Just What the Hell is the Baja 500?

April 6, 2014
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Want to do something dangerous and edgy?

Desert racing history is about to be made with competitors expected to arrive in Mexico from at least 30 U.S. states and a minimum of 12 countries with competition offered in 40 Pro and 7 Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs for the 46th Tecate SCORE Baja 500. The awe-inspiring desert race will be held from June 5th – 8th in Mexico’s Baja California Norté, starting and finishing in Ensenada, the raw, beautiful seaside port on the Pacific Ocean, 80 miles south of San Diego. And this year, Team BaDoink will have its own truck also taking part in the madness.

The Baja 500 is one of the top motor sports events in the world.

Started originally in 1969 by the NORRA organization, led by the maverick ex-racer and promoter Mickey Thompson and his SCORE International organization, it started out as a way to stage the kind of edgy, no rules, ultra-dangerous kind of racing once reserved for desperadoes whose only other option for making a living was smuggling the untaxed moonshine they made past local police and the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms in the Deep South of the United States in the years between the Great Depression and end of the Vietnam War. To avoid U.S. government safety supervision – and the hundreds of new safety rules to put an end to so many racing accidents and fatalities – groups like SCORE and NORRA made powerful friends in Mexico’s ruling PRI Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), and moved some of their business South of the border where it could thrive without so many of the safety-oriented rules and legal limits which hindered them in the U.S.

Baja 500

Welcome to the Wild West of racing

A sort of self-fulfilling extension of the notion of a lawless wild west, the race runs through cities and small towns, past bordellos, sleazy hotels, no-tell motels and even a garbage dump. Crowds gathered everywhere, the excitement of sometimes being only feet and inches away from the action and the lack of barriers anywhere: a mutually shared stimulant and turn-on for both the drivers and their fans. In between human habitats, the race winds through deserts, mountains and cliffs, and takes an average of about 9 hours to complete. Its dangerous reputation comes not only from its off-road atmosphere but also from potential set-ups such as booby traps, sand dunes, water moats and disguised pits along the way.

Simultaneously thrilling and horrible, the race and its promoters are responsible for multiple deaths of both drivers and spectators. With the local government ever ready to turn a blind eye to behavior that in more or less any other country anywhere would be litigious, promoters have added more booby traps, hairpin bends, bottlenecks and dugout traps as it became more and more of a massive success. As the crazy race began to attract tens of thousands of motorcycle clubs, fun-loving hippies, surfers and racing fans in general, its promoters have encouraged the entrepreneurs who run it to place very few barriers between the spectators and the speeding cars. Many of the spectators, journos and especially photographers, inebriated on cheap marijuana, beer, mescal and tequila, play incredibly stupid, macho matador games with the machines, standing precisely on the point of turns where there are no pads, barricades, fences or officials to challenge them.

Baja 500

After a couple of drivers and more than eleven spectators and a number of others were crippled in1973, the Mexican government asked the racing entrepreneur Sal Fish to take over the event in 1974. Fish has run and later owned and produced the Tecate SCORE Baja 500 for 39 years until he sold SCORE to Roger Norman in December of 2012. To celebrate SCORE’s 41st year as the world’s foremost desert racing organization, the world’s desert racing elite will be in action at this unique time-lapse race. The green flag falls on Friday, May 30 for motorcycles and ATVs and later for the cars and trucks over a number of staggered starts. The race will also feature a course that includes new or seldom-used areas as several new festivities will be held surrounding the event as the celebration continues for the 41st season of SCORE International desert racing.

A taste of Mexico…

For those of you who may be adventurous, but with a more mellow nature, you may want to get into town early, work on that tan and sample local goodies while they’re still reasonably priced, the pre-running on the race course will begin officially on Wednesday, May 8, except for the portion from the start to Ojos Négros (approximately 35 miles), which will be used in both directions during the race. As there will be more than 150,000 mostly crazed folks in town to watch the actual race, that getting-there-early thing would make you look downright clever!

The historic race course will be another memorable example of all that Mexico’s Baja California has to offer, including high-speed dirt trails, sandy, rocky and silty natural terrain, beautiful Baja washes and canyons, stretches along the seashore that show off elevations from sea level to over 4,000 feet. The course is yet another means of showing off the stark beauty of Baja California.

Team BaDoink
Team BaDoink will be on the action in their own awesome truck

Qualifying for starting positions is held over a special six-mile course near Ojos Negros. For those who arrive early, this could prove to be the most colorful experience of the whole tournament before the true madness begins. Again, its way cool to watch this before the madness begins and 150,000 fans and a lot of dust from the engines – and I mean a lot of dust! – impede your view.

The stuff memories are made of…

For those of you who love organized corporate parties with lots of gratis tequila and food, it’s all there waiting for you! Be prepared, however, to be videotaped a lot and to fill out lots of legal papers giving away your personal image rights. Colorful race week festivities include qualifying parties for Trophy Truck and Class 1 races. This is followed by a welcome party attended by many of the drivers who will be happy to give out their autographs at the start/finish line area in the heart of Ensenada. Be sure to bring your own sharpies and don’t overdo it with guys like Jeff Gordon – that’s the best advice I can offer to those aggressive collectors with mercenary ambitions!

Tickets will be available for the VIP area, but be prepared to lay out some big bucks and be around celebrities surrounded by some sometimes very mean-spirited entourages. Most of the action from then on will be around the Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center in the heart of Ensenada.

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