The score Baja 500 is similair to a middle child. It's not Baja's roughest race; that honor goes to the technical, rocky SCORE San Felipe 250. It's not Baja's longest race; that honor is owned by the legendary SCORE Baja 1000. Instead, the Baja 500 is a little bit of both.
The 35th Annual SCORE Baja 500 started and finished in the seaside town of Ensenada. Beginning at the Tecate Arch, competitors wound their way around Ensenada streets for nearly 3 miles before hitting the dirt. Most of the course was laid out on fairly smooth dirt roads that crisscrossed the Baja Peninsula. The smooth roads allow racers to run their trucks at maximum speed, no matter what size tires or gearing they use. The trick to successfully navigating the course was preparing to slow down in a hurry.
Baja has a habit of throwing the unexpected at those who venture forth on its highways and byways. Cattle and stream crossings demand that racers keep themselves poised to stand on the brakes. Baja has an extra surprise in store for racers - booby traps. Many locals feel the need to make the race more exciting to watch; they set about constructing jumps and other unexpected obstacles that lie in wait for unsuspecting racers. Because the booby traps are built just before the race starts, racers have no way of knowing where they might spring up. As a rule of thumb, if you're speedin' along in Baja and you see throngs of spectators in a remote area, be ready to step on the binders - the spectators are most likely waiting for you to catch some big, unexpected, dangerous air.
Another hardship racers faced was created by the vehicles themselves. Powdery dust-silt prevails wherever dry weather and finely grained sand combine. Each passing vehicle churns the silt until the silt bed becomes a quagmire of powder, waiting to ensnare trucks that lose momentum. Silt has a few other tricks up its powdery sleeve: It clogs air filters; it clogs lungs; and it's impossible to see through.
While some race trucks have four-wheel drive, the majority are pushed by the rear wheels only. The two-wheel drives spent time pulling each other from the silt beds, knowing that if they helped fellow racers, the favor might be returned later in the race.
Team Herbst took the overall win in the truck and buggy classes. Its Class-1 Truggy took the lead when eventual Trophy-Truck winner Mark Miller went down with fuel pump problems.
Team UMI/Mark Miller Racing was happy with the Trophy-Truck win despite problems with the silver Chevy's fuel pump and brakes during the race. "This team perfectly executed every aspect of the plan; it's no wonder we'll be celebrating tonight," commented team navigator, Wade Weaver.
When the last trucks and buggies arrived back in Ensenada, one thing was clear: Baja's middle child demanded respect. The Baja 500 treated racers to fast dirt roads and spectacular coastal scenery when it wasn't pounding them with stream crossings, stray cattle, booby traps, or bottomless silt beds. Racers who didn't fare so well can look forward to next year's Baja 500. Hopefully, they'll be ready; Baja's middle child will be waiting.