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How to Survive the Baja 1000

If there’s one word you could use to describe the Baja 1000, I suppose it would have to be “baja,” because no other word really comes close to describing it. It’s crazy off-road mayhem, one of the world’s toughest rally races, and is definitely not for the faint of heart or faulty of machine. Indeed, over 600 to 1,000 miles, the course rolls over everything from open desert to paved highways, which aren’t closed for the event – rocks, rivers, dust storms, cows, goats, local residents, traffic lights, booby-traps, and uncivilized wilderness are all par for the course.

SCORE International CEO Sal Fish, himself a Baja 1000 legend, put it this way the night before the 2002 race: “All competitors are reminded that off-road racing is an inherently dangerous activity that can result in serious injury or even death. The lunatics will be running the asylum.”

To even get through the Baja 1000, because just 60% ever finish the course, you need the right blend of equipment, backed up by a good team, hopefully some knowledge of the course, and just a touch of crazy, well, maybe a whole lot of crazy. That’s just how this race rolls, on anything from little Honda dirtbikes to classic unmodified Volkswagen Beetles to $500,000+ trophy trucks with more tech and team than you can shake a stick at.

Everything You Need to Get Into, and Out of, Trouble

It might seem like this is the most obvious, but you have to start with a vehicle. Now, if you’re running the pre-1982 classic Beetle class, then all you need is an unmodified classic Beetle. Any other class, and you’re looking at anything from minor modifications to full-blown fabrication. You’re going to need plenty of off-road tires, because the trail can be vicious. The longest-travel suspension you can afford is a no-brainer, and make sure the cooling system is up to spec!

Unless you have a Baja Mexican guide as a co-driver, then you’re going to need a GPS, but not just any TomTom or Google Maps will do, unless it’s been seriously tweaked. The problem is, there aren’t many roads where you’re going! “Turn left at the next cactus,” says Bonnie, in her sickeningly-positive voice, “and into the ravine.” Your GPS will be filled with a reasonable route to the next checkpoint, with serious-looking icons pointing out the most dangerous obstacles, such as cliffs, ravines, and river crossings.

We’ve already mentioned spare tires, of which you’ll need to carry a couple between checkpoints, but what if something else goes wrong? Your on-board spare parts cache is going to be limited, and your mechanic only has so many tools. So, no spare engine, but whatever you can replace in under an hour might be in there, including extra fluids, hoses, belts, lights, shocks, drive shafts, u-joints, maybe even a transmission or transfer case.

Of course, no Baja 1000 racer ever won the race on his own, even those “ironmen” that drive the whole race alone. Backed up by a knowledgeable team, in constant communication via satellite phone and CB radio, maybe you’ll make it. Trust your co-driver and his map, until the map gets lost or wet or suddenly the trail disappears. Then, trust his eyes to pick out any dangers so you can react to them.

Finally, there’s the last ingredient – you must be crazy to race the Baja 1000. It’s a foray into what might be considered the unknown. Between checkpoints, there are practically no roads and no towns, just pure desolation as far as the eye can see. Fortunately, GPS and radio will keep you in contact should you suffer equipment failure or a spectator booby-trap sidelines you. Good thing the traps are usually surrounded by spectators looking for a great shot!

If you’ve managed to do all of this and still survive the Baja 1000, you can chalk your name up along with the others who have spent blood, sweat, and tears to do so. “You’ve arrived!” says Bonnie, cheerfully. Then, you’ll start saving money and looking for sponsors for next year’s race.

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One Response

  1. Cavakia says:

    My nickname is danger! This Baja race 1000 sounds like just the thing i need to make me feel alive again

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