It’s More Than a Race, It’s an Adventure...
The Legendary Tecate SCORE Baja 1000
As the World Series is to baseball and the Super Bowl to football, the legendary Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 stands as tall at the pinnacle of the motorsports world today as it did when it began 42 years ago.
This year’s historic 43rd anniversary race will be held Nov. 17-21. It will start and finish in the heart of Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico and finish on the outskirts of LaPaz, Baja California Sur, Mexico. It will be the 43rd anniversary of the race shrouded in mystery that continues to lure adventurers from across the globe who all share the dream to conquer the Baja.
Over 325 entries, competing in 28 Pro and 6 Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs will be part of this year’s odyssey. Entries are expected nearly 40 U.S. States and 15 countries.
It’s the oldest and most well known of all desert races, and it remains as the single most appealing accomplishment to a driver. Since 1967, the mother of all desert races has been run over the mysterious Baja California peninsula every year except 1974 when the international fuel crisis forced a cancellation.
The Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 has captured the imagination of the entire world as entries have come not only from every state in the United States and the District of Columbia, but also has attracted racers from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, England, Finland, France, Germany, Guam, Guatemala, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Panama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay, Yugoslavia as well as the host country of Mexico.
The first known record run occurred in 1962. Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson Jr. timed their trip from Tijuana to La Paz on a pair of Honda 250 motorcycles. Ekins made it in 39 hours, 54 minutes, Robertson in less than an hour slower. There were no official timers, of course, and to establish that they had made the trip, the two motorcycle racers time-stamped a sheet of paper in the Tijuana telegraph office and time-stamped it again at the telegraph office when they arrived in La Paz.
Capitalizing on the pioneer effort of Ekins and Robertson, Chevrolet commissioned car builder Bill Stroppe to prepare a small fleet of trucks for the run to La Paz. Late that year they left Long Beach, Calif., and all of them reached La Paz. Advertising and publicity campaigns heralded the feat as “the roughest run under the sun.”
“Without the SCORE Baja 1000, there just wouldn’t be any desert racing,” said Sal Fish, SCORE International’s President and CEO, which has sanctioned and produced the event since 1975. “The SCORE Baja 1000 continues to draw interest from all over the world and we now find second and even third generation racers appearing at the starting line with their family patriarchs cheering for their off-spring. This event continues to be the focal point of the SCORE Desert Series each year and to celebrate our 43rd anniversary will surely add another colorful chapter to the legacy of the SCORE Baja 1000.”
Enthusiast Ed Pearlman founded the National Off Road Racing Association (NORRA) and established the Mexican 1000. It started officially in Tijuana on October 31, 1967 with 68 entries. They actually motored at leisure speeds to Ensenada and restarted the next day.
NORRA continued to organize the Mexican 1000, which came to be known as the Baja 1000. In 1968, Pearlman moved the start of the race to Ensenada, where it stayed with one exception until 1993. In 1972 NORRA started at Mexicali and ran the first half of the race down the east coast of the peninsula through the treacherous Three Sisters section. Pre-running for this race, Parnelli Jones and Walker Evans were among a group of competitors who nearly got swept out to sea during a tropical storm.
After the fuel crisis of 1974 forced local officials to cancel the event, SCORE International, founded by the late Mickey Thompson headed soon after by Sal Fish, was invited by the northern state of Baja California to hold the race in 1975. The Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 became a loop event starting and ending in Ensenada.
The 1979 race was notable for Walker Evans’ overall win in a Dodge truck, the first truck to win the overall title of the race.
In its first 42 years, the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 has started 35 times in Ensenada, three times in Mexicali (1972, 1993, 1994), twice in Tijuana (1967, 1995) once in Santo Tomas (1998) and once in Ojos Negros (1999). The legendary race has finished in Ensenada 20 times, in La Paz 17 times, in Mexicali two times (1993, 1994), twice in Cabo San Lucas (2000, 2007) and once in Ojos Negros (1999).
The famous and not-so-famous have tried their hand at conquering the Baja and they have come from all walks of life. Mark Thatcher, son of Great Britian’s then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, raced in the 1982 SCORE Baja 1000. Celebrities James Garner, Ted Nugent and the late Steve McQueen all battled the Baja in the early 1970s and many racers from other forms of motorsports crossed over to try their skills.
Among the drivers from other arenas who have tested the Baja were Indy Car racers Rick and Roger Mears, Parnelli Jones, Danny Ongias, Danny Sullivan, Jimmy Vasser, Buddy Rice, Sebastien Bourdais, Oriol Servia, Roberto Guerrero, Michel Jourdain Jr., Johnny Unser and Mike and Robbie Groff, NASCAR’s Robby Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Boris Said and Brendan Gaughan, SCCA legend Elliot Forbes-Robinson, World Rally Championships’ Armin Schwarz, Armin Kremer and Andreas Aigner, world motorcycle champions Malcolm Smith, Larry Roeseler and Destry Abbott, Motocross legends Ricky Johnson and Jeremy McGrath, XGames star Travis Pastrana, drag racers Don Prudhomme and Larry Minor and legendary SCORE founder and motorsports innovator Mickey Thompson.
The late Academy Award winning actor, racer and race team owner Paul Newman raced in the 2004 event. Jesse James, of ‘Monster Garage’ fame, and Hollywood film and TV star Patrick Dempsey have both raced this classic in the four of the last five years.
This year’s race will commemorate the achievements of legendary desert racers like Rod Hall, Ron Bishop, Johnny Johnson, and Larry Roeseler. Hall, who will turn 72 on Nov. 22, has a record 21 class wins (including one overall win in 1972), and is the only racer who has competed in all 42 SCORE Baja 1000 races. Bishop is the only racer who competed in the first 40 SCORE Baja 1000 races. Hall will be a favorite in both the Stock Mini and the Stock Full classes where he will be the second driver for his sons Josh and Chad, respectively.
Bishop is the only racer who competed every year of the first 40 on a Motorcycle, but is not scheduled to race this year at this time. Johnson, now retired, had 15 class wins, amazingly in eight different classes.
Roeseler, has won 17 times in this race, including 13 overall wins (10 on a motorcycle). Roeseler will share driving duties this year in SCORE Trophy-Truck with Roger Norman in the No. 8 Norman Motorsports Ford F-150. Roeseler won the unlimited Class 1 for four consecutive years (2004-2007), driving with Troy Herbst in the Smithbuilt-Ford open-wheel desert race car that was known as the ‘Land Shark’. The Norman/Roeseler team were the overall 4-wheel and SCORE Trophy-Truck champions in 2008 and were second in 2009.
Lured by the same siren that enraptured the Ekins brothers in the 1950s, the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 remains as the No. 1 target of adventurers the world over, not to mention the cadre of pro and semi-pro desert racers who consider it the fitting climax to their racing season each year.