Canon Agua Caliente - Hourglass

    1996 Baja 500

    Alan MaddenPhotographerJim OberWriter

    Baja racing is very popular, but the big question has always been, since the first Baja 500s and 1000s, how do you safely route the racers out of Ensenada and out to the open areas of the Baja Peninsula?

    “I walked, rode a horse, a donkey—anything humanly or extraterrestrially possible, to find a route for the race course out of Ensenada,” said Sal Fish, recent and longtime chief of SCORE International. “Any and every way that was physically possible was discovered and tried while I was at SCORE,” he said.

    Pictured here, veteran driver Walter Prince in the “Candy Cane Special” took the initiative among the sportsmen and Class 9 cars that were backed up in a creek crossing in the canyon. The stream bank had been so chewed up into soft sand by the scores of vehicles that had preceded them, and even some of those high-horsepower rides got stuck here among the tall bushes of the riverbank.

    Of course, these sportsmen and Class 9 racers had limited horsepower and only two-wheel drive, so getting past this spot would be a challenge. But teamwork was the name of the game, and all made it across with the help of their competition.

    But one solution, in the early ’90s, was to start the race in the tiny village of Ojos Negros, 22 miles to the east of the in-town start. Competitors, once started, were out in the open running, free from urban sprawl. But some locals placed a booby trap ditch a mile from the start, and the three leading bikes crashed there, all with injuries. Arrests were made, but another solution had to be found.

    The next year, the start was taken 25 miles down the road to El Alamo, and that seemed to work fine, but the race didn’t have the hoopla of an Ensenada in-town start. Town officials wanted the start back in town, so SCORE was back to finding another route.

    One of these “course discoveries” was the running of the 96 Baja 500 down the Canon Agua Caliente toward Ojos Negros. It, strangely enough, near the seat of government for the early history of Ensenada, the Real Castillo.

    The entire area was owned by an Italian family, and one of their prized land possessions was a huge wheat field two miles north of our photo spot. “We went to great lengths to get that area for the race, and spent a lot of time routing and marking the course to skirt the wheat area. A week before the race, some prerunners didn’t make the right turn to keep them on the course, and they went straight through the field. Boy, was the owner pissed. A couple nights later, we spent a whole evening with him, drinking tequila, saying how sorry we were, and trying to reason with him, Italian to Italian, to let us run on his land. Luckily, he said yes—at the time we had no other options,” Sal opined.

    A visual checkpoint was placed at the start of the wheat fields for the race, directing all racers onto the course and away from the crops.

    This area of the racecourse was run for three years in the mid ’90s.

    “Back in Ensenada at Race HQ, we’d hear of these on-course bottlenecks. ‘Stop the race!’ comments would be heard or cries for help that the race was virtually over at that spot. But off-roaders are very creative, and I knew they would make it on their own,” Sal said.

    “Our race course ended up pretty much like the course we started with in the ’70s anyway, through the suburbs of town and into the hills on some established roads,” Sal commented.

    Vaya con Dios
    from the staff of Dirt Sports

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