At the Starting Line
Most race the Baja 1000 in teams, switching out drivers along the way and competing in large, 6,000-pound trucks dubbed “trophy trucks.” These million-dollar trucks are followed by extensive support crews that offer repairs, extra tires, and additional team members. Many have factory sponsors that trail them in helicopters.
A "trophy truck" at the Baja 1000. (Image from YouTube)
Even those who are crazy enough to race in the Ironman class as motorcyclists definitely don’t go at it alone. They, too, have a support crew to assist them along the way. It’s not uncommon for a motorcyclist in such a race to have to swap out their tires six or seven times.
But not Schlosser. He had no extra tires and no support crew. He had planned 18 pit stops along the course at which he would fill up on gas. He had a few runner’s Gu packets, granola bars, and waters stored in backpacks stashed at each of these points, but other than that, he’d be depending on the generosity of the Mexican race fans for food.
The course was set in the middle of the Mexican desert—a long dirt road cut into the landscape about two feet deep, with thick cacti littered on either side. It consisted of 37 water crossings, one of which was a creek four-feet deep, and ran from Ensenada to La Paz.
The 50th Anniversary Baja 1000 race course map. (Image courtesy of Wayne Schlosser)
Mexican fans would camp out along the course. In many ways, the Baja 1000 is their Running of the Bulls. Not only did they cheer on the racers and offer a campfire and a bit of food at various points along the road, but they would stand in the path of a trophy truck and jump out of the way at the last second to show their bravery.
It was midnight when Schlosser pulled into the starting arena and revved toward the white line. He had a stomachache from the armadillo tacos he’d eaten the night before. The race announcer boomed, “The Ironmen, they’re different animals. You gotta be tough to come down here.”
Schlosser at the starting line. (Image from YouTube)
Let the Race Begin
The previous year seven riders competed in the Ironman class. Only two of them finished. It wasn’t until mile 475 that Schlosser truly began to experience why that was.
In the Baja 1000, the trophy trucks start nine hours behind the motorcyclists in order to allow the bikers a head start. Sounds like a courteous race gesture, except that the trophy trucks catch up, and when they do, motorcyclists often get run over.
Schlosser was filling up on gas when he heard the sound of an engine in the distance. All of a sudden, the first trophy truck blazed past the camp at 100 mph, whipping up a wave of dust so thick that Schlosser couldn’t see his hand in front of his face.
The kind of dust kicked up by a trophy truck. (Image courtesy of Wayne Schlosser)
About 30 seconds later, a motorcycle came through the dust with his headlights on. He got off his bike. “That guy almost hit me!” he yelled. Moments later, a second trophy truck came blazing through the dust. With the thickness of the filthy air, the driver of this second truck was relying solely on a navigation screen to stay on course.
The people in the camp gathered around the motorcyclist, murmuring how lucky he was that he hadn’t been behind the second truck. If the first truck had barely missed him, the second truck, which couldn’t see anything, surely would have taken him out.
“That’s it. I’m out,” the motorcyclist said. “This is crazy.”
I have to get back out there, Schlosser thought. He listened for the sound of a third truck, but when he heard nothing, he pulled out. He had a 40-mile stretch before the next stop. He went “as fast as humanly possible” and “could not see a thing.” He relied on the tire tracks of the trucks to stay on the road. This was one of two or three times in his life when he thought he might actually die.
Miraculously, he made it to the next stop before any other trophy trucks came through. He began to realize that although he’d known the race would be dangerous, he hadn’t really known quite what he was getting himself into. He believes it was the same way for the early Saints.