Baja California is home to one of the deadliest race in the world, the Baja 1000. While the name of the race may not be very inventive or creative, the race itself is. With few rules and no referees, the race has claimed more lives than any other major sporting event.
Despite its incredibly dangerous nature, the race has managed to attract people from all walks of life and many different countries. Most people don't realize it, but the Baja 1000 is the biggest off-road racing event in the world. So how did one of the deadliest off-road racing events also turn into one of the most prestigious ones? Well, it all started with Honda looking to flex their new vehicle muscles...
The 1962 Run
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 in order to demonstrate its durability, they contacted various people and companies for suggestions. One of the suggestions was to ride the bike on the Tijuana and La Paz route, which was full of sand washes, rocks, mountain passes, and few roads. There was little room for error and to say that the path was dangerous would be an understatement.
Legendary off-road motorcyclist Dave Ekins performed the first trip, starting on March 22, 1962. Touted as the Baja run, this was officially the first run through this deadly route. He completed the route 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 that Honda's reputation for producing durable machines was cemented.
Two Wheels vs. Four Wheels
With the incredible success and press coverage that the first run received, a California engineer by the name of Bruce F. Meyers decided that he wanted in on the 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. This fueled the feud between two-wheelers and four-wheelers that is still present at the race today. However, Meyers wasn't the only person that wanted to beat that record. Other enthusiasts soon grabbed their bikes and cars and set out to try and beat the record.
As more and more people started making their own attempts to best Meyers' time, it become clear that there needed to be an officially organized event. That need combined with the enthusiasm of these men laid the foundation for the Baja run we know today.
The Mexican 1000 (1967)
Ed Pearlman saw the immense popularity of the 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. Driving a Meyers Manx Buggy and clocking in at 27 hours and 38 minutes, Ted Mangles and Vic Wilson not only won the 849 mile race, but also beat the record
From here on out the race's popularity soared. Every year, more drivers, spectators, and journalists made their way to one of the deadliest racing tracks in the world. Sponsors were starting to see the immense promise and potential of the race and in 1971, Minolta cameras and Olympia Brewing Company became the first companies to support a big off-road racing event.
The Oil Crisis and the Baja Name (1973)
The 1973 oil crisis was a major source of concern for NORRA, leading to them cancel the 1974 race despite the Mexican federal government assuring that gas prices would remain stable. After that, NORRA was no longer the organizer of the Baja races. Instead, the mantel was passed to the Baja Sports Committee (BSC) led by Milton Castellanos, who was governor of Baja California at the time.
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. 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. Score International took over leadership for one of the biggest off-road racing sports in history and did not disappoint when it came to their races!
A Bedrock of Racing Lore
So there you have it, a brief history of Baja racing! The race continues to be one of the greatest and most prestigious off-road races in the world. Overall, the race has changed little since that initial run by Ekins. There are still minimum barriers as well as minimal rules and regulations. Heavy trucks, buggies, and motorbikes rev their way to the finish line yer after year.
Baja racing is one of the deadliest, yet most epic races on the planet and it inspires us that if came from such simple origins!