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Baja 1000 – Explore the Legendary Race and the Series It Led to Year Round!
The Baja Races make everything about Baja California culture seem so fascinating and exciting. After all, Mexico’s beach-oriented peninsula is rugged, adventurous and romantic, but Baja Races makes a visit there much more than just a vacation. It is the venue of the Championship Desert Racing Series.
You may know about these races, but this is an overview that will really interest the avid enthusiast or casual hiker. For me, it took an antiques dealer in Santa Barbara – a family friend of mine – to introduce me to this most interesting place! You see, Diane Norman, owner of Summerland’s beloved antique shop, The French Market, is mom to a young, six-time Baja Race motorcycle champion, Kendall Norman, who started racing when she was just 11! Through Kendall, I learned that Baja Races are not just motorcycle races, but include different types of vehicles. The motorcyclists are joined by racers in “quads,” which are modified or stock 4-wheeled 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, an “Off-Track” run on desert trails. While there are patches of highway segments, the course is generally natural terrain with loose approximate distances of 500 or 1000 miles.
The most famous race is the Baja 1000, also known as the Peninsula Run, a point-to-point race that starts and finishes in two different locations, traditionally between Ensenada and La Paz, along Federal Highway 1. There are shorter circuit races that start and finish from the same location , which was traditionally Ensenada, although loop races also ran from Mexicali and San Felipe.
The now iconic series of Baja Races began in 1962 when American Honda wanted to prove the reliability of its CL72 Scrambler in a long-distance test at the Peninsula Run. Publications Globe, Argosy and Cycling world praised Honda and the company. In fact, several stories involved close encounters with death and danger. He heard accounts of bandits on the barely paved Baja roads of the 1950s and 1980s, and after having my own nighttime incident with a wandering cow on Highway 1, don’t get me wrong, I can attest to the dangers of the Peninsula Run.
In 1967, buggy builder Meyers Manx wanted to increase its sales and beat Honda’s 1962 record. Road and track After the journalist, the Manx beat the record by more than 5 hours. Word spread to the media and from then on it was Buggy versus Bike and the competition between four and two wheels grew.
More record attempts were made during the year, and one competitor, Ed Pearlman, organized the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) to officially recognize previous record holders, institute class designations for vehicles, and set up the annual Peninsula Run. He named the race the “Mexican 1000 Rally” and ran from the fall of 1967 to 1972. Popularity grew with the ABC network The wide world of sports broadcast of the 1968 event. Top racers such as Mickey Thompson, Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones and movie actor and racer James Garner were in attendance.
The race underwent a major change in 1973 when NORRA pulled out due to the US recession and the oil embargo affecting the racing participants. In response, the determined governor of Baja California turned the event over to a non-profit Mexican group, who renamed it the “Baja Mil” and the “Baja 1000” brand was born in English! Racer-promoter Mickey Thompson was hired for future races. His Short Course Off-Road Enterprises, known as SCORE, was born, and for 39 years, the SCORE Baja 1000 organization expanded into numerous off-track events, all known as the SCORE Championship Desert Racing Series.
The Baja races have continued to attract big celebrities, such as Paul Newman, who took part in 2004 at the age of 80! The race has evolved into a sophisticated enterprise with championship competitors, funded by major sponsors, followed by enthusiastic enthusiasts and covered by leading sports news outlets. Events continue to make and break the careers and reputations of bikes and vehicles, as well as racers.
Overall, it was worth it to meet Baja 1000 Champion and Baja 500 racer Kendall Norman, as his success opened my eyes to the amazing races that add so much to the unique character and rugged landscape of Baja California – off the track and beyond. If you want to see one of these races in person, focus your Baja vacation around the events on SCORE’s year-round online schedule. 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 off Champions is in early September. Experience the SCORE Championship Desert Racing Series and the culture of the phenomenal Baja Peninsula. Go and enjoy the Mexican food, atmosphere and adventure of the Baja Race!
(c) 2012 Elizabeth McMillian
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