50 Years of the SCORE Baja 500 / by Larry Saavedra

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     Mexico's never-ending desert in the Baja Peninsula is unforgiving. The blinding dust, needle-sharp cactus and mindless booby-traps often set by locals waiting for a crash are a constant reminder of how dangerous it can be to race in the SCORE Baja 500.

     Obstacles pop up everywhere on the course, crashes are frequent and unfortunately even a few lives have been lost. Yet, many years ago when I was beginning my career in automotive journalism I raced it. Technically, I rode shot-gun like a piece of luggage in a Class 7 Ford Ranger driven by the late Off-Road Hall of Fame inductee, Manny Esquerra

     Esquerra drove so skillfully that June day with so much confidence and joy that I actually had time to glance out the window netting and take in the scenery of the Peninsula, especially where it neared the Pacific ocean. In 9 hours Esquerra finished the race with me by his side, even though his brother I'm told wanted to navigate the second half of the course. It was a once in a lifetime thing and I was just having so much fun in his Class 7 Ford Ranger that I didn't want to get out, even if my bladder, and his brother, told me otherwise. 

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     While the race can be dangerous, the promoter, SCORE International, has an amazing safety record, given the fact that all it takes is a loose boulder, a stray cow or a sudden blow-out to ruin your day. It's 500 miles of constant jarring and the sound of open exhaust, where split-decisions require cool-heads going 100-plus miles-per-hour. 

     For many years, I held onto a can of Coors someone had passed me through the safety net when Esquerra and I crossed the finish line in Ensenada. But the empty can somehow got lost, likely recycled like so much aluminum. But I have the memories and that is what matters most. 

     This year SCORE is celebrating it's 50th year of running the Baja 500 co-marshalled by Ivan "Ironman" Stewart and Sal Fish, the former president of SCORE.  Check out their live Internet feed of the 50th SCORE Baja 500 at http://score-international.com.