1000 Miles of Off-Road Racing and an Instant Camera

We tackle Baja with Seventies technology. Film!

byChris Cantle|
Racing photo

The Baja 1000. It’s a sepia-toned fever dream of chaos, all set to the sound of ripping V8’s and the smell of stale beer, tacos and dust. It’s a thing best captured on film. Clarity and precision, the granular detail of thrown dirt, suspension in action, it’s part of the Baja 1000 to be sure. But it’s a small part. The whole is only visible through a dirty lens. Motorcycle goggles, the bottom of a margarita glass or an instant camera. That’s the Baja 1000 we went to see. And it is, in a word, glorious.

First, an introduction. It comes at the hands of Baja 1000 class winner Ryan Thomas, and at the helm of a BC-class buggy. That’s a steel-tubed machine with Subaru power, made of more suspension than sense. The buggy bounds into the air over jumps on a course south of Ensenada. We grind out laps, throw roost. I take the wheel and, within a matter of minutes, have put the buggy on two-wheels and narrowly saved it.

Point taken, Baja. Point taken.

Meanwhile, in Ensenada, the full-throated raucous of Baja has taken over downtown. A long string of everything the 1000 has to offer has lined up, twisting off the main drag and up Avenida Castillo, where the hillside creates a false horizon of crowds and cruise ships.

It’s all here, all unavoidable. You’re as likely to bump into the Solazano’s Class 11 Beetle as Robby Gordon’s trophy truck, and you’ll find both if you go looking. They’ll be next to a cart of beautifully organized candies, or a man cooking bacon. Or a young Mexican woman in fatigues and aviators holding an assault rifle.

Teams pour across the main stage, under the banners and streamers and 30-foot-tall inflatable beer cans, trucking their way to tech inspection and throwing out stickers and frisbees and t-shirts by the thousands. It’s an ecstasy, this endless parade that goes late into the night. When the sun finally ducks past the horizon, all that’s left is an ocean of Bud Light cans. The race teams have gone to bed. The crowds have moved on to the next party, hungry for more.