Again, my trip began in San Diego as it did in 2014 when I was invited down to experience the BAJA & the NORRA Mexican 1000 by Jim Riley and to write a book about my first acquaintance with the narrow trails and winding cow paths cut into the rugged Baja desert by heaven's outcast angel. After spending nearly two and one half years writing of the drivers', navigators', crew members', fans' interviews and my thoughts, "BAJA LOCO, 4 Racing Days & Tequila Nights on the NORRA Mexican 1000" was born, finished and published in November 2016, just in time for the 50th Anniversary of the first 1967 NORRA 1000.
I would not be making the entire length BAJA trip as my wife and I had been invited to attend a wedding of Amigo Zack Larson and his soon-to-be Bride - Miss Dulce; If the name Zack Larson somehow sounds familiar it is because he is a celebrity / reality star on Discovery's "Deadliest Catch" and the son of Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski, also a mainstay on the Reality show airing the dangers of the Alaskan King Crab Fishermen. The wedding would take place in San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico where Wild Bill Wichrowski, Zack Larson, Dulce Zuloaga, Connie and I all have beach homes or condos and believe me, it is a 180 degrees different in weather and scenery than Dutch Harbor, Alaska except for having shores that lead out into the mild warm, blue waters of the Sea of Cortez and the icy cold, blue waters of the Bering Sea.
My week began with a drive to Yuma from Scottsdale, Arizona on Monday, April 17th as I needed to sell move / sell some tires to distributors - my daytime employment which allows me the time of traveling for my nighttime passion - drinking Tequila and writing of adventurous stories for my readers and fans to enjoy. I spent the night at 310 Madison Ave. at Pivot Point along the banks of the Colorado River where the Hilton Garden Inn has a four story hotel. YES, did you catch that address? Remember the Western with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in 2007, well it is a remake of 1957 American Western film starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin and directed by Delmer Daves. The film was based on a 1953 short story by Elmore Leonard. The film is about a drought-impoverished rancher who takes on the risky job of taking a notorious outlaw to justice. In 2012, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Again, most great movies were books in the beginning, as was the epic, award winning, best selling novel "My Bad Tequila" which I am working with Voyage Media in Hollywood to eventually turn into a movie classic. The work has already been done on the "Treatment" and now to work on the "Screenplay."
The next day found me in San Diego with temperatures a bit too mild for me, though many will argue that they prefer the sea breeze and misty filled air. I am an Arizonan transplant of 25 years from Idaho and I look forward and embrace the 90 - 110 degree summer days, especially when I am near the "My Bad Tequila" swimming pool and the blender is close by, filled with margaritas that taste of lime snow cones to my lips.
After finishing the week out in San Diego with a mad dash down the Interstate 15 to Rancho Cucamonga, Friday, the 21st of April had arrived and I crossed the border into Tijuana and drove past Rosarito and into downtown Ensenada, parked a few blocks away from the Convention Center where racing vehicles and cycles had already lined up to check in for their various Tech Checks and be on temporary display for the locals of Mexico and fans who made the journey from the United States to cheer on their favorite vehicles and drivers. First thing, I went in and saw Jennifer Coleman and gave her an autographed copy of "BAJA LOCO" as Michael Pearlman of NORRA asked for the first autographed copy of which I had sent to him in the mail a few months earlier. I then purchased two bottles of the 50th Anniversary NORRA Tequila, Commemorative Special Edition 1967-2017 Mexican 1000 "The Happiest Race on Earth." One bottle for me and one for my neighbor, who lives down the street. Yep, Mr. Don Kodl would be getting a bottle as he is always giving me the latest and greatest bottles of Tequila from COSTCO of which he visits at a minimum twice a week and three times when his wife Tina is out of town.
I wandered around awhile, saw my good Amigo Warren Baird and we talked of the 2014 NORRA Mexican race and what each of us has been up to since, including his teaming up with Mickey Thompson's son in Utah, helping him set land speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats between Salt Lake City, UT & Wendover, NV. The son of murdered racing legend Mickey Thompson, the famed "Speed King" of the 1960s, finally wrote his family name - Thompson into racing's record books with two runs over 400 mph on August 14th, 2016. Danny Thompson clocked in Sunday at over 402 mph in Challenger 2, a sleek blue streamliner he and his team built on the chassis of his father's 1968 race car. During Saturday's run, he had gone 411 mph. His official average time was 406.7 -- besting his father's historic 1960 one-way run by a hair, as Danny's father's had been clocked at 406 miles per hour; however, Mickey Thompson never held the official record because his car broke down and couldn't make a second trip. Racing rules require two trips on the 8-mile course, and official speeds are recorded by averaging the top speeds of each run.
I finally excused myself because of excitement to be seeing and staying at the famous Horsepower Ranch outside of Ensenada for the first time ever in my 56 + years on Earth. I had first learned of Horsepower Ranch after having chatted with Bruce Meyers in Ensenada three years earlier and I had to include that conversation about the mystical Horsepower Ranch in the fifth chapter, page 49 of "BAJA LOCO, 4 Racing Days & Tequila Nights on the NORRA Mexican 1000. After having done some research on Horsepower Ranch, I easily found a direct quote in reference to the Horsepower Ranch by Marty Fiolka, in his book "1000 Miles to Glory: The History of the Baja 1000." "This place fixes everything ...." - Marty Fiolka.
I followed the directions given me by Anna Hoyle of whom had given me my first impression of Horsepower Ranch except what I had read from Marty's quote. A couple of months prior, when trying to book a stay at the famous racing and housing establishment after my schedule had arranged for me to once again visit the BAJA and its Mexican 1000 race, I sent a message on facebook and made a phone call to the number displayed and the most pleasant voice on the line answered and Anna assured me if a cancellation should occur I would receive the vacant room to be a guest of the Horsepower Ranch. About three weeks before the race a room in the bunkhouse became available and I would be housed where many a Racing Legend has stayed and retold their tales of racing days gone forth into the past.
I found the place with ease as I had followed the great directions given me by Anna and also on Horsepower's facebook page - near KM 9 on Highway 3 outside of Ensenada, Baja California! Upon arrival there to greet me was Ms. Anna and in strolled Tracy Valenta who had just been inducted into Baja Racing Hall of Fame this past November 2016 in Las Vegas where I met up with Edwin "Hollywood" Dowland and his wife who were in Vegas to honor his former driver and teammate as Hollywood had served as a crew member many years for Tracy and his cars. I was in Vegas for the yearly SEMA Show of which I've attended probably close to twenty shows during my entire tire career. That day was the first time I had ever heard the name Tracy Valenta. If you know me, then You also know that I don't believe in coincidences. I believe things happen in our lives for a reason and the same thing goes for being introduced into the racing community, it is to write and help document the history of BAJA Racing and of its' racing heroes, crew members and fans who make this one of the most exhilarating, exciting motorsport events in the world. As written in "BAJA LOCO," I wonder, "How did I get to land such an excursion, having virtually no knowledge or ties to the racing world? Tequila and Writing! Two worlds of which I loved introduced me to a third world of Baja Racing in Mexico."
A few minutes later, co-owner Adrian Hoyle came in and introduced himself and Anna showed me to my accommodations in the "Bunkhouse" which were not bunkhouse accommodations at all - a shared bathroom with one other room, a big window to look out over the gorgeous Mexican countryside and let the soft, Pacific air breeze in through the screen and two soft beds side by side, one for each night!
I wandered down to the pool and was the only guest there, so I had a private pool to myself, just as I do when I'm at home and lounging by the "My Bad Tequila" swimming pool. Justin Hoyle came out and introduced himself, he was busy helping a hired hand getting the sound system ready for the night's concert. I then went back to my humble abode, showered and set up my book signing on the expansive veranda. Mr. Jerry & Mrs. Carrie Penhall of Baja Racing lore were my first customers to purchase "BAJA LOCO" and got me off to a successful evening of meeting many racing legends including one of the partners of Horsepower Ranch, Mr. Todd Clements. Mark Stahl, Doug Robertson, Jeff Robertson, Rick Minga, Lorenzo Person, Alex Quintana, Victor Cachia, Bill Brindle III, PJ Jones, Arlene Bompensiero, Craig Stewart, David & Barbara Rainey, Mark McMillan, Bruce Meyers with his bride of more than 50 years, and of course Mr. Marty Fiolka with his stories were all present. Tacos were served that night with many a cerveza and tequila and sleep was peaceful.
The next day after a quick, another private swim and a hearty breakfast I went back into Ensenada to see my 2014 Racing Amigas & Amigos; I ran into Jim Riley, Rick & Brenda Johnson, Florian Oger who had purchased Jim Riley's 1971 yellow Snortin' Nortin' Chevy Nova, his son Alex Oger and teammate Sam Hanson, Dana & Robyn Dague, Rick Dorn, Chase Dague, Mark "Hoss" Milson, and sold them all some "BAJA LOCO" books and went back into the Convention Center and purchased two more bottles of the commerative NORRA Special Edition Tequila with my newfound dinero. This time a bottle for the team of Horsepower Ranch thanking them for their incredible hospitality and friendship and the other bottle would be traveling to San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico on the other side of the Sea of Cortez, on the mainland side as a wedding gift to Zack & Dulce to go along with their American Express gift card already purchased and in the wedding card envelope.
When I arrived back at the Hacienda at Horsepower Ranch dinner was being served of carne asada, chicken, potatoes, beans and cake for desert - Deliciosa Comida! When we all gathered back into the main bar I presented to Adrian and his staff, the bottle of Tequila and my book, "BAJA LOCO" where Adrian then announced that the bottle of Tequila would not be opened, but would be put in the famed, windowed shelf behind the bar alongside "BAJA LOCO!" I was truly honored and had to wipe a tear or two from my eye as Mickey Thompson's book was in that case as was such famous autographed helmets of Sal Fish and Rod Hall. That evening after the bar closed, Adrian Hoyle, Rick Minga, Marty Fiolka and myself enjoyed tequila in the drawing room next to the fireplace where many a laugh was heard and story enjoyed that night.
The next morning while driving to San Felipe I reflected on my perfect 2 day / night stay and the invite Adrian had offered for me to return for the SCORE BAJA 1000 and to bring my wife the next time when there will be a party of about 1000 race fans, drivers and crew members. I may have to visit Horsepower Ranch, Ensenada, MX a 2nd time after the Great Hospitality of Walter Adrian Hoyle. Anna aka An Ho, Todd Clements, Justin Hoyle, Rodrigo Cervantes & the entire staff at Horsepower Ranch.
I entered San Felipe around noon the next day, well ahead of the racers, checked into the Sand Dollar Hotel where Amigo John Trinkle greeted me with great news that I would be upgraded to a 2 bedroom condo on the Sea of Cortez since he was sold out because of the NORRA BAJA 1000 race. Much to my great surprise there awaiting at the finish line was Amigo Steve Ware who is Jim Riley's father-in-law. I had not seen Steve for three years so we chatted as we awaited the racing vehicles to show with their cloud of dust.
Lo and behold, who do I see with the finish line girls? None other than Amigo Cesar Quirarte and he hands me a Tecate Light to turn the dirt in my throat into a light mud which slides down my throat and again I feel refreshed as only a cold cerveza can make a person feel. Photos were taken with Race Flag Girls - Lisa, Radalie & Shelley, with photo bomber Cesar who also let me welcome the Rippin' Rooster '57 Chevy driver Jim Riley & his navigator with an ice cold Tecate Light; When the Palapa Boy truck came across the line I shared in the team photo because the day prior Mr. Dana Dague had made me an honorary crew member and tossed me a t-shirt which I wore with pride all the day long. Quite a party at the El Cortez Hotel inside the Barefoot Bar where I ran into Amigas Nicole Cougher and Dawnette Carpenter and Amigos Mel & Damen Jefferies who are Dad & Son Baja Fanatics that did not go ahead and put an entry into this year's NORRA 1000, but are revving up for the SCORE BAJA 1000 in mid November 2017. We all partied until the bartenders and waitresses told us to get out, go home and get some ......... sleep!
Next morning came quicker than most of us would have chosen. That dawn, the rooster was perhaps my least favorite bird on the planet and probably the loudest. I hurried down to catch my Amigos vanish down the dusty wash that leads out of San Felipe and puts them in the direction of Bahia de Los Angeles. I then went and played some volleyball to cool off and rinse the faintest speck of pure, light dirt which had enveloped my body, sold some books and met some Amigos at The Parrots Cracker Beach Bar & Grill owned by Amigo Robbie Castaneda & his main squeeze Dawnette Carpenter - both BAJA Racers and Drivers, of course and co-founders of "Racing for Boobs".
Early next morning at 3:50 am I was on Highway 3 headed North for the border. An early speeding drive through Mexicali earned me a flashing red light atop a policia carro. I kept going for about 3 blocks as I was near the border, but a damn red light screwed up my getaway and the Mexican cop pulled along side me with mustache twitching and face reddening in anger, shook his finger at me to pull aside the broken asphalted boulevard. After three minutes of quick negotiation, a $10.00 exited from my front shirt pocket to his rear jean pocket, a handshake and again I was off to the races. Four blocks was all that separated me from my ten bucks as I would have blended into the twin lanes that lead to a different way of life of which no way would the officer want to get trapped into those long, delayed lanes. But, hey I was speeding,! According to the uniformed Mexican I was going 96 Kilometers and the proof was in his hand - a radar gun. If I would have been traveling just 4 Kilometers more per hour I could have easily made the calculation - Oh, I was traveling at 60 mph during the quiet hours of the morning;
Back home, bathed and on the road again, not even time to celebrate Connie's birthday, we headed to Mexico this time at 4:10 am and by way of Nogales, through Hermosillo and Southwest towards the Sea of Cortez where San Carlos awaits with its white, cotton beaches and Tetakawi Mountain looming like a rocky fortress in the background. We had six hours to kill hanging on the beach and swimming in the sea before the wedding vows would be exchanged between Zack the Alaskan Crab Fisherman and the love of his life - Dulce, who was born in Mexico, near the waters of Cortez.
The Holy Matrimony was Excellente! It was fantastic to witness an entire marriage performed in Spanish, no English translations, Espanol Puro! Zack's best man Art Bauer said it best, "It's hard to argue when You can't understand what the other person is saying," and thus it is for Zack speaks the tongue of English, very little Spanish and Dulce has the sweet Mexican Dialect of Spanish with minor knowledge of English - a marriage made in Heaven!
Connie and I were seated at Table 4 next to Amigo Troy Sauser & Amiga Norene Sauser of Hammerhead's Dockside Bar & Grill fame; Amigo Jeremy Black & his date Shule, Brandon from England and I think maybe another person; Please forgive me as Tequila was served with a delicious dinner of Tuna Sushi, Ribeye Steak and Shrimp with all the vino, palomas, rum & cokes, and Tequila shots that could be consumed on such a night of celebration.
I was able to meet Zack's brother Jake, his mother and stepdad and Yes, I did have some great conversation with Zack's father - Capitan Wild Bill Wichrowski and gave his stepmother Karen a hug. Also, there to make it complete was the great fisherman of San Carlos and owner of the Margarita Fleet - Mr. Bryan Replogle & his sweet wife Lisa who at one time owned a restaurant and bar before having given birth to their cute little guy Fisher. Chuck Kaufman & his wife Linda were there dancing the night away and I have to tell You Chuck, who is just a fraction over 60 years has some moves that many twenty and thirty something kids would kill for. He and I both made the highlight video reel taken on the illuminated, flashing light dance floor and then fireworks exploded into the lightly breezed night air with a May warmth on the 28th day of April.
Later the next day after rising at the same time the dough for lunch had risen and being served I took Connie to Kammi's Curios where she picked out a cute red Mexican top that did not cover her shoulders - aye yi yi! A new, cheap pair of sunglasses made the ensemble complete and Connie a Happy Birthday Girl!
Peace, Love & Tequila! www.ricoaustin.com
Photos by Tracy Valenta & Rico Austin
Rico Austin, Mark "Hoss" Milson, Justin Pulliman & Ashley Johnson!
Rico Austin, Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski, Marco, Bryan Replogle