No region on earth is as associated with off-road racing as the Baja California peninsula. The motorsport’s most famous race, the legendary Baja 1000, has been a signature event for nearly half a century, challenging drivers with close to 1,000 miles of rugged desert terrain.
Those of a certain age will remember watching the race on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, back when movie star racing enthusiasts like Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were among the many competitors eager to test themselves not only against each other but against Baja itself.
These days, the joys of off-road experiences – high-speed, adrenaline-racing excitement and breathtaking desert, mountain and ocean backdrops – are available to any adult visitor (with a valid U.S. or Mexican driver’s license and the ability to drive a stick shift) in popular resort areas like Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas.
These two cities, not coincidentally, are the starting points for single- and multi-day adventures from Wide Open Excursions, the peninsula’s premier off-road activities specialist.
The Baja California peninsula is famous for its rugged off-road races and excursions — Photo courtesy of Wide Open Excursions
Wide Open’s Cabo San Lucas tour menu is particularly tasty: options include a half day of hot laps on the company’s challenging yet scenic five-mile Margarita Ranch Track overlooking the Pacific Ocean; lunch runs to coastal pueblo mágico Todos Santos and back, with a memorable meal stop at the historic Hotel California; and multi-day trips such as the four-day round-trip excursion to Baja California Sur’s capital city of La Paz.
Destination tours are guided by experienced desert racers, but participants can drive alone or with a friend, setting their own pace in Baja Challenge (BC) cars capable of speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour.
In addition to its single- and multi-day excursions, Wide Open also offers opportunities for off-road aficionados to compete in some of the peninsula’s premier off-road events – including the Baja 1000 – without having to develop or fund their own racing team.
Arrive-and-drive programs are custom tailored for competitive advantage, starting with BC cars purpose-built for Baja racing with Subaru four-cylinder engines, Weddle four-speed manual transaxles, suspended racing seats with five-point safety harnesses and custom twin A-arm suspensions with more than 18 inches of travel, plus GPS and helmet air and communication systems.
Would-be off-road racers have plenty of upcoming options. The Bud Light Baja Sur 500 race from Cabo San Lucas to Loreto is set for April 16-19, 2015, and it will be the first SCORE-sanctioned point-to-point competition held entirely in the state of Baja California Sur.
And the running of the one and only SCORE Baja 1000 – the most challenging off-road race on the planet – is scheduled to take place November 18-21, 2015, with a loop route that start and finishes in Ensenada.
Vintage vehicle owners, meanwhile, may want to sign up on their own for the upcoming General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000 – April 26-29, 2015 – AKA “the happiest race on earth.”
The National Off-Road Racing Association was the original organizer of the Baja 1000 (from 1967 to 1972), but it's now probably best known for this one-of-a-kind on- and off-road race that promotes camaraderie as much as competition.
Over 200 trucks, cars, buggies and bikes (motorcycles, that is), many of them classics, are expected to participate in this annual event, a 1,300-plus mile rally from Ensenada to San José del Cabo that will culminate with a festive “finish line fiesta.”