There’s something to be said about someone going the distance to take their wildest dreams head on. For Barker’s sponsored rider, Tristan Dietrich and Team 102A, this dream became a reality in November for the 50th Baja 1000. We reached out to Tristan to get the low down on their crazy journey, and what we learned about the Baja 1000 was a real eye-opener. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to race an ATV in one of the most brutal desert races on the planet for the first time, then this one’s for you.
What was once a pipe dream became a reality in the early morning hours on November 16th, 2017. Team Dietrich Racing was sitting at the starting line, ready for the flag to drop at the 50th Score International Baja 1000. The Baja 1000 has been a dream of mine for nearly 11 years. Over the years I have been building and modifying a Yamaha Grizzly 700 to what I felt would be able to conquer the Baja 1000. I focused on building up the chassis, finding the correct motor modifications, and researched what aftermarket parts would hold up to the task. One of those important parts would come from Barker’s Performance. The dual exhaust system from Barker’s for the Grizzly 700 was key for letting our race engine breath and achieve peak performance, lowest head temps, and most importantly, reliability.
Building my team proved to be challenging, but I was extremely fortunate to find great support in the process. The team I had come up with originally backed out almost at the last second, but I was so focused on completing this race that not going was never in the cards. I pressed on to find more team members. Fellow racers of the event introduced me to many people that may be interested in racing as well as kept me focused on just getting down there to compete. The support for this race was phenomenal.
Our team consisted of Dan Nickol and myself (Tristan Dietrich) as the racers, and my brother Nick Dietrich, and acquaintances, Kylie Tonita and Dakota Radcliffe, as our support team. Our chase team, Kylie and Dakota, had never been involved in motorsports, racing, or anything to do with an event such as this. Many people thought we were nuts; a team of misfits without a clue going to tackle the world’s longest, continuous, most grueling race.
Before we knew it, it was time to make the trek from Canada to Mexico. We had terrible roads through Montana, Idaho and Utah, almost losing control in Utah when the trailer started to pass the truck. We also suffered some tire damage into the second day of travel and required replacement of all tires on the trailer. After we had finally got our team together and arrived in Mexico we could begin preparing for pre-running the course.
Planning our prerunning and final tuning of the bike consumed our first day on location. Then we set off to pre run and get a feel for the course. After 120 miles of pre-running we bent an a-arm nosing into some of the gnarly whoops on this section of the course. We considered it a minor setback as we had an extra, or so we thought. This repair ended up preventing us from running any more of the course for the remainder of the time we were in Ensenada. Our time was filled with repairs and tuning, however, the bike turned out great in the end. The shocks were spot on, fueling was tight, our JBS clutching was nailed, and our bike was strong.
Finally, race day was upon us. We left the gates just after 2:00 am on Thursday. It is well known that you do not win the race in the first 100 miles but you can lose it. Despite knowing that the first 100 miles is make or break, I knew that this section was a good one for me. It was rutted out, lots of turns, climbs and everything in my wheelhouse. I drove to my ability quickly passing other sport ATV’s and even dirt bikes. I felt that I could get ahead here to make time for the straight sections where the sport machines would be better suited with the whoops and top end. We were limited to 72 mph with how the bike was setup to handle middle ground elevations. Then it happened, 30 miles in I came around a corner and smoked a rock that was placed in between a gate opening. I didn’t think much of it as the impact didn’t feel substantial, and I had hit worse. It turned out that I had broke another a arm and it was the same side that I had broke before so we had no spares. I pressed on at a slow pace. I thought we were done, but Dan Nickol is a mentally tough man. This race was not going to stop at mile 78. The Baja Pits were to have welders at some locations. Dan said, “it’s not over”, jumped on, and kept on driving on three wheels.
Dan pressed on carefully to race mile 130 where BFGoodrich pits had a team of fabricators on hand. They repaired our a arm and got us on our way. From then on the a arm held up the entirety of the race. At this point, we were far behind. We had to go so slow to this point and the repair took a couple hours as well. We were 5 hours behind the pack in total. It was 10:00 p.m. and the Trophy trucks were just being released. The BFGoodrich pit manager pulled us to the side and said, “You are in the death zone now. Be careful and watch your back.” Dan hopped on and our faith was restored. We were good to go. Dan hammered his way to San Felipe where we would exchange again.
It was hot, 40*C if I recall. The San Felipe stretch was gruelling. The whoops seemed to be never ending and were not synced so it was hard to get rhythm. Fans were lining the course waiting for the trophy trucks to pass. It would be quite the sight to watch the suspension of those trucks dance through these whoops. I drove the machine as fast as I’ve ever driven it, far exceeding my “ride 70%” target. The Grizzly took the whoops surprisingly well as the Elka shocks softened the blows. When I’d hit our target to switch, Dan hopped on the machine and took off. Within 5 minutes the first helicopter came through. A truck was right on Dan’s tail. We radioed to Dan that one was running him down. Dan will tell you that trophy trucks are just flat out scary. You cannot hear them coming, they blast the sirens but you can only hear them when it’s already too late. You must pull over at speed because if you slow, you’re a bug on the grill. Dan was officially in the “Death Zone” now at dusk. We did good getting this far before they caught us, but this was likely the worst time to be getting passed by the trucks. Once again we had to slow down to let the trucks pass even though there were no good sections to pull over at this part of the course. Finally, Dan made it to checkpoint 2, road marker 520 at 11:00 pm. that evening, roughly 2 hrs behind schedule.
At this point we knew we had to service our bike. Dan had went through some silt beds prior, but to our surprise the filters were not dirty. I pulled side panels off to find the airbox lost its clamp on the throttle body. We were sucking in dust and silt for God knows how long. It was not a good sight, but despite this the bike was still running and not burning oil. We fixed it and I jumped on the bike and headed off into the fog of the night.
The fog was terrible. You could not wear your goggles because it was so thick water was running off the lens as if it was raining. Still, the silt beds were intense and a ton of fun. The 4wd of the Grizzly really helped in this department. I kept the wheel speed up and it floated over the silt without care. Although where I had success, many others got stuck. I did my best to help out as many other racers as possible as I felt it was the right thing to do. Things were going great at this point in the course... until I broke an axle.
After this happened I was just trying to finish the race. I realized we were not going to be able to podium. Despite this, I was still pushing as hard as possible. The goal was to finish regardless.
I got to the truck with our broken axle, exhausted, and with a big smile on my face. I literally had to be carried off the machine but I was jacked. That night was the most fun I have ever had behind handlebars. Dan and Dakota fixed the bike as I was useless. Dan jumped on and carried on. The terrain was gnarly as the boulders on the course were the size of our tires. The trucks kept coming and even drove Dan off the course a few times. Dan dug deep and kept pushing on. At 3:30 that day the machine lost power and turned off. Race mile 897 was as far as we made it. We lost compression and could not repair.
Since the race we’ve teared down the bike and it appears that the dust we took in early on was our demise. Dust had caked the rings and oiling was an issue. The crank bearing eventually failed as well. It was impressive to see the abuse a motor can take. We did use WPC treatment on all moving parts and cannot help to think this helped prolong the inevitable.There was no way that taking in dust for 500 miles unfiltered wasn’t going to take its toll.
Sometimes when you don’t know how to do something, the best thing to do is just do it. Everyone has to do it for the first time. This race is truly life changing. It’s a battle from start to finish and just to finish is an accomplishment. Our team is more hungry than ever to get after the next one.
Baja 2018 is in our sites!