The guys got it right when they named themselves GFP Motorsports, with the initials standing for “gluttons for punishment.”
The team is based in King George County and consists of 30-something males from across the country. The men have done their share of thrill-seeking—running with bulls and wrestling alligators—but they’ve never raced in a contest like Mexico’s Baja 1000.
That’s the “the granddaddy of all desert races,” according to the event’s website, and participants cover a “brutally rugged” course of Sahara-like terrain. Teams have a day and a half to go 883 miles—and many don’t finish.
The GFP guys will pull up to the starting line alongside million-dollar trophy trucks and factory-sponsored motorcycle teams. They’ll drive a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle they rebuilt themselves.
With a modified engine, tires better suited for an Army Jeep and netting over the front windows, the Beetle doesn’t look like any bug that ever ran on the road.
“It’s jacked up,” said Cyrus Roohi, a King George resident and ringleader of the effort. “Everything you see, other than the body and steering wheel, is new to this car.”
Roohi lives in a subdivision off State Route 3, and the ’69 bug has been in his garage almost two years.
He’s one of several engineers from the Navy base in Dahlgren who work with drones when they’re not refurbishing a front end or welding a bumper.
His wife, Molly, teaches physical education and runs extreme races. Like her, he’s always ready for the next challenge.
Most people look at him and other team members like they’re out of their minds when they share their plans.
“My dad says I’m crazy,” Roohi said, “but I think he says it with love.”
Adam Broad is another Dahlgrenite who’s part of the team, and Chris Brooks, a software engineer from Reston, was in the same fraternity with Roohi at Virginia Tech.
Sam Trevino of Washington state has helped with Internet searches and promotions, and Noah Machtay of New York is a chief engineer with a doctoral degree whose math skills paid off when determining degrees of suspension.
The five will split the $25,000 cost, which covers the car and its multitude of new and enhanced parts, as well as the spare transmission and engine they’ll tote with them. The total also includes entry fees and trucking the car to Mexico.
“If driving 1,000 miles wasn’t hard enough,” Machtay said, “we’re tacking on a 5,000-mile round trip just to get to the race and drive back home.”
A REAL FIXER-UPPER
Each driver is paying his way to San Diego, where the group will rally and head to Ensenada, Mexico. They’ll be joined by seven other men, who will drive the chase vehicles that bring gasoline or needed parts when something breaks down.
Drivers also paid for their safety suits and helmets. The headgear will protect them on the bouncy ride and allow driver and passenger to talk to each other over the drone of the engine.
It’s loud, and the smell of rich exhaust comes in through open windows. The only glass on the car is the windshield.
“We terrorized the neighborhood last night,” Roohi said, after recently test-driving the metallic blue bug through the Oakland Park subdivision.
The car is registered and street-legal. The team hopes to run it long after the Baja.
“We’re gonna get some life outta this girl,” Brooks said.
No doubt, getting the “fixer-upper” ready has taken some life out of the team.
‘MORE THAN WE THOUGHT’
The team started getting parts earlier this year and worked at a leisurely pace.
They’re entered in Class 11, for stock cars, and assumed they would just need minor adjustments.
They realized “the name is a lie,” Roohi said. They had to make major modifications to get a street car ready to drive through the desert.
They added an external oil cooler to keep fluids from getting hot since the engine runs at higher rpms but lower speeds. (If they go 25 mph the whole time, they’ll set a course record for their class.)
They tweaked suspensions and installed bucket seats with harness belts. They added strips of light-emitting diodes to brighten the desert sky, because they’ll run the Beetle up to 36 hours straight.
The schedule—and the bills—got away from them.
“It was more than we thought it was gonna be,” Roohi said.
“It always is,” Brooks added.
By September, the race was less than 50 days away, and the engine was still a pile of parts on the pavement.
“I’m a serial procrastinator and even this is starting to bother me,” Brooks said then. “We have a lot of money tied up in this, a lot of other peoples’ money.”
The team cranked up efforts and dealt with last-minute carburetor problems and cracked engine heads.
Carl Lynn, another Dahlgrenite, offered his help when he heard team members talking about it at work. Harold Vogel, a King George resident who has rebuilt Beetles and Harley–Davidsons, offered ongoing support.
“We would have been toast if it wasn’t for Harold,” Roohi said.
‘IT’S STILL A WIN’
Broad and Roohi left on Election Day to drive the truck hauling the Beetle out west. The race starts Thursday Nov. 14 and includes competitors from 40 states and 25 countries.
GFP team members hoped to get more road miles in before they headed to Baja, but by two days before takeoff, Roohi guessed the car had run about 10 miles, maybe. He laughed, just a bit maniacally, when he said that.
While members would like nothing better than to win their class, Roohi will be thrilled if everyone gets in the driver’s seat.
“We think finishing is a prize in itself,” Roohi said. “If this car only goes 200 miles and everybody gets to drive it, and it breaks down and doesn’t take another step, it’s still a win.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
MORE ABOUT THE RACE
GFP Motorsports, based in King George County, will take the starting line of Mexico’s Baja 1000 Thursday. Nov. 14 The GFP team is in Class 11, and viewers can see how the drivers are doing, in real time, at score-international.com. The team also has information about its entry and sponsors on its website, gfpmotorsports.com.