TO FOLLOW ALONG THIS YEAR'S RACE, FOLLOW MADRE’S FRIENDS @SAFARISPECIAL.
To humans, the desert represents so much of who we are and what it means to be alive. It holds the feelings of mysticism, danger, adventure and death, which has been attracted to taming its wild nature as their own. We seek out deep desert oases, spiritual guidance and an attachment to nature that we all crave. Over the years, poets, artists and documentarians have captured this essence and spirit of the desert which has continuously brought back generation upon generation of wanderers… Today that energy can be found in psychoactive anarchistic pop up gatherings of like minds on one side and a mass migration of creatives and like minds moving and flocking to the desert for retreat and to live a life tapped in with nature.
On Bruce’s team in 1968 was an engineer by the name of Jim Chamberlain who was the grunt behind it all. He was the unsung hero, not the name sake of the Meyers Manx empire but the true artist/fabricator/builder behind that first winning car. This last year, Jim (at the ripe age of 78) along with his son Steve, raced a replica of the 1967 Mexican 1000 winning car as part of the Safari Special archivist project. Safari Special built a second tribute “sister” car. Originally, Jim had built a second fiberglass buggy to race himself in the event; however, due to an electrical problem, the car never made it to the start line. Commemorating that effort, Safari Special honored the un-raced car with the construction of a replica of the exact car Jim built in 67.
With these two cars, ten friends, a map and support team we headed south commemorating the 55th anniversary race honoring the Chamberlain legacy. It was five days of grueling racing across some of the most beautifully inhospitable landscape, with mechanical miracles in locations inaccessible by normal humans, punctuated by late nights wrenching and to make early morning start times. An attest to the skills of Jim’s engineering from a half a decade ago, the cars held together and both crossed the finish line in Cabo San Jose. A feeling shared for future generations, unexplainable to others that have not experienced it, of simple self sufficient accomplishment that resembles something of a desert religious pilgrimage shared by only a daring few.
There is another tribe of individuals who get overlooked by the modern desert spirit. This may be due to their assumed political philosophies or a misunderstanding of their methods in the desert, but they have been searching for the same thing as the Burning Man wanderer. This individual is the desert racer and they have been returning to the same desert for more than a half century as if they were to be visiting a sort of Mecca or holy land for their tribe. They seek to gain the same thing as the religious practitioner, a glimpse of god found in the raw nature of the desert.
Over fifty years ago, a loose federation of mavericks, cowboys, and renegades gathered together to race down the Baja Peninsula of Mexico in the first Mexican 1000. What started as a bar room bet of who could drive the fastest top to bottom has now become one of the most grueling off-road races in the world pulling drivers from all over the globe. The first races were straight out of a Steve McQueen flick with a motley circus of characters in oil stained white race suits, slinging tools, hydrating with cervezas…They were all there for the same goal to race as fast as they can through a desert that is trying to eat you alive in a retrofitted vehicle stripped to the bare minimum for efficiency and strength.
The first cars to race were fabricated from the chassis of early Volkswagen Beetles. These minimalist German cars were the perfect foundation to build a mean race car. Their heavy metal skins were shed and replaced by fiberglass. In that time there were many advancements in aerospace and sailing and fiberglass was introduced as a strong lightweight material that could be crafted into any shape needed to make the journey faster and the car last longer through the rugged terrain ahead of them. These contraptions that they designed were now what we call the Baja buggy.
The man behind most of this technology was a boat builder by the name Bruce Meyers, builder of the often replicated but never duplicated Meyers Manx, whose car went on to win the first race in his perfectly engineered desert rocket ship. He went on to change the way people built off-road vehicles and inspired a whole new generation of engineering that would change the way we moved off-road forever.