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Baja 1000 – Explore the legendary race and the series it spawned all year!

The Baja Races have made everything in the culture of Baja California seem so fascinating and exciting. After all, the beach-oriented Mexican peninsula is rugged, adventurous, and romantic, but the Baja Races make a visit there much more than just a vacation destination. It is the location of the Championship Desert Racing Series.

You may be familiar with these races, but this is general information that avid enthusiasts or casual tourists will find really interesting. For me, it took a Santa Barbara antiques dealer, a family friend, to introduce me to this exciting place. You see, Diane Norman, popular owner of Summerland antique shop The French Market, is the mother of a young, six-time Baja Races motorcycle winner, Kendall Norman, who started racing when she was just 11 years old. Through Kendall I learned that the Baja Races are not just motorcycle races but include various types of vehicles. Bikers join racers on “quad bikes,” which are stock or modified 4-wheel vehicles, including cars, trophy trucks, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and dune buggies. These racers compete in one of the series, such as the Baja 1000 and Baja 500, racing “Off-road” on desert trails. While there are patches of road segments, the course is generally natural terrain with loose approximations of 500 or 1000 miles.

The best-known race is the Baja 1000, also known as the Peninsula Run, a point-to-point race that starts and ends at two different locations, traditionally between Ensenada and La Paz, following Federal Highway 1. There are shorter-loop races than they start and finish from the same place, which has traditionally been Ensenada, although circular races have also been held from Mexicali and San Felipe.

Brief history

Now an iconic series, Baja Races began in 1962 when American Honda wanted to test the reliability of its CL72 Scrambler in a long-distance test at Peninsula Run. the publications Earth Globe, Argosy Y cycle world praised Honda and the company. In fact, several stories included close encounters with death and danger. Having heard stories of mobsters on the barely paved roads of Baja California between the 1950s and 1980s, and then having my own late-night incident with a wandering cow on Highway 1, don’t fence me, I can attest to the dangers of Peninsula Run.

In 1967, the builder of the Meyers Manx buggy wanted to boost sales and break the 1962 Honda record. road track following the journalist, the Manx broke the record by more than 5 hours. Word got out in the media and from then on it was Buggy vs. Bike, and the competition between four wheels and two grew.

More record-breaking attempts were made during the year and a competitor, Ed Pearlman, organized the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) to officially recognize previous record-setters, establish class designations for the vehicles, and produce an annual Peninsula Run. Naming the event the “Mexican Rally 1000”, the race ran from the fall of 1967 to 1972. Popularity grew with the ABC network wide world of sports televising the 1968 event. Top racers such as Mickey Thompson, Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones, and movie actor and racer James Garner participated.

The races had a major change in 1973 when NORRA withdrew due to the US recession and oil embargo affecting participating racers. In response, the determined governor of Baja California turned the event over to a Mexican non-profit group who renamed it “Baja Mil” and, in English, the label “Baja 1000” was born! For future racing, racing promoter Mickey Thompson was hired. His Short Course Off-Road Enterprises, known as SCORE, was born, and over 39 years the Baja 1000 SCORE organization expanded into numerous off-road events, all known as the SCORE Championship Desert Racing Series.

The Baja Races have continued to attract top celebrities, including Paul Newman who participated in 2004 at age 80! Racing has evolved into a sophisticated enterprise featuring champion racers, funded by major sponsors, followed by avid enthusiasts, and covered by major sports news outlets. Events still make and break the careers and reputations of motorcycles and vehicles, as well as racers.

All in all, it was worth meeting Baja 1000 champion and Baja 500 racer Kendall Norman as his achievement opened my eyes to the incredible racing that adds so much to the unique character and rugged landscape of Baja, outside and inside the track. To see one of these races for yourself, target your Baja vacation to the events by checking out SCORE’s year-round online calendar. Generally, the Baja 1000 is in November, the Baja 500 is in early June, the San Felipe 250 is in late February, and the San Felipe Challenge of Champions is in early September. Experience SCORE’s Championship Desert Racing Series and the culture of the phenomenal Baja California peninsula. Go and enjoy the Mexican food, atmosphere and a Baja Race adventure!

(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian

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