The road to Ensenada’s fabled Horsepower Ranch is a short, undulating dirt road that takes lucky visitors to a 140-acre slice of off-road racing heaven. The sport’s cultural history literally hangs from the ranch’s Carrera Cantina walls, intermixed with framed images of the rich and famous who have partied here: The late Paul Newman. Sandra Bullock. Patrick Dempsey. Mario Andretti.
That road is only about a half mile long, but this morning’s somewhat adventurous commute here was a striking example of why SCORE Internationals decision to postpone the race for 24 hours due to a historic rain series of rain storms was the correct one.
If you haven’t visited this land, for a race or otherwise, it is difficult to comprehend why the world’s most famous off-road endurance race can’t run in any condition. After all, it’s supposed to be a tough race for equally tough humans and machines.
The overall infrastructure here, well, isn’t. The two main highways for chase teams to access the course can be hazardous, and without engineered drainage in many places even traffic on non-race days can grind to numerous halts. Sending out thousands of friends, family and crew into the vastness of Baja without regard for safety would have represented a total lack of responsibility on SCORE’s part.
Then there is the race course. Four-wheel category pole sitter and recent Baja 400 winner Ryan Arciero jumped into a helicopter today to do an aerial pre-run of the first 200 miles. As the first person on the road outside of the motorcycle racers, it was the only prudent thing to do. This is the first time in ages that earning a pole position may be a distinct disadvantage.
There is an often-used metaphor here about that mystical thing called “Baja magic.” It’s when unrelated things in the universe somehow collide to make unexpected things happen. Baja magic was in full force today, as there were also reports of enthusiastic locals helping things along by helping fill in massive holes and washouts on the course (photo above).
For crews, today also represented an unexpected day of rest and completing those niggling details that often go unattended. The atmosphere was as relaxed as the warm Mexican sun over the Pacific. The rumor mill was churning full speed: “The race was cancelled!”, “The race has been delayed another day!”, etc.
At tonight’s SCORE official pre-race drivers meeting, all that was really proven was that moving the race a day later – the first time since the “Wet and Wild” Baja 1000 race of 1976 – was the only choice the organizers had for safety. The overall course changes were slighter than almost anyone expected.
“If we had raced this morning it would have been a total disaster,” explained Rhys Millen, who is taking on this year’s race in his unique new all-wheel drive Class 1 unlimited car. “You would have had log jams everywhere just getting out of Ensenada. At least tomorrow, we actually get to race.”
Millen’s observation certainly doesn’t suggest that tomorrow’s race will be normal. SCORE International’s management group wasn’t s just sitting around eating chips and salsa today, but instead they were busy scouting as much of the course as possible. Reports from a helicopter crew I spoke with shared that there is still standing water everywhere. No amount of today’s brilliant sunshine can fix that.
Bottom line is this: The 52nd running of this desert classic will devastate the spirits of many participants. Like strained pack mules, the four-wheel vehicles will be especially burdened with hundreds of pounds of Baja mud often consisting of weird chemicals that start corroding hardware if not washed immediately after the race. Having all-wheel drive will clearly be an advantage, as well as all the homework done finding alternate lines on the course.
The 2019 BFGoodrich SCORE Baja 1000 is guaranteed to break parts. And hearts.