Damen Jefferies in the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000

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November 18th, 2005 - VIDEO - 38th Annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 Race

The sun rises on an all too early morning in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. The air is rife with... well I'm not sure what that smell is. After a quick cup of coffee and a bagel sandwich the day's adventure begins. 709 miles of brutal off road racing begins right now.

The Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 is arguably the world's most dangerous off-road race. Racers have gathered from around the globe to risk their lives for more than money, fame, or sponsors. They race for pride, glory and some just want the stories to bring home. One of these stories is Damen Jefferies, driving the Herman Motorsports Class 1 Buggy.

A vast array of vehicles gathers for the events, from the unmodified Class 11 Volkswagen Beetles, motorcycles all the way to the towering trophy trucks. Damen's buggy is a Porter chassis powered by a Chevy small block engine. Atop the power plant sits a custom fabricated carbon fiber air box with a K&N filter nestled inside.

Hailing from K&N's own back yard of Southern California, Damen enters this race second in points for the series, his eyes set on winning. With a race as unpredictable as the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, nothing ever goes as planned. This year, Damen's team is without a second driver and he must drive the whole race with nothing but energy drinks to keep him awake. If all goes as planned, he will brave some of the most extreme conditions a racer has ever experienced for fifteen hours. That is, if all goes as planned.

"Driving the Baja 1000 alone, is more mental than physical... once it gets dark its going to be very, very tough", Damen predicts.

The race begins at 6:45 in the morning with over thirty Trophy trucks starting ahead of Damen, as well as fifteen other Class 1 buggies. The entrants take off one minute apart. The teams in front of him have semis, helicopters and dozens of crew members spread across multiple pits. Meanwhile, the K&N Media Team rides along with Damen's support team, a bare bones caravan including, a couple of pick-up trucks and a very cramped Ford Bronco bringing along family members to act as pit crew . The full spectrum of racers and teams come to Baja, from the privateer to the multimillion dollar Trophy Truck teams. In the end though, it's only a fast pit crew, a driver's determination, and the reliability of the vehicles that get these racers to the finish line.

Helicopters circle us at the first pit stop, a sure sign the Trophy trucks are about to stampede through our small, blind corner. The ground shakes as 6000lb behemoths trample over the very ground we stand on. The road itself is reshaped by the passing of the trucks; trenches are dug and huge dust clouds linger in the air as around a dozen trucks pass before the first Class 1 buggy reaches us. The trophy trucks are an amazing sight to see, but what's more amazing is the incredible speed and agility of these Class 1 buggies that follow. What they lack in sheer grunt on the straight-aways, they more than make up in the intricate corners and switch-backs this year's Baja is comprised of.

Only a handful of buggies pass us before we hear Damen over the race radio, he has already begun his swift climb up the position ladder. The adrenaline is so thick in the air you're can bottle it. The Herman Motorsports pit crew begins its pre-pit preparations, a gas tank is hoisted onto a shoulder and crew members are assigned spots on the car to check for damage or wear and tear. It has only been eighty five miles, but already the vehicles have been subjected to more abuse than most any normal car would see in its lifetime.

"What we go through in the Baja 1000 is a million miles worth in a normal automobile."

Damen is flagged down and slides into the pit area. The buggies he previously passed are only seconds away from taking back their positions. The crew must not only work quickly, but also work through the blinding silt dust dust kicked up by Damen and the other racers. Gas is topped off in a matter of seconds, the suspension is checked, and is already seeing wear. Damen takes off and as quickly as our heart rates had skyrocketed, they lower. Now the race is on to outrun a blazingly fast Class 1 driver in a virtually stock set of chase trucks. We pass farmers and other chase trucks on a narrow, loose gravel road at speed I don't even want to remember in our quest to set up a pit ahead of Damen.

The next pit is around mile 200, it is here Damen will get a new copilot, Roy Dehban. His previous copilot, Casey Jefferies, is relieved of his post before the upcoming section through San Felipe. As other drivers switch to co-drivers, Damen himself will get no such relief. Up until now it has been rough, but San Felipe is the most treacherous section of the course, and Damen needs someone experienced and fresh to be his new navigator. It's been five hours of brutal driving for Damen; he's crossed vast washes, narrow desert paths and driven through silt beds that clog lungs as well as air filters. He still has at least ten more hours to go, and most of it is in pitch black night.

The copilot change goes off without a hitch, Damen has been steadily rising through the race, already he is close to the top of his class. After a long drive over some kidney destroying terrain, we arrive at the next pit stop just as the sun begins to set. Reports come in over the radio of traps set up by locals taking out some of the racers; our radio only reaches about five miles so we wait with quiet anticipation to see if the vehicle makes it this checkpoint. It's mile 400, dozens of racers have already fallen out of the race. At this point, the initial sprint begins to wear off and it becomes more about survival and endurance. Damen and his vehicle have already been subjected to some of the world's harshest conditions : Intense heat, miles of breathing nothing but dirt, elevation changes, narrow roads, mud, dirt, silt -- almost everything nature has at it's disposal has met with Damen's helmet and his vehicle's air filter. At every pit, almost every piece of the car is inspected. Tires are replaced, suspension is dusted off, CV joints are re-greased and the driver is given food and drink. Quite literally, every piece of the car is meticulously examined except one part, the air filter. And so far, it's been easy.

"If your tires don't succeed, and your air filter doesn't succeed, you don't succeed."

The heat of the desert falls as fast as the sun leaving us in near freezing temperatures. Visibility goes from miles, to inches; there is no glow of city lights out here, hundreds of miles from the nearest city. Damen has only the four high intensity lights on his roof, and his navigator to illuminate his path. Mile 400's pit will be the most important, it's the mid point, copilots are exchanged again, Damen is fed, and the tires are swapped out. He has climbed to the upper rung of position, only a couple of trucks and buggies pass our pit before Damen arrives. Casey returns as copilot and Roy looks like the Peanuts character "Pigpen" with dirt and dust falling off of him every time he moves.

This is where Damen was supposed to get out of the car, and eat some food and warm up by the fire, maybe even take a nap as his other driver finished the race. Not this year, as soon as he gets out of the car he's one of the pit crew; giving a hand in checking the car, changing the tire, and replacing a lost antenna. Before he even gets a bite of food down, he's given something to drink and is right back where he is to remain for the next 300 miles, the driver's seat. The class leader is in his sights, he has even more energy than the last pit he was in. Even after nearly eight hours of grueling action, he is driven to win.

The car takes off before we even have time to contemplate the fact he arrived.

Now the real test of Baja begins -- nightfall. The luxury of warm sunlight and high visibility is gone, he must now brave near freezing temperatures and his own headlights become a necessary evil as they not only light up the road but blind him as they light up the dust clouds of those that have driven before him.

Now halfway through the race, the crew is exhausted, the car's suspension is hammered, dirt and mud is so thick on the car you can't even tell who's it is without scrubbing off a piece of the carbon fiber to see the color underneath. After two more pits the finish line awaits the team. The air filter is coated with dirt, yet continues to allow the engine to breathe clean air through the night. Tires explode, CV joints split, driver's hands are frozen to the steering wheel, but the engine stays running as strong as it did fifteen hours ago, at the starting line.

The last section of the course is on a paved road, and while this might sound easy, this is the same road that we, the chase trucks are driving on as well, rolling road hazards in the form of slow moving support crew abound. Its pitch black and the roads are narrow, and out of the darkness comes a growl like some kind of demon. Suddenly, it's daylight as we find ourselves in the path of a trophy truck's headlights. With the staggering presence of a freight train coming through one's living room, race vehicles pass civilians and chase trucks in the last sprint to the finish. Damen is third in is class, chasing down the second place driver, with mere minutes separating them. The radio says something about a problem with the car ahead of him -- he might have a second place finish.

The radio dies and communication is cut off -- the drive to the finish line is as quiet as a library. Everyone is on the edge of their seats as the adrenaline reawakens us from our exhaustion. The first sign of civilization in sixteen hours looms ahead of us: Ensenada. We drive down a narrow alleyway overlooking a wash. A dark blur of a buggy passes us, it could only be Damen. We drive faster. The finish line is a madhouse as the first finishers are crossing the line; we count the cars as we pass them. Damen is the eighth vehicle over the line, placing an astonishing third in his class. An amazing finish, one he fought for the entire time. He may have been the only driver, but from being with the chase trucks the entire race, I can tell you he was not alone. With the help of his dedicated brother, Casey as copilot, his family members and friends as pit crew, the team at Herman Motorsports and K&N, Damen is rewarded with a podium finish after sixteen grueling hours of hard work.

"I'm beat." - Damen Jefferies

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