June 1, 2003

By Michael Strickland

The Baja 500

In my youth, the adventure of traveling to Baja California thrilled me. But until a month ago, I had not crossed the border since 1994. Now, I've been deep into the peninsula twice in less than 30 days. This weekend, I once again tried something new, checking out the Baja 500 off-road race for the first time. Accompanied by a 20-year veteran of off-road racing, I got a real inside glimpse of this elite sport. Meeting up with my friend Lory's brother Lee, who managed the pit crew for one of the pro trucks, we got to watch the split-second pit stops up close and personal.

This weekend's race marked the 30th anniversary of the famous competition, with 255 competitors plowing through the Baja dirt in trucks, buggies, motorcycles and quads. In terms of spectating, the event played out as somewhat of an exercise in hurry-up-and-wait, but the lulls were punctuated by moments of sheer adrenaline as high performance vehicles roared past at high speed. The so-called "trophy trucks" in particular—into which as much as $300,000 had been spent on each—inspired awe and excitement. The throb of their engines dug deep into one's bones. The skill and bravado of the drivers were most impressive, however. The racers neither slowed nor apparently even batted an eyelash as they raced through areas heavy with spectators, mere feet of space on either side of the bumpy dirt separating the people from the metal behemoths. One slightly overcompensated move or unexpected bump could quickly cause a catastrophe.

But all went well this weekend, or at least as well as one can expect when racing nearly 500 miles through rough terrain in less than 24 hours at high speed. As in every off-road race, many vehicles broke down—some mere miles from the start. The pro truck whose pit crew we accompanied had its own share of problems, which included getting stuck in the sand, getting a flat tire and having to rewire the engine's fan to keep it from overheating—but they at least were able to finish the race. Many others didn't.

The off-road racing community is definitely a world unto its own. Within that world, many of these racers are giants, with many victories under their belts. Thousands upon thousands of dollars get poured into these vehicles, making sailboats—which my father has often called "holes in the water into which you throw money"—look like positively practical investments. But the competitors' skill and mastery of the sport is without question. It'll be a while before the growl of those engines fades from my memory—long after I get all of the Baja dust out of my ears, to be sure.

 

©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year (almost), I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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June Columns:

6/30: Halfway There
6/27: 28 Days Later
6/26: I Am a Racist
6/24: America the Obese
6/23: Reality TV Sells
6/20: June Gloom
6/18: Hatch's Hollywood Hacking
6/16: Qualcomm Stadium
6/15: Happy Father's Day
6/14: Flag Day
6/13: Friday the 13th
6/12: Extreme
6/9: Spammed
6/8: Lack of PLANning
6/7: When Grass Attacks
6/4: Culture Shock
6/1: The Baja 500
Previous months in The Archive

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