Ford Bronco Baja

24 Fascinating Facts About The Baja 1000

The first Baja race was organized in the Mexican desert over 55 years ago. Since then, it has evolved from an amateur race into one of the world’s most famous off-road racing events. Factory-backed teams go there to win, while amateurs just want to have a good time with their friends and make it to the end.

The Baja 1000 is one week of partying mixed with some of Earth’s most grueling off-road racing. Spectators fly in from all corners of the world to look at Trophy Trucks that seemingly float above the uneven ground, old Beetles crawling through sand, and motorcycles riding through the dust on one wheel. Let’s check out 24 facts about the Baja 1000.

Baja 1000 Origin: The First Timed Run

Baja Rally Motorcycle
Image Credit: Rally POV / YouTube.

Walt Fulton and Jack McCormack of Honda’s American subsidiary reached out to Bud Ekins, a local motorcycle dealer and racer, when they wanted to arrange a long-distance run to prove how reliable the new Honda CL72 Scrambler motorcycle was.

Ekins came up with the Tijuana to La Paz route, which involved 950 miles of mountain passes, rocks, sand, and dry lake beds. Although Ekins didn’t participate in the run himself, his brother Dave Ekins and Billy Robertson Jr., the son of another Honda distributor, were up for the task. They set off just after midnight on March 22, 1962, and crossed the finish line 39 hours and 56 minutes later.

How The Buggy Became A Vital Part Of The Baja 1000

Meyers Manx Baja Rally
Image Credit: Volkswagen USA News / YouTube.

After Ekins and Robertson Jr. finished the first-ever timed attempt, their record was widely reported by papers and magazines, such as the Globe, Argosy, and Cycle World magazines. Bruce Meyers, creator of the original Meyers Manx buggy, wanted a piece of this publicity to boost sales of his vehicle.

Bruce Meyers and Ted Mangels set off from La Paz to Tijuana at 10 p.m. on April 19, 1967, and beat the time set on the motorcycle by more than five hours. Thirty-four hours and 45 minutes after they set off, Meyers and Mangles crossed the finish line in Tijuana.

Before the Baja 1000, There Was The Mexican 1000

Baja Bug
Image Credit: CodeRed Ward.

After Ekins had set the record, other speed freaks, like Meyers mentioned above, would attempt to break it. At this point, there wasn’t an organized event, just determined individuals, and Ed Pearlman saw an opportunity to create a proper arrangement in 1967.

He set up a new organization called NORRA, or National Off-Road Racing Association, and an off-road racing event in the Baja Peninsula called NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally. The first race started on October 31, 1967

From NORRA’s Mexican 1000 To SCORE’s Baja 1000

Baja Bug
Image Credit: LDL Videos.

Fearing the turnout would be too low due to the Arab Oil Embargo, NORRA canceled the 1974 Mexican 1000 event, even though the Mexican government had assured the fuel prices would be stable.

The Baja California government contacted SCORE International, which secured exclusive rights to host and promote future Baja races. In 1975, SCORE International restarted the Baja 1000.

The Baja 1000 Course

Ford Bronco Baja 1000
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The first Baja 1000 went from Tijuana to La Paz, and since then, the course has traditionally started in Ensenada, Mexico. However, it has occasionally started in other towns, such as Mexicali, Santo Tomas, Tijuana, and La Paz.

There are two types of Baja 1000 racing: point-to-point and loop race. The point-to-point race starts and ends in two different locations, usually from Ensenada to La Paz. The Loop race will start and finish in the same location – most commonly Ensenada.

The Baja 1000 Isn’t 1000 Miles

Baja buggy
Image Credit: John Dinkel / YouTube.

As mentioned, there are point-to-point and loop Baja 1000 races, and while the event’s name suggests it is 1000 miles long, that’s not necessarily the case.

The loop race can be between 600 and 850 miles long, and the point-to-point race can be anywhere from 950 to 1700 miles. Because of this, the time it takes to finish will vary from year to year. Obviously, other factors will also affect the total time, such as technical issues, weather, or if they get lost. The top teams can finish in 20 to 25 hours.

Baja 1000 Is Open To A Variety Of Vehicles

Baja Trophy Truck
Image Credit: Stadium Super Trucks / YouTube.

The Baja 1000 has a long list of vehicle classes, including motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, buggies, trophy trucks, and even classic VW Beetles modified for off-road use – known as Baja Bugs.

While the Baja Bugs are among the coolest vehicles on the starting grid, they can’t match the trophy trucks in terms of speed and power.

Only Half Of The Baja 1000 Participants Make It To The Finish

Baja motorcycle
Image Credit: Behind The Bars / YouTube.

The Baja 1000 isn’t just about going as fast as possible; there’s a lot of strategy and psychology involved as well. As the saying goes, to finish first, first you have to finish, and roughly half of the competitors make it to the end.

This is an endurance race designed to test both drivers and vehicles at their limits. The course is bumpy and destroys suspensions and drivers’ backs, there’s fine sand that’ll get everywhere, it gets freezing and pitch black, and that’s just some of the problems. You’ll also need luck to be among the 50-ish percent that make it to the end.

Baja 1000 Pre-Running Is Key To Survival

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Seeing as so many competitors won’t even make it to the end, proper preparations are vital to surviving this challenging race. Competitors will go to Baja to pre-run their allocated part of the course before the race starts.

There are different route options, lots of jumps, ravines, and ditches, and racers are essentially on their own in the wilderness. Gathering as much intelligence as possible before the race is absolutely vital to survive. We mean that in the most literal sense of the word.

The Weather Isn’t Always Nice And Sunny

Baja Trophy Truck
Image Credit: Talk Baja / YouTube.

Regular people would love to visit the Baja California Peninsular to enjoy a lovely holiday and work on their tan. That’s not the reality for Baja 1000 racers.

During the Baja 1000, competitors can face various weather conditions, from scorching heat to freezing cold, and blinding sun to rain. It can even snow! It sounds more like Hell than a dream vacation!

The Roads Are Open To The Public

Baja truck
Image Credit: Monster Energy / YouTube.

While pre-running and proper preparations are key to making it to the end, it’s impossible to prepare for everything the Baja 1000 throws at you. The roads are open to the public, so contestants will eventually find themselves among locals wanting to race them, cows, and buses.

To make matters worse, some of the locals set booby traps for the racers, digging holes and building jumps in the middle of nowhere.

Anyone Can Enter The Baja 1000

Baja Motorcycle
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Multiple celebrity gearheads have taken part in the Baja 1000 over the years. Steve McQueen drove his Chevrolet-powered buggy there in 1969, and Paul Newman became the oldest-ever Baja 1000 entrant in 2004 when he competed at age 80.

Other famous people have also tested their mettle in the famous desert race, but it’s not just for celebrities. The Baja 1000 is open to all, but it is rather pricey, and that’s a big hurdle for most people.

Baja 1000 Entry Fee

Baja Bug
Image Credit: Carfection / YouTube.

If you have an off-road capable vehicle that can be placed in one of the classes, you can participate in the Baja 1000. However, there is an entry fee of about $3,000+ to pay first.

While that doesn’t sound too bad, you also need to factor in traveling to and from the event, the cost of your vehicle and support vehicles, fuel, food and drinks, somewhere to stay, etc. Some companies organize everything for you, including the vehicle, but those packages can cost over $100,000 for 5+ participants.

How To Get Behind The Wheel Of A Proper Desert Racer

Baja truck
Image Credit: Monster Energy / YouTube.

Purpose-built off-road cars cost over $100,000 to build, so you’ll need deep pockets or a lot of sponsors to get your hands on one. The cheapest option is a motorcycle, but only experienced riders should ride one at the Baja 1000. Trophy Trucks can cost well over half a million dollars, so they’re out of range for most of us. However, there’s a solution.

If you have five friends who would also love to race at the Baja 1000, starting your own team is unnecessary. Several “arrive and drive” options begin at around $100,000, but if you compare that to buying a vehicle and hiring a crew, etc., it’s the cheaper option.

The Baja 1000 Is Big Bucks

Ford Bronco Baja
Image Credit: Ford.

As we’ve established, driving the Baja 1000 is a costly undertaking. While there’s prize money to be won, only the best will win it, and it’s not even massive amounts, at least compared to many other racing events.

The Baja 1000’s massive rise in popularity means it’s an excellent opportunity for companies to get their products and logos in front of potential customers. These sponsors also help with lower-tier prizes, promote the event, and add another dimension to the entertainment. Sure, it costs a lot of money to play, but they’re cashing in much more than that if their team wins.

Some People Enter The Baja 1000 Alone

Baja motorcycle
Image Credit: Ortega’s Racing / YouTube.

Most entrants in the Baja 1000 are part of a team, which usually includes multiple drivers as well. A race team can consist of just a driver and map reader without any other support. For motorcycle teams, four or five riders sometimes share the motorcycle riding duty. There are also factory-supported teams that race custom-built vehicles with chase helicopters. However, some people are wired differently.

Some enter the Baja 1000 alone, with no support or backup. As with everything else, there are pros and cons to this. Not sharing the vehicle means you don’t need to worry about someone else breaking it, but it also leaves you completely alone if you have an accident.

The First Female Baja 1000 Racer

Baja off-road race
Image Credit: Baja Off Road / YouTube.

Mary McGee, born in December 1936, has several groundbreaking motorsports achievements to her name. She was the first woman to compete in motorcycle racing events in the United States and was an active motocross racer from 1960 to 1976.

In 1968, the second year of the official race, McGee became the first woman to finish the grueling event.

Baja 1000 Qualifying

Baja buggy
Image Credit: 995 Off Road / YouTube.

The various classes start in a particular order, with the motorcycles being the first to set off. However, the starting order for each class of the Baja 1000 is decided by a random draw, with participants who finished in top positions the previous year getting preferential starts.

The top starting position can also be assigned to those who emerged at the top during the qualification rounds. Qualification for Class 1 vehicles and Trophy Trucks is now held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway during SEMA.

The Baja 1000 Vehicles

Ford Bronco Baja
Image Credit: Ford.

The Baja 1000 is open to a wide variety of vehicles, from simple motocross bikes, home-built buggies, and old stock Volkswagen Beetles to highly modified UTVs, ATVs, and full-on race vehicles, such as Trophy Trucks.

Over time, the Baja 1000 has grown from being an amateur event to an international off-road motorsport event that attracts factory race teams from around the world.

The Dangers Of Racing At Baja 1000

Trophy Truck
Image Credit: Stadium Super Trucks / YouTube.

Over the years, the Baja 1000 has seen several severe injuries and even deaths. It’s not only the competitors who are the victims, either; even the spectators are at risk.

The fans are actually one of the most dangerous road hazards, followed by booby traps and rocks. Racing over incredibly challenging terrain is hard enough, but unlike other rally events, there aren’t detailed pace notes for the Baja 1000, elevating the risk of serious accidents.

The Baja 1000 Scenery

Ford Bronco Baja
Image Credit: Ford.

You might think that there’s nothing to see when flying through the desert, but most people who’ve been there only have nice things to say.

The desert offers an arid beauty, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you couple that with beautiful isolated beaches and undulating landscapes. Just hope you won’t spend the entire time in a cloud of brown dust.

The First Overall Win By A Truck

Baja truck
Image Credit: Fortress Technology / YouTube.

These days, the Baja 1000 is famous for its incredible Trophy Trucks, but those weren’t always part of the desert scenery. The 1979 Baja 1000 is historic because it was the first time a pickup truck emerged as the overall race winner.

Walker Evans, a professional off-road racing driver, drove a 1978 Dodge Ram race truck to one of his multiple victories at Baja.

What Goes On When They’re Not Racing?

Baja racer
Image Credit: Baja Off Road / YouTube.

To many, the Baja 1000 is a week-long party in the desert. They get to do some wrenching with their buddies and other off-roading enthusiasts, drink some beers, and look at excellent vehicles.

Granted, it’s not all fun and games, and as the event has grown and now attracts people from around the world, some are there for more nefarious reasons, and some serious crimes have been reported over the years.

Will The Fun Ever End?

Ford Bronco
Image Credit: Ford.

The Baja 1000 is less clean-cut and well-organized than many other motorsport events, and that’s partly because the organizer can’t really rely on local authorities for proper assistance. Since there’s a limit to what the organizer can do, some bad things are bound to happen at the Baja 1000.

However, with more people complaining about safety and the race’s effect on the local environment, voices are calling for the Baja 1000 to be canceled. It may be a good thing that the local authorities aren’t paying too much attention.

Andre Nalin

Author: Andre Nalin

Title: Writer

Bio:

Andre has worked as a writer and editor for multiple car and motorcycle publications over the last decade, but he has reverted to freelancing these days. He has accumulated a ton of seat time during his ridiculous road trips in highly unsuitable vehicles, and he’s built magazine-featured cars. He prefers it when his bikes and cars are fast and loud, but if he had to pick one, he’d go with loud.

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