A Beginner's Guide to Baja Racing

A Beginner's Guide to Baja Racing
by Michael Satterfield - Updated 01/26/2024

If you are like most motorsports fans you have dreamed of racing in the SCORE International Baja 500, Baja 1000, or the San Felipe 250. There is just something about a driver and their machine taking on some of the most challenging terrain as fast as they dare. Baja California is beautifully rugged, but also unforgiving, each year thousands of racers and fans flock to the peninsula for one of the most exciting forms of racing in motorsports. If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a Baja Racer, here is a quick rundown on what you need to get started. 

Licensing Requirements:
Michael Satterfield of The Gentleman Racer Driving a Baja Challenge Car

Most race-sanctioning bodies have licensing requirements, you pay for school and pass school, then pay for your license. After that, you'll have to compete in several races as an amateur, and then if you don't mess up, you qualify for a professional license. Not with Baja racing, SCORE currently has no licensing requirement to race in any of their events. So if you have a pile of money, a car or motorcycle that fits one of the classes, and are brave enough to take on the race, you are qualified.
Baja Racing Schools:
Driving a Trophy Light truck at VORE Las Vegas

While there are no formal licensing requirements or schools, there are a few programs you can take part in to better prepare for the race. VORE Adrinlen Compound has a one-day Trophylite Truck course that will set you back about $1,300 and will take you nearly 200 miles much of which is on the course of the famous Mint 400. I got behind the wheel of a Trophylite Truck at VORE and had a blast, racing, jumping, and ripping around the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Wide Open Baja, Baja Challenge Car in Mexico

For a more authentic Baja experience, you have to go to Mexico and sign up for a Wide Open Baja adventure. Wide Open Baja puts you behind the wheel of an actual Sportsman Class Baja Challenge Car that has raced in a stationed SCORE event. They have packages starting at half-day all the way up to four days. Prices range from around $600 to just over $6,000 depending on what package you choose. 
I went on a four-day adventure with Wide Open Baja earlier this year (Read about it here), and it is a lot of seat time, from right after breakfast until dinner time you are driving across some of the most challenging and beautiful terrain in Baja. From the shore of the Pacific Ocean to rough mountain trails, you get to experience it all on a Wide Open Baja trip, plus the guides are all Baja racers. Our guide James had won several class victories over the years on both two and four-wheels. Wide Open Baja also has an "Arrive and Drive" program for the Baja races with full support staff and chase vehicles.    

The Classes:
Baja Challenge CarsBaja Racing has a class for just about anything from the classic Class 11 Baja Bugs to Class 1 Unlimited custom-built vehicles. If it has two or four wheels there is likely a class it will qualify for. There are "Pro" and "Sportsmen" while you can win your class and a trophy for your class as a "Sportsman" cash prizes are only awarded to "Pro" classes. For most motorcycle and Quad classes, you can simply purchase a stock motorcycle and show up to the race. 

Below is a full breakdown of the classes.

  • Trophy Truck – Veh #1-99 (Trophy Truck Unlimited)
  • Class 1 – Veh #100-199 (Unlimited single or two-seaters)
  • TT Spec – Veh #200-299 (Trucks/sport utility vehicles, stock, sealed V-8s)
  • 10 – Veh #1000-1099 (Single or two-seaters limited engine)
  • 8 – Veh #800-899 (Full-sized two-wheel drive trucks)
  • Hammer Truck Unlimited- Veh# 4400-4499 (Rock Crawler/Hammer Truck Unlimited)
  • Hammer Truck Limited – Veh# 4500-4599 (Rock Crawler/Hammer Truck Limited)
  • 5 Unlimited – Veh #500-549 (Unlimited Baja Bugs)
  • SCORE Lites – Veh #1200-1299 (HDRA Lites-Limited single-1776cc-or two-seaters-1835cc)
  • Heavy Metal – Veh #8000-8099 (Open Production Trucks, V8 engines)
  • 3 – Veh #300-399 (Short wheelbase 4X4)
  • 3000 – Veh #3000-3099 (Class 78-2, unlimited mini-truck, 2.2/2.4-Liter Ecotec engine)
  • 2 – Veh #2000-2099 (Unlimited open-wheel, car/truck, 3.6-Liter Turbo or supercharged)
  • 1/2-1600 – Veh #1600-1699 (single or two-seaters to 1600cc)
  • Trophy Lite – Veh #6000-6099 (Unlimited Mini-Truck, 2.2/2.4-Liter Ecotec engine)
  • 7 – Veh #700-739 (Open Production – Mini Pick-Ups)
  • Pro Truck – Veh #1350-1399 (Limited Production Trucks)
  • 11 – Veh #1100-1199 (Stock VW Sedans)
  • 1700 JeepSpeed – Veh #1700-1799 (Jeep Speed Challenge)
  • 3700 JeepSpeed – Veh #3700-3799 (Jeep Speed Cup)
  • 5-1600 Ltd – Veh #550-599 (1600cc Baja Bugs)
  • 7sx – Veh #740-759 (Modified, stock mini-trucks)
  • 9 – Veh #900-999 (Short wheelbase, single or two-seaters)
  • Stock Full – Veh #8100-8199 (Stock full-sized trucks)
  • Stock Mini – Veh #760-799 (Stock mini trucks)
  • Pro UTV – Veh #1900-1999 (Naturally Aspirated UTVs)
  • Pro UTV FI – Veh #2900-2999 (Forced Induction UTVs)
  • Pro UTV Unlimited – Veh #1800-1849 (Unlimited UTVs)
  • Baja Challenge – Veh #BC1-BC99 (Spec open wheel cars)
  • Sportsman Ltd Truck – Veh #2000-2099
  • Sportsman Unlimited Open Truck – Veh #1400-1499
  • Sportsman Unlimited Buggy – Veh #1500-1599
  • Sportsman Unlimited UTV – Veh #1850-1899
  • Pro Moto Ironman (Solo) Veh# 700x-799x
  • Pro Moto Limited (400cc or less) Veh# 100x-149x'
  • Pro Moto Unlimited(401cc or more) Veh# 1x-49x
  • Pro Moto 30 (Riders over 30 years old) Veh# 300x – 349x
  • Pro Moto 40 (Riders over 40 years old) Veh# 400x-449x
  • Pro Moto 50 (Riders over 50 years old) Veh# 500x-549x
  • Pro Moto 60 (Riders over 60 years old) Veh# 600x-649x
  • Pro Quad (450cc or more) Veh# 1a-49a
  • Sportsman M/C – (any engine size) Veh# 200x-299x
  • Sportsman QUAD- '(any engine size) Veh# 100a-149a

The Route:
Baja 500 Racing

While the races are called the "Baja 1000" or "Baja 500" that is more of a historical reference to the early days of the races. Sometimes a 500-mile race could be 388 miles, and a 1,000-mile race can be nearly 1,700 miles. The race route changes every time and competitors are only given the route 30 days before the start of the race. Teams can download the GPS of the route and are allowed to "pre-run" the course up until a few days before the race starts. 

How much does it cost?
San Felipe 250 Race Michael Satterfield

The entry fee depends on the race and the class that you are entering. Both the driver and co-driver must be members of SCORE which costs $75 per person annually. Entry fees range from around $2,500-$5,000 depending on the class and event. But that is just the entry fee, to run a successful race will cost tens of thousands of dollars. Buying or building a proper race car, spare tires, chase vehicles, crew, hotels, fuel, it all adds up really fast. Taking the time to pre-run the race course several times. One thing first-time racers don't consider is having enough chase vehicles, many pro-class teams will have 3-6 chase vehicles, scattered up and down the race route, with spares, tires, gas, and fresh drivers, while it can be done with a single chase car, waiting for them to get out to where you are can cost you valuable time.

For an "Arrive and Drive" like Wide Open Baja provides you are looking at spending around $100,000 to rent a car and fully staffed team with spares and chase vehicles. Many times teams will have 2-6 drivers who share the cost and the driving time changing drivers at scheduled stops. Considering a decent used race car can set you back $40-50K, plus spares, and new ones start around $100,000 the arrive and drive is a good option for the amateur racer who just wants to experience Baja without having to worry about the logistics and team management.  

Overall Baja still is one of the best grassroots racing experiences you can have, from guys building their own buggies in the garage to some of the top teams in the world, everyone is welcome and everyone faces the same unforgiving trails, the same fatigue, and the same reliance on a little bit of luck. But for those that finish a Baja race, they join an elite group of racers who have concluded one of the most grueling races in motorsports.

For more info on Baja Racing, I suggest visiting the SCORE International site http://score-international.com/raceinfo/.

Also, check out more photos from my recent trip to Baja with Wide Open Baja HERE