Not only did this year’s Baja 1,000 off-road race take place when many sporting events in North America have been canceled, but Temecula’s Rat Sult made his debut as the producer for the website broadcast as well as announcing the race and interviewing the drivers. The race took off Tuesday, Nov. 17, and ended Sunday, Nov. 22.
“It’s pretty cool to be not only able to announce it but to produce the live production,” Sult said.
Sult has been the Baja 1,000 announcer and program host since 2016.
“I actually produced it this year,” he said. “It was a lot more work than I thought.”
SCORE International organizes the Baja 1,000. SCORE originally stood for Southern California Off-Road Enthusiasts but is no longer an acronym. Some adjustments were made due to coronavirus precautions.
“We had spectators, just not at the start and finish, so it was a little bit different for sure,” Sult said.
The Baja 1,000 is run as a loop course most years and is normally a point-to-point course every four years. The 2020 Baja 1,000 was supposed to be a point-to-point race from Ensenada to La Paz, but the point-to-point competition was postponed until 2021 and this year’s race was a loop.
The attempt to minimize contact with the public resulted in that loop beginning outside Ensenada rather than in town.
“We started out on essentially a highway that’s non-completed,” Sult said.
Sult interviewed only drivers rather than members of their racing teams.
“My microphone was about 3 feet long,” he said.
The use of masks during the interviews allowed the drivers to promote their sponsors in what was officially the B.F. Goodrich Tires Baja 1,000 presented by 4 Wheel Parts. The drivers had their masks on when they were interviewed, and Sult wore a SCORE mask during the interviews.
Masks not only reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission but also keep dust out of the noses and mouths of those watching the race close enough to experience that element. The Baja California terrain is subject to change, and this year the terrain was conducive to spreading dust as the vehicles raced.
“You have it a lot dustier than normal,” Sult said.
The drivers, including the in-car navigators and the motorcycle racers, wear helmets while on the course. The helmets for the four-wheel vehicle occupants have vents to pump in fresh air. The motorcycle riders have no vents in their helmets.
“They’re used to the dust,” Sult said.
SCORE also dispensed with the formal awards ceremony for the Baja 1,000, as was also the case for the Baja 500 race in September.
“We weren’t able to give the awards away,” Sult said.
The awards were picked up at the hotel Sunday, Nov. 22, in the case of the Baja 1,000 or mailed to the participants.
The motorcycles started at 4 a.m. Nov. 20, while the four-wheel vehicles began racing at 10 a.m. that day. The official close of the race was 4:30 a.m. Nov. 22.
“I got to see three sunrises during the whole event,” Sult said.
The broadcast had no breaks.
“It runs for the whole time,” Sult said. “I announced the whole thing.”
SCORE used a semitractor-trailer as the production truck which added to Sult’s activity.
“We start getting our live feed from our drones on the course,” he said.
“I run it hard,” Sult said of his announcing. “It’s wide-open.”
Sult had a short break during the second day.
“I had an hour cat nap,” he said.
He actually had about a half-hour of sleep before drivers began crossing the finish line.
“It just brings me alive again,” he said. “That’s what keeps me going. That and good tacos.”
Sult interviewed the drivers after they crossed the finish line. He interviewed all drivers during the Nov. 18 and Nov. 19 pre-race sessions.
“If you take it to the finish line, I interview you twice,” he said.
The 998.4-mile course was the longest Baja 1,000 loop race ever.
“It was just a grueling course,” Sult said. “It was just tore up, silty. It was not only the longest loop race but the most physically demanding.”
The average speed for top trophy trucks and motorcycles was about 46 mph. Normally the average speed for those top vehicles is about 60 mph.
“It was more technical than a lot of races,” Sult said.
This year 186 vehicles started the Baja 1,000 and 111 finished.
“It was a 60% finishing rate, which was really high,” Sult said.
The racers were given 40 hours to finish Baja 1,000, and if they exceeded that time they were considered not to have finished. SCORE expected about 50% of the drivers to finish.
“That was actually higher than we thought, which was pretty awesome,” Sult said.
Sult said that he treated the finishers he interviewed like celebrities.
“If you finish the Baja 1,000, you’re a rock star in my eyes,” he said.
The first Baja 1,000 was in 1967, and that year the race was from Tijuana to La Paz.
The coronavirus outbreak reduced SCORE’s series from four races to two for 2020.
“That was probably the biggest thing that was different this year,” Sult said.
The San Felipe 250 and the Baja 400 were canceled. The Baja 500 is normally run in June but was held in September this year.
“At least we were down there racing, that’s the important part,” Sult said. “We were able to pull that off.”
Sult also announced the Baja 500 in September.
“That went off great,” he said.
This year’s Baja 500 loop course started and finished in San Felipe rather than in Ensenada. The 2020 race was only the second Baja 500 in 52 years which didn’t start in Ensenada.
The Baja California Secretary of Sustainable Energy and Tourism aided SCORE to enable this year’s Baja 500 and Baja 1,000 to occur.
“We appreciate the help with the government and all of the government officials,” Sult said.
Sult was born in Palm Springs and raised in Escondido. His father raced drag, motocross and off-road competition.
“I kind of followed in his footsteps,” Sult said.
He began his racing career with motocross competition when he was eight. Sult has also raced mountain bikes, street luge (downhill skateboarding) and off-road. His SCORE racing experience includes limited and unlimited motorcycles and Class 2 buggies.
That SCORE racing also included pre-run experience in Mexico.
“I think that’s why I’m so good at being an announcer,” Sult said.
Sult has lived in Temecula for 18 years. He founded what is now Temecula Off-Road Nights in 2010 at the Temecula Stampede the first year, before moving to the Temecula Promenade. The event was at the Southern California Fairgrounds in Perris in 2019 and was not held in 2020. Although the Southern California Fairgrounds provided a larger venue, Perris weather will return next year’s event to the Temecula Promenade. Off-Road Nights expanded to the San Diego County Fairgrounds in 2019, and the 2021 Off-Road Nights Expo in Del Mar will be two days, March 27-28, if not postponed, and will include races.
Sult began announcing SCORE races with all four of the 2016 competitions.
“I went down there, slept on the beach,” he said. “I did get my foot in the door.”
Announcing allows him to participate in the races when he is not driving.
“I’m doing what I love,” he said. “It just kind of comes through in my announcing.”
Production has been added to that announcing.
“We definitely had some good coverage and everybody seemed to be pretty happy with it, so I’m going to continue it in 2021,” Sult said.
Joe Naiman can be reached by email at email@example.com.