The Baja 1000’s Days-Long Sprint to the Finish

Tired, bent and broke, competitors cross the finish line.

Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Part 5
Instant Cameras and Off-Road Racing Mayhem

Class 11 cars are the slowest, most horrible racing class at the Baja 1000 and they’re perfect. They’re Beetles, basically. Just old VW Beetles. As close to bone stock as a thing with a roll cage and rearranged suspension parts can be. There’re seven of them running and I desperately want to see one of them pass through Pit 1. It never happens. They’re still stuck in silt beds, or draped over rocks, or having their wires twisted together in the dark wilderness between Pit 1 and Ensenada.

Clinging to the side of Highway 1 is a little wood-faced restaurant and grocery. Juan’s place. Acambaro. Investigate and you’ll find a pig on a spit, micheladas, margaritas with countless fresh limes, and stickers from damned near every off-road racing team you’ve ever heard of. I investigate, but I don’t spend too long. Just long enough to eat dinner, drink a cold beer and leave a sticker. By this time, the first of the bikes are aimed at Ensenada.

It’s too late for a crowd. A few journalists and photographers stand around. Weary looking mechanics and family dot the railing. The first bike across the line takes everyone by surprise. Maybe we’re all deaf from the trophy trucks. Cameras are raised just as Colton Udall’s 5X crosses the line. He looks wild, and surprisingly fresh—his whole team does. I expected dirt-caked, broken men with sunken and weary eyes. They’re quick to pop champagne. The next bike to finish is 25 minutes behind them. 16 hours, 29 minutes. They made it in time for an 11pm beer.

Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com

Hours pass. Bikes snort under the gate with some regularity. The big show won’t start until the early hours of the morning. It’s November and the day is short, a reminder that most of the really important and gritty stuff is happening unseen by anyone, miles away in the pitch black.

Carlos Apdaly Lopez is the first across the line, he makes the final corner, roaring and hammering on his truck until the very end. A swarm of photographers descend on the young Baja native. In all the noise and frenzy, the arrival of Rob MacCachren’s black and gold truck goes mostly unnoticed until Lopez shuts off his engine. Lopez might have the line honors, but it’ll take time to sort out the winner. It’s still hours before dawn. The announcement comes. Lopez wins. He climbs his truck in triumph and the assembled crowd is doused with champagne again.

Then another announcement, this one after the Lopez clears the podium. The Mexican team had accrued two penalties. Enough to put MacCachren ahead. Someone procures more champagne.

The finishers start to stack up. Every finisher gets a medal. Class firsts get a party, a spritz, then a shove down the ramp to make room for the next guy. It goes on through dawn, getting weirder every minute. The first to cross the line were in a sprint race, and they look like it, like they could get out on track and crack out another 500 miles, no problem. In the cold morning light, the trucks and buggies crossing the line look like they’ve survived a war with entropy. The Greer Brother’s Class 8 truck grinds through 400 miles with one good brake and the words ‘1 legged chicken’ penned on the fender. These are the heroes you came to Baja for.

Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com
Chris Cantle/TheDrive.com