Larry Chen

The Allure Of Baja

Three Champions Talk About The Draw Of Baja Racing

2017 marks the 50th year the Baja 1000 drops a green flag to send racers off through unforgiving territory in a country that often seems both lawless and timeless. When they drop the checkered flag, some years well over 1,000 course-miles later, the racers, crew members, and spectators are often changed by the experience. We got three legendary winners, from three eras, to try to articulate what is special about the event, and put into words the allure of Baja. You saw this story in the December 2017 issue of Dirt Rider magazine, but there was too much good stuff after talking with these three racers, so here's the full version of those three interviews.

Johnny Campbell

11-time Baja 1000 overall motorcycle champion
"Back when I was a teenager, I was introduced to Baja through Craig Adams who was my wife's—my girlfriend at the time—uncle. Craig was an inspiration to me when I was young. I always chased him around at [local] SRA [grand prix] races. He was my hero at that level.

“He [also] raced [in] Baja and I wanted to experience it [too], so he asked me to [go] down [there with him]; the year was 1989—that year the Baja 1000 went from Ensenada to La Paz. I would’ve been just 18 at that time. So we went down and he goes, ‘Yeah, I need somebody to pre-run with.’ So I went and pre-rode with him. We went from Ojos Negros all the way down to Camalú. He had that first, start section.

“We basically took a couple XRs—he had a 600 and I borrowed a 350. It was a little bit slow for Baja, but, hey, at that time I didn’t really know what I was doing or where we were going. I had raced a grand prix or two in Baja at that time, so I kind of knew crossing the border and what that feels like because when you cross the border it’s a whole different world! Things just change. You can stand on one side and look at the other side and go, ‘Oh, okay. Yeah, it looks a little different,’ but you don’t actually get the feel or the gist of Baja until you break that barrier. Once you break that barrier, you go, ‘Oh, I’m in a different country and I don’t have any rights, really.’

“So you lose some of your comfort zone by going outside the country, especially to a place like Baja where sometimes it’s a little bit unruly I want to say—not unruly, but there’s definitely a wild side, meaning there’s this kind of open freedom feel about it. You’re kind of on your own; there’s no structure that’s going to come to your rescue or anything. You have to take care of yourself down there.

Larry Roeseler and Danny Hamel
Larry Roeseler and Danny Hamel at a photo shootMalcolm Smith Archives

“Anyway, we went down, pre-rode, and I just remember taking off and riding down these roads, getting in this real twisty two-track trail with bushes on both sides, blind and high-speed. I’m like, ‘I want to do this! I want to do this for sure! This is amazing!’

“I didn’t race the race [that year]. I did come back in the spring of ’90 and raced my first SCORE race, which was the San Felipe 250. I teamed with another SRA guy named Jeff Haas. Jeff was a Vet racer, he was fast, he was like number two at that time in SRA. He had a little bit of Mexico experience—not much in SCORE but some grand prix and stuff.

"So we teamed up. We rode my 1990 CR250R—didn't know very much about setup, only listening to what Craig said or what this guy said or whatever. I was more of a track guy—not motocross but more grand prix-ish.

“We thought we were fast; we thought we could beat the guys who were there, but the guys in that class, in the 250cc class, had lots of experience and that’s what they were doing for a while. They knew what tires to run, gearing to run, where to pit, and all this stuff. I had a little bit of help from the Hilltoppers Motorcycle Club even at that time; I think they did a pit or two for us. I think Craig teamed up with Jeff Kaplan, and they rode Class 30 (for riders 30 years and older).

Johnny Campbell
"I had raced a grand prix or two in Baja at that time, so I kind of knew crossing the border and what that feels like because when you cross the border it’s a whole different world! Things just change."Dirt Rider Archives

“[In the race] we got a flat tire and got behind, but we rode it in and I think we were probably 10th or 11th overall and third or fourth 250 (Class 21). Who knows? I can’t remember that far back! So that was my introduction to SCORE racing. That’s kind of what started the push to make that my lifestyle.

"As I was growing up as a teenager, you always look to the factory stars in motocross and I knew a little bit about off-road because the transition from grand prix to off-road, at least in California, you bump into or you saw guys like Bruce Ogilvie, Chuck Miller, Dan Ashcraft, and these guys, Larry Roeseler—all these stars of off-road—and even at that time I still didn't know that those guys could actually make a living racing off-road, but they did, kind of. There were a few guys who could pull it off.

“So I was very new to actually knowing that you could earn money by off-road racing so that was another attraction, going, ‘Wow, this is what they actually do! Some guys don’t have a [regular] job.’ I was like, ‘Cool!’

“As I got to see in the races at that time, Honda was very small [in SCORE racing]. Bruce’s program [there] was just kind of rekindling at that time, like around 1990. Team Green was very strong; they came in and had a real powerhouse team and had all the top guys.

“But what attracted me to the Honda side was they were kind of the underdogs, they were riding four-strokes. At that time, nobody raced four-strokes [seriously] except for a few guys: Bruce, Chuck, and those guys. But it was so cool because they were kind of like a little bit mysterious because they weren’t really full-on out there like the Team Green program and super structured. It was more or less a grassroots, backdoor effort that was being spearheaded by Ogilvie.

“Through this period, I was able to get in contact with Bruce. In 1991, I used a couple Honda pits even though I was still riding a two-stroke—they weren’t really pitting two-strokes—and that was the connection, through the Hilltoppers, because I was familiar with [them] and they knew who I was, so they pitted me in a couple remote areas and they were actually Honda pits as well.

Johnny Campbell
"So you lose some of your comfort zone by going outside the country, especially to a place like Baja where sometimes it’s a little bit unruly I want to say—not unruly, but there’s definitely a wild side, meaning there’s this kind of open freedom feel about it."Dirt Rider Archives

“That was the early beginnings of our Baja attempts. I just knew that I wanted to make [racing] Baja my lifestyle and do that because, like, ‘This is cool! As much as I can get, bring it!’ As much as I could afford and my mom could afford to help my brother and me [anyway].

“I kind of got my feet wet in that 1990 San Felipe race, and then I started paying attention to it more. Then I went down to the 1000 that year with Craig and helped him pit and kind of got more familiarized with kind of how a loop race was and helped him pit and pre-ran some more down through Matomi [Wash].

“So I made a plan—as long as we had money—to race all of 1991, which at that time there were five events [on the SCORE calendar]. We started with the Parker 400, San Felipe 250, then we had a May race which was [co-sanctioned] with HDRA at the time so Danny Coe ran it, which was a points event, then the Nevada 500 start and finish in Pahrump. Then we had the 500 and then we had the 1000.

“Somehow, we were able to scrape together enough money to go to these events. I was working and going to school, just trying to make things come together. Every nickel and dime, I remember, just going to buy the tires, buy a chain, or whatever and still trying to race our local races and grand prix at the same time. I’d also started going to [AMA] District 37 a little bit in the desert and seeing what that was all about because all the fast guys who were winning in SCORE at the time came out of that area. So I got introduced to district racing at that time. I was already doing district grand prix stuff but not hare & hounds.

"Yeah, '91 was a really big learning year. We did okay, but we made mistakes: fueled in the wrong place or ran the wrong gearing or got a flat. We were still trying to figure it out and finally at the 1000 in '91 we had a really good run. At one point I think we were third overall! It was myself, David Donatoni, and my brother [Jamie]. We had a really fierce battle with Darren Sanford on a Suzuki [and] Freddie Willert, and Joey Lane and Scott Morris—they may have had Craig Smith or some other District 38 guy.

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“So there were three of us in the 250cc class really battling and we ended up physically first [in Class 21], but what had happened was when Dave dropped down on the highway in Santo Tomás, there was lots of traffic and he bypassed the checkpoint that was on the side [of the highway]. Right at the Palomar, you were supposed to pull over at the checkpoint, so we ended up getting docked by 10 minutes so it put us back to third in the class. Man, it was a tight battle the whole day! We had a really good effort; I think we ended up like sixth overall.

“That’s where we kind of caught the eye of Ogilvie because we were the top Honda at that time because I think their bike broke—that’s when they were running the ‘monster’ [XR680R] and cracking the cases.

“Really, I’ve done a lot of pre-running [compared to just trail riding there]. In more recent years, I’ve done a lot [more] trail riding and a lot of stuff like even helping to build trails on the coast like from south of, say, Santo Tomás to San Quintín. My San Clemente buddy Cameron Steele and I support an orphanage called the Rancho Santa Marta School and Orphanage in San Vicente. This year will be our ninth year of raising funds for that cause [by hosting a trail ride in Baja].

“What that helped build was a trail network. Tim Morton made a lot of those trails; Chilly White made a lot of those trails; Cameron and I made some. So there’s plenty of things to do and fun single-track that’s coastal [so not as hot in summer]. And we’ve done a lot of rides, big rides like Rip to Cabo and some exploring myself down there all the way from Tecate down to Cabo! We’ve traveled up and down the peninsula quite a bit. I’ve seen some pretty great places.

“The allure and the mystique of Baja, it’s kind of a wide question in that there’s a lot that can be packed into it. What’s so awesome about it is that you can go down there and a lot of people have a very tough time with Baja as far as having a ‘wall’: ‘Baja’s dangerous!’ ‘It’s scary.’ ‘There are booby traps and this and that.’

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“Of course, if you’re going trail riding, there are no booby traps per se. But it is quite the wild west because there are problems down there, like sometimes you can get into the wrong place. I’ve been held up down there, going up Mike’s [Sky Rancho] road. It was back in ’98 and there was a time when there were some bad guys living up in the mountains up there and they were robbing off-roaders and people who were enjoying Baja.

“Not to get sidetracked from the allure, [the wildness is] also what draws you to it because that’s a freedom we don’t have [here in the US]. If you go to work every day and you drive from your house in your comfortable car and listen to the news, there are laws to get on the freeway and get off, there’s a speed limit, and you have a structure and you do that most of your life, doing this day in and day out. You get in your comfort zone.

“If you take yourself out of the comfort zone and you put yourself in a vast area of uncontrolled, unknown territory or atmosphere or conditions, then you kind of lock into a survival mode. You have to be able to go, ‘Okay, I’m going to ride through this section or this area knowing there’s no help for the next 100 miles.’ You can go 50 miles, 100 miles and not see any people. You get out in these open areas and it kind of gives you the sense of adventure just like the pioneers when they came across from the east to west in the States. It’s like you’re pioneers in the wild west, and it’s like you’ve got to fend for yourself! You have to know if you crash and break your leg, nobody’s coming to get you—nobody! You have to set up your own system of extraction. If you’re by yourself or with another person on a bike and you guys are just riding, maybe you have a chase vehicle, maybe you don’t, but the fact is that chase vehicle could be 50 or 100 miles away from you to get you out of there, and there’s no ambulance, there’s no air-evac. This is raw. This is the hard-core element of Baja.

"Every trip, whether it’s a race or a ride, you always see something new. It constantly changes and it’s always a great adventure."

“That’s really what I think draws us there because it is so risky and it gets you out of your comfort zone, and I think that’s what makes us passionate about going there, that we don’t have all those things that control our environment.

“It’s always nice to come home because you can kind of feel like you relax a little bit. It’s like, ‘Okay, if I stub my toe, the hospital’s right there.’ But we desire to go down and we desire for the experience, and, really, if you go with another person or a group of guys and you go through these hardships and you have to overcome these obstacles, that’s where the bonding of the people who you’re going to go do battle with comes from.

“It’s like I can’t imagine the guys who have to go to battle. They’re out there and it’s a challenging, challenging situation, all the time. We have a little bit of that when we go to Baja. Obviously we’re usually not in peril or risking our lives so much, unless you’re racing or whatever, but you’re out in the open, you’re out in those elements—anything can happen and sometimes it does!

“When I got robbed down there, I was a little freaked out. It was at gunpoint and it was a dicey situation. But I had to come to grips with putting that into perspective: ‘You know what? There are more people here in the States in any city who get robbed, who get held up, get mugged. There are a lot worse places in LA than in Baja—way worse!—and places that I would not go.

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“You have to put it into perspective: The chances of this happening in Baja are rare. There are more chances and it happens every single day in the United States.

“People go, ‘Oh, Mexico!’ Well, guess what: Yeah, there is risk, but you know what? Do you ever think about when you go down and withdraw money from the ATM or you’re living in this neighborhood or you’re only moments away from something bad happening up here?

“So I put it into perspective, and the fulfillment and enjoyment of true life is what I weigh off. I enjoy it, just like others have found, and that’s why we continue to go down to Baja.

"There's a multitude of moments I've had in Baja in my 30-year career of going there. It's been fantastic. There's the ultimate highs of [racing]. One of my all-time experiences is crossing the finish line in Cabo San Lucas for the Baja 2000 and winning that race. I mean, just to finish that race is an amazing thing! But winning that race was an all-time pinnacle for me. Then on top of that was—race-wise—winning my 11th Baja 1000. [Larry] Roeseler has 10 on the bike and obviously he's gone on to eclipse that with four-wheel wins, but once I had a string of victories going, I go, 'Well, I'll make that my goal.' Once I surpassed Roeseler's bike overalls, then I said, 'You know what? I've done this, I'm good. I've accomplished a well-done job,' and that's when I was satisfied.

“That’s two. Gosh, there’s just so many different memories, it’s hard to put in [order]. Just having a family vacation down there [has to be one of them]. You race, you work hard for months to win the Baja 1000 and do all this work, and I think one of the best times I’ve ever had was just going to Los Cerritos which is down by [Bahía de] Todos Santos, and they have a surf beach there: 80-degree water, perfect waves, we’re sleeping in a little cabana on the beach—the kids and Faye and I—and just waking up every day for a week on the beach and going, ‘Yup, the waves are good,’ and going out [to surf]. For me, that was my all-time vacation and Baja experience, doing something like that.

Larry Roeseler

10-time Baja 1000 overall motorcycle champion

“At an early age I was introduced to Baja. As a kid growing up, ‘Baja, Baja!’—that was in the early stages [of organized races there], but Parnelli Jones would race it, Rich Thorwaldson, J.N. Roberts. On Any Sunday, Malcolm Smith—I grew up in the Riverside [California] area so Malcolm, of course, was a huge influence on my career."Malcolm Smith Archives

"My Mexico journey started back when I was…shoot, I think my dad [first] took me to Mexico when I was 13. I pre-ran with him and went to La Paz maybe when I was 14. When I was 15, I rode my first Baja 500 on a Harley-Davidson, the Baja 100. Back then they would put a big over-bore piston in them [to increase displacement and make them equal to the other 125s in Class 20]; I think it was a Bultaco piston if I'm not mistaken.

“It was 1972 and I’m 15 years old and I rode [the Baja 500 that year] with Mitch Mayes and we won [Class 20]. That’s back when the 100cc class was really big in [AMA] District 37.

“At an early age I was introduced to Baja. As a kid growing up, ‘Baja, Baja!’—that was in the early stages [of organized races there], but Parnelli Jones would race it, Rich Thorwaldson, J.N. Roberts. On Any Sunday, Malcolm Smith—I grew up in the Riverside [California] area so Malcolm, of course, was a huge influence on my career.

“Being from Southern California, [Baja] is close. So I was lured to it at a very early age. Honestly, that’s been a big, big, big part of my career; ’72 was my first—back then it was NORRA—big event. I did ride the 1000 and didn’t finish—I don’t remember the year, maybe ’74—so ’75 I started riding for Husqvarna. I remember finishing third at the 1000 with Howard Utsey. So I teamed up with him and I was the new kid on the block for the Husky guys, the Husky team.

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“Then the next year—’76—Mitch Mayes and I, we were teamed up together on the Harley Baja [in ’72], and four years later I teamed up with him in the Baja 1000 on a Husqvarna and that was my first Baja 1000 overall win. So for me, Baja’s always been a big, big part of my early stages of desert racing and at that same time I started doing Six Days, started doing more [AMA] National stuff, so I was venturing off more.

“But for me, Baja’s always been the big carrot, the one that’s hanging out there that’s super famous and well known. Honestly, I continue to go down [there] because I love it. Even though we go back to the same places, it’s never the same. The challenge of man and machine is at its highest level. Just to finish some of those races is a huge accomplishment, let alone win them.

“Still to this day, even though I’m driving a $450,000 race truck, the challenge for me is the same: the adrenaline and the challenge. It’s a great feeling and I look forward to pre-running and the time down there. The fans are so, so big and so into off-road racing. I can go into a store or gas station and they recognize me: ‘¡Señor Baja!’ That’s what a lot of people call me down there, in Ensenada especially. I can be down in Constitución or La Paz and people will come up to me and they’ll remember the Herbst ‘Land Shark’; the tiburón they call it—the shark in Spanish. They’ll come up to me at a gas station and go, ‘¡Tiburón! ¡Tiburón!’ I’ll go, ‘No mas. No more.’

“So I’m pretty well known down there, but so are some of the vehicles.

“For me, it’s one of the best challenges of man and machine. I look forward to all of the big races there, especially the 500 and the 1000. And I’ve done tons of just rides and tours and UTV trips with friends, and there’s a lot of great, great places. The races are one thing, but I love the beaches, the history, the missions. A couple years ago there were six of us in UTVs and we went all the way to Guerrero Negro, then we went out on the little pangas [fishing boats] and went whale watching. We took a day off to do all that, then we got back in our cars and worked our way back north. It was about a five-day trip.

“So not only the racing part of it, but some of those missions, they’re built back in the early 1800s or something crazy. There’s a lot of history and a lot of other things going on when you’re not racing, there’s a lot to enjoy down there. My dad took me to Mike’s Sky Ranch back in those early days; I think I was 13 or 14 years old. I still enjoy going there.

“I’m going back down there in two weeks [from the time of this interview] for a UTV ride. I always look forward to it; I can say it’s never the same. Every trip, whether it’s a race or a ride, you always see something new. It constantly changes and it’s always a great adventure.

“Honestly, I never have [felt threatened in Baja]. I go down there most of the time by myself like in my pre-runner and pre-run for three or four days then come back. My wife’s from Mexicali. A couple years ago, I was actually living there for about a year until we moved [to Northern California] for a little bit; we’re back down here in Imperial now. My son’s two years old. We go back and forth; we have family there, of course. My daughter’s nine; she’s been to Mexico many, many, many times. I’ve never, ever, ever felt unsafe.

Baja 1000
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“Thousands of people cross back and forth [across the border] every day, especially Tijuana and Mexicali. Of course, if you want to go there and go party and be in a dark alley at midnight, [bad stuff] could happen in LA—you could get mugged, right?

“But as far as just everyday people, it’s just really normal. The food is good and for the most part; everybody’s really normal. There’s always a few people trying to beg for money or they want to clean your windshield. To me, at least they’re trying to make some money, right? That’s better than stealing. I’m sure there’s [theft] everywhere, but I’ve never had a problem and I don’t feel threatened or unsafe [there at all]. I think you need to be a little bit smart about where you’re driving and where you’re going at what hours in any neighborhood.

“But for us to go down and do our trips, I couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of times that I’ve gone and I’ve never had a problem.

“Unfortunately, there is a bad rap [on Baja and on Mexico in general] and some bad things have happened. The whole drug cartel thing—there are definitely some bad areas in Mexico, but like I said, for the most part it’s still a wonderful place to go.

“Of course I know Johnny had a bad incident down there and he can share that with you, but on my side of it, I’m sure for him it’s sort of the same thing: highs and lows right there. I’m lucky to say it’s been all positive for me.

“I can think of a couple highs and a couple lows. The first thing that stands out is the early days and spending time with my dad. I can’t think of any one particular thing but just the fact that I shared that time with my dad.

“On the opposite side of that, I can remember standing outside the hospital after Danny [Hamel’s fatal] accident [at the 1995 Baja 500]. It’s a memory that won’t ever go away. It brings tears to the eyes.

“There’s some real highs and real lows. Winning and being successful, those are all a bunch of highs; I can’t really say there’s just one thing. I met my wife in Mexico and she’s a wonderful person and super smart. Obviously, that’s a special moment for me too. It’s hard to pick just one. It’s been a big, big part of my life. Mostly highs, mostly positives for sure.

“I can remember even in the late ’70s getting invited to France and going to Japan for events, and everything was because of Baja, because of the Baja wins, for the last-frontier kind of thing for the Japanese. If we didn’t have Baja, it definitely would’ve changed my career drastically. Winning hare & hounds and winning hare scrambles and enduros, you get known for it but not as internationally.

"I don't think my career would've been nearly as successful, even in the days with Husqvarna and going with Kawasaki, let's say, and even Yamaha for those few years; 1980, '81, and '82 were the Yamaha years, and that was all based off—for the most part—was because of [my success in] Baja. I don't think those opportunities would've existed if it wasn't for Baja."

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

Malcolm Smith

2-time Baja 1000 overall motorcycle champion, including the first event in 1967
"It's true. I dream of Baja—the Peninsula de Baja California—often, and have since I first visited back in about 1954 as a young teen during a family Sierra Club trek. Sometimes my dreams are realistic, other times not, but they're always filled with elements that have amazed me from the very beginning about this beautiful, south-of-the-border place. The amazing geography; the varied flora and fauna; the warm-hearted people; the ultra-blue oceans and bays, and the exotic sea life within them; the always-challenging racing there; and the freedom and adventure that await anyone lucky enough to visit this very special peninsula.

“For me it started early—a trip to Baja with my mother and some other families while in middle school, me and Mom in our ’49 Lincoln, others in their cars, all led by a Sierra Club guy in a Jeep station wagon. We drove all evening, hitting Tijuana late that night, and driving dusty and rutted dirt roads for hours until arriving at San Quintín, about 130 miles south of Ensenada along the Pacific coast, just as the sun was coming up. We drove directly to the beach, set up camp, and started exploring.

“What a glorious few days! Swimming, clamming, hiking, and exploring. The clams were abundant and fat; the plants and rock formations unlike any I’d ever seen. I saw endless stretches of untouched beach; flat tidelands that reached into the ocean for miles; rocky trails trodden by man and beast for centuries; and people from outlying areas with a shy yet genuine friendliness. Although only a three-day trek, it gave me a good taste of this fascinating world, one that’s often harsh and unforgiving but with a subtle, untamed beauty. I knew then that I’d return to this wondrous land again some day.

“It didn’t take long because in high school I returned with a couple of buddies for a fun-filled weekend. We piled into my ’34 pickup, threw camping gear and my Matchless into the bed, and headed south, camping on the beach just 10 miles south of the sand dunes on which we’d shoot scenes from [On Any Sunday] a dozen years later. We did a lot of flat tracking on the beach when the tide was out, too, just as we did in the movie—though those OAS scenes were shot at Camp Pendleton, just north of San Diego. We took turns on our makeshift oval, sliding around all crossed up, a lot of the time with our feet on the pegs and really feeling it. It was an amazing weekend, and I was now totally in love with the place—the sights, sounds, experiences, and, most of all, the freedom.

“I first heard about the idea of racing in Baja from Bud Ekins, my roommate at the Polish ISDT in 1967. ‘There’s a race in Baja this November,’ Bud said, ‘the Mexican 1000. Sounds like fun, eh?’ It sounded like amazing fun, and when Bud said it would run practically the length of the peninsula, I was immediately interested, as I’d only been 150 or so miles south of the border on my prior trips there. I badly wanted to see the rest of Baja, so I spoke to my sponsor—and Husqvarna importer—Edison Dye about a Husky for the race, and he and the factory agreed to furnish me with a 360.

“I teamed with local fast guy J.N. Roberts in that first Baja race, and it was a crazy adventure in every sense. I did the first 500 or so miles, with J.N. taking over at El Arco, roughly halfway down the peninsula. The race was rougher, tougher, and hotter than I expected, and I had plenty of challenges, including finding the fuel cans my buddy Bobby Edwards had hidden for me along the way using his VW Beetle for transportation days before the race, and keeping the Husky’s engine from overheating and seizing on the long dry-lake runs by pulling the clutch lever and coasting at idle every minute or so. J.N. got lost on his leg of the race, as I knew he would, but recovered in time to win the motorcycle overall with a time of just under 28 hours. The only team to beat us was the buggy of Vic Wilson, which took about an hour less to reach La Paz.

Baja 2017
From the December 2017 issue of Dirt RiderLarry Chen

“Of course, I didn’t find out about our victory until a few days later. On the way back to Ensenada from El Arco, Edwards and I broke down in his VW, and after a daylong wait we got a ride in the back of a turtle truck (yes, live turtles!). It took two days to make the hot, smelly trip, the truck towing the VW and stopping often to ‘water’ the turtles so they wouldn’t die on the trip north. Not until I got back to San Diego did I learn of our win from someone who’d read about it in the [LA Times]. I love challenging races, and from beginning to end that first Baja event was a truly amazing adventure, and one I never forgot.

"That first racing experience in Baja, along with my two camping treks, hooked me hard on the place, and I've gone back every year since. For many years it was to race the Baja 1000 or 500, on two wheels or four, teaming up on most of those buggy-racing years with my good friend Bud Feldkamp. And, after retiring from competition, to ride, play, and explore the peninsula with friends, family, and co-workers. I went—and still go—there for good causes too, the primary one being El Oasis, the orphanage our foundation helps fund with support from motorsports enthusiasts just like you via [as of this interview there were still a few spots left for the annual Baja ride, the primary fundraiser for the orphanage.] Each child there has the chance to realize their dreams through a fully funded academic opportunity, kindergarten through university and beyond. Giving back to the kids of the Baja peninsula is more rewarding than you can imagine, and those of you who've donated time and money over the years know full well what I mean.

“My wife Joyce and I have a small vacation home in Baja, and we go several times a year to swim, ride motorcycles, explore the oceans and bays via watercraft, and relax with family and friends. Being there, in our beachfront cottage or playing on the peninsula in general, is one of my favorite things to do, and I’m continually amazed at how at home I feel there. The freedom to do what you please is off the charts, whether it’s buzzing along the coast or exploring a hidden bay on watercraft, or riding into the wilderness or along the beach on dirt bikes or buggies. Be respectful of nature and of others, and no one bothers you.

“And what you’ll see when you explore Baja is nothing short of spectacular. From the beaches and pine forests and dry lakes, to the 10,000-foot mountain peaks with snow, to the cactus forests you can easily get lost in, and the many quaint villages and friendly people in between, Baja is truly an oasis for me. See why I dream about the place?

“The bottom line for me and the whole Baja thing, really, is [adventure]. You never know what sort you’ll find there, but there’s always something. This goes back, I think, to my childhood in the San Bernardino, California, foothills, where me and my buddies were constantly doing crazy stuff.

“For me, Baja recalls part of my long-ago childhood, when adventures were daily happenings, my friends were always around, and there was always something new on the horizon to discover and learn. It’s still that way for me in a lot of ways, and every time I visit—which is often, even these days—I find something new to love about the place. In Baja, I feel a bit like a kid again, and I love that feeling. For me the peninsula has a time-machine quality to it, and I think that’s why I go back so often, and stay so long when I do. And when I bring my grandkids and see the wonder and smiles on their faces, it all makes sense.

"For an extended chapter about my Baja experiences, along with the story of my entire racing and personal life, please pick up a copy of Malcolm! The Autobiography, available from Malcolm Smith Motorsports."