Baja California is home to one of the deadliest race in the world, the Baja 1000. While the name for the race may not be very inventive or creative, the race itself is, in fact, unique in that there are few rules and no referees. The race has claimed more lives than any other major sporting event and is still sanctioned by Score international.
Despite its incredibly dangerous nature, the race has managed to attract people from all walks of life, and a variety of different countries. And the final for Baja racing, the Baja 1000, is the biggest off-road racing event in the world. So how did it get here? How did one of the deadliest off-road racing sports also turn into one of the most prestigious ones? Well, it all started with one of the biggest car manufacturers looking to flex their new vehicle.
The First Run (1962)
Walt Fulton and Jack McCormack worked in Honda's American subsidiary and wanted to prove just how durable and reliable their newest motorcycle was. The Honda CL72 scrambler motorcycle was new at the time, so to show off its durability, they contacted various people and companies for suggestions. One of the suggestions was to take the Tijuana and La Paz route, which was full to the brim with sand washes, rocks, mountain passes, and few roads. There was minimal margin for error, and saying that the path was dangerous would be to put it lightly.
Dave Ekins, the rider, performed the trip on March 22, 1962, just after midnight. Touted as the Baja run, this was officially the first run through the death track. He completed the track in less than 40 hours, covering 952 miles. The event made it to the front page of most newspapers and magazines and received immense press coverage. Not to mention, Honda received respect from various communities for its incredible product.
Two Wheels vs. Four Wheels
With the immense success and press coverage that the first run received, a Californian engineer by the name of Bruce F. Meyers decided that he would very much like some of that action. He went on to create the Meyers Manx - a dune buggy specifically built for desert racing. He managed to beat the previous record set by Dave Ekins with the help of his Honda CL72.
The recorded time that it took Bruce Meyers to complete the track was 34 hours, exactly 5 hours faster than Dave Ekins, the last record. This soon fueled the feud between two-wheelers and four-wheelers that is still present today. But Bruce wasn't the only person that was making his way through the desert to beat that record. Other enthusiasts grabbed their bikes and cars and set out to try and beat the race. On such a driver, even managed to bat the original time of 34 hours and brought it down to 31 hours.
But as more and more people started showing up to beat the record, an officially organized event became all the more imperative. And this need laid the foundation for the Baja run you know today.
The Mexican 1000 (1967)
ED Pearlman soon saw the immense popularity of the racing event, and soon founded NORRA (the national off-road racing association). The association started organizing the event, and in 1967 the first Baja race dubbed the Mexican 1000, began. Racers from all over Mexico made their way to the track, as did many racers from the United States.
The length of the course was about 849 miles, and the winners of the race – as well as record breakers – were Ted Mangles and Vic Wilson clocking in at 27 hours and 38 minutes driving a Meyers Manx Buggy.
From here on, the race's popularity only skyrocketed, with more drivers, spectators, and journalists making their way to one of the deadliest racing tracks in the world. In fact, in 1971, sponsors were starting to see the immense promise and potential of the race. Minolta cameras and Olympia Brewing Company became the first companies to support a big off-road racing event.
The Oil Price Hike and the Baja Name (1973)
The price hike of 1973 was a major source of concern for NORRA, leading to them canceling the 1974 race, despite the Mexican federal government assuring that the prices would indeed stay stable. And with that, NORRA was no longer the organizer of the Baja races. Instead, the mantel was passed onto the Baja Sports Committee (BSC) by Milton Castellanos at the time Baja California Governor.
The BSC changed the name for the event to Baja Mil or Baja 1000. However, that was the extent of the changes they made. They chose to keep mostly everything about the original races the same, including its dates and track. And like years prior, the BSC was able to organize and host the Baja 1000 without a problem.
Of course, running an event like this is very difficult and much harder than they had anticipated. But rather than give up on the event, the BSC went to Score International to host and promote all future events. They took over leadership for one of the biggest off-road racing sports in the country and did not disappoint when it came to their races.
Once SCORE International was able to acquire the rights to the race, nothing of much relevance happened as concerned with the races. The leadership of SCORE changed two times once with Sal Fish and a second time with Roger Norman becoming the president of SCORE.
And with that, you have the history of Baja racing. The race has persevered a lot to become one of the greatest and most prestigious off-road races in the world. The overall race remains mostly unchanged. There are still minimum barriers, as well as minimal rules and regulations. Heavy trucks, buggies, and motorbikes rev their way to the finish line epically.
In conclusion, Baja racing is one of the deadliest yet epic races on the planet but somehow has a very tame origin story.