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March 8, 2021

1987 Baja 1000

Here is the story of my first Baja 1000 race in 1987.

My First 1000 Race

The year was 1987. My three amigos (Andy, Bill and Richard) and I decided to race our first Off-Road race. We had never raced anything before just riding in the desert. We never even heard of the Baja 1000 until a few months earlier. A chance meeting with a pre-run buggie near Colonet provided a spark that never died. The buggie was pre-running the Baja 500. They explained about the race and they were headed for Mike’s Sky Ranch for the night.

The next day we decided to ride up to Mike’s to check things out. Arriving at Mike’s Sky Ranch we headed to the bar for a cold one. At the end of the bar was a gray haired gentleman. He was Mike Leon, owner of place. For the next two hours he told us how he found the place and educated us about Baja Off-Road Racing.

We came back to Baja to watch the race. We even went to the drivers/riders meeting. At the meeting were many stars in the off road world. At the time we didn’t know many of them except Malcom Smith from “On Any Sunday” fame. The next day we followed the race as best we could. Driving to various locations to see the bikes and cars and trucks go racing by. It was so exciting that we started thinking boy we should try this.

After we got home we started putting together a race plan. Score allowed the four of us to race on one bike. So we joined Score and started preparations. We decided to race on a Yamaha YZ250. Andy had a new bike so we decided to add a light kit to it and get spare parts, desert gas tank, gas cans, etc. The course was not laid out yet but Score told us it most likely would be similar to the 1985 course, which covered northern Baja down to El Arco. We had a map from Dirt Bike magazine. Over the next couple of months we traveled to various areas in Baja to ride and get to know the country better.

The map of the course came out about a month before the race which was the second weekend in November. It started in Ensenada going east thru Ojos Negros, over the Summit and south to Matomi Wash. Back up the old road to San Felipe. West thru Mike’s Sky Ranch to Camalu. North to Santo Tomas and back to Ojos Negros and Ensenada. About 750 miles total.

Pre-running was interesting to say the least. Most of the time we were totally lost. I remember looking east from the Summit and thinking where in the hell are we and where are we going. Sometimes it was scary. The week before the race it started raining. Everything was muddy. Riding the bikes was next to impossible. Finally it was time to head down to the race. We had three chase trucks and three support people besides the four racers. Two trucks for the Ojos Negros to San Felipe area and one for the Camalu to Santo Tomas run.

Race day. Friday morning was overcast. At 6am the bikes started off the line. I started the race for my team. It was around 6:30. Heading out of town there were several mud slides across the streets. The highway was wet for the first 25 KM before turning down a mud hill onto a dirt road. Again more mud than dirt. Water was everywhere. The locals had put tree branches along the side of the water holes so you had to run through the water. I was soaked before reaching Ojos.

Out of Ojos into the pine forest I started having brake problems. I stopped several times thinking the water had somehow affected the rear brake. After a while I noticed every time I hit a bush or tree branch my right hand guard would push against the front brake lever. That was the problem. As I raced thru the pine forest I was wet and cold. My hands were freezing. I just wanted to get off that bike ASAP.

Finally I arrived at Nuevo Jct. Andy took over here and over the Summit he went. Down the other side and across the south end of Laguna Salada dry lake. Somewhere past Tres Posos he hit a rock and went flying. He doesn’t know how long, but he was out. When he woke up another biker was with him. He didn’t break anything so he got back on and took off. Past Borrego and on to Morelia Jct.

Richard got on at Morelia and rode thru Matomi Wash. On the old road toward San Felipe he ran out of gas. He had carried two quart bottles with him and had already put them in. Out of no where came a Mexican family and a tow rope. They towed him to our next pit. After gassing he headed north to Three Poles and west to Borrego where Andy got back on. The bike started but died. They tried almost everything but nothing seemed to work. When all seemed hopeless Amanda, Andys girl friend, suggested maybe there was water in the gas. Sure enough there was. Draining the water out was the trick. Andy was on his way.

It was dark by this time and going thru Mike’s Sky Ranch Andy thought there were dragons after him. Must have been from hitting his head. He said he would gas the bike to throw rocks at them before looking back to see where they were. When he approached Camalu the Score check point workers warned Andy about reports that someone had driven rebar into the ground. Andy didn’t have any problems reaching Camalu.

I got back on at Camalu and started north. At the San Telmo water crossing there was a Japanese rider stopped. He was lost trying to find the course. I pointed to a ribbon I saw and he took off. I followed but stopped to adjust my goggles and as I went to put my foot down it was a hole. Over I went bike and all in the water. I don’t know how but the bike kept running. I picked it up and off I went. I passed a building and thru a gate where someone had been burning tires. Sure enough I had wire from the burnt tires in my back wheel. I had to stop and cut it out. Then over a large field of mud using my feet as out riggers. At the San Antonio Del Mar road crossing I gave the bike to Bill. Before he left he poured water over me to clean off the mud.

Bill raced past Santo Tomas and on the road to Ojos a bike rider stopped him for help. The guy had when off the embankment into the ditch. Bill helped him get his bike out and started. Bill rode to the finish line in Ensenada. Upon reaching the finish platform and just as he started to shake hands with Sal Fish he and the bike fell over. Probably a fitting ending to how our day went.

I often think of that first race. It brings a smile to my face thinking of all the wacky things that happened. I went on to race five years, mostly in Baja. Then three more years as a sponsor for a championship team. Those were the good old days for me.

Tom Wimberly

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