In 1967, American professional stuntman and off-road racer Bud Ekins came up with the Baja 1000 as a way to test the performance of Honda dirt bikes. Five decades later, the Baja 1000 is the longest nonstop, point-to-point race in the world. It is a test of endurance, of physical and mental strength, of man and machine alike. Every year, it all takes place in stunning Baja California, a legendary peninsula in Mexico, where mountains, valleys, and gorgeous coastline come together for some of the most beautiful vistas on Earth.
The Route, Length, and Duration of the Baja 1000 Race
From year to year, the route for Baja 1000 is subject to change. Generally, the race begins in Ensenada, just a few miles into Mexico, and ends in La Paz, but the roads designated for the course are slightly different each time. In 2016, for instance, it featured a closed circuit instead, with start and finish in Ensenada, as well as several checkpoints to help drivers determine the complete course. The length and duration of the race may vary accordingly. At times, the Baja 1000 is actually 1000 miles long, but it can be shorter than that or it can lengthen up to 1700 miles. The time it takes to complete the race is equally variable. It depends on the weather, the vehicle you’re in, any technical issues you encounter on the way, and whether or not you get lost in the process. For top teams, the race can take anywhere from 20 to 25 hours to complete, no stopping allowed.
The Vehicles in the Race
There are dozens of vehicle classes allowed in the Baja 1000 Race, some of them more unusual than the others. To start off the race, quad bikes and motorbikes, ranging from Yamahas to Honda CRFs, blast out of the gate, quickly followed by half million dollar, Chevrolet and Ford trophy trucks, as well as the Class 1 Buggies. Class 11 is one of the more peculiar in the race, with its stock, pre-1982 Volkswagen Beetles and drivers brave enough to tackle the race in such remarkable machines.
The Importance of “Pre-Running”
Every year, the route, length, and duration of the Baja 1000 are at least slightly different than before, which makes preparation for the race all the more difficult. To ensure the smoothest ride possible, drivers engage in “pre-running,” which allows them to become more familiar with the course, its roads, its obstacles, its jumps, and shortcuts. Regardless of the exact roads marked for the race in a given year, the Baja 1000 is always bound to include great lengths of unregulated, untamed wilderness. The only way for drivers to get acquainted with it is to see it themselves.
Expecting the Unexpected
If there is one thing that makes the Baja 1000 Race mind-blowingly entertaining, it’s the fact that no matter how much one prepares for it, the race itself will be marked by the unexpected. The weather, the dust, and the terrain play a role here, but most importantly, unlike with other races, the roads in the Baja 1000 are not closed, which means that drivers navigate portions of wilderness as well as public highways, where traffic carries on as usual. Cars, horses, cows, and pedestrians are all part of the race. Some locals even dig holes to send unsuspecting drivers into unforeseen jumps.
Anyone Can Enter the Race
Over the years, a number of celebrities have tested their mettle in the Baja 1000. In 1969, Steve McQueen took his Baja Boot, a Chevrolet-powered buggy, and his good friend Bud Ekins for a race. In 2004, Paul Newman, then aged 80, became the oldest ever entrant in the Baja 1000, while in 1963, Parnelli Jones, winner of the Indy 500, finished first in the race. This doesn’t mean that only the famous can join in the fun, however. In fact, although pricy to compete in, the Baja 1000 Race is open to all. This should not give you the wrong impression, though. You don’t need to qualify to compete, but to finish the race is an entirely different story.