Everything You’ve Heard About the Baja 1000 is True

Reach out and touch a 1,000-horsepower trophy truck. Go ahead. You're that close.

Continued from Part Two

Americans call it “The Wash.”

Arroyo Ensenada. Visit the city as a tourist a dozen times and you’d never know it was there. Visit during the race and you’ll never forget it. It’s a carved out riverbed, sharp angles, dirt, a half-dozen overpasses and uncountable masses of living, breathing spectators that race organizers are desperate to keep that way.

The start time nears, simultaneously helicopters rise up from all over Ensenada and converge overhead. Crowds push closer. A parade crosses one of the overpasses, pretty cheerleaders and handsome young men, a tide of sombreros and girls in traditional white dresses. And the parade disbands and pours down the slope of The Wash.

There’s zero thought of calamity or momentum or possibility in The Wash, just good times. Years of driving cars too hard and shooting photos too close to racetracks has numbed my sense of risk, but I’m still a little shocked. Reach out and touch a trophy truck. Go ahead. You’re that close.

Over the radio, we hear that spectators are too close to the track, and the Federales wave crowds back from the edges of a giant puddle. Just feet. And minutes later, without warning, the pounding, roaring hell on wheels that is unlimited off-road racing is aimed straight up The Wash.

If you’re lined up in the sights of a trophy truck and don’t get chills if you don’t have that animal instinct to turn and run, to plunge into the crown and climb the steep banks of Arroyo Ensenada, to get the fuck out of the way, you’re a braver soul than me.

The truck comes flashing in the light and dark of the underpasses, throwing all the dust and dirt and trash of The Wash high into the air; for a second, there’s not a single sound besides the roar and the bass drum whomp of big tires pounding ground and suspension flat.

And then the truck passes, hits a jump, flat-out. Crackles through the air. Digs its tires in and makes a big left-hand turn, covering all the pretty girls and their white dresses in mud. And everyone cheers and uncovers their beer and peers down for The Wash, looking, listening, for the next truck.

The big trucks drag their chaos and their helicopters out into the wilds of Baja. Away from the crowds and fans and their teams, and any semblance of order. In minutes, they’re pounding across the lonely parts of the Peninsula.

I don’t see the leaders again for an hour and change, when they come snorting down a bony ridgeline, through a valley and get spit sideways, barking and bucking, onto the hard sticky asphalt of Highway One.

The big trucks, all the competitors, travel miles of public streets. Roll down Highway One, turn your back for one minute and know that you’ll look back to your mirrors for an impolite view of two-dozen big headlights bearing down on you.

They’ll turn you inside out when they pass you. Not because of their speed, but because of their noise. One of the trucks blows past us, then pits seconds later, veering off the road violently and up a dirt hill, where it comes to a stop. Too early. There’re hours and hours of racing to come.