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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The 40th Annual Tecate Score Baja 1000

by Paco Clark

The 40th Annual Tecate Score Baja 1000 held November 11-16, 2007 may have been the ultimate test for all classes of off-road vehicles but perhaps the greatest challenge is that of being a spectator. Ensenada officials estimate that as many as 500,000 race fans crowded the starting line to cheer their favorite drivers on their way down the 1,296 mile course to Cabo San Lucas. There is no way to count all the fans, farmers, ranchers, screaming school children and curious on-lookers in the towns, villages, deserts, beaches and mountains of Baja.

Although the race did not come through San Felipe, it was well represented by die-hard race fans like Dave Dietrich who left early to see the leaders thunder into Cabo. El Dorado Resident Jere Hooper found his spot high in the San Pedro de Martir above Mike’s Sky Ranch. My son Hal Jr. and his friends Tom and Cullen flew in from Colorado to see their very first Baja Mil. We arrived in Ensenada on Sunday so we could be there for contingency the next day. That rainy evening in Ensenada, we ran into long time San Felipe resident Bob Ham, who was inducted into the Off-Road Hall of Fame in Reno Nevada in 2006.

Sorry, no bleachers, reserved seats or corporate sky boxes here. Just decide how far you are willing to drive, where you want to watch, pick a spot or try and hop along the course. Most of the course is not accessible by family sedan and few spots come close to a paved highway. This is pure, rugged “spectatoring”. Wanting to get as far south as possible and still see the leaders in daylight, we chose the tiny village of Guayaquil, southeast of El Rosario off Highway 1 at Race Mile 369. Once the leaders blasted through and darkness fell over the Viscaino Desert we headed south to Bahia de Los Angeles, arrived around midnight, and bathed in the glare of floodlights from the pits at Checkpoint #5 – Race Mile 519 – 777 miles to go.

The lead motorcycles beat us to the Bay of Los Angeles but we were there to see the lead Trophy Trucks roar into downtown like something out of a science fiction movie. With up to ten HID off-road lights blazing a white tunnel into the darkness, the thunder and vibrations of the Trophy Truck at full throttle shattered the serenity of the still desert air. We set up camp just a few feet off the pavement as it turns hard right out of town. Even spectators are called in to assist riders and drivers with mechanical or physical problems, provide nourishment, water or aid in communication by relaying information to other crewmembers or officials. You gladly do whatever you can. You are dusty, sweaty, gritty, greasy and sometimes bloody, but through it all you smile, yell and cheer with high-fives all around – then you find a shady quiet place to sleep.