A Sailor, a SEAL, a Soldier, a Marine, and a Commando entered an off road race running the length of the Baja peninsula. The joint/coalition team of military veterans campaigned a vintage Light Strike Vehicle (LSV) in the epic 2016 NORRA Mexican 1000. The team spent months preparing the historic Flyer One buggy and themselves to race in the Vintage Military Vehicle class.
Although only 1 of 5 had driven in a Baja race before, the vets drew on their military experience of men, machine, and a mission to accomplish something bigger than themselves…finish all 1374 miles of the grueling 4-day race. Their motto was “Wounded Warriors – Disabled Vets – 1000 Miles” and they raced under the banner of the non-profit motorsports racing organization, Racing4Vets.
Mike Shatynski (USN), an experienced Baja racer aka Admiral Mike, explained that racing 1000 miles down the Baja peninsula is the closest thing to the comradery of a military deployment that veterans will find in the civilian world. The team was enthusiastically welcomed by the Baja off road community and was featured often in the NORRA’s innovative live race coverage. Cody Elliott (USMC) noted that “my warrior brothers and sisters were welcomed into the Baja racing family.” Martha Tansey (US Army), an experienced Baja chaser, said this was “by far the best racing experience that I’ve ever had.”
As the only entry in the new class, the vets won their class and overcame terrain and manmade obstacles to finish 51st overall with no penalties. The standard has been set for Vintage Military Vehicles! The race was classic Baja with all the imaginable challenges from hardscrabble rocks to bottomless silt beds to trackless dry lakes to swollen mountain streams. Out of 154 total entries, almost 1/3 of the teams were unable to finish the grueling race.
The weather was perfect in the northern Baja city of Ensenada as the team completed a day of registration, technical inspections, and meetings before making final preparations for the Sunday morning start. The two-seat LSV would be chased down the peninsula by two support trucks. The 5 military racers were supported by 4 civilian chasers who brought Baja experience and enthusiasm to the team.
Day 1 started as the first two drivers, Mike and Cody staged in 114th place for their run down the Pacific Coast. NORRA based the starting order on vehicle age which placed Flyer One and other historic vehicles like James Gardner’s Blue Banshee sedan and Ivan Stewart’s Filmore Ford pickup at the back of the pack.
They had a flawless run on the technical coastal roads and had a great time dicing with and passing competitors. John Swift in the Blue Banshee paid a great compliment to Flyer One’s prowess in the Baja when he later said, “It really worked!” The pair turned Flyer One over to Brian Trotter (SEAL) and Amit Galai (IDF Commando), who pushed up and over the peninsula on some of the original course from the first race in 1967 and into Bahia de los Angeles for the night.
Brian and Amit were the Flyer One dream team since they are both experts on the new Flyer 72 Advanced Light Strike Vehicle (ALSV). With 457 miles completed, the team worked the post-race punch list before breaking for a late dinner and some well-earned rest.
Flyer One staged on the Sea of Cortez waterfront in 45th place on Day 3 as Brian and Cody enjoyed the tropical sunrise from the cockpit. The checkered flag dropped and they raced up and over the rugged Sierra de la Gigante mountains. On the descent, the Baja reminded the team that she must be respected! Flyer One broke a steering tie rod at speed but Brian and Cody were able to make temporary repairs and limp to the road crossing on the Pacific side.
The chase crew jumped into action and Martha welded the damage to be almost good as new. Now down almost 2 hours, the team made a driver change and Mike and Amit headed through the farmlands of Constitucion and into the barren desert. As Flyer One pulled into desolate town of Santa Rita for refueling, the chase crew was nowhere to be seen. Even worse, the Pemex station was out of diesel. Mike and Amit begged the townspeople and found the only 10 gallons of diesel for a hundred miles in either direction. After bartering for 2 cooking oil containers full of fuel, they headed up and over the mountains into La Paz. Day 3 ended with a quick prep of Flyer One and stories over another late dinner of near tragedy and triumph. Baja race inexperience and Baja gotchas contributed to the steering damage and the best tacos in southern Baja distracted the fueling crew. The chase crew all agreed when chaser Lance Pardue noted, “Those were really GREAT tacos!” The team’s Baja angels overcame those inevitable Baja gremlins and another 324 miles were completed.
Day 4 started on the waterfront in La Paz and the team started in 66th position. Brian and Mike took turns driving the final 156 miles with Admiral Mike starting in the co-driver seat. It was a day for the old dog to learn new tricks with the Flyer 72 driving instructor.
Brian and Flyer One handled the rugged cliff roads with ease and the team pulled into the East Cape for the final driver change. A heated “Flyer One – buggy or truck” discussion was constantly interrupted by superb coaching by Brian. Flyer One reeled in the competition on the fast graded coastal roads and passed a few more laboring racers in the deep sand wash in the final miles into San Jose del Cabo at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. The team crossed the finish line in their “Navy SEALmobile” and earned their coveted NORRA finisher coin.
The NORRA awards ceremony on the beach that evening was spectacular as always. When the team of veterans accepted their trophy, Admiral Mike thanked NORRA for creating this very special class that honors the vehicles and the warriors who drove them. He also noted that he expects to see more of his veteran brothers and sisters join the NORRA off road family next year. Brian simply stated, “We came and we crushed it.” Cody said it best, “We race beyond ourselves, not just for those lost, but those who remain. We show that life is still EPIC and that this is possible. NO fancy stuff, just love and respect. Our attitude and teamwork speak for itself.”
The Mexican 1000 was a great way to honor Flyer One and the warriors who served with her. According to Admiral Mike, “Flyer One was built with the best off-road racing technology of her day the help American warriors fight and win then return home safely.” Her legacy is Flyer 60 which deployed to Afghanistan with Navy SEALs and Flyer 72 ALSV which is now being built for US Special Operations Forces.
The team is deeply grateful to Flyer Defense for providing the historic Flyer One buggy and to Fox Shocks for the incredibly tuned suspension.
The team also thanks its important sponsors: BDS Suspension, Harmon Fuel Cells, Baja Designs, Mastercraft, Caliber Collision, Joe Hauler, PCI, and B&R Buggies.
Extra special thanks are due to the employees at Workday who donated to Racing4Vets to help defray racing expenses for the team’s wounded warriors and disabled vets. Their donations also provided seed funding for the Southern California chapter of Racing4Vets which will focus on off road racing in the great southwestern deserts for disabled vets.
Tim King (SEAL), a founding member of the Southern California chapter, emphasized that “it is not about raising awareness, Racing4Vets is about teamwork and supporting each other whether prepping, chasing, or driving and through any other challenges in life”.