“It’s so challenging, it’s so hard, you’ve been in the truck for so long, those last 20 miles seem like another 1,000 miles,” professional off-road driver Bryce Menzies recalled.
For Menzies, the SCORE International Baja 1000 brings about frustrating memories of dissipated leads in the final miles of off-road racing’s most prestigious competition.
The 29-year-old driver has spent several years of his career chasing an elusive victory in the event, leading during each appearance, only to suffer catastrophic mechanical blows with several hundred – sometimes even just several dozen – miles to go, leaving a reoccurring taste of disappointment in Menzies’ mouth. But that’s what makes it the world’s most beloved race, every mile is equally important in the hopes of achieving victory.
And, like most sports, the prospect of the following year brings about new hope and redemption.
Starting in 1967, the almost 1,000-mile trek in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula features some of the world’s toughest terrain, proving to be a challenge for participants, who range from the most inexperienced amateurs to the most well-known professionals. It’s a grueling marathon competition that tests not only a driver’s stamina but also their mental frame – and winning is an arduous feat.
Preparing for the Baja 1000 isn’t easy, as it takes months of building, preparing and scouting in the hopes of bringing home a small cash prize and an enormous amount of glory. With a variety of vehicles and driver backgrounds, the folks at Red Bull created Driving Dirty: The Road to the Baja 1000, a five-part documentary following five teams in their adventures surrounding last year’s event.
Menzies’ Red Bull sponsored Pro 2 truck was one of the teams highlighted in Driving Dirty, an idea that came about last year when he was approached prior to the 2015 Baja 1000 to see if he’d be interested in being one of the teams featured in the Red Bull TV original series. Given his expertise not only in the competition, but in off-roading in general, it was clear he was the perfect fit. Menzies admits he was on board right from the start, as it seemed like a unique way to showcase the Baja 1000.
“I thought it was really good to show people the background of our sport and what it really takes to go race the Baja 1000 – it’s not as easy as loading a truck and just going down,” said Menzies. “I thought it was a cool idea and it showcased a lot more of our sport behind the scenes and what goes into it.”
But there was little time to worry about the cameras, Menzies had to focus on the race, where, for the first time in his career, he was driving completely solo – logging more than 18 hours behind the wheel. While he still had a navigator in the truck with him, Menzies wanted the full responsibility of driving, claiming that if anything went wrong, he wanted it to be while he was at the helm.
“We’ve had a lot of problems in the past and I just wanted everything to come down on me – if a mistake happens or something breaks, it’s my fault, it’s on me,” Menzies admitted. “I just wanted to have that pressure on myself and be able to do the whole race. It’s also challenging, it’s a long race, so to do it solo, there’s only so many people that have done it before.”
As seen in the documentary, Menzies – as with most of the participants – must put in a significant amount of time working out and his personal trainer allows him to focus on exercises pertinent to racing. Cardio is extremely important in helping ensure his body is prepared for the physicality of the lengthy drive and all the bumps that come along with it – but what about mentally?
There’s no shortage of time to think when roaming through Mexican terrain and given the way he’s finished the race in recent years, plenty of worry snuck into the back of his mind.
“I mean, let alone the brutal beating you take inside the cab, but also mentally to try and stay up that long and stay focused for that long – it’s really taxing, especially if you have any problems in the down time,” he added. “When you’re halfway through the race, you always start thinking and start hearing noises – you’re like ‘Is something going wrong?’ But you just have to really stay focused. What’s good about Pete [Mortensen], my co-driver, is he’s always like a psychiatrist sitting next to me, coaching me through it. Mostly, I’m really focused on the road – he does a lot of the talking.”
But the bright blue Red Bull Pro 2 truck will be quiet this month, as the 49th Running of the SCORE International Baja 1000 will kick off from Ensenada, Mexico. In late August, Menzies set the world record for farthest distance jumped in a truck when he flew an astonishing 379.4 feet over an abandoned New Mexico ghost town, shattering the previous record by more than 75 feet. But in typical Red Bull fashion, Menzies looked to push the record even more and, in doing so, crashed his truck, suffering extensive injuries to both his shoulder and knee, leaving him sidelined for four to six months.
It’s the longest Menzies has gone without racing and while he must watch the Baja 1000 like the rest of us, he’s clamoring at the bit to get back in the truck and try his luck at the upcoming Dakar Rally. There’s always next year to try and capture the one race that keeps getting away – but Menzies is confident.
“Trying to come back from both of these injuries is tough, especially in the short amount of time I have before Dakar,” Menzies admitted. “It’s hard on my whole crew, everybody wants to be [at the Baja 1000] but we’re just doing what’s best for me, trying to get all of these injuries figured out and we’ll be back next year. That’s the ultimate goal – to win the Baja 1000. Once I get that win, hopefully next year, it’s just going to be huge – it’s the biggest race we have all year, so I’m looking forward to it.”
All episodes of Driving Dirty: The Road to the Baja 1000 are now available on the Red Bull TV website or you can download the Red Bull TV app for your device, wherever apps are sold.
Photos: Red Bull Content Pool