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Page 44 of 92

BAJA PITS 37 YEARS OF SERVICE By Larry Saavedra Photography courtesy of Baja Pits Everything you need to know about Carlos Orozco is in the name of his company, Baja Pits. They’ve been supporting SCORE racers in Mexico for 37 years. Looking back, he says he has no regrets even with the endless loose ends that must be resolved before each event begins. “Baja Pits started with a casual conversation I had with Jim Julson, the founder of Jimco in the late 1980s. He and I talked about easier ways of transporting equipment from stage to stage, and how difficult it was to do at the time. That’s when Julson suggested that maybe I should create a pit service, and so the name Baja Pits stuck.” A UNIQUE BUSINESS Like many things in motorsports that are done for the love of the sport, pit services can be a money-losing proposition, according to Orozco. “Imagine setting up 25 pits at the SCORE Baja 1000 with up to 200 people, tons of equipment, and the logistics that are required, and you get an idea of the costs involved.” Orozco added that Baja Pits probably made $6,000 in 2018. Yet, Orozco feels somehow satisfied by the experience. “We have a chance to shape young guys that would otherwise be doing things that weren’t constructive. As the president of Baja Pits, it gives me a lot of satisfaction that some of our crew members are gaining positive life experiences. Some of these guys struggle in Mexico to just eat three meals a day, and I think Baja Pits makes a difference.” Technically pit crew members volunteer, however, Baja Pits pays for any expenses they might incur doing their job. That’s the distinction, according to Orozco. There’s the added satisfaction of helping a winning team reach the podium. INSIDE THE PITS The success of a pit operation is dependent on communication. Often that means being bilingual to break through most cultural barriers. Orozco and his pit captains talk a lot before every race, double and triple-checking to ensure the best possible outcome for racers. “At the SCORE Baja 1000 last year things clicked perfectly,” said Orozco. But that’s not always the case. Years ago, Orozco pointed out that the radio coverage was bad, and cell phones rarely worked. Now Baja Pits uses satellite phones thanks to their sponsor Satellite Phone Store. These phones give Baja Pits and its captains the communication they need no matter where they are staged. “The beauty of push-to-talk satellite phones is that everyone has an open dialogue, and that’s helpful for emergencies,” said Orozco. “They work great during pre-running when no one else is around, but Baja Pits.” THE PREPARATION “I have a basic idea of what the course might look like and that starts our conversations months before,” he said. “Our lists are very detailed, down to the number of containers, stands, chairs, welders, generators, or whatever is needed. Our pit captains are responsible for each station, getting the volunteer workers and technicians, equipment, and food into the most barren parts of Baja California. Pit captains have another checklist of every entry, and they keep track of everyone who uses their pit service, and for what reason.” The only thing Baja Pits doesn’t transport into Mexico is the fuel. Baja Pits contracts with Mexican fuel services and then the pit captains arrange for it to be picked up and taken to each station. “We have some long-time pit captains like Robert Chavez, who has done this so many times,” he said. “Their job is to ensure that everything that has been requested by racers gets delivered. It takes lots of focus.” According to Orozco, Baja Pits is in the middle of nowhere during pre-running, 24 hours a day for anyone that needs assistance. The one caveat is that racers should pre-register for Baja Pits if they want priority services. During the event, the long days and sleep-deprived nights are quelled somewhat by the friendships that develop and the food that’s mostly barbecued at each pit. Food is the big motivator, according to Orozco. “Each person is fed very well, and my guys don’t eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he laughed. “Specific people volunteer to do the cooking, whether it’s carne asada, barbecued shrimp, or tacos because a well-fed pit crew will want to do the job.” According to Orozco, each station has a specific budget, covering everything they need. How they spend their budget depends on each situation, and so the pit captains are tasked with keeping an eye on the bottom line. Another role of the captains is to clear away tourists and other photo gawkers, who are vying for a chance to see their favorite racer up close and personal. “It’s a constant problem when they surround the pits, but our guys know how to avoid a bad situation,” he says. Danny Montano, who’s been a pit captain for Baja Pits for many years said, “Quite a few of our crew members are racers, not just fans of racing. Some have automotive repair shops in Mexico, too. If the course is more technical like San Felipe, then we see a lot of broken suspension components. If the course has a lot of silt we clean air filters. When it’s hot they ask for water or ice. It’s a fast-paced situation in the pits and the racers want a lot of different things.” Montano said they can fuel everything from SCORE Trophy Trucks to motorcycles, and that’s what makes them different. “As the pit captain I oversee the action, and ensure that things run smoothly. One of the best feelings is to hear how good of a job you did from the racers after the event. That makes it all worthwhile.” SJ

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