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Heavy Metal Affliction - Desert Dingo Racing Part Two

John Schommer
Thursday, March 26, 2015


Welcome to Part Two of the of the Heavy Metal Affliction interview with Desert Dingo Racing’s co-founder Jim Graham.


Last week Graham told us what it takes to get into Class 11 racing, and just how hard it is to compete in a nearly stock VW Bug that is some forty years old. This week Graham breaks down some more of the details of actually running in the Baja 1000. It’s not as simple as just showing up, suiting up and hitting the track, as you will find out.


If you missed Part One of the interview, be sure to give it a read so you can get the full story. Also, if you haven’t already done so you should pick up the Rockstar Energy Car Pack and go give the #1107 Desert Dingo Baja Bug a run. As shown in this number one Rivals time YouTube video by speedy Forza community member Don Joewon Song, it is one fast mother when you tune it up.


Now back to the interview with Jim Graham.


HMA: Can you break down the planning process? How much of it is mechanical, how much logistical, how much management? What is the most challenging part?


Jim Graham: When we were getting started, someone told me 75 percent of winning the Baja 1000 is logistics. I didn’t believe it then, but I do now. Our logistics binder for the 1000 is about three inches thick. We map out everything we’re doing hour by hour for the ten days we’re down in Mexico, so everyone knows exactly what they need to be working on at any given moment. The car rolls off the trailer nearly race ready, so a lot of the work is final prep and installing hardware – transponders and GPS equipment – required by race officials. We’ve also got events we’re doing for sponsors. And the day before the race is tech and contingency, where you push the car through the streets of Ensenada surrounded by 100,000 fans. We sign hero cards, T-Shirts, and other things. We start planning for the 1000 pretty much the day after we finish the previous one. This year we’ll be going down early to pre-run the entire course, plan our pit strategy, and decide where we’ll be stationing our chase trucks. The bottom line is the more you’re organized, the more time you have to deal with unplanned situations.


The Dingos getting everything ready for the Baja 1000 


HMA: How much does it cost to race the Baja 1000 in Class 11 one time?


JG: Having a competitive car is just table stakes for racing. It costs between $8,000 and $12,000 for us to do the Baja 1000 when you factor in entry fee, race fuel, pit service, equipment rentals, and fuel for all the chase vehicles, food and beverages. We’re very fortunate that a fellow Class 11 team owner, Dennis Hollenbeck of H12: One Racing, lets us stay at his compound in Ensenada. Our sponsors really help us out a lot and we really appreciate that. Other races closer to home can run anything from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on how far we have to drive to them.


HMA: What is the most catastrophic failure you have encountered? How could it have been avoided?


JG: Any failure that results in a DNF (Did Not Finish) is catastrophic in my book. We’ve had 50 cent parts fail that have taken us out of races. We had a clutch implode at the 2014 Baja 1000. That was just a fluke. One time we lost a 10-hour desert race by 90 seconds. I was so upset I was going to throw a really expensive wrench out into the desert, but then I’d have had to go find it. So I didn’t.


When you are facing silt beds and terrain that can challenge purpose built race cars, a Class 11 Bug needs a helping hand once in a while.


HMA: Try to express what it feels like to be strapped in and cross the start line in the #1107.


JG: The first few times you’re in the car it’s a total adrenaline rush. I mean, think about it. You’re going off the start line at the Baja 1000. How many people get to say that? The goal, though, is to get past that, to the point where it’s not a big deal anymore and you’re just 100 percent focused on driving (if you’re the driver) or giving directions and monitoring the gauges and GPS (if you’re the co-dog). I’ve actually fallen asleep in the car right before the start of a race. Granted it was a 6 a.m. start and who in their right mind is racing at that hour? The driver punched me right before the flag dropped and I was back on my game.


HMA: What emotion are you feeling the most when you are underway?


JG: The team spends weeks and months prepping the car for a few hours of seat time, so actually being in the car – either going off the start line or taking one of the other legs – is the culmination of all their hard work. I’m not going to lie to you. It’s a blast. There are so many stories that come out of a few hours in the car. It’s what keeps you going. Once you’re belted in, it’s just you, the other person in the car and your wits. You have to drive smart, you have to assess problems quickly, and, in many cases, you have to repair the car without any support. We do have chase vehicles, but depending on where the breakdown occurs, you might be on your own for a couple of hours before a chase truck to get to you. It’s a rush.


One thing the Dingos have learned is that a tire with a rounded edge is much easier to drive in the rutted out two-track of the Baja 1000


HMA: What part of the race gives you the most satisfaction?


JG: That’s easy: Winning. I know I’m totally going to sound like Ricky Bobby here, but second place is like kissing your sister. And if we get third place I don’t even bother to pick up the plaque. We’re better than that. Early in our racing, I asked a company rep who was helping us out, “What do we need to do to become one of your sponsored teams?” He looked at me and said “You have to start winning.” I took it to heart. And we did start winning races. And we started getting sponsored. It’s a business for sponsors and you have to understanding that. They support you because you provide them with visibility and you inspire people to purchase their products. When you first start a race team, you’re usually happy and amazed you got the car ready in time to make to the start line. We were like that, too. Now we need to win. And we need to deliver visibility and customers to our sponsors.


HMA: I read you do the VORRA series and some other races. Can you list Desert Dingo’s best accomplishments so far?


JG: We kicked butt in 2011, winning the short course, desert, and overall championships for Class 11 in VORRA. We won a 24-hour endurance race. That was brutal. And we won the inaugural (and only running of) the Xtreme Outlaw 250. I would like to win the Mint 400. We’re facing the best Class 11 drivers there are. And we still have to win the 1000.


HMA: So now the #1107 is immortalized in Forza Horizon 2, its video game debut. How do you feel about this?


JG: Technically we’re the second Class 11 to be featured in a video game. Eric Solorzano’s Class 11 appeared in a game a few years back. When the Turn 10 folks first contacted me and said they were interested in putting the car in Forza Horizon 2, I was like “Why on earth would anyone drive a VW, let alone a Class 11, when you can drive a Ferrari or a Pagani Huayra? They said “Trust us. Our players dig the offbeat cars.” I’m mostly a first person shooter player and I started with all the fast cars. But now I’ve spent some time with the game, I’m mostly tooling around in my MG Metro 6R4 Group B car. It goes like stink off the line but tops out around 135 mph. Out on Storm Island I’m usually in my Ford Ranger T6 ally Raid truck.


Photo credit to SPQR Jackson


HMA: What is your understanding of the video game audience?


Beats me. I’d love it if they friended me – I’m “TheRealRonjon” – and let me know what they think of the #1107 in Forza Horizon 2.


HMA: If you could tell Forza fans one thing about the #1107 what would it be?


JG: “Smooth is fast.” Same as goes for the real car. You can go all out, but if you do that in the real 1107, you’re going to break it real quick. The mantra in off road racing is, “To finish first, you have to first finish.” Also learn to steer with throttle instead of the steering wheel. Power sliding is your friend. Pre-running increases your chances of winning, so if you can get a few laps on a course, you’ll pick up the best race lines pretty quick.


Photo credit to SPQR Jackson


HMA: Any secrets to getting the most out of the #1107?


JG: When I first started racing, I asked Eric Solorzano (nine-time winner of the Baja 1000 in Class 11) what his secret to success was. He said “Don’t roll the car.” We’ve rolled the car a few times (one time I broke a couple of ribs in the process) and that will definitely ruin your day. So don’t roll the car.


HMA: Now that is some sound advice!

Now here come some rapid fire questions. Ready, set, go!


HMA: Best year VW Bug?


JG: 1969 / 1970


HMA: Best air-cooled VW motor?


JG: 1600cc


HMA: Best year VW Bus?


JG: Every single VW Bus is awesome. (We own an ‘85 Westfalia and it serves as Command HQ during the desert races).


HMA: Best place to drive a Desert Dingo Baja Bug?


JG: Across the finish line at the Baja 1000. (Oh, you mean in Forza Horizon2? Ok, tearing up the grape vineyards).


HMA: Best place to drive a VW Bus?


JG: In Forza Horizon 2? Pump it to 928 horsepower and smoke those pesky Fiat 500s.


HMA: Worst car to try and race in the Baja 1000?


JG: You can enter pretty much any vehicle in Sportsman Class. The most impressive I’ve ever heard of was the Condor motor home. I’m pretty sure it didn’t finish, but it had a seat belt on the toilet.


HMA: Best possible car to race in the Baja 1000?


JG: Everyone says “Trophy Truck” but I’m partial the Class 1 unlimited buggies.


You do NOT want to run out of power in the desert, lights can save your life, not to mention make driving actually possible


HMA: Number one reason to race in the Baja 1000?


JG: Bragging rights. Actually, the best reason is to experience Mexico. The fans are awesome. The food is fantastic. The scenery is breathtaking. The culture and excitement can’t be beat. We love it there.


HMA: Worst reason to race in the Baja 1000?


JG: Because you think you actually might make a living winning races.


HMA: Worst thing to forget at the start of a race?


JG: Forgetting to pee right before the start.


HMA: First thing you do when a race is over?


JG: Usually take a pee.


A Dingo pow-wow to make sure everything is ready to go, communication is key to succeeding


And on that note, I encourage you to relieve yourself, and then go blast out a few miles in Forza Horizon 2 in the #1107 Desert Dingo Beetle. Tweet your best photos and tag @desertdingo Graham is always looking for new content to share, who knows Graham may hit you with a personal thank you or retweet your shots.


One final bit of activity to mention, if you are enthralled with the #1107 as I am or any of the cars of the Rockstar Energy Car Pack, take your best shot and post it in the Rockstar Energy Car Pack Photo Contest thread. If you are a U.S. resident and have the best shot you could win some cool gear signed by none other than Tanner Foust. See the thread for details, and if you are a non-U.S. resident feel free to post your best shot anyway, I might send you a credit gift for participating.


Photo credit to SPQR Jackson for Forza Horizon 2 in-game shots and real life photo credits to D. Tobias Silverman and Brooke La Valley.