Racing through the desert is nothing new for Ben Bischoff, as he recently proved during an off-road endurance race through Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula.
“I got into desert racing in 2013. I was 23 years old at the time,” said Bischoff, who lives in Fort St. John, and started racing professionally in 2014.
“What was appealing to me about desert racing is just how hard and challenging it is, and unless you see it with your own eyes, you will never fully understand.”
Bischoff is the owner and main driver of Hellenbach Racing. The team of six drivers crossed the finish line in November in what was the toughest race of the three Baja 1000 competitions the Northerners have teared it up in.
“The Baja 1000 is famed for being the hardest off-road race in the world. Less than 50 per cent of the entries finish the race. We’re proud to say we’ve finished all three years,” said Bischoff.
The Baja 1000 sees various types of vehicles competing on the same course, from motorcycles, stock VWs, production vehicles, buggies, trucks, and custom fabricated race vehicles. The course has remained relatively the same over the years, either from Ensenada to La Paz, or a loop race starting and finishing in Ensenada.
This year was a loop race, with the team finishing 105th out of 270, and sixth in their utility task vehicle (UTV) class in the 900-mile race.
“Well for my first Baja 1000, and having only 100 feet of seat time in the 1923 (the team’s custom Polaris RZR XP1000 UTV) in the driveway, off the start on race day went smooth,” Fort St. John resident Wyatt Dressler, who drove the first leg of the race, said on the team’s Facebook page.
That’s not to say there weren’t some challenges around the corner.
“Around road Mile 50-60, we started getting into the carnage with stuck Class 10 cars and trucks. Fortunately, being in a (UTV), we were able to climb up a bank and get around the stuck vehicles and on to our first pit mile, 140,” he added.
The team discovered they had a flat when they reached Mile 290, and had wrecked a rim.
“Luckily, we stopped at a BFG pit where they had a grinder and were able to cut off a stud that was seized on solid. The crew had the car back together in no time and Al (McBeth) and Richard (Bernard) were off,” said Dressler.
McBeth and Bernard drove the second leg, where the team’s UTV struck a large rock and needed under carriage repairs. In the third leg, they had a primary clutch failure. But neither proved to be fatal to the team’s determination to finish the race.
The team is rounded out by drivers Joe Loomis of Dawson Creek and Mike Bacon of Fort St. John.
Dawson Creek resident Mike Hewitt prepares the team’s vehicle between races.
“A lot of the (UTV) is stock parts, but the suspension and chassis are custom,” Hewitt said.
“After a race, we strip the car down pretty much to the frame and inspect every bolt. We test the engine and transmission, and then reassemble the whole thing. It takes about a month of working in the evening to get ready.”
Hewitt is one of the main reasons the team has been so successful, Bischoff said.
“His prep work is on point. One of the best in the Peace,” he said.
Hellenbach Racing was born when Bischoff and a friend decided to build a Polaris RZR to race the Mint 400 in Nevada.
“After a failed attempt (to build the RZR), I approached Holz Racing out of Washington, who builds the strongest, fastest UTVs in North America,” said Bischoff.
“With work and what not, I just didn’t have the time to do the R&D to get our car to where it was competitive.”
The team competes next in the historic Mint 400 off-road desert race in Las Vegas from March 1 to 5.
Desirae Bischoff, the team’s pit crew member, stat collector and merchandiser, is proud of her husband and the team.
“I feel very proud of Ben and all of his accomplishments with Hellenbach. I admire his determination, and his ability to stay modest and enjoy every aspect of racing,” she said.
As for the team?
“I feel very lucky to be a part of the Hellenbach Race Team. Every single person has such a valuable role.”
Follow Team Hellenbach at facebook.com/hellenbackracing.