It started with a wrong turn.
It ended with tens of thousands of people worldwide anxiously cheering on Kane Fraser as he drove his way, after 30-plus hours, across the finish line at 2:37 a.m. Nov. 20 in Ensenada, Mexico at the Baja 1000 — one of the most grueling off-road races in the world.
Fraser’s story inspired people from around the globe, literally, as the team’s misstep led to an outpouring of support for the Williams Lake racing team.
It’s a story that won’t soon be forgotten — not by many in Williams Lake and certainly not by anyone who followed this year’s Baja 1000. Vehicle No. 1802, which also became known as the “wrong-way Canadians,” was the talk of the race.
Fraser, 37, who became paralyzed from the waist down 13 years ago, chose this year’s Baja 1000 to be his very first competitive race. He also decided to raise $25,000 for the Rick Hansen Foundation in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Rick Hansen Man in Motion World Tour.
With a team of friends and professionals, and with the help of Heino and Rick Seibert at Spectra Power Sports, he put together a custom-built, slightly modified Polaris RZR 900 XP to drive in the race. The team entered in class 18, the utility terrain vehicle class.
That vehicle, however, almost met its end during Fraser’s and Heino’s first pre-run of the Baja 1000 course.
“It was about a 50-mile section of the course,” Fraser told the Tribune Wednesday. “We were about 300 feet into it and we literally hit the first woop in the trail at 40 or 50 miles per hour. As the rear shock was rebounding the front right control arm broke and the front dug in.”
The vehicle flipped end over end three times and needed serious repairs if they were to compete in the race.
“For the next day and a half Roger Patenaude and Heino found some local guys who helped get everything rebuilt,” he said. “They spent the next day and half putting everything back together.”
Following certification and a contingency parade, the vehicle was cleared to race the following day.
Class 18 was the last class to leave the start line.
“I think every vehicle in our class passed us,” Fraser joked, noting they wanted to start slow to ensure they finished, which, by Baja 1000 standards, is a feat in itself. “We just took it really cautious. We had a long race to go so we didn’t want to crash out in the first 10 miles.”
Throughout the race team members swapped in and out of the vehicle taking turns racing. But the trouble for the local team started at pit three.
“At pit three I got back in with Kevin Pigeon,” he said. “Instead of going left, I don’t know how we missed it — there were 50 signs posted up — we went straight through.”
As trophy trucks and other vehicles, which were already ahead of them, began to pass them again, Fraser was alerted to the fact that they may have taken a wrong turn.
That wrong turn led the team 100 miles and about five hours off course. Their hopes of finishing the race began to fade, quickly.
“We zoomed out on our GPS and saw we were definitely not on the right part of the course,” he said.
Rob “the Weatherman” Steinberger, who provides an online audio stream of the race, was alerted to 1802’s folly and notified Fraser and Pigeon they needed to get back on the highway and back onto the course.
Still with no idea how to get back to where they were supposed to be, Fraser and Piegon stopped to ask for directions from a group of locals.
“How do we get back on Highway 3?” Fraser asked. “We need to get to San Felipe. They said: ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re way off course.’”
Eventually, they refueled and made it back.
“We started talking with the team about the race and whether we could finish. Heino hopped in and decided we didn’t come this far not to and they kept going.”
At this point, the online racing community was buzzing about the “crazy Canadians.” They were also alerted to Fraser’s disability and to his fundraising efforts. A frenzy of online posts erupted across multiple off-road racing websites showing Kane, who at this point had no idea what was happening, their support for his cause.
One of Fraser’s goals prior to the race was to inspire one person with a disability to achieve something they didn’t think was possible. The team’s wrong turn, he said, turned out to be a massive blessing in disguise.
“I’ve read a lot of the posts online and that’s great I have inspired people,” he said. “But the person I really hope I have reached is maybe the person who’s struggled in their life and thinks maybe their disability has held them back. I don’t know if I’ve met that person or heard from that person but I’d sure like to. I’m very grateful to all the people who have said things about us.”
The team, with Fraser at the wheel and Heino at the co-pilot, finished the race in 36 hours — four hours after their allotted time. A trophy truck, driven by Jim Riley, also limped along with Fraser over the final few miles. They were the only vehicle in their class to finish the race.
“They [Riley and his crew] wanted to finish with us,” he said. “We waited for them and we went across the finish line together. Someone ripped down a finish line flag from somewhere and my wife, who was with me through the whole thing, was at the finish line waving a Canadian flag. The whole team was there. It was really great.”
Following the race the team was invited to a benefit party in Orange County, Calif. hosted by Adam Gunn of Fast-Aid.org. They were also interviewed by www.race-dezert.com (the interview is posted on their site).
“Had we not missed the turn and just done our race no one would have known about us,” Fraser said. “I really appreciated everyone’s never-give-up attitude.”
Fraser said he never doubted himself or his team.
“There were two things I was never uncertain about,” he said. “One was Rick and Heino, who built the best possible vehicle for this race. And I also believed we had the right team to do the race and that we could accomplish it.”
Fraser said the team is still accepting donations for the Rick Hansen Foundation. To donate visit www.baja1000fundraiser.com.