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The Circus Comes To Town

Posted in Features on March 14, 2017
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It’s a really big event in a village like Valle De Trinidad when the Baja 500 or the Baja 1000 comes to town.

Except for an occasional rodeo, the Baja race was one of the few times that any entertainment came to their village, especially in the ’70s and ’80’s before many in rural Baja had televisions, or even electricity. Some remote ranches and little villages are still without outside generated power.

When Sal Fish rezoned the course (first solo and in later years with the BFGoodrich mapping crew), it was like the circus was coming to town. He was making sure the course was still open and passable, and making sure that course access roads were passable for the race teams’ chase crews. When this happened, locals then knew that the course was indeed coming through their part of the world, and the excitement started and lasted all the way to day of the event.

But in some locales, the race was taken for granted, because the course had no other way to go due to geography, political factors, and more important, how the ejidos (local ranch groups) felt about SCORE. Payoffs to local ranchers also became a factor in figuring out where the course should go and that became, and remains, problematic. On the other hand, many a ranch has had fence damage by an out-of-control racer, and some have had their livestock hit or run over.

Ranchers at the ’87 Baja 1000 in Valle de Trinidad.

Some schools near the racecourse let the students out the first day of a Baja 1000 because the 1000 started on a Friday to give the racers more time to get home after the event. The students on this “holiday” added to the throngs watching the race.

In the ’70s and ’80s, crowds were non-existent, maybe three or four people here and there. But in the ’90s, due to newspaper coverage and the rising affluence of the middle class, many new race fans came out from the major towns in Baja to watch the race.

Crowd control became a problem in towns like Ojos Negros and San Felipe. Thousands of spectators now line the hills outside of Ensenada and Ojos Negros.

A quick reminder: off-road racing in Baja will hit its 50th anniversary this year—the first event was the 1967 Mexican 1000. NORRA put on that first event, until the early ’70s. When NORRA was asked to leave, and SCORE and Fish started promoting the races in Baja.

To Fish’s credit, he had established personal relationships with many ranchers in many, many locations, and those friendships have lasted decades. Fish retired almost five years ago, but his legacy of Baja off-road racing remains today and into the future.

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