Shiner man solos, finishes Baja 1,000
Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 27, 2012 at 6:27 a.m.
Updated Dec. 28, 2012 at 6:28 a.m.
A savage harmony of revving engines and spectator cheering encircled Jason Miller as he stared ahead at an empty dirt racetrack through a narrow motocross helmet.
He'd trained for the Baja 1,000 for more than 12 months. He'd been preparing for the race his entire life.
In a few seconds, the race would begin and Miller would ride solo for 40 hours on desert terrain in blazing sun and unlit darkness, on a handcrafted Honda dirt bike transported from Edna.
The Baja 1,000 is a 1,121 mile, 45-hour siege along Mexico's Baja California Peninsula.
It's the oldest, longest and toughest all-terrain, off-road vehicle race in the world.
And each year, racers leave the track injured, paralyzed or dead.
Staring past the starting line in the city of Ensenada, Miller, 40, knew he was about to risk life and limb to finish the race.
He was competing with the professional motorcyclists in Class 22 for little more than bragging rights, a trophy and a small pin that reads, "finisher."
But to finish the race is a feat.
To finish the race as a soloist, is an accomplishment many will never achieve.
"There's a lot to it. It's not easy," said Miller, of Shiner, describing the rough terrain and dangerous conditions. "The guys that go down there are pros. They spend millions of dollars to compete in this race, and they're not in it for the money. They do it because it's the hardest race in the world."
It's been years since Miller's days of riding motocross as a professional-amateur throughout the state, a sport he once thought he'd pursue professionally.
He was good back then, but he gave it up when an injury and personal family commitments interfered with his motocross ambitions.
He still competes in Texas motocross events every now and then, riding in the 30 and above class.
But when he turned 40 this year, he told himself he was ready for a new challenge.
He wanted to finish the Baja 1,000, and he knew he'd have to be prepared.
"Most of the time, if you don't finish, it's a mechanical problem with the bike," he said, mentioning the importance of his pit and chase crew who were radioed into his helmet for most of the race and guided and encouraged him through the race. "I didn't know if I was mentally prepared for it. I mean, how do you prepare for something like that?"
About 300 riders started the race last month. A little more than half finished.
Eleven entrants competed in Miller's Class 22, and nine finished.
In his entire class, Miller was the only solo rider to finish the race. He finished in 40 hours and placed ninth.
"It was nonstop chaos," he said. "I was so tired when I finished. I had no emotion to me. It's taken two or three weeks to grasp what happened out there and what I accomplished."
Miller, a native of Edna, said even though he's been riding motocross since age 10, the Baja 1,000 is more a battle of the mind and physical strength.
"It's a chess game," he said. "You're constantly thinking and weaving and turning and trying not to get hit."
During the race, cars, trucks, four-wheelers, buggies and motorcyclists whizzed by in all directions at speeds of more than 100 mph.
Booby traps were set on the racetrack, and spectators line the roadways cheering, drinking and attempting to distract the drivers.
"The people there were great, and 99 percent of the spectators are there to cheer you on. But there's a few that get excited. Like, some might try to throw dirt at you to try and blind you," Miller said. "One guy even threw a dog at me."
The dog Miller described was a 40-pound mutt, thrown from the sidelines during the race in an attempt to wipe him out.
"I thought my race was over at mile 25. I was 50 miles outside of Ensenada and right before I got to the next town, this guy throws a dog," Miller said. "I hit the dog with the bike, and I hate to say it, but I killed the dog. You're going 100 mph and I was just hoping and praying my bike was going to start up and go."
For hundreds of miles, Miller wove through boulders, slippery silt roads, darkness, wild animals - many of them dead on the racecourse - and hunger and fatigue.
"I was burning about 10,000 calories, so every time I came in to pit, I'd eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoonfuls of honey and anything to keep my calories up," he said. "I was completing the race 60 miles at a time. All I wanted to do was finish 60 miles. I'd get through that and move on to the next 60."
Miller's race once again almost ended about 200 miles from the finish line.
A large truck drove up behind his bike and ran him off the road.
Miller said his bike was sucked up into the truck, and he was knocked unconscious. The wreck damaged the back shock and bent the shifter. He was 40 miles from the next pit stop with a broken radio to contact his crew.
"They stopped to check on me, which is rare, and asked me if I was OK," he said about the truck drivers. "My bike was a wreck ... but I had to finish, I was 200 miles from the finish line."
Miller said if he hadn't been knocked off, he would have completed the race in 30 hours rather than 40.
At the end of the race, Miller said his body was vibrating badly, his hands hurt, and he could barely walk.
"I didn't even make it to the trophy ceremony," he said.
But he's excited to try the race again next year, and this time, he's doing the race as a team.
"It was crazy, but I'm ready to do this thing next year," he said.