Baja racing is one of those motorsports that everyone in the car community has seen and heard of but its not as popular as F-1 racing or NASCAR, to some at least. The Baja 1000 is the race most have heard of but is only one of such sanctioned events by SCORE international. Everyone knows the trucks though, you know the ones with the big tires, body that somewhat still resembles a pickup, super wallowy suspension and loads of travel. Most of them have a gnarly sounding V-8 engine and we will get into them more in a bit. That’s only one of many classes that run the Baja race as well. There are classes for the big guys all out race trucks, motorcycles, buggies and everything in between. The timed runs have been around for a while with 2017 marking the 50th year for the legendary Baja 1000! The event which sparked a huge interest in desert racing has kind of an interesting start.
It all started back in 1962 when Honda approached Hollywood stuntman and motorcycle rider Bud Ekins to help them come up with a way to show off how durable one of there new motorcycle, the CL72 Scrambler, was. Bud’s idea of running a timed run from Tijuana to La Paz on the Baja peninsula would become the most famous dessert racing event in the world and he didn’t even know it. Bud had ties to triumph so his brother Dave Ekins and Billy Robinson Jr teamed up to complete the 950 mile timed run through the desert. The logistics of the endeavor were an issue considering there weren’t, and still aren’t, gas stations when you need them. They took an auxiliary gas tank with but at times got fuel from the airplane that was following the team with two journalists aboard or from ranchers who could be coaxed out of a few gallons here and there. The guys completed the run in 39 hrs and 56 min covering 952 miles! Over the years the race has varied and can sometimes be a point to point race or a loop starting and finishing in the same place.
After the coverage of this was released multiple others ran the route bettering the time with four wheeled machines. Ed Pearlman organized the first multi vehicle event in 1966 and then founded National Off-Road Racing Association or NORRA. Their inaugural event was the Mexican 1000 in 1967. This event would evolve into the Baja 1000 over the years. In 1973 Mickey Thompson’s SCORE International was enlisted to help promote future Baja races due to a non-profit Mexican corporations issues with promoting the event. The only reason they were in charge of this was due to NORRA cancelling the 1974 run on account of the ongoing oil crisis. Long story short, SCORE International has been hosting and promoting the Baja race ever since. SCORE stands for Southern California Off Road Enthusiasts and promotes other races such as the Baja 400, 500 and San Felipe 250 as well. The vehicles have come a long way since the beginning of the Baja race just as they have with every other motorsport. There are classes with full blown factory backed teams competing now when stock SAABs were coming in 3rd place 50 years ago.
A really cool thing about the Baja 1000 is you don’t have to run a factory backed car or have any sponsors. There are people running very lightly modified cars in these races. In fact, there are over 40 classes for vehicles to enter. They have classes for everything including motorcycles, UTVs, cars, Trucks, and Buggies. These classes are further broken down into subclasses like stock mini trucks to the top dog open production unlimited trucks or stock VW sedans to unlimited Baja bugs. The motorcycles have a multitude of classes as well, including small and large bore classes and classes based off of riders age from 30years old to 60 years old and over. One could essentially go and buy a dirt bike that would fit one of the categories on Sunday and show up to race it on Monday! The same goes for trucks and UTVs as there are classes for stock production vehicles with some small safety modifications.
Let’s delve into a few of the classes and get a better understanding of what they are all about starting with the one which gets the most attention, the open production unlimited trophy trucks. Trophy trucks are top dog in the SCORE races and are pretty much completely custom built vehicle with few restrictions. The class was introduced in 1994 and before that the trucks had to use factory frames. Now they are steel tube frame chassis and composite racing machines. These trucks are mostly two wheel drive but there have been entrants with all wheel drive systems. Suspension travel is the name of the game when traversing desert landscapes at triple digit speeds. Most of these trucks have more than two feet of suspension travel and run 39” tires or larger. The trucks come in at 3500 lbs or more and power is plentiful. The majority of the trucks are powered by V-8 engines that make somewhere in the neighborhood of 850-900 horsepower! Diesel engines are permitted with limitations on displacement from 5.0L to 6.6L and two turbochargers. Turbocharged engines must be fitted with air restrictors to meet race regulations. It is truly impressive at how fast these machines can gobble up the miles in some pretty rough terrain and run over 140 mph on the flats!
Another pretty cool class in the Baja series is the Baja Bug class. Actually classes as there are a few different classes of them depending on modifications. Now I will admit, I’m not a big Volkswagen Beetle fan. I know they have a huge following and some diehard fans will hiss at me but I just don’t see the appeal. I also don’t know a ton about them except their history of being built as the peoples car. Now a Baja Bug I could get into. They are the Mad Max version of the Beetle if you will. Take a Bug, lift it, put bigger tires on it, cut the fenders to fit those bigger tires, and remove the bonnet to expose the engine and viola, you’ve got a Baja Bug! The Beetle was built to be a utilitarian, easy to fix car for the masses, what better candidate for an off road endurance race. The Volkwagens were very popular entrants back in the day and still make for great entry level Baja machines. With a torsion bar suspension, nearly flat undercarriage and rear mounted air cooled engine they are suitable beater cars that hold up surprisingly well to the punishment a car endures in the unforgiving landscape that is the desert. They are essentially off road go karts and were so popular in the Baja 1000’s beginning that 0ver 50 of the 60-some entrants in the late 1960’s were Volkwagen bugs! After saying Im not a huge fan of the Beetle, I really do want a baja bug now!
As for factory machines that have proven they can drive to the race, do the damn thing and get you home, there have been few special edition pickup trucks offered over the years that have had more success than the Ford Raptor. Out of the box, this thing is the most capable high speed offroader out there. The Raptor has been out for a few years now and the latest generation is the most capable yet. It features FOX live valve shocks which adjust the damping on the fly based on terrain, 35” BFGoodrich K02 all-terrain tires, and available bead lock wheels from the factory. You can get a 4:10 ratio torsion differential in the front end and an advanced terrain management system. The newer trucks are also 500 some lbs lighter than the previous version thanks to military grade aluminum bits in the trucks construction. Power is there too with a high-output 3.5 liter twin turbo Ecoboost V-6 good for 450 hp and 510 ft lbs of torque. I have only driven the standard 3.5 ecoboost truck and the power is pretty impressive so I imagine the Raptor moves out well for a big truck! You could go and drop 60k on a raptor and enter it into a Baja race (I wonder if Ford would honor their warranty) but you don’t have to spend that much. Getting into something like the Baja bug classes or the dirt bike classes are far more affordable and could probably be just as fun, I know I want a Baja bug pretty badly now. Lifes too short not to pursue at least a few adventures along the way. From all of us here at Gearbox have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!