The Baja 1000 Goes Racing Into the Dark

Early in the race, chaos descends on Pit 1. Which means all is going according to plan.

byChris Cantle| UPDATED Jan 4, 2017 5:06 PM
The Baja 1000 Goes Racing Into the Dark

Hours in, the realization comes: If you try to rush around and watch all of the Baja 1000, you’ll only deprive yourself the chance of actually seeing it. Follow the helicopters to find the action. Follow smoke from barbecues and bonfires to find camaraderie. We make it to the first pit just in time to see the trophy trucks turn the joint inside out.

The stream of fast guys through Pit 1 is insane. An open tap of noise and helicopters, and then it slows. The Class 1 guys are next. Big, badass buggies. Damned near as fast as the trophy trucks.

The Class 1 buggies thunder through the pits, jumping the hell out of, what? A little rib in the road? I can scuff my feet over it, walk up and down the dirt road. Unless you’re going 60, 70 miles an hour, there’s no way to divine the thing that’s putting cars in the air. It’s incredible. Then the tap of racket and dust slows again.

The scene is jubilant-apocalyptic. Beautiful light. Cheering. Long rows of fuel jugs. Glittering chrome tools. Your teeth grit against the dirt in the air. It clings to everything. A little stand on the side of the track sells fruit drinks and snacks; I can’t help but flinch every time a car comes by because they’re still so goddamned close.

The sun drops. A wave of fog, almost impenetrable, wells up from the ocean and starts to lap at the beach. The ruckus continues—slower classes, some stragglers with early mechanical problems. Pit 1 gets busy. Splashes of fuel, new tires. The fog crests the bluffs, not even a mile away, and covers the distance to the track in minutes, bringing with it an early dusk and a chill.

Spectators pour gasoline over dried husks of agave and light them for warmth. The tough little plants go up in flames reluctantly, then burn like hell, like everything else down here.

Down the road a ways, a buggy struggles the wrong way up the track, without headlights. It’s damned near impossible to see him. Another racer, a Class 19 UTV, I think, plunges toward him, catches him in his lights. The errant buggy swerves at the last instant, a near miss that hurtles a giant green agave bulb onto the racing line. Maybe it’ll go up in flames next year.

Up above it all, BFGoodrich’s Pit 1 radio team tries to spot car numbers in the dark. It’s nearly impossible. A set of truck headlights aim out into the fog and help. Some. The radio chatter then turns to an injured chase rider. He’s walking wounded. Nobody is coming to claim him. Ambulances are dispatched to higher priorities. I can hear him retching in the bushes. I leave the radio team and find a beer.

Rush around  the Baja 1000, and you’ll only deprive yourself the chance of actually seeing it. And beer. You’ll deprive yourself of beer.