These bastards are CRAZY. The Baja 1000 is very familiar to racing fans. For the benefit of the rest of us, here’s the skinny: every year, hundreds of racers from all over the U.S. gather in Enseneda, Mexico, to compete in a 1000 mile race down the Baja Penninsula (that’s the thin tendril of land that extends directly south from California). The course travels over paved roads, goat trails, silt beds, and every other kind of terrain available. It’s a grueling test of endurance, with the winners making the finish line in under 16 hours and everyone else battling a 32-hour time limit.
Director/narrator Dana Brown chronicles this competition in the documentary, “Dust to Glory.” The film introduces us to several racers and their teams, competing in different vehicle classes. These classes range from Supercross-style motorcycles to multi-million dollar 800-horsepower “trophy trucks” driven by the likes of NASCAR’s Robby Gordon. There are also quad ATV’s, pro unlimiteds (the “dune buggies” that cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars), and even Class 11, consisting of unmodified, pre-1982 Volkwagen Beetles (one of which has its engine fall completely off during the race).
Brown takes the audience through this mad desert dash from start to finish. We are introduced to some major players, including an all-female team (consisting of wives and daughters of other racers), and the McMillan family, who’s grandfather began racing the Baja 1000 in the ’60’s. There’s crowd favorite JN Roberts and six-time returning champion Ricky Johnson as well. Then, there’s Mouse McCoy, who decides to race the entire course solo. He has a support crew, as do all the racers, but he is the only one determined to stay in the saddle from Mile One to Mile One Thousand.
The racing footage is nothing short of spectacular. Points of view range from on-helmet and in-dash cams to chase helicopters that swoop across the course. The beautiful landscapes surrounding the track are given as much attention as the racers themselves. A signature shot will show a majestic desert vista broken only by a slow-moving rooster tail dust plume thrown up by some unseen vehicle. The speeds, bumps, high-speed corners, and rollovers are all captured in tailbone-crunching detail.
Fortunately, the lunacy of the race is broken up by various stories about the racers, the race’s history, the people surrounding the course, and those responsible for throwing the whole shindig. This provides the audience a much-needed breather, but once the story is told, it’s right back into the action.
Brown does such a good job of capturing the experience, the audience may find itself brushing imaginary silt from their clothes after a screening. The racers are all good eggs, and it’s impossible to root for one over another. When someone encounters trouble, failure, or plain old bad luck, the audience is involved enough to experience the same disappointment. The awesome footage, intriguing stories, and excellent pacing all serve to provide anyone watching the film a true sense of what it’s like to mercilessly abuse yourself (and your vehicle) for almost 24 straight hours, all for a purse of “maybe four grand.”
Like I said, crazy.