Off road racing comes in many forms, Short Course, Rally, Formula Offroad, Ultra 4, Rock Crawling, Rally Raid and Desert. While all forms of off road racing are great, Desert Racing is at the top of the food chain. In desert racing we tackle the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Baja California and Baja California Sur. Again, while each area has its good and bad, Baja California Sur (BCS) has the greatest terrain and scenery for us to race.
The Dos Mares 500 (the two seas in English) is a race about history. May 5th, 2018, Cinco de Mayo for those not paying attention, was the 25th running of the Dos Mares 500. Cinco de Mayo is not a major holiday in Mexico, but the founding of La Paz, the host city of the race is a very big deal. The race always coincides with the founding of the city and this year was its 478th anniversary.
While many race fans know Rodrigo, Alan and Aaron Ampudia, they probably don’t know their Uncle Rogerio. Roger is currently the Vice Minister for Tourism for the state of BCS and an accomplished racer himself with 2 Baja 500 wins with a top ten overall in a 16 car as well as a Baja 1000 win in a 16. He has raced 16, Pro Truck, Class 8, Class 1, Trophy Truck and more.
There used to be 22 races a year in BCS, that was paired down to a nine race series with Dos Mares as the big show and the Coyote 300 and Loreto 400 being the other marquee events. Roger played a key role in uniting the small race promoters of Baja Sur. In 2017 there was a 500,000 peso purse split among the class champions. That’s about $26,000 US, and when you consider that entry fees are $400 for Trophy Trucks and Class 1 and $200 for all other classes, that is a nice chunk of change for the winners.
“Off road is the number one sport in Baja Sur. Then there are other events. “Tonight all the restaurants in La Paz will have a party.” Roger said. ” There are performances in the main plaza and all over the city; it’s all for the La Paz anniversary.” The whole community pitches in for the Dos Mares race. Everybody is involved. All the local off road clubs help.”
Off road racing is big in BCS. Dos Mares is covered by Fox Sports 3 in Mexico, the same TV channel that broadcasts Dakar, WRC and Formula 1, and there is also a regular broadcast radio show devoted to the sport in La Paz.
Dos Mares being a big deal draws about 250 entries in recent years. Don’t be fooled as I was by the name Dos Mares 500. Mexico is a metric country so that is 500km not 500 miles. The race has a ceremonial start and finish in La Paz and a timed start and finish on the outskirts of town. The start is in San Juan De La Costa on the coast of the Sea of Cortez. The drivers race up the Cortez coast for about 40 miles, turn Northwest across the peninsula to Constitution and then South another 40 odd miles on the Pacific coast and then back to La Paz for the finish.
Gary Magness and his daughter Chelsea of Mango racing regularly make the trek south for this race, and have been doing so for close 15 years. ” This is my favorite race of the year.” Gary said. “I think it’s the laid back crowd. La Paz is not a big tourist town, people have regular non tourism jobs here. The food is great, there is great fishing. We always go fishing the morning after the race, no matter how late we finish.”
“We love La Paz.” Chelsea said. “It’s the people and the atmosphere, we love spending time here. I like that the course is fast, really really fast. Fast sections when I can open up the truck.”
Mango was not the only big name Trophy Truck team to come down for Dos Mares. Larry Connor and Ricky Johnson of Team C Racing brought their new Mason Motorsports four wheel drive Trophy Truck to test at the race. The Mason TT is mid engine and features gear reduction uprights that allow the same travel and steering as their two wheel trucks. A Rancho Turbo 400 transmission and custom Mason built transfer case sit behind the first Dougans big block engine. The engine is a 565CI 8 stack with 1100 horsepowers and the team states it will do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds – in the dirt!
Team C had problems early in the week after crashing their prerunner and breaking a lower link. Larry went on the prerun in the race truck and put test miles on it but Ricky was left without a ride. The team ended up renting a car for Ricky to prerun with but that also broke a rear suspension component leaving Ricky with a long walk. Ricky eventually was able to run his section from Constitution to the finish in the race truck.
Mango had some issues during the prerun too. Gary’s bag with firesuit and helmet was stolen in La Paz, but fellow TT driver and new owner of Jimco Racing Robbie Peirce was there to save the day. ” I didn’t do much really” Robbie said. “Devin texted me about noon on Wed about the stolen bag, so we started gathering up the items he needed. The only small issue was having to wire up Gary’s new helmet. I’m a little rusty at that, so to anyone watching it probably looked like I was wrestling an alligator. I had it ready by 2:15. The real credit goes to Andres Ruffo who had been in the day before . So we call and found out he had not left the States yet, and was more than willing to play courier. We sent a driver on a mad dash with all the new gear to Andres’ warehouse where he was waiting to leave for the airport. It was close, but we made it happen. It’s honestly what I love about this racing community, this kind of stuff happens 10 times a race. We’ll fight and battle on the track, but we’ll all work together to make sure everyone gets to the starting line and home safe when we’re done. And Gary now has a new Lucky Helmet and Suit!”
On raceday, things took a big swing towards the positive for Gary and Mango. Gary was second off the line and quickly passed TT 29 to take first on the road and he never looked back. The team did not see another racecar all day and finished first physically. Andres Ruffo had a chance to beat Gary on corrected time and the Mango team waited in anticipation as they drove from the timed finish to the Malecon for the ceremonial finish.
As Gary drove onto the finish ramp the results were in and they were handed the 1st place Trophy Truck trophy and a bottle of champagne. ” We started second, got to pinnacle first, and never saw anyone after that.” Gary said. “We were able to change our rear tires in Constitution without anyone passing us. I was running like a scared rabbit trying to make sure I stayed in front. I had it up to 130mph. It was perfect. These new bigger BFG tires are 20% better. They even turn better because they are a little bit narrower and this truck does not like to turn. You have to kick the back end out to get it to turn. That’s why we sawed off the back tires. But it’s more fun to drive when you are throwing roost all the time.”
” I relaxed, sipped coffee all day and had a nice ride.” Co-driver Devin Housh said. “We have a coffee maker and everything in the truck, but just a Mr. Coffee, nothing fancy. The truck was still running like a champ at the finish.”
Larry Connor, Ricky Johnson and Team C had a rough race day. They had high hopes with the new four wheel drive on a high speed twisty race course but they DNFed about 50 miles into the race. A problem with the transmission converter ended their day and the team is still investigating the cause. The truck stopped in the canyons just West of the Cortez coastline which made recovery tricky as the nearest access road was eight miles down course. The team was understandably disappointed but they do not consider the race a total failure as they were treating it as a test session for the new truck.
” I want to congratulate Gary Magness and the Mango team on their win.” Ricky said after the race. “We preran with the race truck, probably a little more than we should have, because of the accident that happened. We had over 500 miles on the truck before the start of the race. We have not determined what the cause is but we had a converter problem that left Larry and Neal (Mason) stranded around race mile 52. We had to get creative to retrieve them going backwards on the course. The worst possible place to try and recover a vehicle.”
” We waited at the access road near race mile 60 for most the cars to pass by. I would run up the hill with a radio and find a turnout spot and signal JJ (Jeremy Johnson) to come up and park. Then I would run back a few more hills do the same so we would not endanger any racers. I want to apologize to any racer that we startled or got in their way.”
Ricky is excited about the new truck and racing in Baja Sur. ” The balance of the truck feels like my Pro 4. It doesn’t feel like a heavy four wheel drive desert truck. The way it turns, how its balanced through the whoops and the drivability is just unbelievable. Its nimble and responsive to driver inputs; it feels like a bigger Pro 4.”
” I am heartbroken that I did not get to drive because that course is just bitchin and fun. I have already been passing the word to other drivers to come down for Dos Mares next year. It’s more of an old school Baja course. It’s not beat to death like in the North. Baja Sur has not been raced as much and it’s a different kind of dirt. Its more hard packed but its doesn’t get the giant whoops like up North. It reminds me of the first time I drove with Larry Ragland at the 1993 Baja 500 and the 1000. Its more fire roadish and rallyish than just gnarly desert.”
There are many ways to judge what is the greatest off road race. Type of race, quality of course and scenery make the Dos Mares 500 the greatest off road race in the world.