With ambient temperatures reported at 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the 48th Baja 500 off-road race has already been called the most brutal of all time by veteran competitors. It may also be the most lethal, claiming the lives of two motorcycle racers and one spectator in three unrelated incidents.
In the interest of maximum clarity, here is the complete and exact official statement regarding the fatalities from race organizing outfit SCORE International:
“The closing time on the race course was delayed by one hour, 10 minutes as SCORE and local officials worked on the aftermath of an accident early during the start of the cars, trucks and UTVs involving a race truck within a half mile of the start. Racer Todd Pedersen, Orem, Utah, while negotiating a turn entering the Ensenada wash and attempting to avoid some fans, eventually hit three spectators. An eight-year old boy was fatally injured in the accident, according to police on the scene. He was transported to an Ensenada hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The boy’s mother was hospitalized and is reported in stable condition at a hospital in Ensenada with head and leg injuries. The identities of the two victims were not released.
In the first racer fatality, Pro Moto Unlimited rider Travis Livingston, 34, of Palmdale, Calif., crashed at race mile 288.9. When SCORE medical personnel arrived, while attempting to stabilize him, Livingston went into cardiac arrest and could not be revived.
In the second racer fatality, Sportsman Moto rider Noah Evermann, 34, of Alaska, was found dead near his motorcycle at race mile 180.9 by another race team.
No further information was released regarding all three accidents as all three are still being investigated by Ensenada Municipal Police.”
The “Ensenada wash” SCORE is referring to as the site of the spectator’s death is one of the very first turns in many Baja races. After launching from a starting line in the city, competing vehicles generally drive less than a mile over pavement before making a hard turn and dropping into the dry riverbed (“wash”) to basically hit race-pace and tear into the desert.
This has always been an extremely popular, and dangerous, place to spectate.
When a race car takes a turn, the “outside” of that corner is pretty much the last place you want to be. Should the car lose control, it usually ends up wiping wider than it means to. This has happened at that very turn before, and it’s exactly what happened this time as you can see in videos of the crash circulating around the internet and a few images of the aftermath on Race-Dezert’s live-race thread.
Those videos are disturbing, and I would highly discourage you from watching them. This annotated image of the danger spot will help you understand the situation:
The vehicle that lost control was Trophy Truck No. 75, a rig loosely resembling a Chevy Silverado reportedly built by an outfit called Space Monkey and owned by Mike Cook out of Provo, Utah. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, Trophy Trucks represent the fastest and generally most elite level of desert racing in Baja. They’re pretty much just steel frames strapped to enormous engines putting out more than twice as much power as the fastest Ford F-150 you can buy.
Cook’s team had qualified 23rd out of a 45-vehicle class at this year’s race, ahead of a few extremely competitive drivers including Mark Post and Troy Herbst. The point I mean to make is, we’re not talking about amateur drivers.
There’s no way to overstate the sadness surrounding this loss of life, especially since the victim was a child. The tragedy is exacerbated by the fact that the incident could have been avoided by following simple safety etiquette. But with swarms of people all over the place, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment without realizing how much danger you’re actually in because of where you may be standing. Let this be a tremendously painful reminder of how quickly racing situations can become catastrophic, even when you’re only on the sidelines.
As a sidebar, parts of Mexico including Baja are currently holding elections for their next leaders. It remains to be seen whether this disaster becomes a political issue or causes governments to alter regulations around racing, which has been a mainstay of the local culture and economy for decades.
Unfortunately, lethal catastrophe continued along the race course with the deaths of Pro Moto Unlimited rider Travis Livingston and Sportsman Moto rider Noah Evermann.
Livingston was riding No. 6x, a Honda CRF450X, relaying with teammates Jay Rabjohn, Jeffrey Trulove and Ryan Smith.
Evermann was also on a CRF450X, No. 232x, a teammate to Seth Wakeling and Giovanni Perez.
Reports circling around seem to indicate that extreme heat contributed to the passing of both riders, but that is still conjecture at this point. We will follow up with more complete details surrounding both riders as they come to light.
In the meantime, there is nothing to express but sincere condolences to all affected by the tragedies of the 2016 Baja 500. Extreme conditions and speeds are exactly what attract us to this event. The desert taking friends, competitors and family members like this is a brutal reminder of how high the stakes really are.
The 48th running of the Baja 500 is repeatedly being called one of the hardest ever.
“The heat was extreme,” said Colton Udall, who won the Pro Unlimited motorcycle class. “I’ve never really raced in anything hotter than that before in my life. I pretty much just raced 250 miles of 115-degree weather and my brain feels like it is cooked.”
Toyota factory driver BJ Baldwin, famous for completing entire races on his own, had to tap out of the race early and posted a picture of himself on oxygen on Facebook. His co-driver Willie Valdez said, “I’ve been racing for over 30 years and this is one of the hottest races I’ve ever been in.”
Similar reports of immense suffering under oppressive temperatures are all over the place. 2016 Baja 500 Race winner Tavo Vildosola simply said, “The heat down in the desert was absolutely ridiculous.”
To the three who lost their lives in this year’s event, rest in peace, and a speedy recovery to everyone injured. I still believe in Baja. Racing there is a unique and important sector of motorsports that should be preserved, along with the memories of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to the sport. That said, I also hope last week’s events inspire a revision on the education and protection of spectators.