Six months before the race, the Vets decided to campaign two vintage Light Strike Vehicles (or LSVs) and convoy together down the epic Baja peninsula. The vehicles were entered as “1” and “22”, not just to bring light to the tragedy that America is losing 22 Vets each day to suicide, but to remind the Vets to be there for each other. All team members live with those numbers every day, not just the suicide survivors on the team. The team motto became, “We are ONE for 22”.
Flyer Defense from Southern California stepped up and donated the two vintage military vehicles called the Flyer One. The Flyer One was built by Raceco/Flyer with the best off road racing technology of the late 80’s and early 90’s to take special warfare operators into battle to win and return home safe. Her legacy carries on today on the Flyer 72 Advanced Light Strike Vehicle (or ALSV). The LSV’s were a perfect fit for NORRA’s vintage military vehicle class.
Flyer “1” was restored 3 years ago and required only preps for this race. But just 4 months before the race, Flyer “22” was a rusting and broken hulk in the Barstow desert. The “One for 22” team jumped at the challenge to drag her out of the boneyard and restore the second vehicle for their noble cause.
As the vehicles came together, other crucial race preps were made. The Veterans knew from their time in the military that planning and logistics were keys to victory. Most importantly, chase people and trucks were organized. Since most of the Vets were novices to desert racing in Baja, experienced civilians were recruited as ringers to drive each chase truck for the 5-day race. Chase trucks were given call signs as Angels since they were taking the overwatch position for the Veterans.
Two days before the race at 10 pm, the team had its biggest success in the frame-up restoration of “22” when they fired up the new motor. Moments later, everyone was crestfallen when they realized there was still a red “no oil” tag on the automatic transmission. With no time left, “22” was filled with ATF and the team continued to troubleshoot and prep enroute to the start-line in Ensenada.
The day before the race was filled with inspections, training, and meetings. The team’s excitement was tainted by dread as they began to realize that “22” might not be raceable. They were gathered with some of the most experienced off road mechanics in the world who offering their best advice so they continued to work the transmission problem and kept their fingers crossed.
As Day 1 of the race dawned, Flyer “1” towed “22” across the start line since the LSVs were assigned 119 and 120 start positions. “22” was immediately trailered to San Felipe for more work while “1” continued on course. In the NORRA rally format, a vehicle can continue the 5-day race as long as it starts each day.
Flyer “1” left the line with driver-of-record Brian Trotter (USN Ret) and Cody Elliott (USMC Ret) in the driver/co-driver seats. After a smooth run through chaparral and past pine trees to the Mike’s Road junction, they handed the LSV to Tim King (USN Ret) and Martha Tansy (USA Vet) who continued to the day’s finish over the rugged San Felipe desert. Civilian ringers in chase trucks were staged on the course including Ryan Codd in Angel 1, Curtis Wegener in Angel 3, and Adam Fitza in Angel 5. A father/son team of USMC Veterans, Joel and John McMurrin, rounded it out in Angel 12.
Driver-of-record for “22”, Rob Blanton (USMC Ret) drove off the start then led the trailering and troubleshooting effort into San Felipe. As the team realized the transmission would not run, they began working plan “B”. The Vets has originally planned to convoy both Flyers down the peninsula together. Now, they faced tough questions…do we turn back to the border, oh so close, and head home? No! Do we tow “22” down the entire course with “1”? No, too dangerous in too many ways. After reviewing the rally rules, the Veterans realized both LSV’s could truly finish if “22” could cross the starting line each morning under her own power and that included being pushed by her banded drivers!
On Day 2, Cody and Martha took turns in the driver seat of Flyer “1” since they had earned their opportunity to drive in a long course desert race. Flyer “1” had a great run on Day 1 and had climbed to 100th position. Experienced desert racer, Mike Shatynski (USN Ret) aka Admiral Mike, joined Brian as co-drivers. Again, chasers in Angel trucks staged down-course. There was more than an hour between the “1” and “22” start-times so the team decided to get “1” off as planned so she could finish her race in daylight. Flyer “22” pushed over the line with Narayana Devone (USMC Vet) in the driver seat then was trailered for the haul south. After another clean run down the coast to the fishing village of Bahia de los Angeles, the “1” LSV held her position at 102nd. Flyer “22” arrived safely and the team swarmed Flyer “1” to ready her for the next day.
Mike and Martha left the starting line on Day 3 headed south along the Sea of Cortez and then turned inland through the Sierra de San Borja mountains to pass Flyer “1” to Brian and John Rodriguez (USN Ret). Brian and Rod raced through the arid Vizcaino desert and over the Sierra de Gigante mountains into the historic capital city of Loreto. In the meantime, Flyer “22” left the start an hour than “1” later with Danny Stoner (USMC Vet) in the driver’s seat. By this time, spectators had heard about the “ONE for 22” effort to finish both LSVs. A crowd gathered and helped push “22” across the line. After a long day of racing, both Flyers arrived safely in Loreto. The team made the only field repairs of the entire race to Flyer “1” by replacing a worn heim joint on a steering tie rod then put vehicles, racers, and chasers to bed.
Day 4 dawned with Flyer “1” in 73rd position and Flyer “22” still in the race but starting last. Martha and Brian left first to take Flyer “1” back over the Sierra de Gigante range past the spectacular San Javier Mission founded in 1699 and into the farming town of Insurgentes. An hour later, Juan Mendez was pushed over the starting line by an even larger crowd of Vet supporters. Word had spread of the great effort to finish no matter tough! While “22” trailered to La Paz, Rod and Mike took the second stage of the day in “1” and swapped driver duties for the longest leg of the race. The team faced a little of everything that Baja had to offer enroute La Paz…washed out roads filled with boulders, deep silt beds, and shear mountain passes. Nothing was going to stop team “ONE for 22” from reaching La Paz and the final day of racing. Once safely in La Paz, the team prepped and settled in for the night.
The team climbed a few more positions in both vehicles as Flyer “1” started at 69th and “22” as 141st. Cody and Mike belted into Flyer “1” for the start while Brian and Martha headed down course for the final stage. Rob belted into “22” and prepared for another crowd-assisted start. Flyer “22” was going to need a push by another entered vehicle on the course to make the final uphill run to the finish line in San Jose del Cabo. The team gave Flyer “1” her head to cross the finish line at her best speed then circled back for “22”. The plan came together as “1” crossed the finish line in 68th place overall. Moments later, she was able to draft “22″ for the last few blocks to the finish where banded Vet drivers gave “22” the last push over the finish line.
It was an incredible race for the “ONE for 22” team. The podium 1-2 finish was the highlight of the awards ceremony on the beach at the southern tip of the Baja peninsula. Flyer “1” started 139th then climbed to 68th over 5-days of hard racing. Flyer “22” made it across the start/finish line each day and finished 135th overall. It took extraordinary commitment to each other to make this happen and not just from the 20 who deployed. It included Vets like Danny Novoa (USMC Ret) and civilians like Gary Haugley of B&R Buggie who stayed back in SoCal but raced in spirit as “ONE for 22”.
After the race, Rob Blanton, president of Warfighter Made, emphasized that the real lesson of Flyer “22” is that the team pushed it every morning in an effort to show everyone and anyone, most importantly Veterans, that just because it sux, you don’t quit. And if you don’t quit, you can’t lose. And in the 50th anniversary of the NORRA Mexican 1000, you still get second place!
Brian Trotter, president of Racing4Vets SoCal, insisted that the team leave the dust on Flyers “1” and “22” after the race. That dust, according to Brian, is the story of the Team, Machines, and Mission that outperformed, surprised, and impressed a lot of people.
The team is deeply grateful to sponsors especially Flyer Defense, Revant Optics, Workday, Fox Shocks, BF Goodrich, Superior Bearing, Davis Family Foundation, Harmon Racing Cells, Lucas Oil, Baja Designs, Rugged Radio, PRP Seats, JAMAR, Axis Rod Ends, Turn Key Engines, Richards Performance Muffler, and Creo Industries.