MIDDLEBURY, CT – Larry Janesky of Middlebury calls it “a survival test of man and machine.” It’s the longest, most treacherous off-road race in the world through a bone-rattling hellscape of dirt, sand, rocks and cactus in Baja California, Mexico.
This month’s 56th edition of the Baja 1000 for trucks, motorcycles, UTVs and other vehicles covered 1,311 miles from La Paz, near the southern end of Gulf of California, to Ensenada on the Pacific Ocean only 70 miles south of the United States border. It goes from sea level to an elevation of 4,000 feet and the rules require that the route be covered in less than 50 hours.
Janesky has competed in the Baja 1000 nine times since 2015. He’s ridden dirt bikes and driven side-by-sides, and he’s experienced the highs and lows of the competition, and faced the challenges of mid-race breakdowns and ornery competitors.
Janesky Won In His First Attempt
Janesky won in a dirt bike class in his first attempt, teamed with his son Tanner. RIDE-CT wrote about it at the time and they captured their effort in a polished 87-minute YouTube video titled “Into the Dust” that has received 4.8 million views. There have been three sequel videos.
In 2018, Janesky became the oldest man to complete Baja 100 solo on a motorcycle.
Less than three weeks ago, at age 59, he won again in the Pro UTV NA class. The class is for production vehicles with naturally aspirated engines. Janesky’s drove a 1,000cc Honda Talon and he was backed by a team that included two relief drivers. “You just have to do everything you possibly can to finish. It is not easy,” he said earlier this week.
For such an adrenaline-fueled activity as off-road racing, Janesky sounded remarkably calm over the phone in talking about his effort and his accomplishment. A field of more than 325 participants took part in the Baja 1000; their raucous vehicles interrupting the quiet of the Sonoran Desert.
“It’s still sinking in. To win a Baja 1000 point-to-point race is very special,” said Janesky, who completed the course in 36 hours averaging 36.4 miles per hour. His speed would have been higher were it not for down time needed for repairs.
Janesky Drove Three Stages
For this year’s Baja 1000, Janesky drove the opening, middle and closing segments. The race started at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 16 and finished in the dark at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 17. Early-on, at the 30-mile point, he passed then-leader Joe Bolton. “We held the lead for a few hundred miles and we had a flat tire. He got by us,” said Janesky.
Bolton maintained the lead until Janesky got back in the driver’s seat for his middle segment. The UTV was five miles in the rear but went ahead again when Bolton’s vehicle suffered suspension damage that required attention. That enabled Janesky to get 50 miles ahead – until the driver who took over for the fourth segment damaged the right rear sway bar and wheel bearings and lost the brakes thanks to the terrain.
His support team managed to stop the UTV by having four guys grab it and restrain it. “We spent 30 minutes fixing that,” he said. Everything, that is, except the brakes. A while after that, the UTU got another flat.
The sprint to the finish proved memorable for Janesky, who owns Connecticut Basement Systems. The location tracker on Bolton’s rig had failed, so the team had no idea exactly where he was. When Janesky got back behind the wheel for his last turn, “we were only about 15 minutes ahead. I didn’t think he could catch me, but about 40 miles out from the finish, in the dark, in the technical hills, lights appeared behind us. We wondered if it was him. Sure enough, it was him.”
Bolton wasn’t driving; one of his relief drivers was. “He was coming in hot. He rammed us to get us to pull over. It was a cheap shot and it didn’t work out the way he had hoped.” About five miles down the road, the villain was forced to pull over because of suspension damage. “It was kind of instant justice,” Janesky said.
A Breakdown Near The Finish
But it wasn’t clear sailing the remainder of the way as the Janesky’s UTV had also been impacted by his competitor’s aggressiveness. While coming through a switchback about 20 miles from the end, the rear axle on Janeksy’s UTV snapped. A tire came off and rolled into the darkness. His chase truck was 60 miles away, but a relief driver was closer with a spare axle and the fix was made – once the wheel was found.
The UTV had been sidelined for one hour and 45 minutes, leaving Janesky unsure of his team’s status despite having not seen Bolton come by. “We brought it into the finish. We had no idea if we won,” Janesky said. “We thought we won but how could this be possible?”
As it turned out, Janesky’s team had won the class, while Bolton’s team finished eight minutes behind. Janesky calls the win “a rewarding experience” and notes that the Baja 1000 is a brutal test. It requires planning, teamwork, an ability to anticipate problems, navigation skills, and the fortitude necessary to fight fatique and cold.
“I’m fortunate to be able to keep racing,” he said. And, yes, he will probably do it again next year.
(This column originally appeared in the “Republican-American” newspaper on Nov. 25, 2023.)
(Photos courtesy of Larry Janesky)