Riding with Legends
Baja off-road rally merges wine, food, and fun
Posted on March 2, 2018
Toying with an ever-present cigar as he gazes out to a shimmering, broad Mexican desert landscape, off-road racing legend Walker Evans looks back on a long career. “I guess I just always wanted to go fast,” Walker says. With 20+ championships and 140+ wins including ten Baja 1000 off-road races — and the first ever in a truck — he did go fast, very fast.
The sometimes irascible and always entertaining Evans recently took part in The Legends Rally, a Baja California off-road rally and Mexican culinary adventure. The event gave weekend warriors and longtime competitive racers a chance to drive more than 300 miles of challenging desert, mountain, and beach courses, taste Guadalupe Valley wines and local specialty beers, and get fed very well by Michelin-star chef Drew Deckman.
Evans and the others were joined by champion motorcycle and four-wheel racing legend Larry Roeseler, who led one of three rally groups. Roeseler has earned numerous titles including 13 Baja 1000 wins. Many marveled the way even-tempered and friendly Roeseler maneuvered his vehicle through the boulders and down trails with speed and grace.
Run by UTV Underground, part of Oceanside-based Mad Media, and powered by Horsepower Adventures of Ensenada, Mexico, the rally featured 30+ purpose-built four-wheel drive vehicles. Most UTVs (utility task vehicles) were trailered by their owners, although a few drivers rented Polaris RZR vehicles provided by the organizers. It was an all-inclusive adventure with fuel, hotels, meals, photography, chase vehicles, mechanical repair, and professional medical support as part of the package.
“We started this rally because we really wanted to make it easy to introduce more people to the beauty and adventure of Baja just over the border,” says Mad Media CEO Matt Martelli, who also drove in the event, which stretched from Friday evening to Monday morning.
The excursion started poolside at the famed Horsepower Ranch near Ensenada, sipping beer from Cervecería Agua Mala and snacking on optional crispy fried crickets. With his team, Deckman, an off-road enthusiast who runs a well regarded Guadalupe Valley restaurant, created several delicious meals that included fire roasted lamb and plenty of Mexican-influenced dishes. The next day, there was a stop among the vineyards at MD Vinos for a carnitas lunch and wine tasting. The final night concluded strong with a spectacular dinner served under the stars at La Cava de Marcelo at La Cava de Quesos after a day of riding.
The driving took two long days across a variety of terrain including sections of the Baja 1000 racecourse. Evans, piloting a vehicle tuned by his own Walker Evans Racing team based in Riverside, drove with the fierceness, determination, and speed of a man who always wants to be in front, even as he prepares to turn 80 this year. The route, pre-run by organizers, went through tall pine forests and across dusty, desolate ranchos in the interior, where tiny children waved at seldom seen visitors. Teams raced across bone-dry desert at high speeds that sent vehicles airborne over sharp bumps or, as off-roaders call them, “whoops.” There was a steep, rocky “goat trail” climb up to the legendary mountaintop Mike’s Sky Ranch and down the other side. A herd of horses ran alongside the group at one point. A long stretch took vehicles on the broad sand next to the blue Pacific and over a rock-filled section that some now call “Matt’s Beach.”
The Legends Rally has developed into a series. There will be a shorter course rally March 7 tied to the 50th anniversary of the iconic Mint 400 race in Las Vegas, also run by Mad Media. The next Mexican-based rally and culinary trip is scheduled for May and will include the San Felipe loop.
Off-roaders ready for a fun Mexican adventure should start their engines. thelegendsrally.com James Ferraro
Photography by Ernesto Araiza of Mad Media