Friede conquers Baja 1000
December 2, 2021
MEXICO - Seeley Lake's Curtis Friede pulled off a miracle in Mexico, racing 1,227 miles from Ensenada, Mexico to La Paz, Mexico to complete the Baja 1000 race Nov. 20.
"The Baja is the most rugged, brutal, off-road race in the world, no doubt about it. So I thought, you know, it'd be really fun to do that one time," Friede said. "I've been an adrenaline junkie my whole life."
The idea of Friede racing in the Baja this year was planted last February at the King of Hammers race in Southern California. He was asked to join a group of racers taking on the Baja by David Clay who owns RacingTraX, a company that provides tracking units for races.
Clay had never met Friede before installing a tracking unit in Friede's car ahead of the King of Hammers race. He noticed that Friede was one of the few driving a Polaris RZR RS1. Clay was looking for RS1 drivers to join him in the Baja 1000 race for what he called the "RS1 Ironman Challenge."
Clay had extensive experience in off-road racing over the last couple of decades but he was never the main driver. He was on support crews as a navigator and backup driver so he wanted to figure out how to get in the driver's seat.
To make the challenge affordable and unique, Clay decided on using the single seat RS1s and "iron-manning it." To iron-man the race meant that one driver drives the entire 1,227-mile route alone.
This would be unique because most racers in the Baja 1000 don't drive the entire route. They trade off drivers at checkpoints to put a fresh driver in the car. According to the race entry list, only 15% of race entries indicated a single driver. Not only do most racers have multiple drivers, many of the vehicles entered have a co-driver who can help with navigation, getting unstuck, making repairs and providing encouragement for the driver.
Once Clay figured out he could race the Baja on his own, he came up with the idea of getting a group of drivers to do it together. He succeeded in getting five including Friede to join him.
While they were on the same team, each racer built their own car. Clay coordinated the racers and pit crews in Mexico so they would all stay at the same locations and support one another if needed.
Clay said Friede was one of the first drivers to verbally commit but the last to build his car.
"It was pretty much all summer that I really didn't know if I was ever going to be able to do it because I have so many irons in the fire," said Friede. "I knew I shouldn't do this unless I could dedicate my time and my effort to make the best possible effort to complete the race."
About five weeks ahead of the race Friede decided to do it. Everyone else had already built their cars so he was behind the curve.
"What took me a year to do, Friede did in just a couple of weeks," said Clay.
When they got to Ensenada, there were still questions as to if Friede could enter the race. Ahead of the race every car must go through tech where the car is checked over to make sure it meets all the requirements of the race. On race day, his roll cage was not yet certified and he had several items to finish.
Friede said he was a little nervous to go through tech but got the cage certified and he was given the green light to race despite still having a handful of things to finish before racing.
While he cut passing tech close, Friede was the first of his teammates to be in his car ready to go. His teammates continued to make changes and adjustments.
"It's like these guys are playing head games on themselves. Be satisfied with what you've built and accept what you've built and move on," Friede said. "Don't be changing at the last minute because now you're running stuff that hasn't been tested."
Most racers taking on the Baja, pre run the race route weeks ahead. Friede did not have that luxury. Instead he relied on racecourse notes that were available to him on an iPad during the race. The iPad read the notes to Friede during the race and gave him warnings about upcoming obstacles as well as kept him on the mostly unmarked course.
One of the more challenging obstacles Friede encountered was silt beds, a section of the route with one to three feet of silt. The first one he encountered he didn't know what to expect so he just hit it.
"It went totally black, silt everywhere, filled the cab, filled over across my helmet. It was everywhere and I almost come to a complete stop," Friede said. "I started getting nervous because when everything calmed down and the silt quit being there I could see what was going on. I could see other cars out there stuck in the silt beds and the only thing I could think of was 'Do not stop.'"
Friede said every silt bed he went through had tracks every which way and cars stuck in them but that wasn't the only obstacle on the track.
"It's relentless rock and cactus and windy corners and divots. I mean this is the most unforgiving country I've seen in my life," Friede said.
One big difference he noticed about racing in Mexico versus in the States is the spectators.
"It took me about 200 miles to get used to when you come around a corner or you start down into an area where you see a lot of people not to let up and worry about the people," said Friede. "They're there trying to slap your car as you're going past them at 70 or 80 miles per hour and they will not get out of the way so you just got to keep going. That's the way it is the whole time."
Collisions with other racers were also common. Friede said he got hit three times by other drivers. The first two were minor and didn't cause any damage but the third time he was damaged by a truck that hit him from behind. The collision destroyed one of his rear tires, bent a radius rod, took off a rear panel and dented his fuel tank.
The two vehicles came to a rest stuck together and they had to push the two-wheel drive truck backwards up a hill to get them separated. After 20 minutes they got the truck free. The guys jumped in their truck and took off leaving Friede broken down.
He changed the tire and cobbled it together enough to make it to the next pit stop where the workers there helped him change out the radius rod and get him back to racing. Friede figures he lost about two and half hours on the ordeal and was passed by two of the other RS1 competitors.
For Friede the final part of the race was the most challenging mentally and physically.
"I can't say that I didn't take a nap because I don't remember that last, probably six or seven hours, of the race. I literally do not remember but I stayed on course," said Friede. "It was grueling to say the least. It was hard because you got nobody there encouraging you to keep moving and to do good. You got to do it yourself."
Friede finished the race in 38 hours and 38 minutes. He only stopped for fuel, water and bathroom breaks. He said he got out of the car a half dozen times to use the bathroom and ate four Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and two Pop Tarts during the race.
"I don't think that people really understand the accomplishment that Curtis actually achieved. What he actually just went and did is really quite monumental," Clay said.
Nearly 300 racers across all classes from motorcycles to 1,000 plus horsepower trucks entered the race. Friede finished in 130th overall with an official time of 38:38:59.553. Of the nearly 300 racers, only 187 racers completed the race.
There were 14 racers who entered the Pro Stock UTV class. Nine finished with Friede coming in fifth. Just three of the six RS1 Ironman Challenge racers finished. Clay did not get the satisfaction of finishing after his car blew a motor just short of the halfway point.
Friede's support crew consisted of his brother Bruce Friede and father and son Craig and Hunter Stansberry. Friede met the Stansberrys last summer by chance while they were passing through Seeley Lake on a UTV trip following the continental divide from the Mexican boarder to the Canadian boarder. Friede mentioned that he might be doing the Baja and they said they were interested in helping out.
While the race was challenging Friede, the support crew faced many unexpected challenges as well. They attempted to make it to the pit stops head of Friede but were not always successful. They had radios but soon found out that they were not very useful. Friede estimated they maybe had one hour of contact out of the 38 hours.
Just finding the checkpoints proved difficult for the crew. Some of the checkpoints were 20 miles off the highway on what Bruce describes as a "goat trail at best."
The crew could not find two of the checkpoints and when they saw Friede's GPS tracker go by they just headed to the next one.
Having finished the Baja 1000 on his first attempt, Friede currently has no plan to return for another run.
"There's a slim chance but I'm saying it's so slim that you can't believe it. I could probably only do worse because everything that happens down there is a miracle or the [crappiest] luck you can imagine. So, no, I'm done and out," said Friede. "It was a crazy idea. I pulled a miracle off."