From the starting line in downtown Ensenada, we knew that the Baja 1000 off-road race was going to be one heck of a wild ride. At the race's start, Ryan Herzog, noting our pre-race jitters, merely laughed and said, "Don't worry, I'll take care of us, I've got two kids at home." Suddenly the green light flashed, Ryan's pro truck fishtailed through the first turn, and we were off to race the 2001 Baja 1000.
The PrerunOur adventures actually started a week earlier in the port city of Ensenada, located about 100 miles south of San Diego. This is where Team OFF-ROAD joined the Herzog Racing Team at the Corona Hotel to discuss prerunning the Baja 1000.
Ryan Herzog, owner of M.B. Herzog Electric Incorporated in Long Beach, California, and the force behind the Herzog team, has it wired when it comes to employee relations. In addition to offering 401K plans and full company benefits, Herzog gives each employee the opportunity for some seat-time in his Ivan Stewart-designed pro truck. For these guys, the Baja 1000 is the most anticipated race of the season as well as a great way to blow off some steam. Although prerunning offers adventure and excitement in the remote wilds of Baja, the task is physically demanding and becomes a crucial element in successfully completing this grueling 677-mile race. To get the job done, Herzog enlisted the help of longtime friend and Baja 1000 veteran, Gary Houston. After a couple of miles into the racecourse, co-driving with Houston in his high-performance Ford Ranger, we began to understand just how serious prerunning could get. As we blasted over the rugged mountains just outside of Ensenada, the Ranger got sideways on a washed-out off-camber turn and nearly plummeted off a 100-foot cliff. Thanks to Houston's quick reflexes and four-wheel disc brakes on the Ranger, we managed to avoid sudden death. Obstacles such as these are noted, and along with GPS coordinates become important information for the driver on race day. While we negotiated the first 100 miles of the course, our crewmembers were en route to intercept us with two F-150s and a Chevy Tahoe at the quaint village of Ojos Negros.
Leaving Ojos Negros, Herzog's team headed east on the route, eventually ending up in San Felipe. Discussing potential problems that night at Ruben's Restaurant, Houston insisted that the portion of the course climbing the rocky summit near La Ventana would be the most difficult section. Later down the road he would change his mind.
After a good night's rest in San Felipe, the Herzog prerun team headed for the infamous Mike's Sky Rancho, located in the mountains south of Highway 3. When we arrived, there were at least a dozen prerunning teams at this secluded off-roader's way station. The bar at Mike's is as dark and seedy as a dive can get; however, such an atmosphere is perfect for unwinding with a cold cerveza and bench-racing well into the night. The next morning we were up bright and early, eager to continue with the prerun. The racecourse makes a huge loop up and around Mike's, and one steep rocky section proved to be the gnarliest yet. Later in the race, this section would become a bottleneck of nightmarish proportions. From Mike's Sky Rancho, the course drops down to Valle De Trinidad and then twists through the mountains once again as it heads to the deep blue Pacific. Parts of the section along the coast between Cerro Solo and Las Matias are unique, technically and physically. Smooth egg-sized pebbles form a slick layer over the surface of the course, which gives drivers the sensation of driving on marbles. Huge vertical cliffs rise from the ocean, sometimes too close for comfort, especially in dense fog. From here, the course turns east once again and intersects Highway 1 near Santo Tomas. Travelling east at a good crisp pace in a section just before Tres Hermanos, we nearly had a collision with one of the resident bovines. It's common to see cows on the course throughout Baja and this one was very lucky he didn't become carne asada for dinner that night. Once again, we arrive in Ojos Negros where the course backtracks through the rugged mountains to Ensenada.
All in all, prerunning the Baja 1000 is one of the most important aspects of the race. It provides the drivers' first-hand knowledge of the condition of the course, where dangerous obstacles and potential problems may exist. For those of you who are adventurous enough to undertake the Baja 1000, prerunning the course is almost more fun than the race.
The RaceTecate SCORE Baja 1000Ensenada, MexicoTotal starters: 219 | Total finishers: 102The starting line was filled with former overall and individual class champions, waiting to participate in dramatic off-road racing action. The setting: the picturesque northern part of the Baja California peninsula. The event: the 34th running of the legendary Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, starting and finishing in Ensenada.
The Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 is the oldest and most well known of all desert races. Since 1967, the mother of all desert races has been run over the utterly remote and rugged Baja peninsula, capturing the imagination of off-road enthusiasts worldwide. This year at the Tecate Score Baja 1000, nearly 220 vehicles from 30 states, along with entries from Canada, France, Israel, Japan, and Mexico made the pilgrimage to the festive port city of Ensenada, Baja Norte. Lined up and waiting their turn for the green flag were teams competing in 25 Pro and five Sportsman classes. The motorcycles and ATVs began the race at 6:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 9, 2001, with the cars and trucks starting at 8 a.m. The four-wheel vehicles started every 30 seconds in the elapsed-time race and had a 30-hour time limit to become official finishers.
The Pro TruckStewart and Stewart Racing Development designed the pro truck to be a competitive and affordable off-road vehicle. The pro truck is a high-performance, low-maintenance off-road race truck that is adaptable for the desert, short-course, and stadium race tracks. All pro trucks are built with the same spec chassis and suspension components. They are powered by V-8 crate motors and are available in Ford, Dodge, Chevy, Toyota, and GMC body styles. The pro trucks can be purchased in three versions:1. Spec kit: Pro truck to be assembled in an approved fab/prep shop.2. Rolling chassis: Pro truck without an engine. Have your own engine builder install and plumb.3. Fully assembled: Pro truck with engine installed.Cost: $64,391-$112,500
The FinishersPro Cars & TrucksTrophy Truck - Dave Ashley/Dan Smith, Riverside,California, Ford F-150Class 1 - Doug Fortin, La Mesa, California/Charlie Townsley, Las Vegas, Jimco (Chevy)Class 1-2/1600 - Rob MacCachren/Bruce Fraley,Las Vegas, Fraley (VW)Class 3 - Billy Bunch, La Quinta, California/JohnKearney, Murrieta, California, Jeep CherokeeClass 3I - Clive Skilton/Gavin Skilton, Orange,California, Jeep Grand CherokeeClass 7 - Craig Turner, Yorba Linda, California/Tim Javorik, Fullerton, California, Ford RangerClass 7S - Cory Susag, Dana Point, California/Doug Siewert, Oceanside, California, Chevy S-10Class 8 - Nick Vanderwey/Larry Vanderwey, Buckeye, Arizona, Chevy SilveradoClass 10 - Danny Anderson, Las Vegas/Ben Schlimme, Manhattan Beach, California, Jimco (Toyota)SCORE Lite - Jerry Penhall/L.J. Kennedy, Costa Mesa, California, Penhall (VW)Stock Mini - Bob Land, Lake Forest, California/Jim Winovitch, Murrieta, California, Isuzu VehiCrossStock Full - Chall Hall, Reno, Nevada, AM GeneralHummerSS/Truck - Ryan Herzog/Greyson Smith, Long Beach, California, Ford F-150Pro Truck - Scott Steinberger, Cypress, California/Dane Cardone, HuntingtonBeach, California, Ford F-150Baja Challenge - Andrew Hassard/Greg Roarke, North Bend, Oregon, BajaTouring Car (Porsche)Spt. Truck - Mark Floyd/Don Floyd, Midland, Texas, AM General Hummer