Baja. Few words in the motorcycling lexicon are so evocative. Close your eyes and picture five decades worth of racing legends, from pioneering Dave Ekins and Malcolm Smith through record-setting Larry Roeseler and Johnny Campbell to current heroes Kendall Norman, Quinn Cody and Logan Holladay. Imagine dust-covered faces drawn with strain and fatigue, bikes battered by the endless pounding of the notorious Mexican desert, hearts swelling with the unequalled pride reserved for those who conquer Baja.
Dry, desolate and foreboding, this 1000-mile peninsula has captivated dirt riders for a half-century. The “Mexican 1000” is the most recent addition to the Baja racing lineup, deeply rooted in Baja bike history and its heritage worth exploring.
The true pioneer of dirtbiking in Baja California is Ekins, an early adaptor to Japanese motorcycles who raced Hondas in Southern California in the 1950s. In 1962, to demonstrate the reliability of the 250cc CL72 Scrambler, Ekins rode the length of Baja—Tijuana to La Paz—in just under 40 hours, a stunning achievement.
Now 80, still feisty and eschewing the politically correct, Ekins says, “Being the first round-eye to race Japanese motorcycles in the U.S., taking the shit I had to take for racing those ‘rice-burners,’ I think that ranks right behind my three kids as the thing I’m most proud of.”
In ’66, leading a Triumph-mounted quartet that included flamboyant dirt-tracker Eddie Mulder, famous for his flowing hair and flowered leathers, Ekins broke his own Baja record. This caught the attention of California fiberglass-wizard Bruce Meyers, who was eager to publicize his new “Manx” dune buggy. When Cycle World’s founding publisher, Joe Parkhurst, proclaimed, “No four-wheeled vehicle will ever break the Baja motorcycle record,” Meyers and buddy Ted Mangels seized the gauntlet. With their Manx stuffed with so much fuel that Meyers called it “a rolling bomb,” they rarely stopped and took five hours off Ekins’ record, the press release crowing “Buggy Beats Bikes in Baja.”
Again, what mattered was who noticed. Ed Pearlman, active in SoCal’s nascent off-road community, decided what Baja really needed was a race from Tijuana to La Paz; first one there gets the money! He organized the ambitiously named National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) and in November, 1967, staged the original “Mexican 1000,” won by the Manx of Vic Wilson (Parkhurst’s riding buddy and later owner of famed Saddleback Park) and co-driver Mangels.
Over time, Pearlman lost control of his race to current sanctioning body SCORE, who renamed it the “Baja 1000.” And for the record, “Buggy Beats Bikes in Baja” has been the exception, not the rule. In 32 of the 44 1000s to date, a bike was fastest overall.
In 2010, the Mexican 1000 was reincarnated thanks to an incredible coincidence. Ed Pearlman’s son, Mike, was holding a garage sale, and in walked Eddie Mulder! “I couldn’t believe it,” Mike recalls. “I had Triumphs when I was a kid, and Eddie was my hero. My Whitworth wrenches were in the sale, and I just blurted out, ‘Here, Eddie, take these, a gift from me.’”
Turns out, Mulder was house-hunting. He and Mike became neighbors, then friends. A tireless promoter of his “Eddie Mulder Vintage Dirt Track Series,” Mulder one night suggested to Pearlman, with typical tact, “Why don’t you get off your ass and do something like your dad did—organize a race?” Pearlman took that to heart. He reincorporated NORRA, reregistered the logo and organized the second coming of his father’s race.