Banks Power and Kroeker Off-Road Engineering team up to conquer the Baja 1000.
David Downs Goliath at Baja
By Tim Gavern
Professional racing has gotten so expensive over the past twenty years that many racers never make it past amateur levels. Unfortunately, it seems the ability to negotiate sponsorship contracts is as important today as driving talent. And without those big sponsorship dollars, the average racer has a very difficult time succeeding in professional motor sports.
Once in a while, a racer scores a victory without the big sponsorships and funding they bring. These rare victories not only give hope to aspiring racers, but also give armchair racers someone to cheer for.
One such story is that of Kent Kroeker, President of KORE, an off-road suspension component manufacturer from San Diego, California. Kroeker scored a victory for racers everywhere at the 2004 Baja 1000 off-road race, where he drove his beefed up, but virtually stock, 2003 Cummins diesel-powered Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 Pickup truck to an amazing 3rd place in the “Stock Full” class at the Baja 1000.
Kroeker lived every racer’s fantasy by beating several professional factory teams at the granddaddy of all off-road races, the grueling 1016-mile race from Ensenada, Baja California to La Paz, Baja California South. While the factory-backed teams spend untold millions of dollars preparing their race vehicles, Kroeker raced at the Baja 1000 out of his own pocket to develop and test his suspension components – which only adds to his achievement.
Other than an 8-point roll cage, 44-gallon fuel cell, KORE suspension, race seats and body and chassis reinforcements, Kroeker’s truck is genuinely stock and street legal in all 50 states.
The “Stock Full” class rules allow engine modifications, and of course, Kroeker wanted his race truck to be faster than stock, but he was concerned about raising exhaust gas temperatures in racing conditions where there is little time to monitor an EGT gauge. In a race the length of the Baja 1000, added power is great, but reliability is critical.
After a conversation with Gale Banks, he felt assured that a Banks Six Gun Bundle would give him the added performance he was looking for without damaging his engine. Banks provided a Six-Gun Bundle to Kroeker, which includes a Six-Gun Diesel Tuner with Speed-Loader Upgrade, High-Ram Intake, Ram-Air Filter, Bighead Wastegate Actuator, Monster exhaust system and DynaFact gauges.
“I like how Banks’ Six-Gun Bundle is an integrated system – with all of its parts designed to work together. I didn’t want to use a system that was hodgepodged together from various manufacturers. Banks’ engineers had exactly what I was looking for – their system added around 125 horsepower and close to 300 lb.-ft. of torque. It all works very harmoniously and my EGTs never got over 1150 degrees for the entire race. Also, every one of my aftermarket gauges failed during the race – except for the two Banks gauges,” said Kroeker.
Unbelievably, Kroeker left the full factory interior, air conditioning, glass and even the functioning CD player in his pickup truck – while others in his class stripped out interiors and removed glass to save weight. Kroeker actually ran the entire race with the air conditioning on! At checkpoints, amazed course workers watched the electric window on the rear door roll down to provide access to his time slip “stub can.”
To make an incredible story even more amazing, Kroeker actually drove his truck to the event start from his shop in Valley Center (near San Diego) in Southern California. Kroeker carried over 400 pounds of spare suspension parts, tools and two spare tires in the truck’s bed – it was his pit. He raced the truck with the spares in the bed then, drove the truck home from the race after finishing third in his class! Of course, his competitors towed their race vehicles to the event and home afterward.
The Baja 1000 rules state that the race must be completed in 40 hours or less. Kent and crew managed to finish in 29 hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds. Kroeker’s Dodge was the first ever Cummins diesel-powered vehicle to finish the Baja 1000. It also managed to get an incredible 12.5 miles per gallon – using only 80 gallons of fuel for the entire race. Kroeker actually filled up with Mexican diesel fuel along the way. By comparison, the average “Trophy Truck” racing at the Baja 1000 uses between 750-1000 gallons of racing fuel that must be trucked to the race.
Kroeker got a great start. He was in first place and was really flying when he got to the “Swamp of Doom” at mile 345. Several racers were stuck in it. Kroeker knew if he did the gentlemanly thing and pull his fellow racers out of the swamp, he would lose valuable time and possibly, the lead. He stopped to help anyway.
Kroeker held onto the lead for the first 700 miles of the Baja 1000. Unfortunately, class winner, Chad Hall in his factory-backed Hummer H1, passed Kroeker outside the small village of Komondu to take the lead. Hall’s Baja 1000 win was his fourth victory in as many years for the Hummer team – showing what can be done with unlimited budgets and a little luck.
Then, with less than 200 miles until the finish, the new factory-backed Nissan Titan of Bob Graham caught Kroeker at the seemingly endless deep whoop section that slowed his 9500-pound truck considerably. Being 3000 pounds lighter, the 400-horsepower Nissan Titan was able to force its way past Kroeker, crumpling the Dodge’s quarter panel in the process. Kroeker wasn’t able to catch and repass Graham, but finished only ten minutes behind in 3rd place.
To give a better idea of how large a victory this really was, Kroeker finished only five hours behind a pro Trophy Truck team that raced two trucks with six drivers and a support team of nearly fifty people. Kroeker drove the entire race himself in a truck that has around 1/3rd the wheel travel and 2/3rd the horsepower. It should also be mentioned that Kroeker’s Toyo tires didn’t have a single puncture or flat tire the entire race distance.
To say that Kent Kroeker’s Baja 1000 race effort was a success is a huge understatement. To think that Kroeker might have placed 2nd had he not stopped to pull some fellow racers out of the “swamp of doom” at race mile 345, is the stuff of legends.