by Paco Clark
Race mile 114, not the beginning and certainly not the end - this part of the racecourse was new. A fresh trail bulldozed across a rocky canyon, up the side of the cactus covered valley and over the top of the summit pointing nearly 4,200 feet into the clear blue sky. Not a road really but a swath of rocks of all sizes and shapes that required great skill and patience to navigate a two or four wheeled race vehicle at the maximum speed up and over to a more frightening plunge down steep cliffs to the huge sandy wash and vast dry lake.
The Juan Gallo Race Team had pre-run the course the Saturday before and carefully staked out an area at the very peak of the summit situated in a saddle between two even higher mountaintops on either side.
Juan drove Smokey’s class 1600 car on the pre-run that day and Jere Hooper and myself chased behind in Jere’s Baja Bug. We pre-ran from race mile 44 to race mile 162 on that cool rainy day in Baja. Back to San Felipe where Juan continued working on the racecar to have it ready for contingency in Ensenada on Friday, May 30.
The moment all awaited was the starting line Saturday morning, May 31 for the green flag of the 40th annual Baja 500, the second oldest off-road race in the world. The oldest is big brother, the Baja 1000, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.
Jere and I arrived Friday morning to set up our pit with fuel, tires, and tools. Only one other person was at this section of the course, Crazy ‘Ol Bob from BFG Relay. We shared the precious little open area of the spine and rock strewn landscape summit for two days, just the three of us. Until sun-up on race day when a small caravan of motorcycles, quads and a Jeep loaded with people and supplies arrived. “Who are you pitting for”, we asked, “no one was their reply we just came to watch”.
In the middle of the middle of nowhere, high on a lonely mountain top in Baja – spectators! Wow! We all strained to catch the first glimpse of dust or the sound of the racers as they thundered into the far end of the canyon and bounced their way up the side of the mountain to our tumultuous cheers, waves, and thumbs up, the universal gesture of acceptance.
Only in Baja do people appear out of nowhere in some of the most remote desert and mountain landscape in the world to endure the stark naked terrain devoid of any creature comforts and cheer and party. The Baja 500 is so much more than a race - unless you experience it yourself – you may never know.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
by Paco Clark