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An Offroad Legend Lives On – A Preview of the 54th SCORE Baja 1000

The term “team sports” connotes something very different in Baja California than it does in the U.S., where thoughts immediately turn to pastimes such as football and baseball.

Yes, those sports do exist in Baja, and on a professional basis. The baseball team Águilas de Mexicali have won the championship of the Mexican Pacific League four times, while Los Cabos’ American style football team, nicknamed the Marlins, competes in the FAM league (Fútbol Americano de México) against teams like the Chihuahua Caudillos and Jalisco Tequileros.

But of course those aren’t the team sports that resonate most in Baja. Mention team sports on the Baja California peninsula and people think fishing and off-road racing. The big-money fishing tournaments for which Los Cabos is famous typically involve teams of 4 to 6 anglers, and longer off-road races may include not only a driver of record, but a co-driver or navigator.

Aficionados of both of Baja’s two major “team sports” have plenty to celebrate right now. Bisbee’s first tournament of the 2021 season – the East Cape Offshore – just wrapped up with over 1.5 million dollars in prize payouts, and its two October tournaments – the Los Cabos Offshore and Black and Blue – promise to be even more lucrative. Drivers and race enthusiasts, meanwhile, can look forward to the peninsula’s most iconic race, the rugged and legendary “SCORE Baja 1000″ whose 54th running is scheduled November 15th to 20th.

Images courtesy of BFGoodrich Racing.

The Baja 1000 is both the oldest and longest of the SCORE series of annual off-road races, which also includes the San Felipe 250, and the Baja 400 and Baja 500. Mileage is approximate. This year’s Baja 1000 course, for example, is a point-to-point layout that stretches from Ensenada to La Paz, and clocks in at nearly 11oo miles overall.

The race features dozens of classes and levels, from vintage style VW Baja Bugs and dune buggies to trucks, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, all charged with conquering the challenging often-shifting terrains of the Baja California peninsula. And although prize money is not on the million dollar plus level of a Bisbee’s marlin fishing tournament, cash prizes are awarded by class, and for individual stages, and often include fat checks from sponsors like BFGoodrich Tires for the winners.

When the Baja 1000 first premiered in 1967–as a race from Tijuana to La Paz–it was under the auspices of the National Off-Road Racing Association, formed the year before by a group of racing enthusiasts led by Ed Pearlman and Don Francisco. It was Francisco, a veteran of the Carrera Panamericana, that flew all around Baja to chart a viable course for the first race, Pearlman who handled press and promotion. This was the beginning of the Baja 1000.

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Images courtesy of BFGoodrich Racing.

NORRA backed out of the race following the OPEC Oil Crisis in 1973, and there was no race at all in 1974. In 1975, eager to continue the tradition, Baja California governor Milton Castellanos convinced promoter Mickey Thompson and his SCORE (Southern California Off-Road Enterprises) organization to take over the race, which they did in 1975. The Baja 1000 has been run under the SCORE banner ever since.

And over the years a veritable who’s who of racing, as well as big-name Hollywood movie stars, have felt compelled to test their mettle on the most bone-jarring, nerve-testing race of them all. Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and James Garner all participated in the race. Even traditional motorsports stars like Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones and 7-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson have embraced the challenge.

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Actors Steve McQueen and James Garner, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, and Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones all competed in the legendary Baja 1000 (pictured clockwise). Image of Jones courtesy of Sarah Stierch. Images of Johnson courtesy of Nascarking.

To date, the Baja 1000 has finished in Cabo San Lucas only twice: in 2000 and 2007. But this year’s finish in La Paz puts drivers and spectators within close proximity of Los Cabos. And what’s two more hours of driving (on highways even!) after braving 1100 miles of punishing desert and other off-road terrain?

A vacation. That’s what.

 

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Saludos from Co-Founders…

Chris Sands and Michael Mattos

CaboViVO

 

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