The Baja 1000 rightly claims the title of North America's toughest race. But one race team faced their biggest challenge before the race began: Saving the life of a Mexican man whose vehicle collided head-on with another Baja racer.
Kent Kroeker owns KORE Performance, a successful off-road race team and parts supplier; he and his teammate finished second in their class at this year's Score Baja 1000 in their modified Dodge Ram, after winning the Baja 500 earlier this year. He's also a major in the Marine Corps reserve, and many of his race teammates have military experience as well.
Here's the story of the Nov. 17 crash involving a Trophy Truck, the top class of Baja racing, as told in an off-road enthusiasts forum.:
The evening before the race, General Tire/KORE's Kent Kroeker, his co-driver Jeremy Graczyck, KORE's Colt Hubble and Jeremy's dad, Jim were prerunning the start in KORE's "TRX 4" – an uncaged, Ram 1500 moderately equipped with a radio and decent suspension. They were out to slowly recon the start a final time in order to identify booby traps, program some waypoints and make note of anything new.
About 20 miles from Ensenada, a trophy truck came up on them, hard on the horn at 70% race pace. Kroeker moved over in time and let them pass, remarking that, "****! The ****ing race is tomorrow morning."
Five minutes later they crest a blind hill and find the TT rolled and, for the most part, destroyed. Another vehicle is also crushed and almost unidentifiable. Civilian traffic - some kind of minivan. An obvious head on collision, the result of the TT cresting the blind hill, as the co-driver stated, "going only 50 mph."
The TT driver and co driver are wandering around, unhurt in a zombie daze. The mini van is upside down, smoldering. Kroeker and Graczyck climb into the smoking vehicle, shouting orders. Jim and Colt secure the area from oncoming traffic, call EMT/Police and disconnect the battery.
Inside is a guy trapped in the crushed metal. He's upside down with the dash and firewall crushing his legs. He's bleeding out fast from his left arm which has severe lacerations, is 7/8 amputated with exposed bone and muscle just below the shoulder, brachial artery pumping him out. Kroeker gets under the guy and applies upward pressure on his torso with one hand, so he can breathe and compresses the open amputation with the other. The only thing holding the arm on was some tendon, the artery and some crushed bone.
Graczyck uses Kroeker's knife to cut some seatbelt, throws it to Kroeker who tourniquets the artery. Colt tosses Kroeker a large screw driver to torque down the tourniquet. Graczyck makes a time hack, gets the guy's age and name, vitals from Kroeker and writes it in his notebook. Kroeker talks the guy through - "hey buddy, you're going to be fine - no big deal. Where are you from? I'm going to touch your ass, it's not because I'm attracted to you, I'm checking your pelvic girdle for some things (creptitus) - just seeing where we need to keep pressure - you're going to be fine…"
Most of the guy's lower chin is torn off, Kroeker is laying under him in the broken glass, applying upward pressure, Graczyck is tearing apart the dash, ripping the seats out. Kroeker is a pilot and a FAC [forward air control] and Graczyck is a special operations JTAC same school - ground Marines...from inside the car (still smoldering) they're shouting orders to establish a DZ in the nearby field, get our VHF radio frequency to the supporting agency and start a fire with wet wood to give signal for a talk on. Kroeker and Graczyck are the only Americans on scene who speak Spanish.
The locals comply. Colt (another Marine Officer) tells them they won't launch a life flight from Brown Field for some reason or another... Jeremy and Kroeker's hands and arms are covered in cuts from pulling apart the car. The guy's blood is everywhere. Smells like a fresh gut pile. They continue to pull the car apart. Mexican Police arrive first, then Mexican EMT. This is about 1.5-2 hours after the Marines arrive on scene.
Up to this point all this is pretty standard expeditionary, combat medicine. Stop the bleeding, start the breathing, protect the wound, treat for shock - ingrained in every Marine from day one - totally routine, JV-level stuff, all happening in a permissive environment (i.e. nobody is shooting at them while this is happening).
This is where it gets weird: At least six Mexican EMTs show up and stand around scratching their heads and assessing for about 30 minutes while Gracyzyck and Kroeker are telling them what to do in Spanish from inside the vehicle. Finally Kroeker gets out and tasks the TT co driver with holding up the vic's body, so he can breathe. Kroeker then finds the Mex in charge, tells him to shore up the vehicle, find the jaws of life, pry bars etc. Colt and Jim actually show them how to use the equipment - where to attach the pneumatics etc. Kroeker places the jaws, gets back in the vehicle, moves his hands up the guy's legs to his ankles and holds his hands on his feet while telling the jaws operator how far to expand. He gets one leg free and the guy is screaming in pain. Kroeker is now laying under him again, bench-pressing his torso up while freeing his leg and applying pressure on his armpit.
From inside the vehicle on the opposite side, Graczyck is backbriefing the EMT on time of incident, vitals and telling the EMT where and how to insert an IV and what meds to administer. Finally they get the other leg free and a back board inside the car. It takes Graczyck, Kroeker and two EMTs to move the vic upward onto the board and get him into a cervical collar.
They get the guy into the ambulance and help the EMTs clean up the scene. The vic's mother is on scene, Kroeker briefs her on what to do - there are two good hospitals in Ensendada and several clinics. Make sure he gets to a hospital and not a clinic. Permit the indig doctors to get him stable and wounds clean then immediately extract to San Diego. Do not permit the Mexicans to do surgery.
Anyway, that's what happened. The latest news is that even though the guy's arm was hanging by a piece of meat the size of your thumb for many hours, it looks like it will be able to be saved. The guy is going to lose most if not all of his triceps however. He's not out of the woods yet. Broken pelvis, numerous open fractures, etc.
Moral of the story is this:
1. Americans behaving poorly cause most of the problems during race time. The race is a big deal but you DO NOT own the road. We need to stop tolerating donkey behavior, even if the donkey is a 'big name' TT driver.
2. In Mex, you're pretty much on your own; you better have your s#!t wired. Your life might depend on me being prepared, and my life might depend you YOU being prepared. Nobody is coming to save you like in the US.
Other forum members identified the Trophy Truck involved in the crash as the #86 Traxxas which was to be raced by Mike Jenkins and Josh Baldwin. That truck was reported crashed the night before the race; its not clear who was behind the wheel.
Baja racers get extensive warnings about the many dangers the race poses, and crashes between residents, racers and support teams happen every year; in some years only half the vehicles that enter finish. While the race draws hundreds of thousands of spectators every year, a few fans worry crashes such as this one could lead to tougher rules on off-road racers.
Photos: KORE Performance via Facebook (H/T to jpvbsmith!)