The 2019 Baja 500 Preview
The Baja 500 is a great race to go check out in person. Always run in a loop, it is a lot easier to take in the action compared to the Baja 1000. Unlike the peninsula runs of the Baja 1000, you don’t have to travel vast distances to see the race. And, since it is “only” 500 miles, most of it takes part in one day, so you are not wandering around in the middle of the night either (or multiple nights as in the case with the Baja 1000 peninsula run). Plus, it is June, so the weather is usually mild making it the perfect time to head down to Baja. To top it all off, Baja is a very taco and cerveza-rich environment. All of it makes for some solid reasons to head south of the border.
So what if you aren’t a seasoned Baja pro? Well, you can still check it out the action. It isn’t as hard as it seems. We stumbled our way around Baja with little more than a paper course map and a vague notion of where we were for the first couple of years. And this was also in the dark era before cell phones and GPS. The horror! Somehow we still managed to find the course and enjoy ourselves. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about posting on the ‘Gram. If we could do it back then, you can do it now.
To help you out, we are here to kick down some knowledge. Now, this isn’t designed to be the all-encompassing guide to the Baja 500. It is enough to get you started on your journey south of the border. And it will help you avoid some of the mistakes we have made. But a big part of the fun is discovering Baja on your own. Vamonos!
Where To Watch
When it comes to watching, there is one big decision to be made. That is whether you want to try to hit multiple spots or just post up at one place and watch the racers go by. Moving around the Baja peninsula during a race can be pretty stressful. There are really only a couple of major highways, and they are packed with chase trucks, race vehicles, and spectators. Don’t expect the big freeways of America either. One out of town, these highways are basically two-lane roads that quickly become congested.
So what do you do? Our advice would be to get out of Ensenada before the race starts. Once that green flag drops, there will be nothing but traffic. If you don’t know where to go, we would head down to Borrego on Highway 3. From there, you can go a bit inland to see the race vehicles heading down the wash and usually off a sweet jump. There are also a lot of pits just off the highway where you can see the race vehicles. Just follow the crowds and make sure to stay off the course. We would then avoid heading back to Ensenada and overnight in San Felipe to avoid the madness of the commute back to Ensenada. As you get more experience, you can figure out your favorite place to be. Then you can post up, camp out, and not even worry about moving around the peninsula during the race.
Who To Watch?
There are lots of teams to check out at the Baja 500, as it is always a popular race. The Trophy Trucks are the crowd favorite and worth watching. They are extremely fast and capable of insane speeds in rough terrain. If you have never seen one in action, they are worth the trip alone.
Two of the classes experiencing mind-boggling growth are the UTVs and the Spec Trophy Trucks. In the Pro UTV Forced Induction Class make sure to keep an eye on 4WP President and CEO Craig Scanlon in his Polaris racer. He is teaming up with the always-fast Seth Quintero to try to get to the finish first. With so many entries though, it is going to be a tough fight. In the Spec Trophy Truck class, we would keep an eye on 4WP-backed driver Sara Price. She has shown some serious speed lately and is due for a major win. Blake Wiley will also take a break from jumping his buggy to compete in his first Baja 500 in Class 1.
Who Will Win?
So the big question is always who is going to take the overall win at the Baja 500? Well, with some much that can easily go wrong in desert racing, it is almost impossible to predict. But, if we had to place a sizeable bet on someone to win, it would be either Rob MacCachren or Bryce Menzies. Rob Mac and Baja go together like peanut butter and jelly. He has a long history of racking up multiple wins south of the border. He has a great, team, does his homework, knows how to drive, has a super reliable truck, and his hair is always on point.
Bryce Menzies has always shown speed in Baja. While the Baja 1000 has not been kind to Bryce, the 500 has shown him more love. He has been on top of the podium before at the Baja 500, but will this be his year to take another win? Much of that will depend upon if his new 4WD Trophy Truck has been fully sorted. And, of course, in Baja literally anything can go wrong, so a bit of luck is needed as well.
No matter where you go in Baja or who you are rooting for, your number one priority should be your safety and the safety of anyone with you. Baja is not the place to take risks or drive like an idiot. Don’t stand on the course or anywhere near it. You are in a foreign country and the hospital and help can be far away. Basically, if you use common sense, you should be okay. Enjoy your trip south of the border and make sure to come back in one piece.