Exeter team races to Baja 1000

Levi Gill and his daughter, who is propped up on Levi’s motorbike, in the shop. Photo submitted by Levi Gill.

After qualifying for the Baja 1000, one of the world’s biggest offroad races, Exeter’s Arrowhead Racing team announces its plans to participate in the 1,300 mile trek across Mexico’s desert

EXETER – Arrowhead Racing, an Exeter-based offroad racing team, have announced their plans to participate in this year’s Baja 1000, one of the biggest off road races in the world. Levi Gill, who runs and owns Arrowhead Agriculture with his wife Hannah, will be joined by his brother and two of their friends to compete for their first time.

In previous years, the Baja 1000 course has more or less been 1,000 miles, but this year, the 300 entries (both teams and solo racers) will be racing across 1,300 miles of dirt roads and hill climbs which will span coast to coast. The catch: they only have 50 hours to reach the end of the course.

“It’s about speed, and it’s definitely about keeping the machines together and taking care of everybody,” Gill said. “There’s some really remote areas down there, most of the communities are connected by dirt roads.”

Gill and his brother, Brian, have been desert racing since they were around ages 12 to 14. While Gill went pro in his 20s, his brother just earned his expert card a couple months back, which is the minimum requirement to enter the race.

“It’s not so much challenging getting into the race, it’s simply such a big undertaking, most people just won’t do it,” Gill said. “It’s the toughest continuous offroad race in the world, it’s by far number one.”

While some of the 300 entries are solo racers, receiving the term “Ironman,” the brothers – as well as their friends Travis Frankel and Keith Anderson – will complete the race on a single bike by relaying. Each rider will stay on the bike for nearly 400 miles, only stopping to make repairs to the machine.

“If you want to be fast, you have to do the relays,” Gill said. “The Ironman moves at a slower pace because you need to be able to survive the whole thing.”

In order to pass the bike off at the designated points and stay on the road, the riders will be “chased” by their friends and family, which includes another local business owner who offered to support the team.

“Mark Hellwig, the owner of Hellwig Suspension, is taking two weeks off to help us; he’s going to chase us the whole way,” Gill said. “We’re going to have three chase rigs, my wife and mom and dad will be in chase one; Mark and my brother will be in chase two.”

Gill will begin the race on Nov. 16 in La Paz Mexico, then exchange the bike with his brother somewhere north of Loreto, with the race eventually ending in Ensenada. In the meantime, the team is preparing for the race by hitting the gym and riding their bikes as often as they can.

“We started preparing about six months ago,” Gill said. “When we get off of work, we’re calling each other every night and planning, lots of mapping and figuring things out… this race is all about logistics.”

Although the course is predominantly driven on desert roads and trails, racers will have to occasionally cross over and travel on public highways.

“Mexico really doesn’t shut down (for the race),” Gill said. “They assist us at road crossings, but it’s (driven) mostly on dirt… we go to both coasts and zig-zag through the mountains.”

A 2016 article by Red Bull emphasizes the need for preparation, especially when it comes to the different kinds of terrain the racers will drive on. According to them, “preparation is key to surviving the race, but in Baja you can’t prepare for everything. When the drivers and riders do hit a paved public highway, the traffic keeps flowing…both ways.”

They continue with a quote by Sal Fish, a Baja 1000 legend: “The roads aren’t closed, you get locals racing right next to you…this is not for wusses.”

The Baja 1000 first started in 1967, and is never the same two years in a row. The route changes often, but traditionally, it’s a loop starting and ending in Ensenada. While there’s no official place to watch the race, according to Gil, locals will line the streets to watch the racers ride through the desert.

“I think last year, there were 250,000 spectators on the course,” he said. “The peninsula of Baja doesn’t really have any major sports teams, so when the race comes through these very remote towns, they camp on the side of the road all night to watch everybody go by. It’s pretty spectacular actually.”

More about the race can be found on score-international.com, which is the official website of SCORE, the international off road racing organization that puts on the race.

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