Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Dust to Glory


Previous movies by this guy, Dana Brown, include The Endless Summer 2 and the highly-regarded Step Into Liquid. I haven’t seen either one, and probably won’t. I try not to be prejudiced, and I’ve heard the latter film has some awesome footage of waves, dude, but frankly, the only activity using a board that I have the least interest in is Monopoly.

I am interested in cars, a little, but not so much in car racing. Grand Prix races are okay, I guess, but it is my firm opinion that the only thing more boring than watching a lot of cars going very fast in a circle is watching a little white ball roll across a green to either fall or not fall into a cup. WHO CARES!?!?!? For my money, every Indy or Daytona 500 ever run could be condensed into 5 minutes, and many of them considerably less than that. The wrecks are the only thing worth watching. Nobody wants to admit that, but what do they show you in the race highlights? The crashes. I have gone to a Demolition Derby and enjoyed it, and I understand they used to have figure-8 racetracks somewhere, and I’d have paid good money to see that. But NASCAR? Forget it. In mean, the SC stands for “stock car,” and there’s not a nut or a screw in those Fiberglas shells that you’ll find in a car dealership. Take me back to the days when guys used to go balls-out on dirt tracks in actual cars, just like the one you could buy at the Ford or Chevy or Hudson dealer …

I say all this to establish my credentials: I am not a racing fan, and do not watch documentaries about racing. But this is the Baja 1000 … and I love this race! Lee likes racing even less than I do, and she loved it, too.

I’d heard of it. It began in 1967, just a bunch of guys in Jeeps and dirt bikes, racing from Tijuana to La Paz along some of the hardest country in the world. Like everything, it evolved, and now there are teams out there in two-million-dollar rigs, with fancy pit crews scattered up and down the course, helicopters following, factory endorsements, the whole magilla of sports promotion.

And it is still a killer course, even for those guys.

You don’t race Baja for money; the purses are a few grand here and there. You race it because it’s the toughest race there is. And it retains enough of its roots that you can still call it the common man’s show. Sure, there are stars and pros there, but anybody can enter, in anything. Women race, teenagers race, in eleven classes: dirt bikes, ATVs, big trucks … right down to Class 11, stock VWs. Real stock VWs, the old kind, no engine or suspension modifications allowed. Other than that, you’re on your own. No Indy Racing League telling you how big your engine can be. No standardization at all. And you have to be ready to rebuild your ride from the ground up, using whatever is at hand, because this course devours machines and people.

Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Americans line the populated parts of the route, and some of them don’t have a lick of sense. Me, I wouldn’t stand that close to two tons o’ hurtlin’ metal going 100 mph and just on the edge of control. We see literally hundreds of close calls, but this year, no bystanders were killed by racers. And it can happen. Parts of the course are over the worst sort of dirt roads, but some parts are on regular highways … and they don’t shut them down! You have to dodge trucks and cows and goats … or not. You don’t even have to stay on the marked course, but you risk missing one of the secret checkpoints. It is absolute insanity.

But this film shows far more than that. The Mexican people love these racers, and are loved in return. Close friendships are developed, and the Yanks are committed to the principle of giving something back to the people. They do good work with orphans, build schoolhouses, stuff like that. (Okay, maybe the filmmaker exaggerated that part, who knows? But it looked real to me.) One thing it ain’t is ugly Americans with contempt for the people who live in this wasteland. And you gotta figure that all those white guys spending all that money are good for the locals.
An exceptional movie. It will make your jaw drop.