BOUNCING BACK IN BAJA
BOUNCING BACK IN BAJA
Next to 30-plus years of covering Supercross and motocross, Baja has been my favorite place to be, and I returned to Ensenada for the 54th running of the SCORE Baja 500. I was to embed with twice-UTV-champion Marc Burnett for some pre-running of the brutally rough, 463-mile course, but first I went down to Baja Powerhouse to see what Juan Carlos and crew were up to. Baja Powerhouse is a full-service UTV/bike/truck/buggy shop, and they also conduct Baja Voyager Adventures for adventure bikes, UTVs and 4x4s. They also do recovery work and have mechanics on hand, and they even send runners to get parts in the USA. I should know; they saved me when my Harley blew an EFI O-ring, stranding me a couple of years ago.
Baja Powerhouse also hosts teams like Coastal Drilling during SCORE and NORRA races with several bunk beds, a locker room with showers, an on-site restaurant, secure parking on the compound and shuttle services to anywhere in Ensenada. They cater to pre-runners and racers and have 11-ton lifts, welding and fabrication, and they’re a Shock Therapy distributor. Juan Carlos gave me an ICONS GPS map of the 500 course with access points for chase crews and this photographer. I chose an access at Highway 3’s KM19 and headed out on my Harley to catch the outbound start pre-run on Thursday. The dirt road led to Rancho Nelson, where the course snaked through a large valley with massive oaks and a hill with three graded jumps. I was stoked with my shots and would return on race day. I went back to the Riviera Hotel to catch race teams coming through tech, and it was cool to see old friends and make new ones. Nick Bruce of Adrenaline Motorsports and Ambosio Quintero of Baja UTV Tours were hosting Bruce Jett and Steve Beard from Maryland in a Pro UTV Stock X3. Both teams would later stand on the podium.
Friday was the only day to pre-run the inbound section from Ojos Negros to the finish, and I got to ride along with Burnett in his trick X3 Max. He called out danger zones for Simon to flag on the Lowrance and checked out alternate lines. We did some sections at speed. Amazed, I asked him later what percent of race speed we were going. He said, “70 percent.” For me, that would be 170 percent. We crossed one ranch that had a banner across the entrance with Marc’s old monster RZR and Fern’s (Fernando Flores) face immortalized. We all got a big kick out of that and took action photos of the pre-runner under it. Friday night, the team meeting went late into the wee hours. Tech and contingency of the race cars took all day and well into the night also, with many thousands of fans approaching the racers for photos and autographs.
Saturday morning, I left for Rancho Nelson as Marc and Fern got in their race cars for the start. Traffic was heavy on Hwy 3, and the lead trophy trucks had already gone through when I approached the ranch. There had to be at least a thousand people there, spread out from the Pepsi stand to the other end of the ranch. It was like a mini Hammertown but with better music and food. Hundreds of E-Z Ups lined the course, and the fans tail-gated as the trucks and buggies raced past. Between roars of engines, mariachi music blared out of car and truck speakers. Kids played in the dirt with their race cars, and a few flew kites. Everyone wore off-road-racing T-shirts, many featuring Rodrigo Ampudia and other local heroes, and they videoed with their phones as racers passed. I walked and rode around shooting photos, as many campers started fires for a barbacoa. Later came the smells of carne asada mixed with those of wood smoke, dust and burnt race fuel.
After all the UTVs passed through on the way to Ojos, I retired to the shade of an oak tree near the ranch house to eat lunch. Many of the spectators loaded up to catch the race action at other points on the course, which basically did a big figure eight across Baja Norte, snaking from the Summit to Tres Posos to Mike’s Sky Ranch and back to Ojos and the finish in Ensenada. I found some shade under a semi-trailer tanker and took a siesta while waiting for the bikes to come back through.
The bikes had started at 4 a.m., and around 2:30 p.m., I spied dust on the horizon. The lead bike was the #10X KTM team of Bolivian Juan Carlos Salvatierra (whom I had met on his father’s Ecotourismo de Bolivia bike, ATV and UTV rides in 2000 and 2001), Argentinian Diego Llanos, Arturo Salas Jr., and Shane Logan, both from San Diego. It was around another 30 minutes before the next bike came through, and I stayed to shoot the first few quads for Dirt Wheels. Since it would be dark when the UTVs would come through, I headed back to Ensenada.
In all, 30 states were represented, along with Puerto Rico, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Canada, Denmark, England, France, New Zealand, and, of course, Mexico. While these racers and fans spoke many languages, we all spoke off-road!
See how Can-Am won the Baja 1000 here: VIDEO: HOW CAN-AM WON THE 2022 BAJA 1000 – UTV Action Magazine