The Desert Doesn’t Discriminate: Experiencing The Exhilaration Of A 1,300-Mile Off-Road Race Through Baja

Managing Editor, Sports + DIME
07.13.16
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Marty Fiolka

“Once we cross the border, if we’re not racing, we’re on Baja time. Nobody is in any rush.”

SAN JOSE DEL CABO, Mexico – Marty Fiolka is a Baja lifer. He’s been racing anything with four wheels since he was a kid driving his father’s Meyers Manx dune buggy at the age of nine. And he’s our tour guide as we leave San Diego and head south for the Mexican border. If there’s something to be known about racing in the desert, Marty knows it. He’s literally written the book on the Baja 1000, and has put together a documentary about it to boot. A member of the Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame, and a veteran of 12 Baja 1000s, Fiolka has two rules – have fun, and speak up – which seem like appropriate rules to follow for not only this trip, but through life itself.

We pile our stuff into a 1992 Ford Bronco, our unofficial office for the week.

This particular Bronco has had a bit of a facelift since it rolled off the lot almost 25 years ago. It’s got a roll bar, new paint, new seats, new gauges, new shocks, new tires, and most importantly, an expensive racing engine. It has had plenty of work as a prerunner, and even served as the pace car for the NORRA Mexican 1000. I’ve never ridden in a Bronco before. After this trip, a Bronco will be the only thing I can think about for weeks.

Within five minutes of hitting 80 on the highway, I involuntarily shout out. “Holy shit, when I get home, I’m buying a Bronco.”

The only experiences I’ve ever had with racing involved a NASCAR race over Memorial Day and a truck race down a ski mountain. I’ve never been to Mexico. I’ve never ridden in a race truck. I’ve never come anywhere close to dumping fuel on the side of the highway. By the end of this week in late April, I’ll not only have done all those things, but I’ll be looking for any excuse to get back to Baja.

The saying goes that you don’t find Baja. Baja finds you. And I’ll be damned if Baja didn’t find me at the most unexpected time.