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Racing the La Paz Dos Mares 500: An Off-Road Course of Delight, Part I

Part I

By Andrea Tomba

The La Paz Dos Mares 500 is one of the most spectacular and demanding off-road races in southern Baja. Presented by the Murillo family, it is a race put together by racers, for racers. The Murillos, originally spearheaded by married racing couple, Moncho and Tonita Abaroa–and now their sons Cynthia and Jose Juan–annually carry out the thousands of tasks needed to execute the race.

The Black Demon, ready for action

These tasks include visiting numerous ejidos and ranches to obtain permission to travel through their land. The family takes approximately four days to run the complete trail, with the necessary café de talega (coffee cooked with the grains in it and then strained through a long filter, often refereed to as the calzetin, or “the sock”) and sit-down chats with ranchers and owners. They usually camp out with one of the friendly ranch owners. They do this “round” three to four times prior to the race, as after they receive permission, they then have to mark the trail and check for any advances or comments from the ranchers closer to the race.

They are hands-on organizers and are very close to the racers’ hearts. They take their roles as organizers to a higher level, akin to being the mother hen of the sport. If a racer has a problem, gets lost, or has to be left in the trail because of a major break down, the family is a part of the team that resolves these issues.

As this is an event that welcomes, and brings teams from both mainland Mexico and the US, they only rest once they know that each race vehicle and team has been accounted for; additionally, they receive and manage calls and radio communications from teams and ranchers alike, trying to splice together the calls of “we haven’t heard from one of our drivers” with the rancher calling via rural radio saying, “Hey, I have a gringo in our front room (probably their only room) drinking coffee and eating cheese with all the kids from the area… I think that he belongs to you… we will give him somewhere to sleep till you can send someone for him.”

The race starts in San Juan de la Costa at 4.00pm. Much of the race is run at night, and getting stuck in the desert at night can sometimes be quite an experience. For the Murillos, the race lasts a full 86 hours, and they are always there to lend a listening ear. They have most of the race team owners’ cellular numbers on hand and will call around to see how they can help coordinate the sometimes daunting task of getting a stuck driver or vehicle out of the desert. They’ve become true legends in the local off-road racing scene, not to mention valued friends.

This year, 141 four-wheel vehicles and 40 motorcycles responded when the local mayor dropped the flag.  Of these entries, there were 11 Trophy trucks, 10 Class 1 Unlimited and 12 Class 8 Trucks—which are larger and faster vehicles, and generally the crowd pleasers, as they have a lot of horse power and exist in the forefront of off-road race technology.

The race begins with a “false start” along the La Paz main boardwalk, “El Malecon,” giving thousands of locals the opportunity to cheer on their favorite racer and for sponsors to be seen by the general public. The participants then continue to Chametla and are the free to take the vehicles by road or trailer to San Juan de la Costa, 30 miles north along the Sea of Cortez, where the vehicles regroup and the timed start takes place. The race runs along the stunning scenery of the mountains that hug this coastline before  heading northwest towards Ciudad de Constitucion, and from there joining the classic Baja 1000 route heading south along the Pacific, finishing back at the Malecon of La Paz.

The night of race contingency, I was just finishing a tour guiding a fun group of adventurers from the USA on a Wide Open Off-Road adventure.  I then had a wonderful dinner at restaurant El Rustico in the company of our clients and Abelardo Grijalva (fellow guide and a dear friend Mike Lund, who was going to be kind enough to take my clients on their last leg of the trip). Mike is an incredible driver and off-road legend, racing his first Baja 1000 in 1975, and has since raced pretty much anything that can be raced in the Baja 1000, including a semi truck.

During dinner, Mike was bombarded with questions of “what was your favorite race?” and “which was your favorite race vehicle?” The answer which made me smile the most was when he was asked, “ Which was your least favorite race?” to which Mike answered, “Every race is fun and memorable, in one way or another, even the bad ones” Abelardo added, “ Even when you have been out in the desert; stuck, cold, tired, asking yourself ‘why am I doing this?’ once you go home and a few hours pass, all you remember is the challenge and the adventure that you have just lived, and you are immediately planning for the next race.”

His comment immediately brought me back to my most recent racing adventure.  The experience we lived this year in the Dos Mares, as we raced our Class 8 Open truck, came to mind then.  The truck was a Ford Explorer with a 450HP V8 engine, floating suspension, and was prepped for a full month prior to the race by Pio. It was looking great and was ready for battle. However, off-road racing has a way of sometimes bringing out the beast that lies inside the heart of all vehicles, wanting to test you and your team’s patience, dedication, ingenuity, and skills, and in this race, this beast raised its ugly head!

Keep checking back for Part II of Andrea’s Dos Mares adventure.  In the meantime, do you have any Baja racing experiences to share? Let us know about your own adventures in the comments!

Andrea Tomba has lived in La Paz, BCS since 1994 and started racing off road in 1995. He has since accumulated a Class 6 Championship and 3 consecutive Class 8 Open Championships, as well as accumulating tens of thousands of off road miles by working as a guide for Wide Open Excursion.

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  1. Russ Ham says:

    Sixteen fotos from the 2011 ceremonial start in La Paz…


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