the race.

The 2008 Baja 500 featured 289 starters, including 150 cars and trucks and 139 motorcycles and ATVs.  There were a total of 195 finishers, the third most in the event’s 40-year history, for an impressive finishing percentage of .675.

The number of entrants was down significantly from last year's all-time high 492 starters. Some blamed fuel prices but most spoke about the dramatic increase in crime and violence in Northern Mexico since last year's Baja 1000, when many vehicles were broken into or stolen. In May, 14 people were killed in the region when a drug battle broke out between Mexican federales and mobsters. And when we crossed the border back into the U.S. this morning, a customs agent pointed out the civilian H2 in our two HUMMER convoy had its driver's-side lock punched out. We just missed having our truck stolen!

There's one other truck worth mentioning that competed in the Baja 500's Stock Mini Truck Class - a Honda Ridgeline. The Ridgeline has been competing in Baja events for the past two years. It won its class at the 2007 Baja 250.

Honda brought a brand new Ridgeline to the race yesterday. Seeing the unibody Ridgeline compete was strange. It's not a pickup you'd expect to see on the course. At Pitstop 2 they were in the lead by more than 10-minutes before breaking a suspension component late in the race.

The Ridgeline finished in 2nd place, behind Rod Hall's HUMMER H3 SUV.

We'll have a full rundown on the Baja racing Ridgeline later this month.

Team HUMMER Runs Hot and Cold at Baja 500. Mostly Hot With Two Stock Class Wins and Rod Hall's Record 18th Career Victory at the Baja 500! Me? I Ran Too Hot.
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-01-08 02:03 PT

We've just walked off the finish line of the 2008 Baja 500. Here's a quick recap of the day.

2008 Hummer H2 SUT - Did Not Finish
2008 Hummer H3 5.3-L V8 - Wins Stock Full Size Truck Class
2008 Hummer H3 3.7-L I5 - Wins Stock Mini Truck Class

I planned to make it to Pitstop 2 with driver Josh Hall and co-driver Sam Cothrun before swapping out with a new passenger, Jason Jacopian. Instead I exited at Pit 1 after getting hit hard from the heat. Nomex underwear, a Nomex fire suit and dropping my water bottle inside the truck exhausted me after 2.5 hours and 75-miles in the truck. Doh!

Unfortunately, the HUMMER H2 SUT also left the race early, about 10-miles before the second pit. No word on the cause but four spark plugs lost their electrodes, leaving the truck's 6.2-L V-8 with only half its eight cylinders. The engine will be torn down by GM's powertrain engineers to figure out what happened.

How was Josh Hall's run in the H2 SUT when I was in the passenger seat? Mind blowing. He's a machine who swallowed seven different class vehicles with the H2 SUT before we entered the first pit stop. As expected there were moments where visibility was zero because the air was choked with dust. Each time Josh adjusted his speed and picked the best line to stay on course and pass the cars and trucks who's dust was blinding us.

The fans were wild. Almost all were enthusiastically cheering us on, though I was nailed with an empty beer can thrown through the front of the cockpit - there's no windshield in the truck. Our helmets protected us from natural and artificial debris. We were all doused with Tecate, splashed on the truck by another spectator.

The ride was smoother than I expected. The 5-point race harnesses, competition seats and long-travel suspension soaked up all but the biggest ruts and rapid-fire deep washboards. Once of twice my entire body went numb from a hard-hit to the truck. Awesome!

We'll have video and pictures to share from in and outside the H2 SUT in the coming week, so you can see how rough and competitive a ride it was.

At least if the H2 SUT didn't finish, Team Hummer still took stock class victories with its other 2 H3 SUVs, driven by Chad Hall and Rod Hall.

By the way Rod Hall - he's 70 years old and winning the Baja 500. Truly amazing and inspiring.

And the catheter - worked like a champ!

The Race Starts In A Few Hours. Watch Out for Nerfers!
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-30-08 23:59 PT

In a few hours it will be time to wake up for final race prep.

Tonight I practiced getting in and out of the HUMMER H2 SUT's middle seat and learning where all the tools are stored in the truck, should we need them for a mechanical stop. It's my job to watch the rear view mirror for faster vehicles (e.g. trophy trucks) so they don't come up and 'nerf' us from behind. Nerfing is when another racer politely taps your bumper at 40-mph to ask you to move aside so they can pass. I'm also responsible for double checking the navigation system for skull and crossbones signs that mark very dangerous spots on the trail.

Communications etiquette in the truck works like this. I have a microphone that connects to my helmet. I talk only to co-driver and mechanic Sam Cothrun, and Sam speaks with driver Josh Hall or me. I don't communicate with Josh, so he can maintain his focus.

Here's a picture of Josh Hall taken earlier this evening.

We're expected to start off the line around 10 am. Should everything go well, the H2 SUT will finish the race around 12 or 1 am Sunday morning. I'll be in the truck until the second fuel stop, 206-miles into the race.

Oh yeah, got my catheter today, too. Remember, Baja racers don't stop for bathroom breaks.

Small Trucks You Can't Have
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-30-08 23:36 PT

You'll see many vehicles in Mexico that you can't buy in the states, including small trucks.

This two-seat Chevrolet Toronado runabout is powered by a four cylinder 1.8-liter gas engine with a manual transmission. Check out the small step built into the cargo box, below the B-pillar. The bed is small but it's deep. The rear suspension is coil sprung. I also see some 2007+ Chevy Silverado 1500 influence in the rear wheel arches.

Crew cab Ford Rangers are also common. How many of these could Ford have sold the past 5 years in the U.S.?

Wake Up, Eat Breakfast, Go for a PreRun
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-30-08 11:47 PT

This morning started very early. We were on the road at 6:30 am to prerun the first 44-miles of the Baja 500.

While the other 400 miles, or so, can be explored immediately after the Baja's race organizers disclose the year's course, the first miles are closed until two days before the start of the event, so Ensenada doesn't get covered in dust.

Wow, there's lots of dust.

Portions of the trail narrow to single track widths with tall bushes on both sides. When sunlight hits the fine particles of dirt suspended in the air it gets filtered into a dense and blinding brown fog that makes the path almost impossible to see. We were well spaced from another HUMMER in front of us, so we only hit a few brownouts. Visibility will be incredibly bad tomorrow with all the racers tossing dirt into the air.

Add to the poor visibility a random assortment of organic objects that stray on and off the trail. There's chickens, dogs and lots of people, especially kids.

GPS is critical to navigating the trail. We averaged about 25-mph during the pre-run. Tomorrow we'll be running at 30 to 35-mph. The turns come up incredibly fast. The truck's navigator has to be extremely focused so you don't get off the route and lose precious time. Every second counts!

Speaking of all the twists and turns on the course, Baja 500 Race Director Sal Fish has to negotiate with numerous private land owners and Mexican government officials to obtain permission for the racers to cross the trails that lead outside Ensenada. It's a never ending task that takes all year to complete. Contrast this with off-road races that take place in the United States. Since American competitions tend to happen on public lands, usually only a single permit is need from the Bureau of Land Management. Nice job Sal!

TForce Motorsports Toyota Tundra PreRunner Powered By General Motors
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-29-08 23:42 PT

TForce Motorsports brought their brand new Tundra D-Cab PreRunner to this evening's Baja Legacy Party at Horsepower Ranch. The sharp looking truck immediately caught my eye and the attention of most of the party's guests.

I spoke with TForce crew member Matt Riggle, who laid out the specs on the truck. It's powered by a stock Chevrolet LS2 V8, positioned aft between the cargo box and rear cabin, behind the b-pillar. The Tundra's LS2 generates approximately 375-hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. Mr. Riggle says the team chose the LS2, "because it's reliable and we can run regular Pemex gas (instead of racing fuel)." The truck also uses King off-road racing shocks and Baja T/A tires from BF Goodrich.

Former Indy car racer and Indy 500 winner Danny Sullivan co-owns TForce Motorsports with Dan Friedkin, a Toyota dealer. The team is not directly sponsored by Toyota, according to Mr. Riggle.

Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Friedkin also drive the team's new 765-hp Toyota Tundra Trophy Trucks that will race in this year's Baja 500 and Baja 1000.

The Tundra PreRunner will support the Tundra Trophy Truck during the race and will be used by the crew to check out the course before the start of the Baja 500.

One Horse Town
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-29-08 23:12 PT

Team HUMMER owner, patriarch and legendary off-road racer Rod Hall drives his H3 past a lounging horse at the end of the block in the neighborhood where we're staying.

Rod is going for a record 18th win in this year's Baja 500. He's currently tied with Ivan "The Iron Man" Stewart, at 17 wins each. He'll be driving an H3 SUV in the Stock Mini Truck Class.

We've Arrived South Of The Border. Here's Our Ride.
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-29-08 22:52 PT

Two hours driving from L.A. to the Mexican border and another 90 minutes in an H3 coasting down the Baja peninsula to Ensenada and we've arrived at our headquarters for the next few days.

Here's a shot of Team HUMMER's H2 SUT that we'll be taking the passenger seat in for Saturday's 40th running of the Baja 500. Josh Hall will be piloting the truck. More about Josh later in the week.

Note the sophisticated security precautions used to protect the truck - stacked spare tires and wheels and a plywood 'windshield'. HUMMER spokesperson Nick Richards denies the wooden windshield will be a new accessory this fall.

Mike Levine: A+
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-28-08 08:12 PT

My DJ Safety racing suit arrived via UPS yesterday and there's a couple of things to point out about this functional garment.

Between the nomex underwear and suit, I'm not feeling as paranoid as before, considering I'll be sitting over the H2 SUT's fuel cell during the race.

My name is on the front. Next to it it says, A+. That's neither a reference to my college GPA (I wish!), nor is it to indicate my personality type to other racers. A+ is my blood type. Am I oversharing yet?

3-days and counting.

If You Happen To Be In Mexico Thursday Night
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-26-08 20:21 PT

Grab some tickets to where we'll be this Thursday night - the Baja Legacy Party at Horsepower Ranch, outside Ensenada.

This year, the Baja Legacy is set to honor a stellar list of inductees including Robby Gordon, current NASCAR driver and three-time SCORE Baja 1000 overall winner; Vic Wilson, a two-time Baja 1000 race winner who claimed the very first overall title in the inaugural 1967 Mexican 1000; Bruce Ogilvie, a multi-year Baja motorcycle champion and long-time manager for Honda’s factory teams and Bruce Brown, the famed director of the groundbreaking motorcycle film “On Any Sunday” and the man who first exposed Baja racing to the world by producing ABC television’s “Wide World of Sports” coverage of the 1968 Mexican 1000.

All of this year’s recipients are scheduled to be on hand to sign their plaques and claim their space in the Carrera Cantina’s Hall of Fame. The honorees will join a distinguished group of past inductees that includes Sal Fish, Bruce Meyers, Corky McMillin, Malcolm Smith, Ron Bishop, Drino Miller, Dick Landfield, Doug Robertson, Bob Gordon, Ivan Stewart, Larry Roeseler, Walker Evans, Larry Ragland, Frank Vessels, the late Mike Thomas, Bob Steinberger, Rod Hall, Don Adams, Johnny Johnson and Jason Baldwin (posthumously).

Order tickets online at http://www.bajalegacy.com.

What to Bring. Guess What HUMMER is Supplying
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-24-08 10:35 PT

One week to go and HUMMER sent over a list of what to bring for the race:

  • Valid passport and drivers license
  • Copy of drivers license or passport for registration
  • Shorts (be aware there are numerous cacti in the areas we’ll be driving)
  • Long pants
  • T-shirts
  • One long-sleeved shirt
  • Shoes – running or hiking style
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Toiletries – sunscreen, toothbrush, toothpaste, insect repellent, lotion, lip balm, washcloth
  • Towel
  • Driving gloves
  • Racing suit

HUMMER will provide helmet, catheter and all-weather jacket.

Pay special attention to the word between "helmet" and "all-weather jacket". There's no stopping for bathroom breaks during the Baja.

The things I'll do...

We're Baja Bound in Two Weeks!
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-16-08 01:15 PT

I never thought I'd be excited to be a backseat driver, but in two weeks I'll be strapped into the middle chair of Team HUMMER's latest race truck to run the 40th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 500 Off-Road Race in the desert sands outside Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.

Team HUMMER's Josh Hall, the oldest son of veteran off-road racer and Team HUMMER owner Rod Hall, will be piloting our new 2008 H2 Sport Utility Truck.

It's the H2 SUT's first race at the Baja 500 but Josh is coming off two recent victories in the super short-box pickup. The first win was at the Tecate SCORE San Felipe 250 (also held in Baja California) in March and the second win was at the Terrible's Town 250 in April.

By the way, our good friend Brian Dooley from HummerGuy.net rode with Josh for his Terrible's Town 250 win. Check out HGN to find out how Brian handled being in the back seat.

We'll be competing in the Baja 500's Stock Full-Size Truck Class, which features production-based vehicles with factory frames, factory suspension designs and production-based engines.

Ever wondered how to prep a stock pickup to run a race like the Baja 500? Read on below for our first feature story and stay tuned in the coming weeks as I blog about getting ready and participating in the Baja 500!

From Stock HUMMER to Desert Runner
Posted By: Mike Levine Posted: 05-16-08 01:15 PT
Photos Courtesy of General Motors

The first step to race in the Baja 500's Stock Full-Size Truck Class is to pick your vehicle wisely. Team HUMMER has started with a fresh-off-the-line 2008 HUMMER H2 SUT (pictured above, sanded for paint prep).

The 2008 H2 SUT received a substantial mid-cycle update that included an all-new upscale interior and, more importantly, a major powertrain upgrade to the six-speed automatic 393-horsepower / 415 lb-ft of torque 6.2-liter Vortec V8 engine, from the old four-speed auto 325-hp / 365 lb-ft 6.0-L V8.

The 6.2-L V8 is the same motor used in the slightly more powerful GMC Sierra Denali. It will be rolled out later this year to the rest of General Motor's full-size light-duty pickups.

While the engine stayed, the interior was literally stripped to the metal. The fancy leather seats, sleek instruments, and soft carpet were removed, along with all the glass windows. Pretty doesn't impress the clock at the Baja 500.

Next, a sturdy roll cage was welded into place inside the truck.

The old gas tank was unbolted and removed and a 'Fuel Safe' racing fuel cell installed inside the truck.

Uh, that's directly behind where I'll be seated.

The fuel cell container is made of steel. It houses a double-coated penetration-protecting bladder made from ballistic nylon. The bladder stores the racing gasoline we'll be feeding the engine. For additional protection, safety foam, or 'baffling', surrounds the bladder and separates it from direct contact with the steel walls. Fuel Safe says the foam, "slows fuel cell slosh while providing explosion resistance."

Whew, now I'm feeling much better.

Three Cobra racing seats were installed with 5-point safety harnesses. Two up front for the pilot and navigator, and one center aft for witnesses, like me.

The stock suspension was overhauled with Fox Racing reservoir shocks. The Fox Shox contain extra fluid to help keep temperatures down inside the canister, so it can efficiently dampen vertical motion without fading over the hundreds of miles of the Baja's rough terrain we'll be bombing across.

Hey, if Fox equipment is good enough for HUMMER, it looks like it will be good enough for Ford's 'Raptor' F-150.

37-inch BF Goodrich Baja T/A KR tires were mounted on the HUMMER's 17-inch wheels. The off-road rubber features a larger air chamber for improved shock absorption.

Rolling under its own power, the next stop for the H2 SUT was at the paint shop to receive its Team HUMMER black and red exterior.

GPS was installed - so we don't get lost in Mexico. We might not need badges, but we definitely don't want to be without GPS.

After putting the rest of the truck back together, Josh Hall and Co. took the H2 SUT out for a shakedown before racing it in other events earlier this year. This will be the first time the H2 SUT has competed in the Baja 500.

Hummer spokesperson Nick Richards says, "Just add dirt and race!"

And that, folks, is how you turn a stock full-size pickup into an off-road desert racer.