Fifty years ago, Ed Pearlman organized the first Mexican 1000, which started in a bullring in Tijuana and continued nonstop over 1000 miles south across the Baja peninsula to Cabo San Lucas. While not nearly as mysterious and uncharted as it was 50 years ago, the allure of Baja still sings a siren song to adventurous souls. Ed’s son, Mike, gives the daring a place to focus their efforts; he revived the Mexican 1000 in 2010 with a rally format that travels across Baja over multiple days. The race caters to vintage race cars and motorcycles, oddball vehicles, and basically anyone looking for adventure.
The NORRA Mexican 1000 is a great way to discover the same beauty and culture of Baja that has been drawing people here for decades. People like us. So this year Verne Simons and I loaded up in Raymond, my 1977 F-150 of Cheap Truck Challenge fame, and chased the race from Ensenada to San Jose del Cabo. We could have taken a more modern, more comfortable vehicle, but where would the fun be in that?
The NORRA Mexican 1000 gives old desert racers (both man and machine) an opportunity to relive former glory. Todd Richards rebuilt the MacPherson “Little Mac” S10 and even had truck builder and former driver Jerry McDonald come down to participate in his race effort.
Dubbed “the happiest race on earth,” the Mexican 1000 is all about fun. But the fun is not just reserved for racers. Chase teams and volunteers who run checkpoints and pit stops get to enjoy the sunshine, white sand beaches, and cold cervesas as well. We know a lot of people are intimidated by the idea of traveling to Mexico, but going as part of a race like the Mexican 1000 reduces concerns about banditos or being stranded on the side of the road since there are so many like-minded people on the same route as you. Even with our old F-150 and newly swapped-in drivetrain components we never needed help from other gringos, but it was nice to know that they were there if we did. If you are looking for adventure, start a team with your buddies and join us next year. The first fish taco is on us.
Baja Mexico 101
What to Do
Bring your passport and cash.
Buy Mexican insurance for your vehicle.
Eat street food.
Camp on the beach.
Bring stickers and T-shirts to hand out.
What Not to Do
Act like an ugly American.
Disrespect people (particularly the military).
Drink the water.
Go into a bathroom without your own toilet paper.
Jeremy Benson brought his “race tractor” down from Washington to participate in the fun at the Mexican 1000. His team had to overcome some mechanical issues along the way but never gave up. Despite this being their first desert race, the team brought the 6BT-powered Dodge to the finish line in one piece.
NORRA provides digital race maps in a variety of formats, including a
GPX file that we were able to load in our Magellan Explorist TRX7. Although Magellan only offers a limited amount of support for Mexican terrain at this time, the GPS was still a valuable tool to follow the course.
Each night NORRA provides food and drinks at the day’s finish line. This provides the opportunity to share a meal with past and present racing legends, like Bruce Meyers, Lynn Chenowth, and Walker Evans. A drivers’ meeting is also held each night at this location to provide teams with information for the following day.
In northern Baja most places will take American dollars, but you are the mercy of the vendor with regards to the exchange rate. As you go farther south, pesos are preferred. We exchanged money at the border where we found the best rate.
We are firm believers in karma, so we stopped to help everyone we could along the way. Eric Hamann and Greg Powell bent a knuckle on their Raptor but, with a little ingenuity, were able to space the tire out and air it up with our ARB compressor to keep the tire from rubbing the knuckle.
Our big-block Ford made a great tow truck for broken race cars. We towed the Stronghold Motorsports Class 1 car for 40 miles after they wasted a trailing arm. The Rugged Radios race radio allowed us to easily communicate with Brandon Bailey during the extraction.
Somewhere along the way we broke a leaf spring, but fortunately it was not the main leaf. We wrapped some hose clamps around the spring to keep it together and took it easy after that since we did not have a spare spring pack.
The Baja locals are gearheads just like us, and they loved our old Ford truck. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful. This guy even gave us some metric hardware in the middle of nowhere after we lost a brake caliper bolt.
We are still dealing with accelerated distributor gear wear in our 460 engine. Fortunately the MSD distributor is easy to pull, so we checked the wear in Loreto. We brought a spare brass distributor gear but did not need it on the trip.
While we didn’t need to change the distributor gear, we did have to pull the oil pan. When we attempted to rotate the oil pump drive to seat the distributor, a socket accidently found its way into the engine. So much for a trouble-free trip!
Chino Auto Parts in Loreto was fully stocked. It even had a new oil pan gasket for our 460 in stock. While pulling the pan was time consuming, no harm was done to the engine and it didn’t even leak after patching it back together.
Ned and Kat Bacon once again raced the famous Killer Bee flatfender in the Mexican 1000. They take the race to another level though, as they have no support crew. The Bacons have all their spare parts and camping gear on the Jeep and don’t just race it to Cabo but drive it home afterwards, too!
Several King of the Hammers teams entered the Mexican 1000, including Jason Shipman. Engine troubles ended Shipman’s race, but he continued all the way down to San Jose del Cabo to support other racers and enjoy all that Baja has to offer.
The Tropic of Cancer is at 23.4 degrees north of the equator. This marks the northernmost point that the sun is directly overhead, on the summer solstice. We were a few months early on our visit to the location where the Tropic of Cancer crosses Baja, California.
The finish line on the final day of the race is in the old town square of San Jose del Cabo. The last day from La Paz to Cabo is relatively short, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Many teams saw their race end in the soft sand on the final day.
The awards ceremony for the Mexican 1000 takes place on the beach in San Jose del Cabo and is complete with mariachis, a fireworks show, and amazing food. It is a fitting reward for a grueling week of competition, and many racers fly their spouses into Cabo to enjoy the festivities.
On our way home we stopped for the night and slept on the beach along the Bahia de Concepcion. This area has arguably the most beautiful beaches in Baja and was a great place to camp. The only drawback was listening to exhaust brakes all night from semi-trucks since we chose a spot at the bottom of a steep grade.
On our way south through the Cuidad Constiticion, Verne’s Danadar (Dana axle radar) kicked in and he spotted a wrecked F-350 on the side of the road. “Turn around and ask that guy if he will sell that axle!” he cried into the Rugged Radios intercom. A deal was struck. When we returned three days later the axle was pulled and loaded in the back of the Ford to be put to use on some future project.
The rule in Mexico is never to pass a gas station. We broke this rule between Guerro Negro and El Rosario, which are 224 miles apart. The only gas between these two stations comes from cans. We brought spare fuel and an extra fuel filter with us on the trip and needed the former, but not the latter.
Mama Espinoza’s in El Rosario served as the first checkpoint for the inaugural Baja 1000. Although the famous lobster burritos were not available during our visit due to lobster not being in season, we still had to stop to pay homage to Mama, who passed away last year at 109 years old.
The Mexican locals weren’t the only ones who helped us out on our adventure. On our drive home our trailer broke outside of Ridgecrest. Bender and Flash cut out parts on their plasma table and got us back on the road. On a Sunday. At 9 p.m. And they would not take a dime. “Just help out the next guy who needs it,” Flash told us. We were extremely humbled by the Tinbenders help.
Types of Tacos Consumed