By John Virata
Director Dana Brown’s story of the Tecate SCORE Baja 1000
Mention the Indy 500 or NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and most everyone in America knows that they are some of the preeminent car races in the world. These races tend to get all the press and there are a lot of poster boys who race in these events. These events are really the glamour events of the racing motor world. Mention the Baja 1000 and most people won’t know what it is or who races it.
Dana Brown, director of Step into Liquid and son of legendary documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown, has brought the Baja 1000 to the big screen with Dust to Glory, the first documentary to really capture the essence of racing the big daddy of off road races in Baja California. Most of these racers don’t do it for the money, because there isn’t any, and not necessarily to win the race, because there are several classes of vehicle that race the Baja, but more for the satisfaction of finishing the race, because it definitely seems a lot more difficult to race the Baja than it is to go around an oval at 190 mph for hours on end.
The film follows several categories of racers to their conclusion during the 2003 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, in an effort to give viewers a glimpse of who these folks are as well as why they race the Baja. Several racers are highlighted during the 90 minute film, including Mike “Mouse” McCoy, who raced the entire course solo, on a motorcycle, rather than hand it off to another racer at the halfway point; Mario Andretti, who makes his first attempt at the race; Robbie Gordon, a six time off road champion; Hawaiian Alan Pflueger, scion of Honolulu’s Pflueger Automotive Group, who races in the unlimited class where the trucks run upwards of $1 million; and JN and Jimmy Roberts, a father/son team who race the motorcycle class.
One aspect of the Baja 1000 that makes this race unique is the class of vehicles that are allowed to enter. There are essentially five classes of vehicles that enter the Baja 1000, and Director Brown makes a point of detailing each class’s differences, as well as the racers in those classes. Class 22 is the motorcycle class (250cc and up). These vehicles are usually the first to cross the finish line in any class; Wide Open class entails vehicles powered by Porsche, and are all identical in mechanical makeup; the unlimited trophy truck class includes vehicles that are custom built and cost upward of $1 million.
This class features such racers as Robby Gordon, Mark Miller, and Alan Pflueger. The trucks often have 800+hp, three feet suspensions, and special breathing apparatus for driver and navigator, and their support crew often uses helicopters as chase vehicles; Class 1 single or two seater buggy’s often cost upward of $150,000, and include 600hp engines with top speeds north of 120mph; Class 11, the VW bug class and always a crowd favorite, are unmodified Volkswagen bugs (old style), with 70hp, stock suspensions, and stock steel bodies. Brown interviews the top racers in each class and gives ample coverage in the film showcasing the vehicles in the race.
Brown covers virtually all aspects of the race in Dust to Glory, from the interviews of the racers, sequences of some of the residents of Baja who have an impact on the race, to a sequence showing an orphanage built and funded by motorcycle racing legend Malcolm Smith. The film also features a sequence on a man known as the “Weatherman.” The Weatherman keeps track of the fickle weather patterns that may happen during the race and acts as a conduit for emergency communications. He tracks the weather as well as accidents and relays critical information to emergency officials when needed. He sits on top of a mountain every year to forecast the weather, and he does all of this for free.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a chase scene between two motorcycle racers. Both riding for team Honda, one racer was inexplicably bumped from the Honda A team to the Honda B team a few weeks prior to the race. To prove his mettle, the Honda B team racer rides his heart out and doesn’t let the A team rider, (despite the A team rider’s best efforts to catch up, including several long stretches on two Baja beaches) catch him. The narration poignantly details the story of the B team rider getting bumped down a notch, while the filming shows quite brilliantly, the B team rider “making dust” on the course as the A team rider, in his futile attempt to catch him, trying everything in the book to catch him. This chase scene was captured via helicopter and it really shows the determination of these racers.
Director Brown also details the inherent dangers of the race, not so much from a racer’s perspective (although some helmet cam footage is sprinkled throughout the film) but from an observer’s perspective. By design, the race takes place on public roads and highways in Baja California, as well as on the dirt roads that make up the majority of the course. Traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph, the racers must not only negotiate the traffic (vehicles, animal and otherwise) that may block the race course, but they must also race through the crowds that line the course. There are no real barriers that separate racer from race observer, and there were several shots of someone crossing the course and just a few seconds later, an 800hp trophy truck barrels through the exact crossing point of the pedestrian. Dangerous? Absolutely. But those shots capture the essence of the Baja 1000 and Brown does an awesome job of documenting virtually all aspects of the race in this film. If you are a dirtsport enthusiast, or just want to see an exciting film that details the extremes of the human spirit, Dust to Glory is a must see film.
This article originally appeared on DigitalMediaNet.com