Yacolt-based team takes on Baja 1000 endurance race
By Paul Danzer
Columbian staff writer
There were hills of all sizes.
There was a cliff-side goat trail.
And there was dust.
Lots of dust.
None of that was a surprise to the Yacolt-based Bi-Polar Extreme Racing team. They have experienced the Baja 1000 endurance race several times.
What did surprise was the trouble-free nature of the Nov. 22 ride across the desert of Baja California.
Driving Arctic Cat Prowler utility terrain vehicles, Bi-Polar teams were the first two UTV class vehicles to reach the finish line. First, as in the first UTVs to ever complete the event.
UTVs are a cross between all-terrain vehicles and pickup trucks that were developed as work vehicles but in recent years have gained popularity as sport vehicles. Arctic Cat has been producing its Prowler UTV for two years.
Jim Creagan and co-driver Tim Wagner drove the winning UTV for the first 409 miles of the race, then handed the wheel to Chris Fallon and co-driver Aaron Bonner for the final 222 miles. It took 27 hours, 57 minutes and 20 seconds to finish. They averaged 22.6 mph.
Their top speed was near 40 mph, but the drivers spend most of the Baja race at lower speeds. Tight spots, hills, and silt, silt, and more silt challenge both the drivers’ attention and the vehicles’ durability.
The 2008 course was shorter than many of the previous 40 Baja 1000 desert races. This course was a 631-mile loop that included among its challenges a 60-mile stretch of small, mogul-type hills, and a narrow zigzag road down a 2,500-foot cliff.
“It was the most extreme terrain you can imagine,” Creagan said. “It was everything from mud, to solid rock, to dust so thick you could barely see beyond the front of the vehicle.”
Eight UTVs entered the 2008 Baja 1000. Three of them finished.
The Creagan-Fallon vehicle led its class by a comfortable margin most of the way. When Creagan turned over the wheel to Fallon, the team had a comfortable lead and plenty of time before the course closed to reach the finish line.
“I was pretty nervous,” Fallon said. “I knew when I got in we were in first and second place, and I didn’t want to be that guy” who made a race-ending mistake.
A year ago, the Bi-Polar team entered the new UTV class and ran for more than 800 miles before mechanical breakdowns. Another year of testing by Creagan and his team, and another year of improvements at the Arctic Cat headquarters in Minnesota provided a vehicle that not only became the first UTV to finish the grueling desert race, but did it without any breakdowns.
“I was just blown away that we had just done what no one had done before, and it was so easy,” Creagan said, describing the emotional reaction at the finish line.
Not far behind was the team’s second vehicle, driven by Shane Morgan, Scott Sorensen and Casey Squires, with co-drivers Tabor Cresap, Justin Serface, and Mike Conners. The second vehicle finished in 28:17:40.
Nine of the 10 drivers and co-drivers are Clark County residents.
Ted Bettin, the director of ATV engineering and ATV race manager for Arctic Cat, called the victory a tribute to teamwork.
“It is quite an honor to be the first side-by-side UTV to finish the Baja,” Bettin said, adding that getting two vehicles to the finish line in a class that had never before finished the race was special. “This is an historic accomplishment.”
Bettin said the time the Bi-Polar team invested in testing the vehicle and communicating with the staff at Arctic Cat headquarters in Minnesota is an example of how success can be achieved through teamwork across time zones.
“We came up with a package that worked, and it worked better than we could have imagined,” Creagan said.
While many of the vehicles that enter Baja are much-changed from a stock version, the only after-market part on the Bi-Polar UTVs was the shock absorbers.
Creagan’s Bi-Polar Extreme Racing also competes in snowmobile racing. Bi-Polar first entered the Baja 1000 in a dune buggy class four years ago. They also raced in a truck class before their snowmobile-racing connection led to an association with Arctic Cat for the UTV class of desert racing.
After investing thousands of hours in the project, Creagan said he felt the team needed to finish this race to reward Arctic Cat for its sponsorship.
“It was a make-or-break race for us as far as sponsorship (from Arctic Cat) was concerned. If we didn’t have some kind of success this time, we were probably done,” Creagan said. “I think it turned out OK.”
Bettin noted that many factors can keep a race team from finishing endurance races such as Baja, from mechanical failure to wrecks.
“In any kind of racing, any little nut and bolt can break” and end a team’s effort, Bettin said.
Minneapolis, Minn. – The finish line at the 41st Annual SCORE Baja 1000 was as dramatic as it was historic. Racing a pair of stock Arctic Cat Prowlers, the Bi-Polar/Arctic Cat team beat the brutal conditions to finish first and second place in the world’s longest, continuous off-road race. It was the first time in race history a side-by-side UTV vehicle has finished what is widely regarded as the most grueling off-road race in the world.
Reid Rutherford complemented the historic triumph with a fifth-place finish in the Pro ATV class on an Arctic Cat Thundercat 1000 H2 EFI.
“We were the first-time finishers and first-time winners in this greatest of all races because of a total team effort,” said Bi-Polar team co-owner and driver Jim Creagan of Yacott, Wash. “From start-to-finish, every person fulfilled their role perfectly and each Prowler performed magnificently.”
Finishing first in the 634-mile race with a time of 27 hours and 57 minutes was a stock 2009 Prowler XTZ 1000 driven by Creagan and co-pilot Tim Wagner for the first 409 miles, followed by driver/co-driver Chris Fallon and Aaron Bahner for the remainder of the course.
Taking second place at 28 hours and 13 minutes was a 2009 Prowler XTX 700 EFI driven by three driver/co-driver combinations: Shane Morgan and Tabor Cresap, Scott Sorenson and Justin Serface, and Casey Squires and Mike Connors.
It was just the second attempt at the Baja 1000 for the Bi-Polar/Arctic Cat team. In 2007 they made it to mile-810 before succumbing to a broken suspension bolt. They returned this year, ready to prove the Prowler’s durability and to support their sponsors: Arctic Cat, Wired Energy Drink, Vision X Lighting, GBC Motorsports, TrailReady Beadlock Rims and King Shocks.
“These were stock Prowlers except for the required roll-cage, extra night lights, King shocks and tires,” said Creagan. “Nothing broke on either machine during the race and we had only one flat tire on the 700. Our support crew never even had to put a tool to either machine. It was just gas-and-go at the pit stops, which is a testament to their durability and performance. ”
The fifth-place in Class 25 Pro ATV by Reid Rutherford, Ben Vernadikis and Tony Valerio aboard a stock Thundercat 1000 H2 EFI was equally compelling. It was the first time an Arctic Cat ATV attempted the Baja 1000, competing against and beating all but four modified racing models.
Rutherford credited his Thundercat for handling the extra-tough course: “This was my sixth Baja 1000 and it was the most difficult course yet. The Thundercat handled it without a problem, giving us an advantage over the sport models in the rocky and silt terrain. I know we finished stronger and fresher than the other teams, thanks to the suspension and comfort of the big Cat.”
With a stock suspension, stock chassis and stock engine, Rutherford’s Thundercat proved that the most powerful production ATV is equally durable. He was sponsored by Planet Motorsports, Speedwerx, Douglas Wheels, Rox, Fly and RTT.
Most competitors were in agreement that this year’s course was the toughest in race history. In addition to the usual array of car-sized boulders, horrible silt sections and surprise obstacles, the course delivered a 60-mile section of 4-ft. whoop-de-dos that claimed many of the 347 racers. Only 227 vehicles survived to finish the famed event.
“Team Arctic racers delivered a historic performance at the 2008 Baja 1000 and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Arctic Cat ATV Race Manager Ted Bettin. “The Bi-Polar Prowler team worked incredibly hard for two years. To earn the honor and distinction of being the first-ever UTV to finish the Baja 1000, and to finish first and second place, speaks volumes about their dedication and professionalism.
“The Thundercat team’s fifth place in their first-year effort with our program proves their capability as well as the awesome performance of our ATV. Everyone at Arctic Cat appreciates the hard work and success of our racers at Baja.”
About Arctic Cat
Arctic Cat Inc., based in Thief River Falls, Minn., designs, engineers, manufactures and markets all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and snowmobiles under the Arctic Cat® brand name, as well as related parts, garments and accessories. Its common stock is traded on the Nasdaq National Market under the ticker symbol “ACAT.” More information about Arctic Cat and its products is available on the Internet at www.arcticcat.com. _________________ www.UTVGuide.net www.DuneGuide.com
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