The film, Dust To Glory, will be opening in theatres nationally April 1, 2005.
One mans opinion:
Mention the Indy 500 or NASCAR's Daytona 500 and most everyone in America knows that they are some of the preeminent car races in the world. These races tend to get all the press and there are a lot of poster boys who race in these events. These events are really the glamour events of the racing motor world. Mention the Baja 1000 and most people won't know what it is or who races it.
Dana Brown, director of Step into Liquid and son of legendary documentary filmmaker Bruce Brown, has brought the Baja 1000 to the big screen with Dust to Glory, the first documentary to really capture the essence of racing the big daddy of off road races in Baja California. Most of these racers don't do it for the money, because there isn't any, and not necessarily to win the race, because there are several classes of vehicle that race the Baja, but more for the satisfaction of finishing the race, because it definitely seems a lot more difficult to race the Baja than it is to go around an oval at 190 mph for hours on end.
The film follows several categories of racers to their conclusion during the 2003 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, in an effort to give viewers a glimpse of who these folks are as well as why they race the Baja. Several racers are highlighted during the 90 minute film, including Mike "Mouse" McCoy, who raced the entire course solo, on a motorcycle, rather than hand it off to another racer at the halfway point; Mario Andretti, who makes his first attempt at the race; Robbie Gordon, a six time off road champion; Hawaiian Alan Pflueger, scion of Honolulu's Pflueger Automotive Group, who races in the unlimited class where the trucks run upwards of $1 million; and JN and Jimmy Roberts, a father/son team who race the motorcycle class.
One aspect of the Baja 1000 that makes this race unique is the class of vehicles that are allowed to enter. There are essentially five classes of vehicles that enter the Baja 1000, and Director Brown makes a point of detailing each class's differences, as well as the racers in those classes. Class 22 is the motorcycle class (250cc and up). These vehicles are usually the first to cross the finish line in any class; Wide Open class entails vehicles powered by Porsche, and are all identical in mechanical makeup; the unlimited trophy truck class includes vehicles that are custom built and cost upward of $1 million.
This class features such racers as Robby Gordon, Mark Miller, and Alan Pflueger. The trucks often have 800+hp, three feet suspensions, and special breathing apparatus for driver and navigator, and their support crew often uses helicopters as chase vehicles; Class 1 single or two seater buggy's often cost upward of $150,000, and include 600hp engines with top speeds north of 120mph; Class 11, the VW bug class and always a crowd favorite, are unmodified Volkswagen bugs (old style), with 70hp, stock suspensions, and stock steel bodies. Brown interviews the top racers in each class and gives ample coverage in the film showcasing the vehicles in the race.
Brown covers virtually all aspects of the race in Dust to Glory, from the interviews of the racers, sequences of some of the residents of Baja who have an impact on the race, to a sequence showing an orphanage built and funded by motorcycle racing legend Malcolm Smith. The film also features a sequence on a man known as the "Weatherman." The Weatherman keeps track of the fickle weather patterns that may happen during the race and acts as a conduit for emergency communications. He tracks the weather as well as accidents and relays critical information to emergency officials when needed. He sits on top of a mountain every year to forecast the weather, and he does all of this for free.
While other motorcycle racers handed off to a teammate at the halfway mark, Mouse McCoy finished the entire race on a motorcycle in 17 hours.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film is a chase scene between two motorcycle racers. Both riding for team Honda, one racer was inexplicably bumped from the Honda A team to the Honda B team a few weeks prior to the race. To prove his mettle, the Honda B team racer rides his heart out and doesn't let the A team rider, (despite the A team rider's best efforts to catch up, including several long stretches on two Baja beaches) catch him. The narration poignantly details the story of the B team rider getting bumped down a notch, while the filming shows quite brilliantly, the B team rider "making dust" on the course as the A team rider, in his futile attempt to catch him, trying everything in the book to catch him. This chase scene was captured via helicopter and it really shows the determination of these racers.
Class 11 bug. The unmodified "Baja Bug" is one of the most popular classes in the Baja 1000.
Director Brown also details the inherent dangers of the race, not so much from a racer's perspective (although some helmet cam footage is sprinkled throughout the film) but from an observer's perspective. By design, the race takes place on public roads and highways in Baja California, as well as on the dirt roads that make up the majority of the course. Traveling at speeds in excess of 100 mph, the racers must not only negotiate the traffic (vehicles, animal and otherwise) that may block the race course, but they must also race through the crowds that line the course. There are no real barriers that separate racer from race observer, and there were several shots of someone crossing the course and just a few seconds later, an 800hp trophy truck barrels through the exact crossing point of the pedestrian. Dangerous? Absolutely. But those shots capture the essence of the Baja 1000 and Brown does an awesome job of documenting virtually all aspects of the race in this film. If you are a dirtsport enthusiast, or just want to see an exciting film that details the extremes of the human spirit, Dust to Glory is a must see film.
A Movie Review:
"Eat My Dust, Amigo", The Baja 1000 is the gnarliest, dirtiest, most dangerous off-road race in the world. Anyone can compete—just bring your ride and your life-insurance policy. It’s about 11 A.M. on a dusty horse trail in the middle of a Mexican desert, 20 miles from the nearest indoor toilet. Not a single creature stirs here. Even las cucarachas refuse to hang in this neighborhood, because it’s so damn desolate and hot. Then, suddenly, two souped-up $350,000 pickup trucks tear through the dirt while bashing bumpers. High above in the sky, support choppers shadow the race. Driver “Pistol” Pete Sohren lost his front brakes 140 miles ago, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to pass his archrival, Gary Dircks. Seeing some daylight between the sand and the scorpions, he makes his move, but he miscalculates and goes flying off a 20-foot cliff, bashing in the front of his truck. Dircks enjoys the sight of the roadkill in his rearview mirror—but not for long.
There are still 800 miles of racing left. Welcome to the Tecate Score Baja 1000—a nerve-shredding, cerveza-soaked, nonstop off-road race that snakes through 1,014 miles of Mexico’s unforgiving Baja peninsula. If you haven’t heard of it, you will soon. The race is the focal point of a gritty new documentary, Dust to Glory (opening April 8), that chronicles what can best be described as the Cannonball Run to Hell. The Baja 1000 isn’t just a race, it’s an obsession. How else can you explain why 284 pros and amateurs from 11 countries would show up to scrape fenders and battle cactus-laden deserts, treacherous beaches, silt beds, crazy spectators and pothole-ridden trails so gnarly an Abrams Tank would have trouble shredding them—all for virtually no recognition or money? (The average cash prize for a class winner is about $3,000—barely enough to pay for gas, food and a six—pack of Pepto-Bismol.) “People don’t come here for accolades,” says Mike “Mouse” McCoy, a Brad Pitt–looking motocross champion and Hollywood stuntman who’s the star of the film.
“It’s really the last frontier. America is civilized; Baja isn’t. People come to lose themselves in the roughest terrain in the world.” It’s also the last place on earth anybody with an Evel Knievel jones can just jump in and drive. “Unlike Indy or NASCAR, anyone can race down here,” explains Sal Fish, the CEO of Score International, which took over the Baja 1000 in 1973, when it was six years old. “You build a vehicle and, as long as it meets safety standards, you can compete against the best of the best.” The day before the race, the best and the worst share tequila shots in Ensenada, a port town 100 miles south of the border that smells like a dead burro and makes Tijuana look like Paris. There are 26 classes of vehicles, including ATVs, dune buggies, motorcycles, trucks and pimped-out VW bugs. Some mack daddies spend up to a million bucks for a helicopter, a support crew and state-of-the-art vehicles. The financially challenged comb through junkyards to build Frankenstein-like deathmobiles with no high-tech devices, no support and no love. Truckers Vs. BikersMark Miller, last year’s champ, is one of the big boys. His gleaming red-and-white $300,000 Chevy Silverado (see “Beast of the Baja,”) is what’s called a Trophy Truck. “It’s the marquee class down here,” he says. “That’s the race everyone wants to win.” Participants such as Miller, Robby Gordon of NASCAR. The makeover treatment, building monsters that go through, over and around anything at speeds up to 140 mph. Pistol Pete, who races for a team, says of their ride, “It’s the fastest off-road vehicle in the world.” At $350,000, with a 780-horsepower engine, it isn’t exactly a Prius. Just up the street from the Trophy Trucks, the motorcyclists mess around with their chains and sprockets. They’re a different breed: tough, athletic, ballsy—and more than a few spark plugs short of sanity. The biggest cojones out here belong to Mouse, of the XR team, who has been racing since he was four. He isn’t famous yet, but he will be after the release of Dust to Glory, in which he defies broken bones and exhaustion to complete the 2003 race solo in 18 hours.
As Mouse pounds his 12th bottle of water and scouts the competition, he explains why bikers draw a shorter straw than anyone else in the race. “On a bike, you risk your life every second,” he says. “You might not see that cactus and you crash at 90 mph, and there’s no safety cage or 6,000-pound truck to protect you.” Mouse’s XR team is a low-budget outfit with almost no support. They’ll be going against the seven-year reigning champs: superloaded Team Honda, featuring pro-rider superstar Johnny Campbell. The 2004 race begins in Ensenada on a cool November day at 6:30 A.M. It will end sometime the following day in the southern city of La Paz. Most teams consist of two to five drivers. Each one will race for about 250 miles before passing the keys to a teammate who waits in one of the makeshift pit stops strung along the peninsula. Unlike in other lengthy races, such as the Paris-Dakar, sleep is not an option here. The race goes nonstop for 15 to 40 hours, or as long as it takes to finish. Insane Fans And Booby TrapsThe sun hasn’t even risen yet, but that doesn’t stop 10,000-plus spectators from crowding along the route. Vehicles take off every 30 seconds to prevent them from pounding into one another. First out of the gate is Team Honda’s Campbell. One minute later, XR’s Mike Childress, a relatively inexperienced 21-year-old, peels out in hot pursuit.
The bikes leave a thick cloud of dust in their wake, making it difficult to see such hazards as rocks and cars rushing toward them in the wrong direction. Even scarier are the daredevil fans, such as Arturo, 14, who like to run out and touch the vehicles as they pass. “I’ve never been hit,” Arturo says, “but one time this guy behind me was hit, and he broke his leg. It was funny.” It’s not so funny for the drivers, many of whom say that their biggest fear is hitting a fan. About six miles into the race, Childress spots a ramp made of wood and bricks and narrowly misses it. Along the route, locals dig ditches, bury telephone poles, pile rocks and dam off water crossings to create lakes four feet deep. It’s not so much that the fans hate the drivers, says Childress. “They just want to see you catch some serious air.” The action takes place mostly on narrow dirt trails first traveled by pioneers hundreds of years ago. There are nasty cacti, rocks, ditches, washed-out roads and sand whoops, which Childress describes as “three-foot bumps in the road five feet apart from each other for miles and miles.” He considers these his specialty—and Campbell’s weakness. About 180 miles into the race, the punk upstart schools the veteran and takes a 12-minute lead. Machine Vs. Canyon and Cow Back at the 40-mile mark, the Trophy Trucks’ greatest danger rears its fuzzy head: cows.
The roads are still used by farmers and livestock, and apparently nobody told them a race was coming through. Some drivers, including Miller, actually install thermal vision systems to avoid hitting 1,500 pounds of potential porterhouse steak. Other drivers aren’t so lucky. “I hit a cow on the highway,” says Marty Fiolka, the editor-in-chief of Dirt Sports magazine, who raced the Baja until he broke his back last year. “It was 3 A.M.—black highway, black cow. All I see are these two eyes. And at about 60 mph, I hit the cow head-on. It killed the cow and totaled the car.” Cows notwithstanding, things go smoothly for Pistol Pete until mile 60, when he starts to lose his brakes. Yet he’s doing pretty well, considering the circumstances, and pulls into third place. Then he sees Dircks’ truck, takes a turn too hard and enjoys that 20-foot plunge into a canyon. But all is not lost. “Me and my other two codrivers hop out, change the tire, then climb a mountain to figure a way out of there,” he says. It takes 25 minutes. Bashed Bikes and BodiesChildress and his bike aren’t so fortunate. He tears around a corner a little too fast and suddenly comes face-to-face with a truck. “I swerved to avoid hitting it,” he recalls later, “and I just ran out of road.” His bike hits some rocks, destroying the front wheel, bashing one of his fingers and tearing up his arm. His pit crew is 60 miles away. There’s nothing to do but suffer until a truck pulls up and takes him and his mangled bike to the next pit. Campbell and Team Honda are an hour and half in front. Less than an hour later, near Coco’s Corner, Mouse picks up where Childress left off and rides flawlessly at up to 115 mph through the desert and the silt beds of Scorpion Bay, which he describes as “bottomless talcum powder.” “It gets three feet deep, and you’ll be going along up to your gas tank in it.” Just past San Juanico, Mouse gives way to Chuck Dempsey, who drives past San Ignacio and hands off to Craig Smith, a farmer who used to race with Team Honda. He jumps on the bike and rips through the mountains at night. It’s no romantic moonlight cruise. “Take one of the most dangerous, over-the-top races in the world and then shut the lights off,” says Mouse. “The danger level goes through the roof.” About 45 miles up a mountain, Smith doesn’t see a ridge in the road and flips off his bike. He knocks out a headlight, slips a disc in his back and rips open his arm. In severe pain and racing in the dark, he gets his ride onto the highway, but he eventually radios for a new driver to help him out. Things are not so bleak for Pistol Pete’s team.
After the canyon crash, they gain ground, despite losing an engine cylinder at mile 689. With nine miles to go, they close in on the lead. Suddenly—bam! The engine blows out. They are towed to the final mile of the race, “then we all just push [the truck],” he recalls later. “We weren’t quitting.” They finish, but well behind winners Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero, who had the best time of all Trophy Truck drivers—16 hours, 24 minutes and 54 seconds. As for the fate of Mouse’s team, XR? They finish in 19 hours—ninth place in their class and well behind Team Honda, which wins with the best time overall: 15 hours, 57 minutes and 37 seconds. Bastards. Despite the injuries and frustrations, these racers all plan to come back next year. “There’s nowhere else in North America where you can just lose yourself for days on a motorcycle,” says Mouse. “For a lot of us, it’s like church. This is where we can get closer to God.” They’d better pray.