To organize a rally race, you don’t need to be the pride-driven alpha type; you need compassion, empathy, and selflessness. You need understanding, and you need that pure, unadulterated joy of seeing others succeed. – Scotty Breauxman
Before jumping on a Zoom call with Scotty Breauxman, a motorcycle journalist, rider, racer, and organizer of the Baja Rally, I looked over my notes about the rally and questions I had for Scotty. Having never raced in Mexico, I wanted to know about the terrain and routes of the Baja Rally. I was curious about the relatively short daily distances, and the fact that there’s no marathon day; I wanted to know who was racing Baja Rally, was it a stepping stone towards Sonora – the American Baby Dakar – and where did it stand in terms of FIM?… In other words, I was preparing for a usual interview focused on the usual features of a rally race. Thirty minutes or so should cover it, I figured.
But when Scotty answered the call, the conversation took an unexpected turn, and we ended up talking for nearly two hours. I’m beginning to suspect it may just transform the way I look at rally racing; maybe it’s because Scotty is so thoroughly and uncompromisingly American, and the unbridled enthusiasm, the cheerfulness, and the generosity is shining through and rubbing off on me. Maybe it’s because Baja Rally feels like a younger, more naïve, yet somehow, a more refreshingly authentic race than the traditional European rally races. It could be that it’s because Baja Rally doesn’t care about big names or FIM ranking much and goes, instead, straight for the soul.
Or perhaps it’s simply what Scotty said, and what resonated the most: “Baja Rally is the most successful failure out there, and I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing”. For someone like me – a two-wheeled moto journo nomad sold on the Dakar dream and bound for everywhere – it sounded just right.
But I’ll let you decide.
Road to Dakar
Scotty Breauxman comes from a West Coast family that loved watching the races, but never raced themselves. “Our parents would take us to Southern California races and to Baja, which was a big deal in the seventies. My brothers and I rode dirtbikes, but our parents never allowed us to race. And when someone tells you you can’t do something, well, that’s exactly what you want to do”, Scotty smiles.
Having studied journalism and eventually gotten into investment managing and consulting, Scotty has never lost sight of his passion for Baja races and dirt bikes. “When I was 35 years old, my brother was supporting the Baja 500 racers. For as long as I remember, I’d always wanted to race the Baja 500, but my brother told me I could never make it past 80 miles. I wanted to prove myself right, so I spent a lot of time, energy, and resources to build up, get the skills that I needed, think about what I really wanted… But when I finally found myself at the Baja 500 start line and later, finishing the Baja 1000, a complete madness of mangled tracks, an inferno of scorching heat, sand, and dust, I realized I didn’t belong here among the real pros, and that I was going to hurt or kill myself out there. After finishing the 2007 Baja 1000, I changed my wristband from “racer” to “media”, but I was still fascinated with the racing world”, Scotty recalls.
Chasing the races as a journalist, Scotty soon realized his main focus wasn’t going to be the podium stars and the cool helicopter shots. “I began talking to guys who weren’t followed as much as the bigger names out there, taking photos, talking to the riders toward the back of the pack. I was madly dedicated; I’d pre-run the exact same courses as the rally racers, so I’d know exactly what they were talking about at the finish line and earned their respect. I was driven and obsessed. Soon, I rose to the top of the Baja moto journalism food chain, and in 2010, I got an offer to go cover Rally Dakar with Volkswagen in South America. I barely knew the publisher of Race-Dezert and said ‘OK, but why me?’
They said I got picked because I wasn’t doing any of this for the money or for fame. I was just so immersed in the Baja race culture and I did it because I loved it so much that I would ride 1200 miles of racecourse just to have an edge with the racers”.
Rally Dakar, however, turned out to be a whole another ballgame. “The scale of the Dakar was just insane. For as long as I knew, Baja 1000 was the biggest and hardest race on the planet. Seeing a million Dakar fans lining the roads over the 2 weeks was felt just like the first time I landed on Mars. I could not have known any better until arriving. But here at my first Dakar, much like in Baja, I kept going to the guys who remained in the shadows. After a stage, the press would swarm the top competitors; they all wanted Nasser al Attiyah and Stephane Peterhansel, whereas I wanted to talk to their navigators instead. The Dakar stars would be doing their interviews sipping a cold Redbull, and the navigators would just hop out of the vehicles and disappear in the bivouac. I wanted to talk to them, I wanted to hear their stories and found them inspiring. I was intrigued in the roadbooks and the rally navigation, and how it was done”, Scotty remembers.
The Birth of the Baja Rally
Having realized how different a cross country roadbook rally like the Dakar was from the old school Baja races, Scotty kept coming back to South America and covering the Dakar for several more years. At the same time, he was riding his own bike in Baja California a lot, exploring the less-known trails and tracks, and realizing, little by little, just how similar the unraced terrain was to Argentina and Chile. “Baja California is like a much smaller, concentrated version of South America. It’s nowhere near the scale of the Atacama or the Andes, but the similarities in terrain and diversity are definitely there”, Scotty says.
An idea began taking shape.
Finally, Scotty went to train with Jimmy Lewis, learning roadbook navigation himself. “Spending a week with Jimmy was comparable to 2 weeks in South America. At the end of the training, I told him I was thinking of organizing a rally in Mexico or Southern California, but he discouraged me and said a roadbook rally in North America was far fetched and an impossibility in the US. It’s like he spent a week teaching me the craft and then kicked me in the gut on the way out. Naturally, his lack of enthusiasm was extremely motivational and I still have to thank him for that”.
According to Scotty – who is now a permanent resident of Mexico and a new dad – this country isn’t just about breath-taking scenery and excellent off-road trails, it’s about the people and the local hospitality, the atmosphere and the generosity of the locals. “I called Poncho Alonso, a Mexican race organizer I knew, and asked him for local support. We began putting routes together, and finally, eight years ago, I went on ADV Rider and announced we had some spots available in the upcoming Baja Rally. I soon got a waiting list of 30 riders, and Baja Rally 2013 kicked off”, Scotty explains.
In the beginning, it was a two-day rally which soon grew to a four-day event and finally, its current format: a five-day roadbook navigation rally race for motorcycles and UTV’s. Five percent of the field are professional racers, but the backbone of the rally is returning amateur riders thirsty for adventure beyond trail riding and Back Country Discovery routes. “Some of our past competitors, like Lyndon Poskitt and Lawrence Hacking have gone on to race around the world. Some return to Baja every year for a new challenge. We don’t have the FIM licensing yet, since the bureaucracy is overwhelming, and I’m not entirely convinced we need this: Baja Rally is a serious five-day roadbook navigation challenge and a test of endurance, wits, riding ability, and stamina, but it’s still a wild Baja race that’s open to amateurs and people willing to chase after the impossible”, Scotty says.
According to him, it’s much more inclusive and achievable for non-professional riders. Unlike the Baja 1000 and Baja 500, Baja Rally has no pre-marked courses, no pre-running, and no GPS; competitors use roadbook navigation, and the routes aren’t being recycled, which could give veterans an unfair advantage. “This year, we’re also adding an Enduro Comp class where riders will navigate using a small Rally Comp® device with audio alerts and arrows pointing out changes in direction. Investing in a proper rally navigation tower, installing all that expensive equipment on your bike for just one or two races a year isn’t exactly making things easy for most Americans, so we want to offer something in between. I’m really excited about the Enduro Comp class and I expect people will love it”, Scotty says.
Building a Snowboard Park in Jamaica
Organizing a cross-country roadbook navigation rally is no walk in the park, however. From designing the stages, creating routes and roadbooks, and making logistics work to ensuring the safety of the competitors and support crews (Baja Rally has a standby medical helicopter and a team of moto-medics on motorcycles and UTVs during the event), it’s a massive effort, and Scotty admits the event isn’t making money or attracting huge crowds just yet.
Part of it, he thinks, is because Americans just aren’t into rally racing as much as Europeans. “In Europe, with the old Paris-Dakar history, the rally traditions run deep. Netherlands and France alone have a huge participation; there are so many rally races in Europe and North Africa attracting hundreds of competitors. In North America, that just isn’t the case, so organizing a rally in Mexico is a little like building a snowboarding park in Jamaica, it’s highly regarded among a few enthusiasts. I call our race the most successful failure out there, but frankly, if I had to do it all over again from scratch, I would change very little”, Scotty says.
According to him, all eyes were on Ricky Brabec claiming the Rally Dakar victory this year, but the anticipated shift in American interest in rally racing hasn’t materialized as expected. “I felt that Kurt Caselli could have caused a revolution if he’d won the Dakar before his tragic passing in 2013. Ricky Brabec’s historic first win for an American was sadly overlooked by the US motorsports media earlier this year. I’m not sure why that is, but we haven’t seen any spike in our Baja Rally School, we haven’t seen an increase in rally entries this year, either…Maybe it’s because of the COVID-19 situation, but I just don’t see that Brabec’s Dakar win as a crusade to encourage more Americans to get into rally racing. The timing is somehow wrong, it feels like the tide isn’t there yet. We’ve got a lot more paddling to do before we hit the big one”, Scotty thinks.
The Spirit of Baja
For Scotty, organizing the Baja rally has always been about the passion of creating an adventurous challenge and developing relationships with the locals, not the recognition or the profit. But, he admits, it took a while to realize that.
“I used to be more competitive and highly ego-driven, and in the beginning, I took pride in the fact that people called the Baja Rally “Scotty’s rally”. I’m one of those typical alpha types, and it took a near-death experience – a severe mineral/electrolyte deficiency while out riding – to see the downsides of that. After that experience, I realized I had unnecessarily driven some great people, even close friends, away, my ego was toxic, and I needed to rethink a lot of things. Now, my ego gets broken down yearly, and I think it’s a very healthy thing. To organize a rally race, you don’t need to be the pride-driven alpha type; you need compassion, empathy, and selflessness. You need understanding, and you need that pure, unadulterated joy of seeing others succeed. These days, I’m all about designing the perfect stage for each day of the rally, about seeing riders come back to the bivouac excited and happy, thanking me for an amazing day on the tracks. Although this year marks the seventh edition of Baja Rally, I feel like we’re just warming up, and I know I’m now perfectly positioned to do this. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
And I hope the Baja Rally racers can feel that, too”.