"You're about to experience a most incredible adventure. You must expect at all times to encounter oncoming traffic. You must be alert that there are many cows, calves, bulls, horses, and goats roaming freely on and around the course. All competitors are reminded that off-road racing is an inherently dangerous activity that can result in serious injury or even death. Due to weather, animals, and people, [we] do not guarantee that all [course] markings will still be up on race day. Be advised that spectators on or near the racecourse may engage in malicious activities by building ramps, digging ditches, and/or placing objects onto the course. Once the race starts, it's outta my hands--you're on your own, or, in other words, the lunatics will, indeed, be running the asylum. Good luck and have fun!"
That's how Sal Fish, CEO/president of the race's sanctioning body, SCORE International, put it during the driver briefing the night before the 2002 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 race. Thought: "What the hell have I gotten myself--and Baja-experienced co-driver/ photog David Newhardt--into?"
The opportunity to participate in this form of desert mayhem came courtesy of Yokohama Geolander and Wide Open Adventures, aka, Wide Open Baja. A few years back, WOB certified a herd of two-person, Porsche-powered race buggies to compete in their own class in the Baja 1000. This year they coyly asked if we'd like a little fun in the sun and drive one leg--a little over 200 miles--in "The Baja," as it's been called for the past 35 years. Well, why not? They promised an unforgettable weekend. No kidding.
What is The Baja? Technically, it's a thousand-mile (mostly) off-road race through Mexico, from one end of the Baja Peninsula to the other. This year, the race began in Ensenada and ended 1017.31 miles away in La Paz. The day before the race day is called "contingency" day, when each race vehicle must be brought through official tech inspection by the driver and co-driver scheduled to start the race--that's us. The reality of the day is something altogether different.
I refrained from jotting my name "Mario Andretti" or "Miguel Chumacro." (Click image to e
What actually ensues can be loosely described as a Mexican block party with gratuitous Tecate girls dancing on bandstands, tented vendors selling everything from deep-fried churros to rebuilt transmissions and mistranslated Baja 1000 T-shirts. After speaking to a Baja veteran, it turned out we lacked a few essential race supplies, and the vendors had exactly what our last-minute shopping list required: Mechanix Wear gloves that double as driving gloves, earplugs to cut down on the six-hour engine drone, and a "slip-on" catheter to afford bleeding-off a certain bodily fluid at full race speed.
We were accompanied by Paul Page, CART/IRL commentator and our team's anchorman, who was scheduled to get behind the wheel of our Yokohama race buggy three drivers, 12 hours, and almost 470 miles after our driver swap at race-mile 219. Because Newhardt and I were to start the race in Ensenada, and Page was to finish it in La Paz, we represented the bookends of the number 7 Baja Challenge car, or BC7. Page pleaded with, or more accurately threatened, us several times (the following has been edited for broadcast): "Okay, you [guys]. I don't want to be left standing in the middle of the [gosh-darn] Baja Peninsula with my thumb up my [nose], in the middle of the [almighty] forsaken night for no good reason. You get that [wonderful] buggy to the next guy in one piece. Do you hear me?" Sure, Paul.