Racing the Baja 500

Road Hell

What an hour ago was slight dip in road is now rollicking white water, 100 yards across, four to six feet deep
  • What an hour ago was slight dip in road is now rollicking white water, 100 yards across, four to six feet deep

Ensenada, B.C. Mexico. Boulevard Lazaro Cardenas. 6:25 a.m. Strapped inside race car’s tiny cockpit. Looks like older brother of rich kid’s really good go-cart, except everything about it is serious, menacing, adult business. Owner/driver Glenn Goss built this thing himself, figures $40,000 in his 200-horsepower engine, transmission, frame. Which is short bucks next to factory teams that spend a quarter-million fabricating one of their creatures.

Owner/driver Glenn Goss built this thing himself

Owner/driver Glenn Goss built this thing himself

Ahead, behind — race car engines — wind, grind. Two hundred sixty-eight race cars, thousand pistons strutting. Immense noise, unimaginable noise. At this level, really not noise, more like physical assault. Sound attacks bone structures, vibrates vertebrae, shakes fleshy organs, hammers skull, teeth.

Dirt gushes through windowless front window hole like water

Dirt gushes through windowless front window hole like water

Already suffocating inside baby-blue fire suit. Crash helmet two sizes too small creates massive, surging earache. Have donned goggles, also two sizes too small. Black, brittle, plastic goggle edge digs into bridge of nose. Stiffened goggle lip already gouged through two layers of epidermis, working on third.

Goss and Mitchell. Goss has calloused hands, lower-arm scar tissue of a lifelong mechanic.

Goss and Mitchell. Goss has calloused hands, lower-arm scar tissue of a lifelong mechanic.

For benefit of tourists, race drivers come off start line in Ensenada like entrants in smalltown patriotic parade. We tour at controlled highway speeds 30 miles east on Highway 3 to Ojos Negros for restart, actually official race start. Blur of a drive out of town. Too fast, too low to ground, but still traveling familiar pavement. Can’t get seat belt to fit properly. Too tight around waist, too loose around shoulders, too many fangled thingamajigs.

They have no tools either and aren’t any faster, but this pickup staff is more committed

They have no tools either and aren’t any faster, but this pickup staff is more committed

7:25 a.m. Ojos Negros, B.C., Mexico. Another blur. Town square on right. Colors flicker — men in blue shirts, women in white cotton blouses. More colors. Balloons? Streamers? Residents hover both sides start line, backed up into town square. First glance from low-slung cockpit: kneecaps — odd focal point. Kneecaps aberrant biological engineering, like hangover afterthought glommed onto attractive legs.

People trot to river’s edge, watch psychotic current and cars trapped in it

People trot to river’s edge, watch psychotic current and cars trapped in it

Race spectators flap hands, others applaud, others shout, wave fists. Can’t hear — just see contorted faces, arms in movement, no sound but shrill thunder of high-performance engines. Four race cars in front of us now, green start flag dispatching competitors every 30 seconds.

I’m not ready for this.

God; we’re off. Was that a flag? Was it green? Acceleration — surprise. Goss’s car far more intense, powerful, than I’d imagined. Instantly kick up dust, then dirt gushes through windowless front window hole like water pouring from immense beach bucket. Hard surf at high tide. Speed, speed, then more speed. Somebody said you get more Gs inside a race car than astronauts experience at blast-off. Believe now. Can’t see anything. Can driver see anything? Jesus, we’re not on highway anymore. Running uphill on dirt, not even dirt road, not even narrow dirt gully, just tiny wash rotten with ruts. On each side — foot away? — two feet away? — are scrub trees, boulders, embankments. In 66-inch-wide race cars, there isn’t enough room to pass a shopping cart. No longer traveling over ruts, now three-foot ditches. BOOM — front tires strike German shepherd-size stone, car blasts up from ground at least two, maybe three feet. Jesus; had no idea, no idea of the savage pounding, the nonstop moment-to-moment beatings, the hierarchy of attack that occurs when running 50 miles per hour through open desert.

It’s endless. Thirty-one minutes in wristwatch time. At least 150 miles before we switch with alternate driver and co-driver. Another way to say it: it’s five hours till San Felipe checkpoint and change. But don’t think of that, don’t think of that now. Don’t start counting time.

CRASH! Every bump, which is every second, helmet rides up, smashes down, goggles ride up, claw into nose. In minutes nose is rubbed raw, begins bleeding. Every bump, which is every second — wrong — which is constant, relentless, no intermission punishment — kidneys scream, backbone shrieks, neck lurches, snaps, wrists smack car’s metal frame.

WAUGGGGGGGGGGGGGHH-HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Noise is phenomenal. How can one lousy engine make this much noise? Christ; right turn, dust pumps in again, gelatinous, thick, white — attacks lungs, nostrils. THUMP! One more dirt wheelbarrow roars through window hole. WOW! BASH! A rut, make that row of ruts. KAPOW! CONK! And another, and another, and another. Body slams into door; ankles, heel, feet whack onto metal floor. There’s no stop-start to it, just perpetual body punches.

Car smashes into rock patch — big ones — on steep downhill curve, which propels deathtrap through air. Release! Splendid release from plummeting, from spinning inside industrial Hotpoint drying machine. Magnificent — no bumps, no goggles ripping skin, no rib kicks. Peachy good airborne ride.

CRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-RRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-AAAAAAAASH! Eighteen hundred pounds power-dive into ground. THRUUUMP! Tail bone grinds into seat, spinal column surrenders, neck flops forward like rag doll.

Christ; zooming into pine forest. What in fuck’s sake is pine forest doing here? Hold it, there’s a mountain range, San Pedro Martir mountains, the big guy, El Picacho del Diablo, stands 10,126 feet. Scrub pines pop up inches on either side of tires, popping up so fast just a matter of time until we head on. Cannot see, cannot see end of number Ill’s hood, only see dense, ugly brown clouds of dirt, only hear fingernails-on-blackboard piercing screech of metal working on metal.

This lunacy is the Baja 500. It’s an off-road race, for race cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs. It’s been going on, in different forms, different Baja courses, for 28 years. The first known timed contest occurred in 1962. Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson, Jr., made the run on a pair of Honda 250s from Tijuana to La Paz. Ekins finished in 39 hours 54 minutes, Robertson less than an hour behind. To confirm their trip, the pair stamped the starting time on a sheet of paper at the Tijuana telegraph office, stamped it again upon arrival in La Paz.

Things got more organized when the National Off Road Racing Association established the Mexican 1000 — first race October 31, 1967. Over time, sponsoring organizations have come and gone. The race’s start-finish lines have been shuffled, but the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 survived.

The race is a big deal for participants in that world. It’s tough, it’s exotic, people get killed. It attracts the marginally famous. Mark Thatcher, the British prime minister’s son, ran it in 1982. The race has seen enthusiasts from France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, USSR, South Africa, Japan, Australia, New Caledonia.

Current agony is testimony to spectacular lack of personal planning. Met driver/owner Glenn Goss through Robert Mitchell, a retired San Diego County businessman. Mitchell’s had previous racing experience and is scheduled to drive a leg during this year’s race. I petitioned to tag along, in much the same manner teen-agers do when inviting themselves to the beach.

You can find Goss and his modest garage on Alpine Boulevard in Alpine. Goss is an old-time Baja rat; been touring, camping, fishing, boating, diving Baja since the early ’50s. Goss is 60 years old, 220 pounds, full head of thick gray hair, intelligent intense hazel eyes, been living in Alpine since 1983. He has the burly look, calloused hands, lower-arm scar tissue of a lifelong mechanic. Actually, Goss was an engineer. He owned his own high-tech company, Diversified Marine Corporation, doing business in San Diego.

It’s afternoon. Bob Campbell, a mechanic working with Goss, part of his short-bucks racing team, is assuming “the position,” lying under number 111 with a dozen stainless-steel hand tools. I lock onto pointy points of two boots.

“What have you been doing to get ready?”

“Tore the engine out, put all new seals in the front and rear, replaced the flywheel seal, main seal, changed the oil, stroked the heads, adjusted valves. Complete major tune-up; lubricate, redo torsion bar. Every nut and bolt in the car has basically been taken off, put back on, lock-tightened, checked, one end to the other, the whole bit.

“The engine is sort of stock. It’s got a cam in it, a little bit of head work. It’s got beefy rods, but basically it’s stock, more reliable thataway. Plus, you get better economy and all that. You can go fast as anybody else out there up to a point, except for those guys that have 30,000 in a motor.”

I inquire of brown boots, “How fast will it go?”

Voice sifts through engine block, “About 90 now.”

Goss joins us, “But the race is mostly 25, 35, 45 miles per hour. It depends on what terrain you’re in. You can’t go that fast all the time. There’ll be places where race trucks will be doing 160 miles an hour. If we make it to the dry lake, we’ll see ’em go by like we’re backing up, but they’re driving quarter-million-dollar trucks.” Goss competes in the unlimited class, considered by many the most exotic among the 23 classes of cars, VW bugs, trucks, motorcycles, mini-mags, ATVs, pretty much everything but your little red wagon.

I ask Goss, “What’s your race car got?”

“This vehicle has a special-built transmission. We have a 543 ring and pinion that has a lower gear ratio, so you can turn larger tires with the smaller engine. A 486 would give us better top speed, but this is a stronger transmission, allows us to accelerate faster, gives us a little more durability. We’ll just try to make our time on rough stuff, go as fast as we can go on the flat.

“These vehicles are all built by a rule book which dictates not the shape so much as the diameter of the bars used in building roll cages, the thickness, the position of gussets. These things are measured by the technical inspection group when they inspect cars. They drill holes to measure thickness. They say now we must have a solid roof, something to keep your hands from going through. I guess someone did a slow end-over and stuck their hands up and, naturally, broke their arms.

“Also, we have to put safety nets on car window holes now. We have a five-point seating arrangement and what we call an antisubmarine strap, which keeps you from sliding down. Then the other straps are three inch wide to keep you laced into the car so you’re moving as an integral part of the car, with the car rather than opposed to it. The window nets run 150 bucks, seat belts about 100 bucks each. For long races, they say you must have one headlight. We have, on occasion, lost as many as three in one race and still come home to win. Some people have come home on a flashlight.

“They also say you must have a full belly pan fore and aft to keep rocks, sticks, rattlesnakes from kicking up into the cab. You must have a front skid pan to extend underneath your steering mechanism. You must have one shock, each wheel, minimum. All bolts have to have lock washers or be lock-tightened. You can have any type of steering; almost anything goes as long as it follows safety regulations. You must have a fire extinguisher on-board; you have to carry a first-aid kit, tow line, flares, spare fan belt, spare throttle springs, and enough food to last two days.”

Goss points to a metal bar V-ing out from the chassis, below the front door hinge, extending to the rear tire. “This is called a nerf bar. It’s put on primarily for wheel-to-wheel running, so you won’t lock up with another race car wheel, then jump his wheel and roll. It’s also protection if you were to skid into a tree or something like that. It would keep the tree from tearing off the entire rear end; it allows you to ricochet off.”

“Where does ‘nerf come from?”

“I don’t know, except back in the three-quarter-midget days, when you ran up and tapped somebody from behind, we called it ‘nerfing.’

“The seats, interesting enough, have no metal underneath. We’re riding in a sling. I have a steel bar between this plate and the lower plate, there’s that much space.” Goss presents a three-inch gap between thumb and forefinger. “That’s in case we’re laying on the side and a jeep T-bones us. It’s good for spinal injuries, things like that.

“As far as the frame, there are companies that make frames. Some leading ones now are Chenowth, which is down in El Cajon; Raceco, up in the Los Angeles area somewheres; there’s Bunderson, Funco. You buy these frames in any condition you want, up to a point. They’ll have torsion bars in them or not. Other companies specialize in front-end parts, like this particular front end is a Wright Place front end. It’s made right down the road here; they’re good friends of mine.”

RRRRRRRRRRRRR-RRRRRRR, WAUGHHHHHHH-HHHHHHHHHHH-HHHH! CHUNK! CHUNK! Christ, still in this miserable pine forest. White smoke, dust. WHHAAAAAPPPP, thrown off course again. Car stops. We’ve hit something, impossible to see what.

Fabulous. Maybe we can get out, do some guy things, stand around, stare at car. Nope. Goss ratchets into reverse, lumbers back on hated footpath, accelerates, insane acceleration up donkey trail. Already seen dozen cars go down, drivers positioned next to front tires in sweltering fire suits, holding helmets, contemplating immobilized vehicles. Am told two-thirds of all cars break down before finish. Can see why; amazing anything gets through.

Goss, car looks toylike, quiet, almost tiny in his Alpine parking lot. We’re discussing the guts of his machine. “The front torsion tubes here hold torsion blades. They, in turn, hold control arms that go into spindles, and the spindles, of course, hold the wheels. Inside the torsion tube are little blades approximately one inch wide; I think, in this particular one, there are five. These blades are solid in the middle.

“Now we can adjust the tension on them, and the amount of tension on them governs how hard it is to pull this arm up. Both arms work in conjunction, so the harder it is to pull up, the stiffer the ride. You want something where you can cover most race terrain while working the suspension to the fullest — in other words, where your top stops just before it touches the downstops. If you can cover most of the ground just before it hits, then you’re working your full suspension, and it’s going to be a much softer ride.

“This whole front end cost probably $1500. The rack-and-pinion steering is an additional couple hundred dollars. A rack is normally a long steel bar; it could be round. This particular one is square. It has teeth on it, like a gear, if you can visualize a gear with teeth stretched out straight. The pinion would be a round gear that mates with the rack. So through this steering shaft, we have a round gear, and then down underneath is a rack. The unique thing on this one is a plate hanging down. As you move the pinion here, it shoves another plate back and forth. So when we hit rocks, these rods are not trying to buckle the rack in there; they’re fighting a steel plate. So it lasts much longer, gives you a longer arm, which gives you less bump steer, better toe-in.

“Here behind the driver’s cockpit is the fuel cell. It’s actually a cell inside an aluminum tank. A total self-contained cell. It’s like a bladder assembly with cellular material inside so, in the event of a puncture, gas wouldn’t go splash; it would just leak out the puncture. I have it for safety reasons. This one was exorbitant — 650 bucks.

“We get around nine miles per gallon with this engine, because of the rpm we’re doing and the motor size. At two liters, we’re probably cranking out 160 horsepower, maybe 170. As an example, an everyday 1600 cc Volkswagen, four-cylinder, aircooled, the kind you see at the local 7-Eleven, gets between 50 to 60 horsepower. You figure this one has special cams, stroke, cylinders, timing, carburetor. We remove the crankshaft, put in a special-built crankshaft which increases stroke and makes the piston travel farther inside the cylinder. The longer the stroke, the more combustible mixture you can compress into smaller space. Then we make the bore larger, we put on larger pistons so we get a bigger combustion chamber on the downstroke, we’re sucking in more air and fuel mixture. When the stroke comes up, it will compress this larger amount into a smaller space and give you more power.

“For example, the normal crankshaft stroke would give you a stroke of 69 millimeters on a stock 1600 Volkswagen; that’s a little less than a three-inch stroke. We’re running a 78 millimeter stroke, about a half-inch more. The cylinders are 90 millimeters instead of 85.5. So instead of 1500 cubic centimeters, we’re running 2000 cubic centimeters’ displacement, about 25 percent more."

AAAAAAAA-AAAAAAUU-UUUUUUUU-UUUUUGGG-GGGGGGHH HHHHHHHH! JUMP! EEEERRR-RINGGGG! BANG! THUD! AAHHHHHHHHH! COUGH! HACK! COUGH! Have never been beaten like this. TVy closing eyes, does nothing for pain; try opening eyes, doesn’t help. Throbbing, monstrous headache.

Three more cars down. Can’t see Goss, just spaceship helmet. Blue-suited Buddha driving through dirt rain, serene, immobile. Seemingly effortless, surprisingly graceful arms, gloved hands, move gear shift, steering wheel.

Usually, in any sport, one has a sense of “Oh, I could do that.” There is some thread, some common experience that can be translated, extrapolated. Most males know what it’s like to make a good free throw — familiar with the “swish” as ball centers into basket and the body’s feline purr when it does. I can maintain the illusion that what the pros are doing is not beyond my experience. But I don’t understand this; even factoring in teen-age driving years, I don’t understand how Goss can drive this fast, this blind, this roadless.

Fuck! Left curl up dusty track, 15 percent grade, thrown back on harness. Spectators both sides of course. Spot new pickup trucks, tents, coolers, blankets, men, women, kids. How do they get out here? Some applaud, some raise fists, see Anglo mouths pantomime “Go, go, go.”

God, we’re off-track again. POW! KABOOM! Another three-foot pothole. CRAAAAAAAAA-AAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSASH! Jesus! Avid fan has placed tree trunk in middle of uphill blind turn. Fun-loving public has mined track — better to watch us bounce.

The sun hammers Goss’s Alpine cement apron where he and Campbell are about the business of preparing number 111 for race day. Goss’s gray hair is wet; sweat rolls down his jaws onto hefty shoulders. I inquire, “What do you do with a feeble 40-horsepower VW engine to make it race-ready?”

“We’ve lightened the flywheel, took it down from the neighborhood of 20 pounds to about 10 or 11 pounds. The flywheel, in this case, is bolted onto the forward part of the engine; the clutch mounts to that. The engine then will bolt to the transmission and throwout bearing. The clutch is in the transmission, in this case, called a transaxle because it contains the differential and transmission all combined. Then, of course, the clutch transfers power from the engine to the gear train and transaxle, which runs the drive wheels. So we lighten the flywheel, have it machined down, which allows faster response from engine to transmission. In other words, if you let off on the throttle, the engine is allowed to wind down faster because it doesn’t have so much momentum transferred through the weight of the flywheel. It winds down faster so your engine’s not roaring like crazy as you’re flying through the air. Then as you hit ground and you stab throttle again, it allows the engine to climb rpm fast, because it doesn’t have to move as heavy a load.

“Then we put a cam in it. A cam is a mechanism used in conjunction with the rotation of the crank shaft to operate lifters. The lifters, in turn, push the push rods, which actuate the rocker arm up on the heads. In other words, the height and lift of opening the valves and the duration they remain open can help dramatically increase the engine’s performance and add horsepower. There are people who make a profession working on the question; how long, how far to open the intake valve, how long to keep it open in relation to the position of the piston — we call it timing.

“Now the size of the intake valve also helps you to draw in a more combustible mix. The diameter of the valve allows you to get more fuel mixture, the height that it’s open allows more volume, and the length of time it stays open is a factor. And, of course, another way is compression on the engine. We raise compression primarily by the amount we machine out in the combustion chamber. So compression, the diameter of the valves, the height, duration they’re open, the light flywheel, the bore and stroke, the type of fuel you use, all this combined with compression ratio of the engine contributes to increased horsepower.

“Unless you build your own engine as I do, you can tie up $10,000. There are people out there who run a smaller class who pay eight, ten thousand dollars for their motors. There are people running in our class, unlimited, with $15,000 Porsche six-cylinder engines.”

Goss has been driving the desert at demented speeds for a long, long time. “Back in 1974, I and another friend started running class ten in the Baja. He won first, 1 won second. A bunch of us decided we’d build a 1200 cc vehicle. We said, ‘Well, heck, there’s class two, it’s unlimited, why can’t we build a two-seat 1200 cc?’ Mickey Thompson was running the show then, and he says, ‘Yes, if you get enough entries.’ We got enough and started the class. First thing you know, we could run two carburetors, then we could run any kind of heads; then we said, ‘Let’s go 1600,’ then finally 1650. That way we could put in Toyotas, Datsuns, a whole bunch of different motors. So now it’s called unlimited 1650 cc. You can’t displace more than 1650 cc, but you can do almost anything else. Any kind of carburetor, any kind of valves, any kind of heads.

“The Baja 1000 was started by Ed Pearlman, who formed a group called NORA, National Off Road Race Association. Under those auspices we ran early races. Along about 1972, Mexican groups in the governor’s office said, ‘Hey, they’re making money.’ So they kicked NORA out of Baja and established the BSC, the Baja Sports Committee. They put on the 1973 Baja 1000. When we got to La Paz, we didn’t get any checks. They were hiding; you can’t get ahold of them. You’d call and say, ‘Where’s my check?’ They’d taken our money, chartered planes for the governor, the mayor of Ensenada, mayor of Mexicali; they flew ’em all down and put them up first-class on our money. So Johnny Johnson got paid, I think Parnelli Jones got paid, and that was about it. All the people way down the totem pole, the 50-dollar, 100-dollar, 500-dollar winners, didn’t get any money.

“So comes along Mickey Thompson. Mickey founded SCORE International in 1973. He saw an opportunity and goes over and says, ‘Look, tell you what, if you’ll give me exclusive rights to put on races in Baja del Norte, I’ll bail BSC out. I’ll pay these racers off.’ Well, they had to do it, to save face So Mickey got a three-year — I believe a three-year or five-year exclusive right to race in Baja. In 1974 he put on the first Baja International. We started in a gully in downtown Ensenada, ran out of town, all around the west coast, back up through Mike’s Sky Ranch, back into Ensenada. A nice race. Everything Mickey did was professional. He was a hard businessman, a hard driver, but an all right guy. I really liked him.

“Later, Thompson hired Sal Fish, who was publisher of Hot Rod magazine, to be president and general manager, because the rules said SCORE officers could not compete in its races, and Mickey drove the races.

“Mickey came up with some gosh-awful contraptions. He never finished a race, hardly. I think he finished two or three off-road races in his life. But he was out there, had a fire-breathing minitruck, a whole bed full of motor. Had about 20 shocks on that thing. He’d take off, blow them all in 100 yards. He had a VW buggy. Put a big V-8 engine in front there. He’d start off, and it would jump up and down, the wheels would just spin. Other cars were going ‘zip’ past him because they were light. After a while, he kinda backed off, started the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group, which took over stadium racing. He’d go all over the country to different stadiums and charge his drivers money to go in and wreck their cars for the public.

“He died. Got shot. He and Trudy, his wife, got shot right in his driveway.”

AUGHHHHHHHH-HHHHHHHHHH-HHHHHH! We’re slowing down, slowing down. Another wave of dirt. Jesus; can’t move, shoulder straps dig in, can’t shift in harness to reduce or adjust pain. Everything revolves on pain — bladder, back, neck, arms. THUMP, THUMP, HONK, HINK, tires squeal. Number 199 is down. How many cars down? Ten? Fifteen? Another uphill turn, spectators throw beer cans.

Coming down east side of San Pedro Martir mountains. Think it’s three, three and a half hours out; fuck, who knows? The desert face of the mountains, temperature already 25 degrees higher, must be 100 by now. Must urinate. Really must urinate. Crushing need intense for last hour. Have been told in this eventuality to relieve myself inside fire suit. Was not told that act is impossible — if one is being beaten every instant, shoved off 100-foot cliff, skidding on buttocks over jagged rocks, one does not enjoy discretionary time to relax muscles in order to attend to extremely pressing personal hygiene.

Goss scans his parked vehicle, hood off, engine uncovered. A glance of love, regret, slimmed-down hope. “I had the heart attack December 10, 1979. Laid up for most of the year. In late ’80, I could walk from my apartment down to the garage, but I’d be so tired from some of the beta blockers that sometimes I’d doze when I’d get down there. I really couldn’t do too much, but I did keep pushing myself. They told me not to push myself to where I got these chest pains, because each time you’re having them, you’re doing a little bit of damage to your heart. That’s because there’s a lack of oxygen to the heart.

“I was really depressed for about three months. Then I found things I could still do and do as well as anyone else, but running wasn’t one, swimming wasn’t one. I walk a little ways, then I’d have to stop and rest, the chest pains got so severe. Like doc says, there’s not much they can bypass, there’s nothing to bypass to. Normally they’d say, ‘Here’s the restriction; we’ll just jumper that restriction.’ Well, it wouldn’t do any good to jumper mine, because the little part on the bottom is all gone. It’s shriveled up.

“Whoever the real God is, I’d felt I was denied some things I wanted to do. If I’d lived to 150 years old, I don’t think I could do all the things I wanted to do, and I did a lot pretty fast early in life. Bitterness then turned to bewilderment. ‘Now that I can’t do these things, what am I gonna do now? What’s ahead? How long is ahead? Am I gonna get some false feeling of security, be doing something and one day, then boom, fall over?’ I didn’t have high blood pressure, didn’t have high cholesterol, had no history of heart attacks in my family. My dad’s 80 right now. ‘What is it? What’s gonna happen, how’s it gonna happen, when’s it gonna happen?’ So you think about it awhile.

“The most dramatic change is physical things I do. I try not to worry but can’t help it. I didn’t think I worried before, but like the doctor said, ‘You probably are, inside.’ Outside I was real calm, never really got uptight about anything. Now I really let go, don’t hold it long — I yell, holler, cuss, whatever.

"I don’t know if they convinced me subconsciously or whether it occurred in rehabilitation class.

Some people in there were saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.’ And of this group, it’s a funny thing - they plotted them on a graph. They had a group down here on the bottom, 150 people, 250 people — the ones who thought they were gonna die tomorrow or next week. They were also the ones sitting around feeling sorry for themselves, ‘God, I can’t do anything. I can’t walk. I can’t talk.’ Then up here a little ways were some dots across there, these were folks who played cards, played chess, talked with people, socialized some. Then, further up were a few more dots. Those were some guys who played golf. They couldn’t play very fast, couldn’t stand and hack all day. They could take a swing, get in their scooter, putt to the next hole. Or they were getting out among things, traveling, maybe some light fishing. Then way up here at the top is me.

“Then they take severity of heart attacks. Mine was just as severe as anyone’s. I asked this psychologist, ‘Why do you suppose that is?’ He says, ‘You got a strong desire to accomplish something.’ I was puzzled; he saw it and said, ‘If you don’t know, I’m sure I don’t.’ So I’ve come to believe just racing alone was the spark that built that fire or something, because it’s definitely — I don’t know what it is exactly, but it’s something I want to do.

“The heart attack is with me every day. Oh, it’s always there. I carry medicine with me. I take a handful of pills every day at noon, every night. I plan for the future — nothing long-range, but I do plan. They’re talking about building a golf course across from the little old dinky house my lady and I built. It’s not finished; in fact I’m ashamed to take anyone there right now, but it’ll be worth a quarter-million if that golf course goes. That's my retirement.

“I’d like to go over to the desert, get me two or three acres, build me a little house that can be kept cool in summer, warm in winter, that’s an address. Taxes are low, electricity is practically nothing. Then from there, we have a plot down in San Felipe. We have friends down there. Go down, fish, you know.

“I know death’s there, but I try not to think about it. I might not make it back to my shop, but I don’t feel that way. I don’t see any end, but I’m not going to make any plans for year after next until next year. I am planning on the Baja 1000. I’d like very much to find a sponsor for next year, be able to run six major races with some good equipment. I would like to do things ten years from now, and I may, I very well may. There’s many people in worse shape than me that held alive.”

WWWAAAAA-AUUUUUUU-UUUUUGGG-GGGGGGGG-HHHHHHHH HHHH! KONG! POW! BOOM! WWRREEEEEETTTTTTCCCCC-CCCHHHHHH! THHUMMPP! Desert plants appear, bleached white things leer out at void from bleached white soil. Not going to make this. Phenomenal pain. Bathroom needs now violent. INTENSE NEED! Overcomes back pain, arm pain, leg pain, smashing headache, bleeding nose, hacking lungs. BATHROOM! BATHROOM! BATHROOM! Sea of Cortes, maybe smooth beach on horizon. Jesus; million miles away, at least 50.

Highway 3, make that paved Highway 3, smooth, bumpless Highway 3, lies 100 feet starboard. Might as well be Mars. We remain on wretched dry wash, running over every goddamn rock nature’s spent last two billion years positioning here. Consciousness revolves around one question: How can I get out of this car? Consider screaming. Goss wouldn’t hear me. Wave my hands? Dangerous, requires utter loss of face. Can I fake this thing through with male pride? Pride and BATHROOM don’t go together. Am down to one-minute intervals. Can I make one more minute? Can I make one more minute? Can I make one more minute?

Goss checks engine fittings, moves forward the latching fiberglass hood onto his parked race car. Everything’s done that will be done. With slow steps, we move back into the small, wood-framed shop. “In early ’81,1 got involved with the start-up of another company, even though I wasn’t able to do physical things. I’d devote a couple hours a day. It was called Volks-Parts. It evolved into a very large parts house, but I sold out before it got as big as it is now. I took money from that and built this race car.

“The first car I had was built in late ’69. Put maybe five grand in it. It wasn’t total top-of-the-line — there really wasn’t much top-of-the-line then, really wasn’t much of a standard. We didn’t have many high-strength parts that they have now. It was still anybody’s guess as to what worked. We knew there were weak points in the suspension system. We did utilize VW bus rear torsion bars in our car and VW bus front torsion assemblies, stuff like that. They were bigger. Bigger is not always best, but it did prevent some breakage.

“In the beginning, race cars had a very squirrely aspect to them. Most all cars were short. Everyone figured, ‘Well, golly, the ultimate is 80 inches, that’s what the military jeep is, so an 80-inch wheel base must be the ultimate.’ The reason being, you wanted it short so you could go up over bumps. But as racing continued, we thought, ‘Well, gee, you don’t have to worry about hanging high-center, because you’re not going to slow down enough to matter.’ At first we were doing 30 miles an hour over stuff we’re doing 60 miles an hour over now. That’s due mostly to the evolution of suspension components, tires, shock absorbers.

“Today there’s more wheel travel, specialized application of things like longer control arms, much longer arms from the pivot point, which allows a lot more wheel travel. Higher quality shock absorber systems. It was evolution — contributions from almost everyone. If a person did particularly well in a race, other drivers would see what he was doing, then we’d talk about it. Nowadays racers don’t talk much. They keep quiet. Back then you’d see something and think, ‘God, I’ll try that; but that guy’s dumb, why didn’t he do this too?’ Pretty soon someone’s trying it. Got down to where those who tried to make a change were usually rewarded one way or another.

“This car here I’ve had for nine years, come November. I’m maintaining it, primarily, although I do upgrade as much as I can. I’ve just replaced shocks, the control arm in the front. Tore down the engine and rebuilt it. I can’t do much. There’s limitations. It’s smaller, has a smaller engine in it. Wouldn’t hold a Porsche six-cylinder, which is what the hot shoes are running. The wheel travel is 16 inches in the rear. I need 21, 22, 23 inches. It’s still good for running races; just to be running, you always stand a chance of lucking out.


THURUMP! OOOOWWWWWEE-EEEEEE! Jamming down steep incline, another boulder-strewn rock trail. FFFFUUMMMPPP! Holy fuck! Right shoulder takes major hit. Flesh wound. Christ. They’re shooting arrows now. No, vehicle had swerved into dirt for quick dash over plant life. Instantly assaulted by cactus needles piercing hotsy-totsy fire suit like chain saw through chocolate cake. Experience smashing, unremitting pressure to find bathroom. Recall outstanding bathroomless events from past. Mrs. Little’s kindergarten class, aboard DC-3 cargo plane on way to fight forest fire in north-central Alaska, 11-year-old tourist stranded in Capitol rotunda. Interminable punishment.

Pavement! We’re on highway, beloved Highway 3, venerable Highway 3. This miserable downhill rock gully has actually fed onto pavement. Generous, smooth, gorgeous pavement. Ahead, civilian cars bunch to highway’s right. Good Lord, there’s our alternate driver — alternate co-driver. We’re slowing down, pulling over, 120 miles since Bataan death march kicked off in Ensenada. Don’t know why, don’t care.

We stop. Slither, stumble out of number Ill’s window hole like sick lizard kicked out from under backyard mason jar. Feel like I’ve been to sea, everything wavy, no balance. Immediate lurch-run to attend extremely pressing personal hygiene. Afterwards, lean against somebody’s truck, watch as Bob Mitchell struggles five-gallon gas can. Drink couple bottles of pop, realize mouth is numb, can’t talk, mind is numb, can’t think. Shake all over like large wet dog. Head throbbing, forehead pops in and out— worn-down pawn shop accordion. Christ, they’re eying me. No, no, it’s time to get back into that son of a bitch.

Goss handles a used VW flywheel drawn from wooden bin in his shop, letting me feel the weight before it’s milled down. “I liked ’82 particularly well, particularly some Mint 500 races out of Vegas. There was one in ’82, ’83, probably one in ’84. I enjoyed those races because 1 started to allow people I trusted to drive my car. Gave me a chance to better observe some other vehicles rather than putting all my time into driving, and it gave me an opportunity to rest. Also, financially, made it easier, because if the guy wanted to drive, then naturally he’d put up money.

“I let John Baldwin and another guy, Jeff Mullis, start in the 1982 Baja 1000. I told them, ‘Don’t worry about winning, just get the car to me.’ I waited for them way down-course, about 400 miles; and they did, they got the car to me in fairly good shape— no brakes, clutch out of adjustment, but in pretty good shape. My codriver, Dotty Baker, and I went on to win fifth in unlimited class.

“We got into La Paz around sundown. Race headquarters was at the Grand Baja. We went into the hotel in our dirty old muddy driver’s suits, carrying our helmets, ’cause they impounded the car. They used to do that at race’s end to make sure no one had modified it during the contest. We tried to get a room. Naturally we couldn’t, so we had them call all over town. There wasn’t a room of any kind. Our pit crew hadn’t arrived yet; we’d beat them to La Paz. We went into the hotel’s nightclub and got some sodas. Couples were dancing. I asked

Dotty if she wanted to dance. She was too tired, so was I, so we just sat beside the dance floor and clapped to the music and smiled at everyone. People asked about the race, and we’d say, ‘Yeah, just got in. Yeah, it was pretty muddy out there.’

“After a while, we went down to the impound area. I knew the fella running it from other SCORE functions. I asked, ‘Can we go back in and lay down on that trailer?’ There was a trailer with particularly wide rails inside the impound lot. It was very cold. I’d brought a big jacket from the race car for Dotty to use. We laid down on cold steel, really frigid. Finally dozed off, woke up, walked back up to front gate The guy had a big fire going. The weather was misty for La Paz, cold. So this guy says, ‘I’m stupid; I’ve got a perfectly good room with two big beds just sitting all night. Here, take the key. My son is working checkpoint eight and won’t be back till six’ “I asked if I could borrow a razor; 1 had two or three days’ beard. I went up to the room, shaved, showered, laid down — went to sleep instantly. Woke up about sunrise. Only slept two or three hours, but at least we were clean. It felt so good.

“Took 20-some hours to make it. There was awards the next day. We’d driven our heart out and won fifth place. My son George drove one of my old cars, an old Myers Toad. He’d won third place even though he’d only got a little below San Felipe. He broke axle tubes, housings. He got third place because he went farther than anybody but two in his class. I brought his trophies back.”

UUGHHHH-W W HHHHHHH-W W HHHHHHH! CLANG! CLAP! BONGA! BONGA! BONGA! Like taking sledgehammer to automobile, beating on frame, beating on engine block for five hours, see if anything comes loose. Coming on to El Diablo dry lake. Looking forward to this all day, 20 continuous miles of smooth.

Aye — presenting: esteemed dry lake. The question becomes: What dry lake? It’s been raining — this in a desert that gets less than three inches of rain per year. So instead of pancake and 90 miles an hour, we are fishtailing at 30, 35 miles an hour through three, four, five inches of mud. Half-dozen cars down, some axle-deep in goop. If we lose any more momentum, we’ll be gooping as well. Running at angles now, fishtail left, fishtail right, little bit straight on, now broadside. We’re 150 miles into the race, less than a third of the way home. Am deep into metaphysical conference with self, topic: How can I be absolutely certain nothing like this will ever happen to me again?

On Goss’s wall in Alpine are several photographs capturing a series of spectacular car moments. Assorted race cars zoom off the ground or crash into dirt. I consider pictorial artifacts and ask, “Any surprises in your first race?”

“No, because I’d been up and down Baja so many times. First time actually driving a race, I worried about breaking the suspension, even though I’d never really broken a suspension; there was always dirt, dirt getting into switches, shorting open switches. In 1970 I bought an old car and grossly modified it. I paid thousand bucks, then bought another engine and transmission. It was a racing car, but almost anything was racing then if it had a rollbar on it. I modified the frame completely, put nice lines on the roll cage. Before, it just had water pipe welded to it. This one had run a couple of Bajas and the Mint. Took me about three months to get it where I wanted it. Then I ran a little bitty race the Baja Race Association had near Mexicali, called Laguna Salada. I did pretty good — believe I was third or fourth. Then I won best of class at Borrego, on this side, near El Centro. I was ninth overall. Came in second-best driver that year, lost by 13 points. Andy DeVercelly was the winner.

“The competition was much better back then. Had I invested a few more dollars, I probably could have been out front all the way. What I’m saying is, my capability and ingenuity were certainly proven. I think it was a matter of spending more money.

“Now next year, ’75,1 did a third or fourth at the Parker 400 starting in February. I was third high-points driver that year. Now things started to move, as I said; people started developing more and more high-strength parts. Chenowth, Sandmaster, Funco were all building chassis. A lot of attention was being paid to suspensions, and there were excellent drivers. People like Johnny Johnson, Ivan Stewart, Rick Means. As I look back now, it was exciting beating these people, being right in the winners’ circle, or near the winners’ circle, with people that have since gone on to find major sponsorships, like Johnson and Stewart.

“Yeah, ’74, ’75, ’76 were good years. I started to slip back because there was just too many real innovative cars coming out. Guys were getting new cars every year or two. I could see what money was doing and wasn’t really able to do what I wanted to do, but I kept on trying to snatch a little bit when I could.

“In ’79, of course, we were hitting the Mint, we were hitting the Baja 500, the Baja 1000, some little races. So I’d hit little ones to prove out the car, then try to go for some big ones. I started having tire trouble for some reason, even though I’d have new tires, but it would plague me. One year the valve cover got knocked off, blew an engine; we were over at the Mint. That dampened my enthusiasm because it was such a sweet-running little engine. It just got bad out there, and of course, I had the heart attack in December ’79.”

WWWWWW-WWWWAUG-HHHHHHHH-HHHHHHHH HHHHH! Coming into San Felipe after swishing length of dry lake, then taking on 20 miles of three-, four-foot dips, an experience akin to jumping up and down on rock-lined trampoline from downtown San Diego to the Mexican border. Have been told driving this kind of terrain is like bouncing on a trampoline. To do it right, one has to find the correct meter. If you’re off the meter, you’re going down when you should be coming up. A driver needs to get the road coming up and car coming up at the same time. It’s something he has to feel. There’s no way of saying, "Go 25 miles an hour, go 30 miles an hour, do it in second gear,” because each bit of road is different. When you’re doing it right, the ride is only an insane beating.

We arrive round noon, blasting down local power-line dirt road, five and a half hours since ground zero. This is checkpoint 4, a quick blink from downtown San Felipe, hard on the Sea of Cortes. Many racers use this spot to pit. See 20, 30 pit crews, some with brand-new 4X4 trucks, high-speed gas dispensers. A few — factory crews — have enormous tractor-trailer vans carrying a complete range of spare parts, engines, tires, frames, half-dozen uniformed team flunkies on call. While racing, sponsored drivers (Toyota, Nissan, B.F. Goodrich, et cetera) enjoy cool, dust-free cockpits via oxygen-pumped bubble helmets outfitted with expensive radio transmitters so driver can consult with as many as six different pit crews strung out along the Baja 500 course.

Robert Mitchell and co-driver Dotty Baker are in place. They’ve driven our 1976 Jeep pickup chase truck straight through on paved highway in order to beat us here for the change.

Slither out window hole again, grab can of pop again. This is gas stop too. Relief driver has eight five-gallon gas cans in the back of the truck. Gas can tops have been turned too tight. Nobody can untighten them, no untightening tools at hand. Mitchell is puzzled, struggles; gas dribbles into tank. I retreat with pop to Jeep hood, lean back, too tired to offer appropriate clucks. Three gringos, all with thick outlaw mustaches, mid-40s, long hair, shirtless, extravagantly tanned skin, tattooed arms, well into day’s ample stash of Coors, enter my field of vision and volunteer as pit crew. They have no tools either and aren’t any faster, but this pickup staff is more committed. The tank is filled; it takes 30 minutes. Goss’s tension level ratchets five full clicks, his shoulders scream, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”

Finally, Mitchell and Baker are off. We’ll track them from the highway. The race is off-road, but every 40 miles or so, racers cross the highway. We’ll take positions at two points, hopping one to the next, making sure number 111 has safely crossed the back country.

As the inmate said while walking toward death row, “At present life is good.” Lolling back, basking in this civilian truck’s ambience, tooling along paved roads. Simple-minded, unmitigated joy, I realize once again, is the very best. The truck’s ample cabin room, freedom to twist in one’s seat, stretch legs, cold pop on demand, snacks, smokes, fresh breeze. Home again.

Most critical, immediate task is blocking the chronic nightmare that has me getting back into the cursed car. Working hard not to dwell on upcoming rendezvous and re-entry into deathmobile for the “hardest part of the race,” going up 5000 feet to Mike’s Sky Ranch, then down 5000 feet through what even racers call “the rough part,” over mountains, then along San Antonio wash to the beach, then up to Santo Tomas. It’s 150 miles, probably five hours.

After making sure number 111 safely crosses the highway at both locations, Goss steams west on Highway 3 for the changeover. Just raw, empty desert; come over hill, spot gigantic vans parked beside empty highway, waiting to service factory-sponsored teams. Unimaginable luxury and support. In desert, to our immediate left, off-road vehicles (VW bugs, trucks, ATVs), hurry along parallel to us, matching our speed — 85 miles per hour.

The turn to Mike’s Sky Ranch is at the base of San Matais mountain. Directly over Mike’s, in fact over the whole Martir mountain range, are the blackest clouds I’ve ever seen. Tropics midnight black, Carlsbad Caverns black, witch black.

Rain! Thick, nasty, heavy, hard rain falling directly ahead. Begins to splat on window. Jumbo raindrops. Individual splats four inches in diameter. Rain slams into window — thunk, thunk, thunk. Then — thunka, thunka, thunka. Now downpour, now serious assault, attack of celestial water cannons.

Goss stands back from his photographs and points to one where his race car is running on three wheels. “I’ve finished four or five times on three wheels since I’ve been racing. Usually a busted spindle or king pin. When I built the vehicle, I made it stiff enough so it would drive on three wheels.

Over at the Mint, I ran 70 miles an hour on three wheels down the state highway. A patrolman pulled up beside me and said, ‘Get that thing off the road.’ I never finished top ten that way, think I was 12th or 13th once.

“The only breakdowns of any consequence is the Baja, the one about ’76, ’77, ’78 — whenever it rained for 24 hours straight before the race. We got across the summit near Nuevo Junction. I went right, swung back around left, waited a second to cross the highway. The summit is back of us, up over the mountains. We’d already gone over and run the sand wash. We’d traveled all the way up to the Tecate-Mexicali highway. We’d pitted, come back down through the dry lake, which was wet. I mean deep mud, the mud was horrible. It was just about dark. We’d had a flat prior to that, and two other guys in front of us had a flat. 1 kept running on the flat and got up to them and stopped. We tilted their car up on its side, changed a tire; they helped me do the same thing. We got to our pit, pitted, took off from there, went through all this mud, and we’re winding out through boondocks. There’s a grass and a bush that grows out there, it’s like a porcupine. And these straw-like sticks come off these bushes, become embedded in mud, and it drives them right through the tires.

“So we blew one tire; of course, we’re running in mud about six inches deep. We didn’t dare quit, didn’t stop; it wouldn’t have done any good anyway,. We didn’t have a spare. We kept going, and I blew another tire from the straws. Pretty soon I was trying to flop along. We were about 40 miles from the next pit. The rims began spinning inside the tire; they had no traction whatsoever. We sat still, and the rim would turn inside. So here’s this mud all gunked up; you could hardly distinguish where engine is, it’s so covered with mud. The jack wouldn’t work in mud or nothing else. I even tried putting front tires on the rear, you know — anything to keep going. There’s other cars coming, so I get off to the side and attempt to build a fire. Everything’s wet; we’re tramping around in water three, four inches deep, and mud. For safety we left the car lights on. We finally scrounged enough straw and set a fire on a little mound so other cars could swerve around us. We stayed the entire night.

“We had another friend, Danny Beagles, who had a Baja bug. He had tires, but their engine had caught fire and burned all his wiring. They’d gotten out and were sitting on top of their car because of all the water. They’d turned their little CB off. 1 was yelling all over on the CB for anybody and everybody.

“We had this big plastic tarp we put down on the mound. It was cold and miserable, but next morning I fired the engineen charge the battery, cause Id Deen running lights all night. I started yelling on the CB again, and Danny came back.

“I said, ‘Where are you? He says, ‘I’m out here south of Laguna Salada.’

“ ‘Whereabouts?’

“ ‘I’m not far from the big, abandoned mud house.’

“I said, ‘Can you hear this?’ and I revved the engine.

“He says, ‘Yeah!’

“ ‘Well, we’re less than a mile from you. You’ve been sitting there all night with two beautiful tires, and we’re back here flat.’ “Here comes a farmer out of nowhere on a big tractor. Big, big-wheeled tractor wandering through the boonies. The man stopped and lifted up the back of our car. He had two guys with him and a big water barrel on this platform built on his tractor. They lifted my car up, took the tires off, washed all the mud off patched the tubes. Patched them! I had a spark plug pump; we screwed it into a spark plug and inflated the tires. Then, while I was getting ready, the farmer went up and towed Danny back to us. We drug Danny down to San Felipe and all the way back to Ensenada.

“Another time we broke, this was a Baja 500 in June — very, very hot. We went over the summit, got about five miles, maybe ten miles north, going up sand wash. The oil temperature got so hot — air temperature was around 130 degrees. We’re down in between these mountains. The sun is beating. There’s nothing but sand. There’s no wind, it’s unbelievable. I could see it was getting dangerous, but there’s nothing I could do about it. I’m running in deep sand; I couldn’t slow down or we’d bog. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll run a little way, and I’ll find a place, pull over, see if it will cool down.’ But I had to get a hard spot to stop on. All of a sudden, the engine let go — BOOM.

“We sat from 9:00, 9:30 in the morning all through the day. We sent in ‘stuck stubs’ — emergency messages — saying we were out of water. We were there all day. I mean it was miserable, no shade except the little canvas we had. We spread the canvas over an elephant tree; it had no leaves on it, you know; it made only a very small patch of shade. Out of water. We were so badly dehydrated, our lips were cracked. I’d already scrounged around for roots but was trying to conserve moisture by not perspiring too much. I found some roots just when the sun went down. That night, about 8:30, we hear this noise like a big truck or something come roaring in. It’s the Randall brothers out of Tempe, Arizona. Real nice people. They race Jeeps, Jeep pick-ups, Jeep Honchos. Their car had broken up, and they were going in to fix it. I think it blew the radiator hose or something. They were carrying hose and some water. Had no water for us but did have some grapefruit juice. They gave us two or three grapefruit juices, went on up to fix their car, came back, rigged a tow line, and yanked us out. Just slingshotted us out, towed us to Cohabosa Junction and on to Tres Posos. It was at 1:00 in the morning, still 105 degrees.

“Now there’s some people who will help you, some people who won’t even stop to pick up your stuck stubs. I mean they won’t even slow down. I can remember Andy DeVercelly racing. A buggy end-over-ended not far from Arenoso Ranch. These two guys end-overed and caught fire. Andy was coming in behind them. He actually stopped racing — in essence, withdrew — got out, dragged these guys out, put his sleeping bag around one. I’m not certain if both lived or not, but they were in bad shape. They’d been trapped, really burned bad.

“There was a fella from Texas, going through the pine forest, screaming in a single-seater running the dust; he hit a tree head on, God knows how fast. Almost decapitated him, just killed him instantly. And of course, in 1974 Parnelli Jones hit a motorcycle, but he was way behind me.

“I keep at it, going up against quarter-million-dollar machines with stuff I build myself because there’s definitely always a chance. You can be the best driver in the world, have the best equipment, the best pit team, and if you don’t have luck, you’re gonna be sitting out there where you’ll see a lot of them sitting. On the other hand, you can be a decent driver, have a lousy piece of equipment, little bit of luck, and you can probably do it. If you’re a lousy driver with lousy equipment and no luck, then you’re not going to do anything.”

Flash flood! Right here, right now, right on the big screen. Dead ahead, what an hour ago was slight dip in road is now rollicking white water, 100 yards across, four to six feet deep. It’s 3:30 p.m. Flash flood broke just 15 minutes ago. Goss and I set base camp in middle of Highway 3, 400 yards from exit to Mike’s Sky Ranch. Thirty cars stranded in front, maybe 150 in back.

We wait. Ten minutes, 20 minutes, 45 minutes. Several hundred turistas huddled on highway. Civilian cars, semis, motorcycles, local traffic, race cars all on hold, snorting to go. Scattered throughout mechanical herd, three score race drivers rev engines like African killer bees massing on banks of Rfo Grande. The race, the race, the race, the speed, the speed, the energy, the vibe, the go, go, go, make that fucker go. .

Two men approach adjoining pasture fence, rip it down, line of race cars instantly sprint into open field looking to cross river upstream. Half hour later, four return, rest stuck in thick bottom mud. Two trucks charge flooded highway, manage midpoint, stall, sit. Water over truck door sills pushes stranded vehicles downstream one foot at a time; crowd roars, much pointing of hands. Men throw ropes, several wade out waist-deep in white water. Ropes fasten to car frames, tied to trucks on shore. Huff. Puff!

Ropes bust. Rainstorm arrives in gushes, people trot to river’s edge, watch psychotic current and cars trapped in it, run back to dry vehicles when rain explodes again.

Goss and I bivouac next to hood of our pit truck. Striding through jammed-up queue of cars, like something out of the movie Escape from New York, comes Robert Mitchell, our short-bucks alternate driver.

“Nice water, huh?” Mitchell reports number 111 went under 30 miles back; engine wound down, stopped, no apparent reason, but unquestionably DOA. Mitchell hitched a ride here with a race official.

Whoa — two cars make run for it, slow, very slow toward midstream but then push on through. Instantly everyone leaps into vehicles, starts engines. Great chaos, cars, vans, racers all hop to it, each successful. We cross, basically to turn around, tow number 111 back into Ensenada. Water has receded, now less than three feet deep. Official end of our race, 250 miles completed. Am not displeased.

Goss places helmet in back seat, looks over. “Well, you were a good co-driver.”


“Yeah, I’ve had ’em weep. Break down. Just bawl inside the cockpit. Sob even. I’ve pulled into checkpoints and had ’em jump out and tell me, ‘I’m never getting back in that thing again.’ You did good.”

Glenn Goss’s Ideal Race Car

“I’d start with a Jimco chassis, Wright Place front suspension, dual Fox coilover shocks, having about 14- to 15-inch wheel travel. Then a Wright Place rack-and-pinion steering, assisted with UMP power steering. Front disc brakes and Yokohama or B.F. Goodrich front tires.

"For cockpit there would be Mastercraft or equivalent seats and nets. An on-board fire suppression system, race air, or equivalent fresh air system, with helmets also wired for radio communications and driver-to-passenger conversation. A Pace- or RLH-supplied radio and booster is preferred. Fuel Safe custom fuel cell of 35 gallons with fill necks would give extended range. Six dump cans for rapid refueling are desirable. For added engine reliability, an oil dry sump arrangement would give added oil capacity, resulting in lower oil temperature operating range. Rear suspension requirements could be met with longer, wider rear control arms having outboard constant velocity joints, disc brakes, Summer Brothers rear stud and drive axles, along with Porsche turbo 930 constant-velocity joints.

“Fox shocks with coilover springs would be desirable, although a longer torsion bar setup should still be incorporated for some courses. Naturally, secondary torsion bars should also be available. Rear-wheel travel of about 22 to 24 inches with 16-inch rear wheels and appropriate tires for added ground clearance would complement suspension. The transaxle should only be a Hewland five-speed; cost is about $12,000. Mike Mendeola or Doug Fortin would be the builders. The power plant would be a Porsche six-cylinder air-cooled engine, which is just about the discovered ultimate at this time. I would be able to put a state-of-the-art, potentially winning vehicle together for approximately $60,000.”

The Glenn Goss Racing Record

1972 Laguna Salada 250 1974 Baja 500

Class 9 Third

1974 Baja 500

Class 10 Second

1974 Riverside World Championships

Class 10 Second

1975 Parker 400

Class 10 Fourth

1975 Baja 500

Class 10 Eighth

1975 Baja 1000

Broken left front DNF

1976 Baja 300

Class 10 Third

1976 Baja 1000

Blew back tires DNF

1978 Baja 1000

Broke transmission DNF

1981 Baja 1000

Placed fifth DNF

1982 Baja 500

Blew engine; leaky gasket DNF

1982 Baja 1000

Class 2 Fifth

1983 Parker 400

Smashed by another car DNF

1984 Mint 400

Class 2 Fourth

1987 Gran Carrera San Felipe

Class 1-2 1600 Fifth

1989 Superstition

Class 1-2 1600 Fifth

1989 Plaster City Blast

Class 1-2 1600 Fifth

1989 Dunaway Dash

Unlimited Class First

1990 Baja 500

Unlimited Class DNF

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