Preparing Truck for Baja Is Its Own Endurance Race
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of articles about Valvoline and Cummins' attempt to compete at the 49th SCORE Baja 1000 in November 2016. Read the other articles here.
They were busy as ever, working on the wiring, the gears, a bull bar to protect the grille and undercarriage and much, much more. And now they were racing the clock, because the truck was scheduled to be shipped to Mexico in just a few days.
El Tropico was the first truck Valvoline and Cummins worked on preparing for the 49th annual SCORE Baja 1000, starting and ending in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, with festivities beginning Wednesday (Nov. 16) and the racing starting Thursday (Nov. 17). The team planned to use what it learned after testing El Tropico at Pikes Peak, Colorado (U.S.A) and other locations to get its blue truck, called “El Arctico,” ready to race first.
Now El Arctico was complete and on display at SEMA, an automotive specialty products trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada (U.S.A), before heading to Mexico. Many of the lessons learned, however, still had to be completed on El Tropico. And completing the entire punch list on the red truck before it was shipped out was proving to be a challenge.
“It’s the same reason it’s faster to build a new house versus remodel an older home,” said Roger England, co-driver for El Tropico and Director – Materials Science & Technology at the Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.). “You have to figure out what you are going to keep and what you are going to tear out and that takes time.”
Valvoline, celebrating its 150th anniversary as one of the world’s foremost producers of motor oils, is entering two 1989 Dodge Short Bed Regular Cab trucks in the Baja race in part to mark the extensive research and development history between the two companies. Cummins is the lead partner on Team Valvoline, providing two 2003 vintage ISB 5.9 diesel engines for the trucks.
Team members are hoping to learn more about how their respective products handle the stress inherent in endurance racing while providing employees with a chance to develop and test their own hands-on automotive skills.
As the hours counted down, England found himself joining the crew working on the red truck in a large garage at the Tech Center whenever he didn’t absolutely have to be in a meeting for his regular job. About seven employees from Cummins worked on El Tropico during this final push, three or four on the truck and the rest building parts in the Machining Lab.
England also tried to learn more about driving at Baja. Neither he nor co-driver Aaron Quinton, Chief Engineer for the Cummins G Series Engines, have driven at Baja although they both have extensive racing experience. They will take turns driving El Tropico over the roughly 36 hours of the race.
The blue truck, El Arctico, will be driven by Valvoline-sponsored professional drift drivers Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck.
“We go until we’re done,” said England, who donated his own truck as one of the chase vehicles for the race. “There are no time-outs. No yellow flags. Not even a potty break.”
The team will drive through sand, over rocks, and over and around mountains. One driver who has done the race told England to imagine driving off-road from Kentucky to Florida.
But before anybody could be driving anywhere, the truck had to be finished. Last minute tasks included re-enforcing the axles, improving the gears and upgrading the wiring to withstand the harsh conditions of the race. The team was also filling a 16-foot long trailer with spare parts for the race.
“I can’t say enough about the dedication of our crew,” England said. “These guys have worked crazy long days and weekends to get this truck ready and their dedication has just been incredible.”
England said it’s been especially rewarding to see crew members who haven’t had a lot of experience working on racing engines crawl around the truck, figuring out what needs to be done. He believes the knowledge they gain will make them more effective in their regular jobs.
But it was hard to think about anything but whether they would finish on time. Here’s the answer:
The hauler was loaded up and hit the road Saturday, Nov. 5, and was in San Diego by Monday (Nov. 7) before heading south into Mexico.
Asked if he has any second thoughts about the project given all the hard work necessary to get the trucks ready, England smiled and said he had only one.
“I don’t know why I didn’t get involved in a project like this much earlier,” he said. “It’s been a blast.”
Come back to The Block to see more stories on the Baja project, including this story on the project’s test run at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.