Riders at the World Off Road Championship Series have begun to take notice of the rickety, two-door 1985 BMW sedan with a duct-taped sunroof.
Travis Newbold has criss-crossed the West in the vehicle this year to make each of the series' 12 races. But it's not the fact that he pulls the parts of his motorcycle out of the trunk and reassembles his Honda CRF 450 before each race that's caught his competitors' attention. It's that in his first year of racing, Newbold has won first place in half the races and reached the podium in all but one.
On Nov. 5, Newbold took second at the series' final event in Mesquite, Nev., earning him a national title as the overall winner of the 250-B class.
The win qualifies Newbold, who has already secured sponsorships from Maxxis Tires, Race Tech and Scott, to compete in the A-class next year, giving him a shot at the semi-professional prize purses by racing against the sport's best.
The 23-year-old Steamboat Springs native knew after a few early season cross-country races that he could have a shot at the title if he could just find a way to make it to the monthly races.
"That's when I started making sacrifices," Newbold said.
He barely broke even on travel expenses with prize winnings and his earnings from Action Motorsports where he worked as a mechanic.
"I didn't think I could get a national title, I never knew I had the ability," Newbold said. "But you don't want to sell yourself short if you have a dream."
A perfect fit
The WORCS races can be anywhere from 30 to 60 miles, combining laps around both motocross tracks and off-road trails typical of endurance races. The races are a perfect fit for Newbold, who went to high school in Hayden. Growing up, he took advantage of the endless natural terrain in the Sand Wash Basin and the National Forest lands north of Hahn's Peak. He also raced motocross events from the Front Range to Craig.
Some of the local crew he grew up riding with notice the effect the race series has had on Newbold's riding.
"Even on trails I know better than him, he's going so much faster," Kaleb Zuber said. "His progression is amazing, it's unlimited."
Other local riders have noticed Newbold as well. Steamboat's Jeff Crochiere teamed up with Newbold to take on the Baja 500 endurance rally in Mexico in June. After completing the grueling 424-mile race, Newbold landed the service manager position at Breckenridge's Altitude Motorsports between WORCS races while Crochiere has had one thing on his mind - returning to the rugged peninsula for the 39th annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, which runs Thursday through Saturday.
Crochiere, 42, was bitten by the off-road moto-bug four years ago and now his passion has led him to enlist Newbold's help to compete in the race again.
With Newbold on top of the mechanical work and Crochiere covering the logistics and funding, the two have their sights on the 1,048-mile haul that runs the length of the peninsula from Ensenada to La Paz.
Newbold will begin the race at 6:30 a.m. Thursday for the first 290 to 300 miles of climbing where he hopes to pass other riders.
"It's a crazy race," Newbold said. "You start at the ocean where it's 60 degrees, and then you end up at 5,000 feet in the first couple of hours and then it's 112 degrees in the desert."
After the first 300 miles, the pair will meet up to service the bike, which will require four sets of tires and 19 tanks of gas. Crochiere will take over for next 430 miles of central Baja desert, where he will ride on hard-packed dirt roads and silt beds.
"You just have it pinned in fifth, going 80 to 100 (mph) for hours on end," Crochiere said. "For me that's a thrill, being in the wide open."
Crochiere's weekend rides near Grand Junction and Moab have only gotten him in "the saddle" for distances of 130 to 150 miles, but he feels that it's all the same once he gets in the zone, the point "where you're just numb."
Other challenges will be racing through the night to finish the race in the 40-hour limit and avoiding the holes and unseen obstacles created by area residents to sabotage the racers.
"It's a race of survival - a thinking man's sport where anything can go wrong," Crochiere said.
Newbold slept on the floor of his shop Tuesday night after staying busy making adjustments to the Honda XR 650. He modified the shocks, installed halogen lights and made sure everything was "Baja-tight."
Both riders will have family and friends meeting them in Mexico to help with support and to run Crochiere's truck as the "chase vehicle." The pair left Friday to pick up tires in California before heading down to Ensenada with their trailer of four motorcycles, to be used for pre-running the course and extra parts.
They hope to get a brief feel for the terrain and distances that Newbold is "still trying to comprehend" before the Wednesday tech inspection. The opening ceremony lines up the nearly 400 race cars, buggies, trophy trucks, ATV's and motorcycles along Ensenada's main avenue.
If they can stick to Crochiere's plan and have the same luck Newbold had in his final WORCS race, one he finished second in after completing the last 15 miles on a flat tire, the pair could find success. Crochiere already knows success on the Baja is relative:
"If you finish, you beat half the people."