SCORE 500 Racing Ensenada To Ensenada

This is a huge boost to tourisim, bringing in mucho dinero and new people too
BY: DUSTY RHODES

To win an off road race in Baja you need enormous intestinal fortitude and a never say die attitude. When the racing team of H12:One, the Class 11 VW Bug, was only two miles from the finish line last year they broke down. It was ridiculous. There they were stuck on the side of the mountain, looking in anguish at their goal just outside of La Paz. They had lost the axle on the passenger side front end. What could they do? They had only 20 minutes before time expired and they would be out of the race.

The team captain, Dennis Hollenbeck, grabbed a nearby tree branch, intending to prop up the front end enough so the other three wheels could get some purchase. Just m,aybe they could move forward over the rutted hard-baked rocky course fast enough to limp past the finish line in the nick of time. They had to do anything and everything they could to finish the last two miles in this brutal Baja 1000 race. They were so close.

Fortunately (or unfortunately as it actually turned out) their chase team arrived before they could get this crazy idea working. They had everything they needed to get back on the road, but by the time they repaired the front end, the official clock had run out. Everything they had worked for over the past year was gone.

They drove the last two miles anyway and crossed the line to an enormous burst of cheers. Every judge, all the participants, and a huge crowd of Baja 1000 enthusiasts jumped up and down, screamed and applauded the team’s pluck, courage, tenacity and sheer determination. They were the only Class 11 car to finish the race. Even though they did not finish on time the SCORE (Southern California Offroad Racing Enterprises) officials later decided to award them an honorary trophy for their undaunted winning spirit.

baja500(1).jpgWe met with Dennis Hollenbeck and his team to discuss the upcoming Baja 500 which begins and ends here in Ensenada. He told us this story and then he made an even more incredible statement. In his opinion, the Baja 500 is a tougher race than the Baja 1000, the notoriously grueling event which has been running for 47 years on the peninsula.

He says there are two reasons why the 500 is tougher. The course always crosses over the mountains which run down the spine of Baja and there are numerous silt beds which often require a “silt angel” to rescue you from your soft trap. A silt angel is a car with a winch that pulls you out of a silt bed. Some of these beds are directly at the base of a hill climb. That makes it very difficult to get enough traction going through them to make the steep rocky hill climb without burning up your engine in the process. Also you must have chase cars on both sides of the mountains because it could take a team on the wrong side more than two hours to reach you in the event that you break down. A crash, a rollover, or a mechanical mishap is almost a certainty at some point in this race.

This year the 47th running of the Baja 500 takes place June 4th through the 7th. The course does vary slightly from year to year but it traditionally runs in a loop south and east of Ensenada finishing exactly at the starting line some 15 to 18 hours later. Counting all the classes, there will be between 300 and 350 entrants. To give you some idea of how brutal the race can be, at least 40% of them will not make it through the first 50 miles! Poor preparation, driver error, and road misfortunes account for most of the casualties. But there have been cases of serious injury and even deaths in this race. Ambulances and trained medical personnel are essential components of the sponsor’s staff.

The main sponsor is always Bud Light. SCORE is the producer and promoter. However there are hundreds of other sponsors as well, and some of these businesses exist only as off road providers of specialized equipment. Spectators are welcome and greatly encouraged to have a wonderful time at this  exciting event. As of this writing the course map has not yet been published but you can type “Ensenada Baja 500” into your browser for more information if you’re going to attend.

It takes a specialized team to enter an off road event like the Baja 500. Some of the teams in the trophy truck class are huge and it takes millions of dollars to field them. The truck alone can be valued at over $6million. But, although Class 11 is one of the cheapest ways to enter (excluding motorcycles of course), putting a car together can easily run $25,000. Running the race could cost you another $10,000, factoring in the entry fee of $2,400 and the expense of preparing the car at about $5,000. The balance will be eaten up by the expenses for spare parts and fuel. This year Class 11 is allowed to use 91 octane fuel, only $4 per gallon. This is a tremendous savings because previously 112 octane at a cost of over $12 per gallon was required. The car getsonly about eight miles to the gallon. Plus it takes an entire team to keep the vehicle up and running.

The team in this case is all volunteers and there are a total of 18 people. Every detail must be planned for and anticipated. For instance the Hollenbecks, Dennis and Debbie, have enlisted their 16 year old daughter Natalie as part of the team to do an essential job: keeping the windshield, lights and numbers clean. In addition to the pit crew and three sets of drivers/co-drivers, the team in this race will include at least five or six chase cars. Debbie drives Chase One.

The Hollenbecks can always be counted on to raise money for a worthy cause and for several years it has been Casa Esperanza, a home for battered women and their children. That is their cause again this year but they have added another fundraiser they are calling “One Race – One Man”. The gentleman in question is a severe diabetic named Javier who lives in Loma Linda, California. He is a double amputee, with very limited eyesight and very advanced arthritis and he needs constant care for his activities of daily living. The Hollenbecks are hosting a fundraiser and raffle for him on May 30th at Mama Bear’s Pizza in Cantu, Baja California. Check her Facebook page at Mamabearspizza. For more information on the race or the fundraiser check out the Hollenbecks’ website at www.teamh12one.com.  ,