There were hours and days of work the thing needed to drive itself out of the shop let alone go racing and there was approximately zero being done.

I was partially to blame here. I let Caswell yap and yap and buy me tacos and shoot some videos while he definitely should have been putting in a solid work day. I mean, I certainly wasn’t about to touch the damn car. Never mind the fact that I don’t know the first thing about running a welder; the Baja Pig looked so flimsy I was afraid to rest a beer can on the roof.

Caswell wanted to discuss race strategy, and at this point I was still convinced his comical optimism was an act. But I humored him anyway.

“If you don’t feel comfortable about it at all, you’re more than welcome to just chase with us,” he said to me a few times. I’d already mentioned I’d navigated a few hundred miles of the same race more than twice, but this time I guess he heard me.

“Oh, dude,” Caswell turned around to one of his friends, indistinctly tapping away at the back of the carcass of a car. “He’s got more miles on the course than us.”

So at this point the team had no car, no pre-run, effectively no experience between six people and one week to get off the ground an onto the starting line. We’d officially pivoted from “longshot” to “hopeless,” but everybody in earshot of Caswell’s voice was infected with his ambition.

Caswell’s generosity doesn’t hurt, either. Despite the unconventional sleeping arrangements, he’s no deadbeat. He broke out his credit card every time anybody wanted a snack or a beer or a hotel room. He Uber’d me from Los Angeles to San Diego when my truck wouldn’t run. Casual sponsorships help defray his parts costs, but his operation is basically all self-funded.

I talked to Travis Marr, longtime Caswell associate and alleged co-driver for this project, about the reality of their prospects.

“He’s never been on time for race,” Marr said. “This is just how this stuff goes. But we always make things happen.” He was reveling in the ridiculousness of the ordeal right along with Caswell.

By the time I went home, well into the night, the car looked exactly the same as it had when I’d rolled up. Decidedly incomplete.

“Just let me know when you’re leaving San Diego,” I said as we walked to my ride. “I’m in, I guess.”

Early Thursday, 24 hours to the first vehicles race start and maybe 30 hours until Caswell’s window, I got his phone call: “We’re trying to leave by noon, one latest.” I prodded him on the car’s progress.

“Well my steering system’s totally fucked,” he told me. “That Raptor rack? Didn’t work at all. Front tires are so toe’d in the car can’t even move. So we’re starting over there. New system. But from the firewall back, the car’s completely done. We’re gonna send this thing.”

For those of you less familiar with a car’s anatomy, the firewall sits between you and your engine. Spelled out even more plainly: most of the important stuff is not “behind” it.

Of course I would soon learn there were plenty of other essential details Caswell was glossing over anyway. Seats and gauges and an electrical system and a steering wheel were still yet to be attached. Behind the firewall.

But there I was, getting sucked into the gravitational pull of Caswell’s conviction. And after a couple hours in the car I was at EV West, where Caswell was running around like a mad professor in his laboratory and where I started my story originally.

Caswell had been kicked out of SRD when the crew there shipped out for their own Baja mission, because they actually wanted to get into town in time to start the race they actually had prepared for ahead of time.

“Dude, this steering rack,” Caswell shook his head. “I was so sure the Raptor rack was going to work. Justin (SRD’s proprietor) said it was going to work.”

For the first time since I’d started following the crusade, Caswell sounded flummoxed. I didn’t have much sympathy though. You can’t expect anything to “just work” when you’re building something as complicated as a race car from scratch.

The steering rack was a particular emotional sore spot since of course that’s what killed Caswell’s Baja run in 2010. The BMW unit, never designed to take anything close to the relentless bludgeoning it got in the race, failed after about 200 miles and left Caswell cold and stranded.

Now he was working up a new unit of his own design: two heavy-duty steering racks mounted in a row, to accommodate the vehicle’s ridiculously wide track. This is not a design I’ve ever seen anywhere. It’s not something I’ve ever heard anyone endorse ever. Frankly, I don’t think it makes any sense. There’s no added durability bonus since they’re set up in series, just a lot of extra weight.

But Caswell insisted it was “going to be awesome.” I don’t think we got more of an engineering explanation than: “Dude, I was telling people to do 4WD Trophy Trucks ten years ago and everybody said ‘that’s dumb.’ What’s the thing now? Yeah. They’re making 4WD Trophy Trucks! Right?”

People are starting to experiment with 4WD Trophy Trucks. But I think one good skid plate would have done a lot more for Caswell’s steering-survivability than the two-headed dragon thing I was watching him try to cram into the car. But what did I know?

On this day the tone was much different from what it’d been at SRD. Caswell and his team had clearly been sweating, that much was apparently from the condition of their clothing. I thought it best to keep my skepticism to myself and simply observe for a bit.

Between rips of a drill press and screaming angle grinders I worked my way through the crew to find out what the cult of Caswell was all about for them.

Marr was a Porsche tech and off-road enthusiast. Paul Donlin was an engineer at Roush. John Ackerman used to work at Valvoline. Tim McNulty seemed to be rapidly shifting between tightening bolts and taking naps in the back, and Eric Frentress had just shown up from Washington state in a manual-swapped, off-road built Isuzu VehiCross.

They worked together. They threw parts at each other, cussed and high-fived. Nobody was being paid, everyone was fixing Caswell’s car on their own precious vacation time. Every hour or so his gravelly voice would boom over whatever tool was running. Not directions. Things like: “Did I tell you guys the porno Porsche story yet?”

The crew would gather like kids at story time. Caswell regaled us with yarns that invariably involved a minor celebrity, intoxication and some absurd enterprise that may or may not have been fact-checkable. After one particularly colorful story about things Caswell had seen in some Los Angeles warehouse, Eric turned to me and said, “and that’s why I wanted to come down here.”

As I’ve spent the last few thousand words illustrating, Caswell didn’t have to take them on an adventure. He was the adventure.

Good thing, because the mission to get this jank-ass car to race in Baja couldn’t have been further from succeeding.

At around midnight, 10 hours to the green flag, we were a six hour drive from the starting line. A few of us retired to a hotel while Caswell and McNulty toiled on. The plan was for them to finish the car, find a trailer and a tow truck because the poorly prearranged one had bailed, head to Mexico and we’d meet them the next day. The rest of us would go to the garage in the morning, clean up and follow the race car to Ensenada.

The car still needed its insane steering system connected, a whole nest of wiring tucked away and the welds on the coolant plumbing looked like a kindergartener’s Play-Doh project.

When we got back and lifted up the shop door, we realized Caswell wasn’t in Mexico. He was passed out under a car in yoga pants and a few tattered shards of a down jacket with a deep layer of automotive grease clogging every crack of his skin.

Caswell fought against futility all like a fish flapping in the clutches of a bear, but the final stroke was the realization that there was no way to get the Baja Pig to Mexico, even if it could be brought online.

There would be no Baja run this year, but we still got filthy, ate unhealthy food and cursed at cars for a few days, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

At any rate, we had the adventure of The Caswell Experience. And I learned, yes, he is actually as nutty as he seems on social media.

Bill Caswell is something like the embodiment of “slow car fast”—the idea that it’s more fun to push a Miata or an old and underpowered BMW to its limit than keep an ultra-fast Ferrari reigned in safely. He is a professional amateur, crashing full-noise through crazy schemes we all wish we could entertain and earnestly living like he’s got nothing to lose.

It’s amazing how much freedom you unlock when you’re willing to live in the back of a BMW X5, or staying awake for two days straight working a welder.

Caswell’s enthusiasm is so aggressive it can’t be contrived. He’s determined to be different for the sake of standing out, and the “loose-cannon road warrior of the people” is no cultivated caricature. It’s just who he is. And the nuttiness is contagious, which is why all of his friends were smiling at the end of what was objectively a miserable weekend of difficult physical labor with essentially no tangible payoff.

Actually, the Baja Pig did eventually run and drive by the end of the weekend. Just not any further than the office park it was built in.

Maybe that’s a sign it will make it to Baja this year. Maybe.

No matter what, I have a feeling Caswell will have plenty of volunteers to help him try again.