Drives: E90 M3
Join Date: Mar 2005
Bill Caswell Competes in Baja 1000 with E30 325i Rally Buggy
Remember the E30 Based Rally Car build we reported
about during SEMA? The one which was surprisingly far from race form at the end of SEMA. Miraculously, Bill Caswell was able to complete the project and run it Mexico's Baja 1000! He was unfortunately forced to retire 180 miles into the race due to a broken steering rack, but this entire project and story has been both fun to follow and pretty amazing to witness. Our hats off to Bill Caswell!
Here is Wired's account of Caswell's experience in the Baja 1000:
Baja Racing With a BMW, a Dream and Not Much Else
Conventional wisdom holds that there are two ways to go about racing a motor vehicle: You can do it right, spending loads of cash to ensure that things go off without a hitch. This is known as the Expensive Way. Failure paths are eliminated and the chance of winning, or at least crossing the finish line intact, is maximized.
Barring that, you can simply dive in head-first, throwing caution to the breeze and spending as little as possible while praying you’re lucky enough to make it. Maybe you’ll fail. Maybe you’ll crash. Maybe you’ll die in a flaming ball of high-test. But at least you tried. Some call this the Cheap Way. Others call it really freaking stupid.
Bill Caswell is many things, including broke, but he isn’t stupid. Two weeks ago, Caswell entered the SCORE Baja 1000 in a dune-buggied 1988 BMW 325i he and a band of friends frantically built the week before the race.
To call this amazing is an understatement akin to saying that the federal deficit is a bit of a problem. The 1000 is among toughest races on the planet, a 1000-mile death march across Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. Caswell didn’t finish — heck, he barely started — but he made a valiant effort. We were there with him every step of the way. We were robbed in Ensenada. We jumped a car six feet in the air. We ate stale Mexican Doritos in a sandstorm by the light of a burning tree and drank tequila with the former mayor of San Felipe.
It was, to say the least, one hell of an adventure.
Above: Bill Caswell, pushing FrankenBimmer through nighttime SCORE tech inspection in Ensenada, Mexico. Note cardboard number plate in windshield. Photo: Chris Simon / Caswell Motorsport
Bill Caswell's 1988 BMW 325i Baja racer in Ensenada, Mexico the day before the Baja 1000. Photo: Chris Simon / Caswell Motorsport.
You may have heard of Caswell. Nine months ago, unemployed and living with mom, he turned a $500 Craigslist BMW into a rally car. Then he entered the WRC Coronal Rally Mexico. He had no crew. He knew squat about rally racing. He kept his car running with little more than luck and prayers. And against all odds, he finished third in his class, beating cars costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In early November, Caswell decided to enter the Baja 1000 in another 20-year-old BMW. Inexplicably, he decided to build the car, on his own dime, at the four-day SEMA autoshow in Las Vegas. Of course he failed to finish the car, leaving Vegas with little more than a completed roll cage and a basic driveline.
Caswell left Las Vegas for San Diego on Saturday, November 6th. He took with him a rented cargo van, a few boxes of tools and not much else. The race was in one week. With the clock ticking, he spent a day canvassing San Diego, asking people in auto-parts stores where he might be able to work on the car. He eventually stumbled onto Strategic Racing Designs, an off-road fabrication shop in the Southern California suburb of Vista.
One week and several all-nighters later, the BMW rolled out of Vista on a trailer. The suspension had been built from scratch and wasn’t tested. The clutch didn’t work. The front brakes weren’t installed and there was no safety gear. After another all-nighter in another borrowed shop — out of time, the Strategic crew kicked him out in order to focus on its own Baja effort — FrankenBimmer moved around a parking lot under its own power on Nov. 17.
The pre-race technical inspection was later that day, 100 miles to the south in Ensenada. Caswell wasn’t even registered to compete, but he headed south. After spending a sleepless night helping finish the car, we went with him.
In addition to 33-inch tires and 36-inch Bilstein dampers (the reservoirs for the front units are the long chrome cylinders ziptied into the engine bay), Caswell's 325i sports a 240-horsepower six-cylinder from a 1998 BMW M3. Here's the car the morning after retiring from the race.
As with most ill-advised Mexican escapades, our Baja adventure could fill a book. This is not the time or the place to relay the complete tale, but the following anecdotes, salvaged from memory (our camera and a great deal of gear were stolen in Ensenada the night before the race), provide a peek into the mad world of Baja.
The environment is nothing short of capital-I Insanity. Baja looks like an alien moon, with silt everywhere and water nowhere. In the heart of the peninsula, dust covers everything, and wind — the almost constant wind — makes it worse. Nasty, all-encompassing clouds of the stuff flare up every time you take a step. It coats your nostrils. It coats your eyelids. It coats your teeth. It manages to do these things even when you seal yourself in a car with the windows closed and the A/C set to “recirculate.”
Caswell, excited to have simply made it to Baja, went out and, er, celebrated the night before the race. He woke up late and, while unloading the car, discovered the steering rack was leaking. Friends helped replace it, but the team missed the start of the race. Caswell begged race control to cut him some slack. They did, but hours after the rest of the field had left.
Stopping for repairs during the race. Photo: Ivan Sevilla.
Baja is a colossal undertaking. Most drivers pre-run the course in advance and know what to expect. Well-prepared teams have chase vehicles that are there solely to assist the race vehicle when it breaks, or bogs, down. Caswell, naturally, had no pre-run time and no prior Baja experience.
With the exception of race rules, unsettled areas of the Baja peninsula seem nothing short of lawless. Three-ton, 800-horsepower Trophy Trucks, the fastest, most advanced vehicles in Baja, rip through the pits at 50 mph as spectators look on just a few feet away. They do this day or night, often sideways, spraying ten-foot-tall rooster tails of sand behind them.
Predictably, people die in Baja. They die driving vehicles. They die chasing vehicles. And they sometimes die simply watching vehicles. It happens almost every year. Yet the race goes on.
The terrain includes rock-crawling, dune jumping and anything else you can imagine. This year, a series of mud pits one-third of the way down the peninsula captured up to twenty cars at a time, delaying them for hours in the middle of the night. Shortly after Caswell retired from the race, his co-driver — the man who rode in the car with him, navigating — told us of a 15-mile-long dry lakebed that they traversed, flat-out, in a dust storm and with no more than 30 yards of visibility.
This was considered an “easy” section of the course.
A typical nighttime pit at Baja. Photo: Chris Simon / Caswell Motorsport.
Most Baja racers run with a Lowrance GPS navigation unit and a SCORE-supplied satellite tracking unit. The latter incorporates a two-way radio. Caswell fitted his BMW with a Lowrance, but because he didn’t register until the day before the race, SCORE officials weren’t able to supply him with a proper satellite tracker. They gave him one intended for a motorcycle, which meant it didn’t have a radio. And of course the radio Caswell installed at the last possible minute refused to work. As a driver, he was flying solo, with no reliable communication with his crew. We — and by we I mean Wired.com, two of Bill’s friends, and a rented 13-passenger Chevy van, which wasn’t capable of traversing the course, much less pulling him out if he got stuck — had to rely on radio relay stations for updates. This amounted to little more than getting on the radio every few hours and begging other teams to tell us if they’d seen a BMW go by.
Caswell occasionally provided text messages and position updates, though they came in short bursts: He is passing cars. He is in the middle of his class. He is alive. We called friends in the States, requesting position reports from SCORE’s online tracking system. Caswell was doing 30 miles per hour. Zero miles per hour. Sixty mph.
Then, at about 11 p.m., the texts stopped coming. The car had been on the road over nine hours, and we had no idea where it was. All we could do was wait....
Rest of story here: http://www.wired.com/autopia/2010/12...-not-much-else