This year, we went back for the Baja 500. But because of all the recent disturbing headlines (Mob murders, kidnappings and robberies) many entrants, spectators and sponsors stayed away. Ensenada was dead. Still, there was a noisy fiesta-style party in the central fairgrounds. And many familiar hairy faces and random tattoos were there as motor-head volunteers. Blue took a parking place in the back row trying hard not to stand out from the high dollar trucks and high tech equipment.
The forty-foot tall blow-ups of Coca Cola and Tecate Beer cans dominated the skyline. Monster.com and Red Bull signs and just about every car product made shouted from the edges around the park. Live, loud music from high-rise stages rocked the park trying to fill in for the skimpy crowd. Hopeful food vendors, and hawkers peddling shirts, posters, hats, serapes, sunglasses and race equipment, all pushed their wares to the occasional clumps of people wandering by. The racecars, trophy trucks, and motorcycles caused a commotion as they were pushed by crewmembers to a staging area. But the guys went slack jawed when a dozen drop-dead gorgeous trophy girls, sauntered in partially dressed in identical midriff-baring, tiny muti-strap tops, hip-hugging black pants and race-appropriate high heels. They danced with the throng, posed for pictures and generally stirred things up. As the party heated up, the beer and wine flowed freely and I noted that passing women paused to take a second look at Blue, whether it was out of disgust or adoration is not clear.
Meanwhile, the actual race teams, who had already been there a week, pre-running the course and plotting strategies, were all business, getting their game face on for the monstrous challenge ahead. Even Hal was inspired to check the oil on Blue before we moved down the course to await the racers at our pit.
The course begins right in town under a balloon-festooned Starting Line. It then follows a rough river bottom before climbing a sandy bank into the surrounding mountains and over to the Baja coastal plain. Over the years Hal and Blue have explored most of the course, making full use of 4 wheel drive and a bumper mounted winch to get them through the toughest, nearly impassable parts.
A couple of years ago, after the racers were already home and all the hoopla had died down, Hal and Ken followed the rugged course south, just for the heck of it.
In retelling the story, they said, "It's amazing what you find in the wake of all the action; mirrors, banks of road lights, spare tires, roll bars, exhaust systems, filters and once; a complete racecar hidden from view back in the brush, under a tree."
They checked out the $80,000 racecar, found paperwork identifying the driver and noted the race number for the officials. You know what they did next? Yep. And it started right up. When they tried to move it, they found the clutch was burned out, explaining why it was left behind.
Turns out, the car had been abandoned by its driver when he suffered dehydration and had to be Medivaced home. But no one marked the cars location on a map. Back in San Diego, Hal and Ken were able to tell both the race officials and the grateful driver where the car was hidden on the course. After four months of being lost, the found car was recovered within a few days.
Baja off-road is racing at it's best, or worst, depending on your perspective. Crowds line the first leg of the course, surging dangerously close to the racers who slide around turns and fly over rises on their way out of town at eighty or ninety miles an hour. Touching a passing racer is as good as petting a bull on the run in Pamplona.