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Racing into Adventure: The Field Van Team Supports Long-Time Friend Mario Cabrales in the Mojave Desert

Members of the Field Van team charged into the Mojave desert to watch and support long time friend and customer Mario Cabrales. Mario bought a van back in 2016 and has been living it up ever since. Mario has a 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter with the S-1 plan and pop top. His 6’5” frame uses every inch of this van to the extreme. He packed in a larger 7 cubic foot refrigerator and has every necessary exterior accessory including off road lights, winch, roof rack with solar, rear bumper with extra recovery gear, suspension upgrades, and the list goes on. Mario’s van is truly ready for any adventure but on this crisp yet sunny January day in the California desert, it was time for some racing.
Mario has a built out Can Am race car and is in his 2nd year running desert races. This was his season debut at the DP4 series in Ridgecrest, CA. Leading up to this race Mario spoke about how his car had a few issues that held him back last season. His car was fresh out of the shop, fine tuned and ready to go. “It’s time to eat!” yelled Mario. The crew pulled in just before dark and found a spot next to Mario. Jonny Feld along with Big Matt were in a Tide 3 Field Van. Mike, an owner of a Sprinter 4x4 with the S-2 build completed the 3 van campsite in pit row. Another group of guys including AJ Ferguson who knows a bit about side by sides were coming in later in a 5th wheel setup. The reason I mention AJ knowing about the cars is that we soon learned that we would be the official pit crew for Mario as his usual guys had prior commitments. We know how to use a radio, change a tire, and fuel up the car…what could go wrong? After discussing this over a few beverages and some killer al pastor tacos Mario grilled to perfection, the crew turned in for the night to get ready for some racing.
Morning came quickly and the blackout shades in the van would make you think it was still the middle of the night. As you climb out of the toasty warm van, the crisp desert air slaps you in the face like a cold washcloth. The team grabbed their jackets and beanies and headed to the “check in'' tent to get our pit wristbands and get ready for racing. The flag would drop at 11 with the first car taking off from pit row. The rest of the field would line up behind the lead car and each would get released at 20 second intervals onto the 30 mile race course. The random draw had Mario starting 34th out of 55 racers. An ambulance delay pushed back the race to noon which gave us some extra time to cook some food as we got prepped for the race. Big Matt threw some onions and sausages on the grill and we ate it over some white rice with teriyaki glaze. Mario was hungry, but not for food…He was ready to chew up the other racers on the course. You could feel his energy building. It was time to eat!
The “pit crew” rolled the spare tires into position, readied the radios and comm equipment and went over a few details with Mario. The car was equipped with an oversize fuel tank so Mario didn’t think he would need to fuel up during the race, but AJ had the fire suit on anyway and was ready if needed. Jonny would handle comm while Big Matt and Mike helped where needed. Mario’s wife Norma and Step daughter were also on the radios. When noon hit The cars were off for the five lap race. The team set a couple of timers. One at 35 minutes to give a heads up that they should be expecting Mario back through the pit area. As the first of the cars started rolling through the pits Mike’s roll shifted at the last minute. As Jonny was explaining the importance of making sure the pit crew was clear of the car before Mario raced off in the event of a pit stop, a pit nearby had a driver take off with a guy under the car. Mike then became a cone guy and acknowledged the importance of his new role in the pits. When the car comes in Mike would put an orange cone on the hood and pull it off as soon as he was sure the car was clear. This would give Mario the go ahead since he couldn’t see everyone from the driver’s seat.
It had been about 40 minutes and Mario should be coming in any second, but there was no communication from him. Typically, no news is good news and the team figured he would roll right through the pits without needing to stop. Then he came into view. Mario in car 306 has entered the pits!
The team stood by ready but not expecting to be needed as Mario and Tim were silent on the radio. As Mario rolled in he pulled into the pit area as he was pointing in front of him and yelling “Gas!” It was clear at this point that our radios were not working and he needed to stop. But gas? We were sure he had plenty of fuel, but maybe the gauge was off and he actually wasn’t full to start? Did he somehow lose fuel on the course? Either way, the big guy was yelling gas so AJ zipped up the suit and started dumping in fuel. Jonny pulled off his headset and leaned into the car to realize that Mario was not yelling “gas,” he was yelling “dash!” Looking down at the dash you could see the instrument cluster had fallen through the dash and a bundle of wires was holding up the speedometer just above his feet in between his legs. “Grab the zip ties!” “Where in the hell are the zip ties?!?!” The pit crew did not know Mario’s tool set so a scramble was on to find some zip ties. A friendly pit next door threw some zip ties over as the team did their best to feed the instruments back through the dash and secure them, but there was not much to work with. The team got it out of the way but it wasn’t great. Mario decided he had wasted enough time in the pit and charged off with the haphazard fix and hoped he could get by. There was no time to figure out why his radio wasn’t working but it was on to lap 2!
As the team collected themselves in the pit, AJ made some longer zip ties by stringing a few together and the guys did their best to familiarize themselves with the tools in the pit area in case we needed anything else. On the bright side, Mike performed cone duty to perfection and everyone was safe. The crew checked the pit radios and they all checked out fine. The problem must be with the radio in the car. It would have been nice to be able to prepare for the dash/gas misunderstanding but at least now Mario was topped off and he definitely wouldn’t need to stop for fuel. Mario came in after lap two much the same as lap 1. The dash fix did not hold and he was now asking for electrical tape. “Has anyone seen any electrical tape?! Shit!” no one had seen any tape. This time the pit crew on the other end threw some tape over and Jonny got to work wrapping it around the gauges and trying to secure it somehow. It was a shit show. It was near impossible to get the tape wrapped around while working through the window and trying to hold the instrument cluster in place. It got into a decent position with a few wraps of tape and AJ came around with the longer zip tie combos and did one last wrap around the cluster to secure it. It was ugly but it looked like it might hold. No more time to waste and Mario was off. The crew was ready for a beer.
The next lap went well and Mario only needed his window secured on the 3rd pit. There was carnage across the rest of the Field. Cars were arriving to pit lane with flat tires, busted sway bars, blown shocks, and broken mounts leaving cars sagging and limping in. The flats and some suspension issues were fixable, but many cars had to throw in the towel due to extensive damage. The radio chatter was also filled with recovery efforts across the race course towing cars back into camp. Mario came into pit row for the last time and rolled right through for the final lap. All of a sudden his voice came over the radio asking what position he was in. It turns out that the switch had been inadvertently bumped in the car and Tim had figured it out and got things back online. The crew told Mario he was around 3rd and needed to push it!
As Mario was wrapping up, Big Matt and AJ were watching on their phones. Updated standings had Mario closing in on 2nd place in his class. It was going to be close! Mario raced into the finish line and his car smelled like it had been run hard and it looked a little off-camber sitting under the Field Van canopy in the pit row. A quick inspection revealed a broken sway bar and the smell was suspected to be the differential fluid as maybe an axle or two had gone. Mario had pushed it and it paid off! He finished in 2nd place in his class and would receive an award at the podium ceremony that night. High fives all around and it was time to grab a beer. The crew made a quick run into Randsburg for a cold one at “The Joint” a legendary bar in the off-roading world. It was then back to camp for some grub and the ceremony. Jonny seasoned up some steaks and threw them on the grill. They cooked a bit slowly on this cold night and were finishing just as the ceremony was about to begin. Steak on a stick anyone? The crew grabbed forks and each stuck it in the middle of their steak. There was no time for plates so the team ate those tender steaks like a kid eating a popsicle on a hot summer day. They were delicious. Mario accepted his awards and was congratulated on stage for his 2nd place finish and first ever podium on the DP4 series! He then thanked his sponsors and gave a special shout to Field Van and team for the race support and efforts in the pits. It was the time to head back to camp for the night. The stars were out, the campfire was hot and laughs were plentiful as the team reminisced on the events of the day.