St. George resident among a group of drivers seeking to make history at Baja 1000

St. George resident David Clay and the Polaris SR1 single-seat UTV he'll drive in the Baja 1000, St. George, Utah, Nov. 10, 2021 | Photo provided by David Clay, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A St. George resident will attempt a feat never before accomplished when he drives in the Baja 1000 next week.

The Polaris SR1 single-seat UTV David Clay will drive in the Baja 1000, St. George, Utah, Nov. 10, 2021 | Photo provided by David Clay, St. George News

The Baja 1000 road race traces its roots to a publicity stunt for Honda motorcycles in 1962. Honda wanted to prove that its CL72 was a capable motorcycle, tough enough to run the entire, then-unpaved 950 miles of the Baja Peninsula from the border town of Tijuana on the Pacific Ocean to the resort city of La Paz on the Sea of Cortez.

Honda attracted two California dirt bikers, Dave Ekins and Billy Robertson to do the riding, and the two set off on March 22, 1962, each one on a Honda. It was 39 hours and 56 minutes later that Ekins got a time stamp in the telegraph office in La Paz and the legendary race was begun.

Often referred to as the most dangerous race in North America, the Baja 1000 is an off-road race that this year will actually cover 1,227 miles.

The course zig zags across Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula and features some of the most brutal obstacles racing can provide.

Vast stretches of barren desert. Rocky cliffs with sheer drop offs. Muddy beaches. Through gigantic pits of silt, sand that is so finely ground it has the consistency of talcum powder. Driving in silt is like driving through water: if you stop, you sink.

A number of different classes of vehicle race the Baja 1000, from dirt bikes up to trophy trucks. Since its first running, however, the course has never been travelled by a single-seat utility vehicle. 

David Clay hopes to be the first driver ever to do it.

“I’m going to be 40 years old next year,” Clay told St. George News before he headed down to Baja. “I’ve always wanted to do it. The Baja 1000 is the granddaddy of off-road racing. If you’re going to go big, go big, right?”

Clay has been  part of the racing world since he was a 17-year-old, but always as part of a team.

To finish the grueling race quickly enough to compete, drivers make use of a navigator, who sits next to them in the vehicle and uses GPS and computer images to help the driver know what’s coming and where they’re at on the course.

Clay has a great deal of experience as a navigator and support team player, but he’s never driven in the race.

Next week, not only will he be driving, he’ll be driving without a navigator.

“I’ve never taken that green flag as a driver, and it’s something I have to do,” Clay said. “I just feel like I need to make it happen.”

Clay’s dream has been over a year in the making. In a sport featuring some trucks that cost over a million dollars, Clay bought a Polaris RS1 single-seat UTV for $13,000 and welded it together himself.

Since he’s had the Polaris, Clay estimates he’s put on about 1,200 miles of driving as he’s worked on it and fine-tuned the machine.

“It gets going real quick, it’s a fast car,” Clay said, explaining that it has the same engine that’s designed to carry two or four passengers in other UTV’s.

“It’s a handful,” Clay said. “It’s power to weight ratio is awesome.”

Not only will his vehicle have to be perfect to complete the race, Clay will have to drive the complicated course with precision to avoid blowouts and crashes that can end a race in an instant.

“The course in Mexico can be insane,” Clay said. “It’s 1,200 miles of gotchas- cliffs, silt, boulders, mud- and you have to drive the race without hitting a gotcha. If everything goes perfectly, realistically, it will take about 40 hours to finish.” 

So much a part of finishing is physical stamina. The course takes a beating on drivers of the Baja 1000; almost all of the racing vehicles are open, no windows, so all of the elements pound their bodies early and often.

The traveling rig David Clay will drive to the Baja 1000, St. George, Utah, Nov. 10, 2021 | Photo provided by David Clay, St. George News

Every time they drive through silt, their car gets filled with the fine sand that seeps into their clothes and sticks to their bodies. They inhale it with every breath.

Every water puddle driven through douses them with freezing water. The constant motion over very uneven surfaces pounds their bodies.

Oh yes, you have to sleep as well.

“I’ve been working on my five-minute power naps,” Clay said. “If I get tired I’m going to sleep. If I have to do that six or seven times, then so be it.”

As part of both training for the race and improving his lifestyle, Clay said he’s been working with St. George-based Grind 9 Fitness’ personal trainer Saraven Allen.

“She’s helped me in so many ways and I wouldn’t be able to do this race without her,” Clay said.

While he won’t have a navigator to help him, Clay won’t be entirely alone as five other drivers will be attempting to complete the race in a single-seat UTV.

“As I got into this I turned it into a challenge. I said, ‘Hey, who else wants to do this?’ Take RS1’s into the desert and race them. Let’s all join forces,” Clay said.

The other five drivers who will be in single-seaters are from Texas, Montana, Washington, California and Northern Utah.

With six drivers making the attempt, it’s a good bet that at least one of them will finish and make history at the Baja 1000.

“It’s exciting,” Clay said, noting how quickly his life has gone since talking about doing this to actually doing it. “It’s scary.”

The Baja 1000 runs Nov. 15-20.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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