Sitting in a semicircle around the fire, we passed a bottle of tequila and cradled bowls of ramen, trying to stay warm. The desert is frigid at 2 in the morning. Nearly 100 miles from the closest town, we were surrounded by the Milky Way and waiting for the low growl of far-off engines to break the silence.
Our small crew was chasing the SCORE Baja 1000, the most prestigious off-road race in the world. Famous for futuristic trucks, big crashes, booby traps from locals, and daredevil drivers, this years’ iteration came on the doorstep of torrential rains than had made the course even more rugged.
Positioned just a dozen feet off a rough dirt road – the official race course – we were using texts via satellite to confirm the position of the lead pack. They were close and all we could do was wait.
My mood was a three-part cocktail of anticipation, exhaustion, and confusion on how I got here. On assignment and awake for the last 24 hours, I had naively jumped on board, not knowing what exactly I was getting into. For now, that didn’t matter. I picked up my thermos of instant coffee and listened to Art tell a story of frozen toes on a past adventure, hoping mine would fair a little better.
Using highways and a web of service roads, we leapfrogged the racers, capturing images of the wild-west nature of the race. The elite class, Trophy Trucks, are machines from another world. With 1,100 horsepower and 40 inches of travel on their suspension, they top out around 150 mph – even on dirt roads impossible for most stock trucks to drive.
This was our fourth and final checkpoint to watch the racers pass, just 40 miles from the finish in Ensenada. The annual race was founded in 1967 and has become the granddaddy of off-road racing. The race brings in spectators and racers from dozens of countries around the world, and millions of dollars for the local economy. The route and exact distance change each year, but the premise is the same: Be the fastest to connect all the checkpoints and get back to the finish, in one piece.
Less than an hour later the leader flew by, launching off a small jump at upwards of 80 miles an hour. Ten minutes later the second and third trucks passed by, driving even faster, attempting to make up time. The irony of chasing a race of turbo-charged trucks is that you only see them for a split second.
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