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.
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.