3 days Underground @ The Baja 500 | Ensenada, Mexico | Coffeepuss

Departures

For as long as I can remember, Ensenada has had a whiff of south-of-the-border excess and spring-break stigma. Less than two hours from San Diego, down the Baja California peninsula, it’s one of the easiest and safest places to experience Mexico on a budget — which makes it easy to think of this small coastal city and cruise line layover as a sort of Mexico for Beginners. But dismissing northwest Baja is a mistake. Beyond the souvenir shops selling sombreros, knockoff artesanía (handicrafts) and tacky T-shirts, there’s a college town, a port town and a budding culinary capital that invite exploration. While Ensenada and the surrounding area can require a bit of patience, its pleasures are worth the time it takes to find them — and all the more so because they can be had so affordably

 

The Baja 500 in Ensenada in Mexico has become spring break for underground motorsports. It has morphed into a 3 day festival with parties going 24/7.

 It’s a very unique thing a very happy collaboration between Mexicans and Americans. To tell you how big it’s become is to say how it’s impossible to find a room during it, how you have to wait 1-2 hours for a restaurant, shop with bumper to bumper people and deal with a lot of drunks.

That said Ensenada goes all out to support this event. They try and help you anyway they can with customer service kiosk set up thru out the town with extra police and military everywhere.

 The People of Ensenada are friendly, Accommodating, Polite and know more about offroad racing than probably any city in the world.

This race today is nothing like the Baja 500 five years ago. It is ten times as big with 15 times the drivers. Drivers today are not just Americans and Mexicans but with entries from around the world. Europe, Japan, Canada, South Africa…..

Day 1 is a settling in day with registrations and late arrivals. It’s the day everyone arrives and heads to the shops and then to late night partying at Ensenada state of the art nightclubs.

Day 2 is Vehicle Inspection Day and the official kickoff to the Baja 500. All the vehicles line up on the main Blvd. in what is a 3 mile long precession to inspection. Along that route thousands of people descend on these cars to get autographs and photos and talk to their favorite drivers and to attach their stickers to the race cars.

Day 3 is Race Day. It unofficially starts at 9am with the departure of the Trophy Truck, before that the smaller vehicle and Motorcycles have already left. The Start is time slotted and decided by previous time trials. The start is thunderous with the cars running thru the streets to the nearby wash screaming so loud you have to cover your ears after several left turns they make a sharp right into the city wash and are herded straight into the vast desert to complete their return loop back to the city where they finish.

It was at this sharp right where a Trophy Truck could not negotiate the turn flipped and struck a family killing a small boy. A terrible tragedy stopping the race for over an hour and a half. It seemed to be a case of Mexican Authorities letting the crowds to close at dangerous points and an inexperienced driver out of his depths. A terrible thing to have to witness….

People proceed out to the desert and erect their own tents and await the passing cars or go to other organized events and dare the cars in a sort of bull fight party fest.

The arrival back to the same departing spot where the party reignites and then to baseball stadium converted to greet all the racers with a party till dawn.

This year’s overall winner was Mexican, Gus “Tavo” Vildosola Jr,

…Coffeepuss…

ZETA Newspaper Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

For various reasons, the Baja 500, records at least one death during the most important sporting event in this oceanside community in Baja California, Ensenada, every race!

Governmental entities that organize the events have been declared in the red, bankrupt, as the budget is insufficient and end up paying with money from the community.

The latest edition of the Baja 500 off road race, controlled and organized by the American firm Score-International of San Diego, California, holds the race in Ensenada.

 This year, the carnage was disgusting, it left three foreigners dead, six car accidents, one person injured, and trash and ecological damages all along the length of the route.

Even though it appears that the municipal government benefits with the location of the competition, what is certain is that with each race, the municipality, through Proturismo, had ended up in the red since 2011, with debts of 150,000 pesos (US$80,000) which end up being paid with city money.

 “The races have had Proturismo in bankruptcy for years,” criticized one person interviewed.

 Businesses such as prostitution also have become an attraction for those in that business, and days before the race women in the business arrive in Ensenada from other Mexican states.

The insecurity factor was reflected in the 48th edition, where a motorcycles died from a heart attack, and another from heat stroke in San Felipe. Meanwhile an 8-year old American boy, identified as Zanders Hendricks, was run over and slain, by the ‘Space Monkey’ Trophy Truck.

This is not the first time that tragedy loomed within the most important sporting event in Ensenada.

In each edition at least one person linked to the event dies for different reasons.

SCORE and Roger Norman, has manipulated and threatened authorities with the possibility of move the race to Puerto Peñasco, in Sonora, or La Paz, Baja California Sur.

Those governments have computed the proceeds and rejected the SCORE proposals because the government revenues would be insufficient to the costs born by the local people.

 

             In Defense of Shockingly Dangerous Desert Racing in Mexico

By Sam Smith, Wired.com

COMBINED, THE MEXICAN STATES of Baja California and Baja California Sur are some 775 miles long. They comprise a peninsula that stretches southward from the California border. Vacation hotspot Cabo San Lucas sits at the Baja peninsula’s southern tip. Between there and San Diego, you have desert, forest, mountains, mud plains, small villages, 1,900 miles of coastline, a handful of paved roads, and some of the most achingly gorgeous places in the northern hemisphere.

And people race things—trucks, motorcycles, cars—all the hell over it.

The Baja 1000 is the king of the nonstop desert races. The grueling, high speed trek, held every November since 1967, covers roughly 1,000 miles starting from the California border town of Ensenada. It draws tens of thousands of spectators, scattered across the region. For safety and competitor challenge, the route is different every year and even alternates regions of the state. Last year, it ended in La Paz, 1,130 miles south. This year, it loops through the desert and returns to Ensenada. And like every Mexican desert race in history, this year’s 1000 will be captivating, wonderful, and shockingly dangerous.

People die in Mexican desert racing. It doesn’t happen regularly, but it happens often enough to talk about. As in any form of motorsport, drivers are at risk. But during this summer’s Baja 500, American legend Robby Gordon hit a spectator with his race truck. (The spectator survived.)

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Two years ago, motocross champion Kurt Caselli died after hitting an animal with his motorcycle. The same year, in the shorter Baja 500, San Francisco-based driver Kevin Price lost control of his buggy and killed a spectator. In 2011, motocrosser Jeff “Ox” Kargola sustained fatal injuries following a crash during an eight-day race from Mexicali to Cabo San Lucas.

Maybe that seems like a lot; maybe it doesn’t. Your answer likely depends on your opinion of risk and racing. But to understand why these things keep happening, and why Baja racing is amazing, you have to know a little about the place.

I’ve been to Baja. Several years ago, I crewed for a friend competing in the 1000. We spent long days and sleepless nights in the desert, chasing a car we rarely saw and—thanks to malfunctioning radios—rarely spoke with or could locate. We lived in a van and drove south through the country, our race car, driver, and co-driver sometimes hundreds of miles away.

If you go to Baja and don’t fall in love with either its racing or the landscape, then you sat in a hotel in Cabo and never saw the real land.
Our race ended a few days in, when the steering rack on the car came apart. We spent the rest of the week gathering up the pieces, both figuratively and literally. It was a Mexican vacation without the vacation, very little tequila, and lots of work. Plus several nights under the Mexican stars at remote service stops, next to spectators burning live, in-ground trees for firewood, waiting hours for our car to show up.

It remains one of the best experiences of my life. Baja races draw tens of thousands of spectators, and Ensenada becomes a massive party during the race’s start. On the course, three-ton, 800-horsepower Trophy Trucks—tube-frame machines designed to rip over moonscape terrain at highway speed—shared the same chunk of sand with 70-horsepower Volkswagen Beetles on sand tires. Both ripped through unpatrolled spectator areas—some of them ten or twenty miles long—in fourth gear, mere feet from families and cheering fans.

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Spectators do absurd, life-threatening things like play chicken with speeding race cars and set booby traps.
Small towns and villages are virtually and charmingly undeveloped, with 1950s infrastructure and a Mayberry vibe. If you go to Baja and don’t fall in love with either its racing or the landscape, then you sat in a hotel in Cabo and never saw the real land.

But the place is also famous for a seeming lawlessness. Spectators do absurd, life-threatening things like play chicken with speeding race cars. They famously set booby traps—pits, rock stashes—to cause racers to crash. It’s not uncommon for teams and crews to be robbed on the road or simply lightly extorted, by people posing as armed military. During a service transit the year we ran, we were stopped by armed military at a checkpoint, bribing our way past with cash and racing stickers. Days later, an old Baja hand told me the Mexican police and army hadn’t used that checkpoint in years.

Consider the craziest Baja story of late: In 2007, on the Baja 1000, a race team’s chase helicopter crashed on the course, spitting distance from spectators. One of the dead bodies removed from the chopper was reportedly identified as Francisco Merardo Leon Hinojosa, a lieutenant for Tijuana’s Arellano-Felix drug cartel. Legend—or at least the Mexican media—holds that, the next evening, 50 men with assault rifles stormed the morgue in Ensenada and escaped with Hinojosa’s body and two hostages. The hostages were later recovered. Hinojosa’s body was never found.

And most Baja racers who hear this just shake their heads and go, “Wow. But, you know, that’s Baja.” Not as an endorsement, of course. More a shrug.
It’s not lawless, of course—Mexico is a country like anywhere else, with rules and statutes. But setting aside the odd morgue raid, the police can only do so much in the middle of the desert. It’s impossible to effectively patrol 1,000 miles of race course, and you cannot have a squad car or race official on every hill in a vastly unpopulated peninsula.

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Extrapolate that out, and you have the explanation for Baja’s safety, or lack thereof. With a race course that covers that much land, there are only so many safety steps to be taken. You can move fans back from the course in the cities or small towns, but you can’t drape bunting and crowd-control staff over two whole states. Same for booby trap policing. And while some people suggest restricting the horsepower of Baja race vehicles, that only makes sense to an outsider. In the wide-open desert, even a VW Beetle can move fast enough to be deadly for a spectator.

In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, people flock there. And when you hear of an accident like Robby Gordon’s, the Question—everyone who has been to Baja has heard the Question—burbles up again. It always burbles up. It makes the rounds of mainstream media, and if you haven’t been there, you can understand why someone would ask it:

How much longer will this go on?

If you’ve ever watched the local news, you can guess the follow-ups: Is Mexican desert racing even safe? How come lawyers haven’t gotten ahold of it? Should it be “fixed” or—worse—stopped entirely? We should not treat death or injury lightly, but we should also resist the temptation to overreact. To sensationalize, glorify, panic, or neuter.

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Like so many human endeavors fraught with risk, there is no easy answer. Maybe there’s no answer at all, nothing between the existence and nonexistence of this race. Like the Targa Florio or the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, Baja may simply be a binary situation, untamed or extinguished. Given the variables, the only real way to make it safer would be to drastically shorten race lengths, or remove these events from Mexico. And then you do not have Baja racing, you have something else.

I’ve never driven a race car in Baja, but I’ve accepted a small part of the place’s risk and felt the payoff. I’ve stood a little too close in washes as Trophy Trucks came raging through the desert, felt the roar and the rush and the blinding, stinging sand as they ripped by me in the middle of the night at eye-watering speed. I felt alive because of it. I knew I had been somewhere specific, been a part of a specific moment in time. I was, as my friend Bill Caswell says, out in the world and “off the couch.”

Not everyone has to accept that risk. And you have to assume most people who go down there do accept it, and that they try to be intelligent about it, because no one wants to die. Indeed, everyone I met during my time in Baja—racers of any color, even Mexican spectators, for all their absurd, dangerous antics—admitted they knew what could happen. And they still showed up. Because it is amazing, one of our last great adventures.

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And if nothing else, I can virtually guarantee one thing: If you stood in the desert wash as the sun rose over the mountains and the thundering blat of a pack of Trophy Trucks deflated your lungs, hundreds of miles and a world away from everything you know, you would have a hard time hating it. You would not ask the Question. You would simply smile, and watch, and, like all the racers and spectators, hope for the best.

 

 

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