Thousands of rich rednecks, uh, I mean, “off-road enthusiasts” are descending on Mexico’s Baja peninsula this week for the 49th annual Baja 1000– a race of epic proportions in a beautiful setting featuring readily available tacos. Here’s how to check it out, and who to pay attention to if you’re a new spectator.
As of the end of official registration, organizing body SCORE reports 277 racer entries from 33 U.S. states and 18 countries. The exact distance of this year’s race is 854.5 miles, which racers will have a maximum of 36 hours to cover if they want a participation medal. Or a real medal for adults, if they win.
Baja is where the truly wild west you’ve read about and seen in movies still exists. But instead of horses, cowboys are crossing it with trucks, cars, buggies, motorcycles, quads and this year, hopefully, a lifted BMW 3 Series.
If you want to watch the race as it happens, you can pay the organizers at SCORE $10 and livestream it right from the outfit’s homepage. Full disclosure: I have no idea what kind of “livestream” show they have in mind or what kind of quality you can expect. But the options there.
If you want to follow along a little more old-school style, you can stream the “Weatherman” race radio frequency online. Weatherman basically keeps tabs on the whole race, talking to different cars and teams and generally trying to maintain some semblance of control of the airwaves. He’s not exactly “narrating” the race like a sports announcer, but if you have an idea of what’s going on in Baja it can be cool to listen in on the live comms.
For a little more visual stimulation, you can follow your favorite racer’s progress via live satellite tracking at TrackLeaders.com. The site there is really nicely organized, even if it’s not all that thrilling to watch mapdots move around.
Other than that, if you don’t feel like paying for SCORE’s livestream, the quickest way to interesting race updates might be the social media channels of racers and teams. We’ll highlight a few below.
The best “show” you’re going to get of the 2016 Baja 1000 without actually being there will be the two-hour CBS TV special, but it doesn’t air until December 25 at 9 p.m. EST.
Everybody racing, chasing and organizing the Baja 1000 is putting in an immense effort worthy of respect. Well, except maybe my friend Bill Caswell who roped me into navigating for him for a few miles this year. (But I still hope we make it to the starting line at least.)
That said, some competitors stand out more than others. Here’s a quick list of some of the racers I’ll be keeping a closer eye on, and might be the ones I’d suggest checking out if you’re new to following the whole “desert race” thing.
Gordon is kind of the king of off-road racing right now. After a strong career in NASCAR and IndyCar he’s established dominance in Baja while also managing to cultivate the now-thriving Stadium Super Trucks racing series at home in the U.S.
Gordon will be driving in the fastest class (Trophy Trucks) as usual, but this year he’s deviating from his standard bright-orange livery for a retro look. I believe this is intended as a nod to his late father, also named Robert Gordon and also a successful Baja racer, who tragically died just two months ago.
The casual car fan might know BJ Baldwin from the Recoil video series– where heaps of horsepower and suspension travel are put to work wreaking havoc pretty much everywhere.
But Baldwin is also an extremely successful off-road racer, and one of the few drivers with the fortitude to finish a race as massive as the Baja 1000 in its entirety without handing the steering wheel off to a teammate.
He signed to Toyota’s factory racing team back in May, and will be representing the company in a Tundra Trophy Truck. I do believe that makes this his first Baja 1000 as Toyota’s frontman.
Rhys Millen has been all over rally racing, Pikes Peak, and is now probably best recognized as a Global RallyCross driver. He’s running a UTV of all things in this year’s Baja. Granted, it looks like it’s been built out to Trophy Truck level-performance but it’s still a farm buggy at heart!
Just kidding, UTVs are pretty vicious and competitive. Still interesting to see an elite driver like Millen in this relatively new class.
Rod Hall is an Off-Road Hall Of Famer (actually he’s the Vice Chairman, which makes things easy) and has basically been racing Baja since it was just a couple guys casually seeing who could cover 1,000 miles of desert faster.
He’s bringing his Hummer H1 out of retirement, so, obviously that will be awesome.
Shannon Campbell and Mel Wade
These guys are Ultra4 racers,which means they’re used to contests with as much rock crawling as high-speed desert racing. They drive vehicles that are basically the most extreme incarnation of Jeep Wranglers, known in Baja as “Hammertrucks” since the Super Bowl of the Ultra4 series is “The King Of The Hammers.”
They’re ultra high-horsepower V8 4WD monster trucks. What else do you need to know?
Forsberg is a drifter first, so Baja will be a chance for us to see him way out of his element. Or maybe not! Sand tends to beget a lot of sideways driving. He’s always so cool about sharing his cars with us, and since he’s driving an old Cummins-diesel pickup truck we had to shout him out.
Caswell prides himself on having a complete and total disregard for rules or precedent, except for his own precedent, which is is to roll up to races at the last possible second with the least imaginable preparedness and somehow make everything work out in the end.
I’m literally watching him weld a home-brewed double steering rack system onto a BMW E30 we’re allegedly entering in this race in... well, it will be a matter of hours by the time you read this! Wish us luck?
Foutz is point-man on the 2017 Ford Raptor factory racing project.
His company prepared the race truck, and supposedly their feedback is still helping Ford dial in the production truck. The racer is running in “full stock” class, and while it’s not exactly the same machine you’re going to get a Ford dealership it’s pretty damn close.
There’s a roll cage and tweaked shocks of course, but the driveline and engine and tires and bodywork are pretty much all regular-ass-Raptor. That means the stakes are high; crash out and Ford will have to throw away all those “2016 BAJA 1000 FINISHER” banners they’ve probably already printed. But if they do finish it will be awesome to see how the almost-stock Raptor’s time compares to the rest of the field.
So many of us dream of ditching desk jobs to go car racing. Mike Jams has sort of done both at the same time. After a long career managing and making investments, he got into the racing scene later in life. But now that he’s teamed up with Baja expert and high-mileage racer Ron Stobaugh he’s getting up to speed on desert driving quickly.
Jams will be one to watch in the off-road industry in general and desert racing in particular. He and Stobaugh seem to be snowballing their operation pretty swiftly; last year I rode shotgun with this team in a rental race car in this very race. This year it looks like they’ve already built a small family of companies serving the off-road community.
And of course I’m still stoked on these guys since they paid for all my tacos and lap dances last time I was at the notorious Baja Mil.
Arthur Penner, Noe Gutierrez Castaneda, Dennis Hollenbeck, Rene Rodriguez, Eric Solorzano and Mauro Diaz
All I know about that group of guys is that they make up Class 11, the stock VW Beetle class. These vehicles are not bone stock, they look like the car in this video. But they’re slow and unsafe and scary-hard to drive through the ruts made my Trophy Trucks so anybody out there in one deserves a nod.
Here’s the entire official entry list for your reference. Hope everyone has a great race.