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More Than a Race: SCORE Baja 1000
By Dominic Clark / Photo by GetSomePhoto
SCORE MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic Clark, Dominic@SCORE-International.com October 18, 2023 It’s more than a Race, it’s an Adventure... The legendary, iconic SCORE Baja 1000 ENSENADA, Baja California, Mexico—As the World Series is to baseball, the Super Bowl to football, the Olympics to athletics and the World Cup to soccer, the legendary SCORE Baja 1000 stands as tall at the pinnacle of the motorsports world today as it did when it began 55 years ago. FLASHBACK Last year’s spectacular 55th anniversary race started and finished in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, covering much of the Northern part of the majestic Baja California peninsula for 828.25 grueling miles. It was the 55th anniversary of the race shrouded in mystery that continues to lure the world’s best racers and adventurers from around the globe who all continue to share the dream to conquer the Baja. A total of 276 official starters, competing in Pro and Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, UTVs, motorcycles and quads were part of last year’s annual odyssey. Racers came from 37 U.S. States, the U.S. Territory Puerto Rico and 18 countries. There were 153 official finishers in 2022. FLASH FORWARD In 2023, the BFGoodrich Tires 56th SCORE Baja 1000, presented by K&N, will be a peninsula race starting for the first time in La Paz, Baja California Sur, and finishing for the 29th time in Ensenada, Baja California. This year’s Granddaddy of All Desert Races will be held Nov. 13-18. Over 300 entries are expected from nearly 40 U.S. States and 20 countries. The rugged race route covers 1310.94 miles UP Mexico’s magnificent Baja California peninsula. More information is available at www.score-international.com. ONLY ONE It is 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, majestic Baja California peninsula every year except 1974 when an international fuel crisis forced a cancellation. COUNT ‘EM The SCORE Baja 1000 has captured the imagination of the entire world as entries have come not only from every state in the United States, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories Guam and Puerto Rico, but also has attracted racers from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Morocco, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yugoslavia as well as the host country of Mexico. Over the years, SCORE races have been televised in more than 100 nations worldwide. THE PIONEERS 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. They began their journey at midnight in Tijuana. 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.” NUMERO UNO “Without the SCORE Baja 1000, there just wouldn’t be any desert racing,” said Jim Ryan, SCORE International’s Vice-President of Marketing and Sales. “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 World Desert Championship each year and the celebration of our 56th anniversary race and the culmination of our 50th SCORE anniversary season will surely add another colorful chapter to the ever-growing legacy of the iconic SCORE Baja 1000.” 1967 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, finishing in La Paz. NORRA continued to organize the Mexican 1000, which came to be known as the Baja 1000 or affectionally as the Baja Mil. 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. NORRA’s last race was in 1972. At that point, Mexican officials revoked NORRA’s permits to stage races in Baja. In 1973, a domestic group called the Baja Sports Committee produced the race. ENTER SCORE After the fuel crisis of 1974 forced local officials to cancel the event, SCORE International, founded by the late Mickey Thompson, and headed soon after by Sal Fish (until 2012), was invited by the northern state of Baja California to hold the race in 1975. The SCORE Baja 1000 became a loop event starting and finishing in Ensenada. In 1979, the government of Baja California Sur granted permission to resume the Ensenada-to-La Paz format and SCORE has used this route intermittently ever since. 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. START/FINISH In its first 55 years, the SCORE Baja 1000 has started 48 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 28 times, in La Paz 22 times, in Mexicali two times (1993, 1994), twice in Cabo San Lucas (2000, 2007) and once in Ojos Negros (1999). CELEBS/CROSSOVERS 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 Britain’s then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher, raced in the 1982 SCORE Baja 1000. Celebrities James Garner, Ted Nugent, and the 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, Alexander Rossi, 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, Andreas Aigner and Harri Pavanpera,, Pikes Peak Hill Climb record holder Rod Millen, Formula Drift and Pikes Peak champion Rhys Millen, 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 both have raced in this classic several times. LASTING LEGACY This year’s race will commemorate the achievements of legendary desert racers like Rod Hall, Ron Bishop, Johnny Johnson, and Larry Roeseler. Hall, who passed away in 2019 at 81, retired with an unbelievable record of 25 class wins (including one overall win in 1969), and was the only racer who competed in the first 50 SCORE Baja 1000 races. Bishop, now also deceased was the only racer who competed in the first 40 SCORE Baja 1000 races all on a motorcycle. Johnson, now retired, had 15 class wins, amazingly in eight different classes. Roeseler, has won his class 18 times in this race, including 14 overall wins (10 on a motorcycle). Roeseler won the unlimited Class 1 for four consecutive years (2004-2007), driving with the youngest of three racing brothers, Troy Herbst, in the Smithbuilt-Ford open-wheel desert race car that was known as the ‘Land Shark’. Roeseler is the only racer in the history of the event to win the overall 4-wheel in a truck, in a car and as the overall 2-wheel title as well. In 2020, Roeseler was the second driver for Luke McMillin as the pair teamed to win the overall. In 2008, Roeseler split the driving with driver of record/team owner Roger Norman when they were the overall 4-wheel and SCORE Trophy Truck champions and the pair was second in 2009. In 2010, Roger Norman drove solo the length of the peninsula and finished third overall. Special history was also made in 2010 when the father/son team of Gustavo Vildosola Sr and Gustavo ‘Tavo’ Vildosola Jr drove to the overall 4-wheel and SCORE Trophy Truck victory to become the first Mexican nationals’ team to win the legendary race and it was a peninsula run from Ensenada to La Paz. That landmark was reached again during the 50th anniversary when Mexico’s Carlos ‘Apdaly’ Lopez and his father Juan C. Lopez split the driving to win the mammoth 2017 peninsula run from Ensenada to la Paz. In 2019, Mexico’s brothers Alan and Aaron Ampudia became the third team of Mexican nationals to earn the overall 4-wheel and SCORE Trophy Truck win. BAJA CALLING Lured by the same siren that enraptured the Ekins brothers in the 1950s, the 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.