Torchmate Racing scores a podium finish in the grueling Baja 500, photo by Nick Socha
Sierra Grande crossing in Ford F-150 on the way to Borrego before the Baja 500, photo by Nick Socha
Torchmate Racing crossed the Baja 500 finish line in third place, photo by Nick Socha
Scorching sands of Laguna Salada on the Baja 500 route, photo by Nick Socha
Truck repairs were done quickly in the Baja 500 after the Torchmate Ford Ranger was almost destroyed, photo by Nick Socha
Ford Ranger's deafening pitch of a 500 horsepower V6 engine rocks the Baja 500, photo by Nick Socha
Lovell is used to sitting behind the wheel when he races. In the Baja 500 it was a different scene. He was the navigator in the Torchmate Ford Ranger with K&N products. “When you hold onto the steering wheel it helps your body absorb harsh bumps and lets you think you are in control of your fate,” he said. “When you navigate it's entirely different and it makes the adventure of Baja racing an extreme hair-raising experience.”
The Torchmate Racing team consisted of nine members in Mexico and a few more back in the United States helping with logistics. “Bill Kunz and I started the race,” said Lovell. Desert racer Mark Levrett and Greg Jones were on the second leg and JT Taylor took care of chase vehicle no. 1.”
Before the start of the Baja 500, Lovell and Kuntz went on a pre-run. “We had a Jeep and Ford F-150,” said Lovell. “While anything off road is fun, 200 miles in a stock truck gives you some sore spots and a fast appreciation for the technology behind desert trucks.”
Lovell and Kuntz crossed Sierra Grande and headed south to Borrego. “The 100 mile pre race jaunt took us well over ten hours and ravaged the stock truck,” said Lovell. “I had to spot Bill over the rocky summit before we reached the scorching sands of Laguna Salada. From there it was 40 miles of whoops, silt and rock before we reached the highway." Eighteen hours later, Lovell and Kuntz made it back to their hotel for rest.
At the start of the Baja 500, the sound of engines was deafening. Lovell and Kuntz made the turn into the Ensenada ditch and soared over a man made jump. “Thousands of spectators looked like barely visible flashes of color on the sidelines as we thundered on,” said Lovell. “We had 35 miles to the first highway crossing and had to watch out for dust, wrecks and booby traps.”
Lovell and Kuntz passed two trucks in their class, which put them in second place. The duo headed south of Ojos Negros and nailed all of the huge rolling jumps. “My stomach was in my throat as the Torchmate Ranger fell off the leeward side of the rises,” said Lovell.
The team passed through even rougher terrain and managed to maintain speeds of more than 65 mph. “The dust was blinding and the only thing preventing us from a wreck was the GPS system,” said Lovell. “We turned east and faced 100 miles of Sierra Grande with no chase support.”
Torchmate Racing raced down the barren range and hit 107 mph on the dry lake bed. Their truck passed through 40 miles of whoops and the duo turned the truck over to their teammates at mile 199. "I was dizzy and unstable and could barely stand when I exited," said Lovell. "But the ride was safely over and we bacame part of the chase effort.”
Things can change fast in the Baja 500 and a banked turn caused a full roll and nearly destroyed the Torchmate truck. The crew worked hard to bend the truck back into shape and got them on the course gain.
“We retreated to a hill near the finish,” said Lovell. “Mike and Lance got the team successfully up the coast. We all felt pride when they crossed the finish line.”
“Coming off a 3rd place finish in the Baja 500 feels really good. It is one of the hardest adversity courses and our finish was hard fought,” said Lovell. “Our K&N air filters kept the debris out of our engines and prevented our sensors from clogging up. We depend on K&N air filters in long distance desert races.”
The team is repairing the damage on both trucks before heading back to the We-Rock circuit and XRRA.
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