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Is This The Craziest Race On Earth?

8 Reasons The Baja 1000 Is Totally Bonkers

BY Alex CramerMay 23, 2019

It’s a race that defies reason—a dirt-choked, bone-crunching endurance test of pain and mental fortitude where roughly 40 percent of the vehicles that start never make it over the finish line. And all for a prize that tops out in the low five figures.

So who races in the Baja 1000?

For most Americans, the idea of off-road car racing conjures up images of NASCAR drivers making left turns for three hours on a pancake-smooth racetrack. But the Baja 1000 is a different challenge entirely. Here’s why.

1. The course is sometimes over 1,000 miles long and changes every year.

It usually starts it Ensenada, Mexico, and winds all the way down the Baja Peninsula on an ever-changing path that can be over 1,000 miles long, take up to 36 hours to complete, and almost never touches a paved road. It holds the title as the world’s longest non-stop race and, in order to win, drivers have to be half Dale Earnhardt and half Indiana Jones.

2. The road is designed to destroy your vehicle.

It’s far more than just a test of speed. It’s a do-or-die challenge to the driving team’s endurance, planning and sheer willingness to fight through conditions designed to break men and vehicles alike. Its unforgiving route runs through some of the most brutal terrain that a driver could ever experience, forcing vehicles over everything from rocks to flowing streams to narrow mountain roads.

3. You have to watch out for booby-traps and cows.

The Baja is not run on a closed course, and the road is lined with spectators that like to create fun for themselves by making homemade ramps, ditches and other booby-traps. Occasionally, drivers will encounter stray livestock and drivers going the wrong way down the course just for the thrill of it.

Stockmini The origins of the race date back to a 950-mile off-road route that went from Tijuana to La Paz over rocks, sand washes and unpaved mountain roads. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

4. If you get hurt, help may be delayed.

If you do get in trouble on the course, help can be a long time coming. In 1994, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson fell asleep behind the wheel after 20 hours of driving and flipped his truck over after hitting a rock. It took 12 hours for anyone to find him and give him medical treatment.

5. The first person to run it had to be refueled from an airplane.

The Baja 1000’s origins date back nearly 60 years to 1962, when motorcycle racer Dave Ekins was challenged by the American Honda Motor Company to find a road tough enough to prove the durability of its new motorcycle, the company’s first-ever dirt bike.

Ekins chose a 950-mile off-road route that went from Tijuana to La Paz and took him over rocks, sand washes and unpaved mountain roads. The path took him so far from civilization that fuel had to be airdropped from a chase plane. Ekins made the journey in just under 40 hours. Other off-road racers wanted to beat his time and, from these challenges, the Baja 1000 was born.

1280px-Baja Bug All it takes to enter the Baja 1000 is a vehicle and a serious case of good, old-fashioned gumption. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

6. Anyone with a qualified vehicle can be in it

Today, the race is organized by SCORE International and they take all comers. You don’t have to qualify for the Baja; you just have to show up with a vehicle from one of the dozens of different types qualified to race and pay an entry fee. The course will take care of posers and pretenders better than any qualifier could anyway.

7. You can spend $500,000 to win $25,000

Vehicles that race in the Baja range from dirt bikes to dune buggies to ATVs—even unmodified pre-1983 VW Bugs. However, the showcase vehicles are the Trophy Trucks. These custom-built, 5,000-pound monsters feature over 800 horsepower, 40-inch tires, and can cost in excess of a half million dollars to build.

They run on high-octane racecar fuel and can hit speeds of 140 mph. While most of these trucks operate with two-person teams that rotate every few hundred miles, Baja legend Ivan “Ironman” Stewart is the only man to win the race driving the entire route solo.

8. When movie stars want to be real action heroes, they run the Baja

But it’s not just danger junkies and speed addicts that run the Baja. This race has been a calling for everyone from Hollywood movie stars like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman to established race-world celebrities like Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi and open-wheel legend Mario Andretti, who felt the need to test themselves against one of the world’s most brutal race tracks.

So what is the draw? Why do people who have everything to lose test themselves in a race that offers them almost nothing material to gain? Maybe it’s because they’re the last cowboys. Drivers with a compulsive need to throw themselves head-first into an unforgiving world that exists without social media influencers, hashtags or Starbucks lattes—where the only thing standing between glory and destruction is your wits, your guts and a willingness to fight through and overcome some of the most severe racing conditions the world has to offer.

The Old West may be dead, but once a year the new west is reborn less than 100 miles south of the U.S. border.

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