Subscribe to a magazine

Baja 2000 - Baja's Longest Nonstop Desert Race Ever!

P64732 Image Large
Michael Rudd | Writer
Posted March 1, 2001

The Scoop on Ivan, Robby, and What It's Like to Be the Co-Driver

Step By Step

View Photo Gallery
  • Ensenada—where it all starts.

  • Joe and Chuck Custer right side up.

  • Villagers agog at the alien vehicles invading their town.

  • Dan Smith getting more air than Michael Jordan in his winning Trophy Truck.

  • Blazing the trail in Larry Ragland’s Trailblazer.

  • Cabo—the end of the line.

  • Ivan Stewart’s Toyota Trophy Truck eats up the trail in northern Baja.

  • Joe Custer’s 4x4 Ranger is the real deal.

  • Winners of the 4-Wheel Classes.

The year 1962 was the year astronaut John Glenn became the first American in space, an astonishing event that helped propel America into the space race. Also in 1962, the world’s first international communications satellite, Tel-Star, rocketed into space. This was also a year of tragedy, when news of Marilyn Monroe’s untimely death arced around the planet nearly as fast as Glenn did.

All of these events helped shape our world, but no event has made as heavy an impact on the future of off-road racing as the historic journey of Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson, Jr., from Tijuana to La Paz on a pair of 250cc Honda motorcycles that same year. This was the first recognized record attempt down the Baja peninsula. It led to what we know today as the Score Baja 1000.

For the past three years, Sal Fish, CEO and president of Los Angeles–based Score International—along with the governors, tourism departments and hotel associations of Baja California Norte and Baja California Sur—have worked endless hours to take this 38-year-old event one step further by making it the longest, most difficult off-road race the sport has ever seen.

The Baja 2000 started in Ensenada on Sunday, November 12, and came to its conclusion on Wednesday, November 15, in Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of the peninsula, with 70 percent of the 262 starters in 30 categories completing the 1,679.54-mile course. No, not exactly 2,000 miles long—but close enough.

The race drew competitors from 31 states, and countries as far-flung as Mexico, Australia, England, Japan, the Bahamas, France, New Zealand, Switzerland, and Sweden. To place, they would each have to reach the finish line in Cabo within an 80-hour time limit. No problem, right? How hard could it be? The answer to that would come shortly.

At the start near Ensenada, the course headed east along a large section of the classic Score Baja 500 route. A huge sand wash and mudhole right out of Ensenada gave competitors trouble from the beginning, and by the time they’d reached the village of Ojos Negros, a few miles east of the start, it was hard to distinguish one vehicle from the next due to their muddy appearance. The first wave consisted of motorcycles, with Johnny Campbell, of San Clemente, California, in the lead. Along with his co-riders Tim Staab, Craig Smith, and Steve Hengeveld, they made it to the finish in Cabo with the fastest recorded time of 30 hours, 54 minutes, and 12 seconds.

From Ojos Negros, the course turned south to meander through the treacherous San Pedro Martir Mountains near the legendary Mike’s Sky Rancho. The roar of the Trophy Trucks led the way for the four-wheel vehicles, with Robby Gordon in his Ford F-150 in the lead at mile 109.97, just east of Cerro Colorado. Not far behind came defending Baja champion Larry Ragland in his Chevy Trailblazer, off-road legend Ivan Stewart in the PPI Toyota Tundra, and Dan Smith in his F-150 Trophy Truck. Smith and co-driver David Ashley went on to win the race in their Ford F-150 Duralast truck with the best four-wheel-vehicle time of 32 hours, 15 minutes, and 39 seconds. Folks, that’s an average speed of 52.061 mph across some very rough country.

Into the race at 186.5 miles, the route crossed Mexico’s Highway 1 at Ejido Urapan and headed south to San Quintín. On pavement, competitors were supposed to obey Mexico’s traffic laws. But this was a race, right? In Urapan, the traffic cops caught up to Ragland, who blasted down a section of the pavement so fast in his Trailblazer that the locals felt compelled to bust him, costing him valuable time. After that he lost an alternator and then a transmission, and with it, any hope of winning the race.

Joe Custer’s class 7S team, C&C Motorsports/Haas Racing, led their class in their four-wheel-drive Ford Ranger and won their class in a remarkable 43 hours, 22 minutes, and 51 seconds. Actually, no other class 7S trucks finished, and Joe’s team passed faster Protrucks and Class 1 rigs continually throughout the race.

At mile 407.37, Stewart assumed the lead in his radical Toyota, and continued to stretch that lead. Some 527.59 miles into the course, Stewart pitted at Rosalita in 11 hours, 21 minutes, and 31 seconds. Ragland remained second at 11:26:15, followed by Smith at 11:59:51. Stewart and co-driver Larry Roesseler held nearly an hour’s lead throughout the night until, near the town of San Ignacio (910 miles into the course), Stewart’s Tundra Trophy Truck blew an engine and was towed to the pits.

Meanwhile, Curt LeDuc and Chris Wilson battled it out for the Class 8 lead before Wilson exited due to mechanical problems. According to both teams, it was 24 hours of total chaos before the studs came out of one of Wilson’s front hubs and he bit the dust. Darren and Clive Skilton in Class 3 went back and forth for the lead, Darren in his Kia, Clive in a Jeep. Darren eventually made it first to the finish, beating his father by 2 hours and 17 minutes.

The Baja 2000 was an experience of a lifetime for almost everyone involved. Asked for their take on the experience of the ultimate desert challenge, more than a few competitors told us that winning is not what matters, it’s finishing that counts. A nice sentiment. But we suspect that all would have preferred to win.

Comments

Advertisement