2019 Baja 1000 Race Watch and Mud Fest Trip Report
November 21-24, 2019 • by Jay Lawrence • Photos by Stan Sholik
I believe it is a basic truth that you never actually need an excuse to go to Mexico, and Baja California is right there within easy striking distance for most of us. Beautiful countryside, friendly people, outstanding food and quite a bit less of the urban blight that has been creeping in on most of the southwestern United States.
Just to be extra diligent in our planning, Stan Sholik and I really did have a good excuse to go to Baja – to see the 52nd running of the Baja 1000 off road race.
Sometimes the race is run down the length of the peninsula from Ensenada to La Paz, other years it is run in a loop, starting and ending in Ensenada. This year it was a loop. The loop version allows race teams to pit and service their vehicles more easily with fewer pit crews. Obviously, the logistics of having pit crews and equipment strung out over the thousand mile length of the Baja peninsula makes the loop version much more attractive to racers.
By extension, it also makes spectating the race a little easier as well. With some judicious planning, you could see the racers early in the race, say Race Mile 100, then pull up stakes and travel cross-country and catch the racers later on the course, say Race Mile 700. That was our plan, but you know all those sayings about plans...
Our plan was simple. Cross the border on Thursday morning, lunch in Ensenada, motor another 70 or so miles to Erendira, camp overnight on the beach around Race Mile 102. In theory, the first motorcycles would be there Friday morning about 4-5 a.m. and the fastest trucks would arrive around noon.
We found the perfect spot about 30 feet from the ocean, set up camp and had a ‘safe arrival’ beer. As predicted, loud race motorcycles hitting 90-100 miles per hour with lights blazing turned up at the appointed hour. But only three or four of them. What was up? A few more bikes dribbled in over the next few hours, but nothing like the fifty or more bike and ATV entrants we expected.
After several hours and no racers, we talked to some folks who had a house nearby and a really good radio who told us “the course was deemed too muddy to run safely and the race was postponed for a day” for the first time in over 50 years. This was also a first for us, so we needed a new plan: Go off in search of a great seafood lunch, see new stuff and reconvene at Erendira for the race later that night.
We found the great seafood in San Quintin and went out to see more of the southern end of the west coast race route. It WAS muddy! Like, packed your wheel wells with so much mud you could not steer the truck muddy. We headed north on the race route until the course crossed an uncrossable ravine. Had we attempted it, we would still be there today. I have no idea how the racers were going to negotiate it, but we rerouted east and north to get back to the Mexico 1 pavement and Erendira.
Another camp setup and safe arrival beer and we were ready for the race.
Saturday morning arrived well before dawn with the fastest bikes blowing by us in the dark at 90-100 mph. Since it would be after noon before the Trophy Truck class vehicles (900 horsepower, 160 mph “trucks”) would be there, we waited out the bikes then headed to the arroyo east of Erendira where the trucks would be guaranteed to be going flat out. Co-pilot and professional photographer Stan would be at the ready for some seriously great action shots.
Local fans stationed themselves in the arroyo with cameras, camp chairs and picnics and the racers blasted down the narrow course with their gas pedals pinned to the floor, their vehicles on the extreme edge of control. Loud doesn’t begin to describe the noise. Huge engines pounded the air. Tires pounded the ground and dust and rocks were going everywhere. Every spectator could feel each pulse of energy and drivers were pushing for any advantage they could gain. They were there and gone in a flash. It was spectacle up close.
Once the fastest classes were by, it was time to get on with our mission. First, find another great meal. This took the form of a wonderful homemade soup followed by chiles rellenos, rice, beans, tortillas and a soda.
Next, top up our gas, head south to our cross country turnoff and turn toward Valle de Trinidad. This is a long, narrow 4WD back road with washouts and dropoffs that we would be negotiating as the sun was setting. We needed to cover some ground and we knew that some of the team pit crews would be using the same route, probably in much more of a rush than we were. This route needed a high level of attention. We were passed by support crews and everybody looked out for each other. We came across one crew truck in a rough place with a broken ball joint on their front suspension, but they assured us they had the problem handled so we pressed on. The sun set in our rear view mirror with Venus and Saturn and the moon on the horizon as darkness fell. After another hour we finally saw the lights of Valle de Trinidad and both breathed a bit easier. Little did we know the night was just going to get a lot weirder.
Now that we had reached pavement again, we headed west for a couple of dozen miles, then turned north on dirt backroads heading toward our destination, Race Mile 695. We found mud. Everywhere. Deep mud, slippery mud, dips with mud, pond sized dips with mud, deep muddy ruts and ravines. This was territory we had covered many times over the years, but the mud made it a whole new ballgame. Finally we came to a ravine too deep and steep to dare crossing lest we end up spending the night in it.
For hours we tried different routes, plotted new tracks and got stumped every time. Finally, we decided to do an end around by heading further west on the pavement, then take a paved spur north toward Santa Catalina and double back east off road. After a few dead ends we found a perfect camp spot about fifty feet from where the racers would come down the course, set up camp and cracked another safe arrival beer. We built a great campfire, pulled out the camp chairs, some food and an excellent bottle of ajo tequila. The racers would arrive sometime after midnight and we would have ringside seats.
We honestly didn’t last that long. After the long day, we were beat and when the firewood burned down, we called it a day.
The big Trophy Trucks did fly by, each one with lights that looked like the sun was coming at you, each one thundering through the night at a fantastic speed having driven almost 700 miles and over fourteen hours at women to compete.
Once the sun was back up, we spectated a bit more and took pictures and agreed it had been a terrific couple of days. After breaking camp we headed back to pavement and Ensenada.
First things first when we hit Ensenada. We needed to find a carwash in the worst way. Muddy episodes in years past had taught us (the hard way) that you will get turned back at the U.S. Border if your muddy vehicle is deemed to be bringing too much “foreign soil” back into the country. We had this happen in 2007 and did not want a repeat performance.
After an hour or more looking for a carwash in Ensenada and striking out miserably, we pulled into a gas station and asked. It turned out a HUGE modern carwash was right next door. For the princely sum of eleven dollars, mud was blasted off, floor mats washed, soap applied, truck scrubbed, rinsed and dried. Mission accomplished.
By now it was mid afternoon and some more super fresh seafood was in order. Fortunate.ly we knew just the place – El Trailero just north of Ensenada. We went, we filled up on shrimp tacos with avocado, crema, pickled red onions and pico de gallo, and then we were official.ly ready to head for home.
We headed to Tecate with the goal of having a quicker border crossing than the mess that is Tijuana. An hour or so in line, some conversation with armed, uniformed agents of the U.S. government, passports shown, a secondary inspection of the truck and presto! We were back in the United States. It was a great trip.