Dust to Glory

You might call it the best-known motorsports event you've never seen.  For sheer drama the Baja 1000 rivals the Indy 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco and the 24 hours of Le Mans. Yet, because the Baja 1000 trundles the length of the peninsula of Baja California, it is impossible to view as a spectator and incredibly difficult to cover even with a huge team of cameramen, off-road vehicles and helicopters.  The challenging terrain, coupled with the fact that the Baja 1000 is the longest point-to-point race in the world, doesn't just test the mettle of the competitors; it tests the mettle of those who would choose to cover it as well.

Happily, a second-generation documentarian, Dana Brown, has taken on the challenge in a new IFC Films title "Dust to Glory."  The son of Bruce Brown, who created the evergreen surfing documentary "The Endless Summer" and the Oscar-nominated motorcycle pic "On Any Sunday," the younger Brown was seemingly born to make this film.  At 10 he started making 8mm movies, using the neighborhood kids and his siblings as cast and crew, following his dad's lead by creating a documentary on bicycle racing.

As Brown was coming of age, the Baja 1000 was rising to legendary status. With roots that stretch back to motorcycle runs of the early 1960's, Ed Pearlman and NORRA created the original Mexican 1000 event in 1967. Soon after Bruce Brown and "ABC's Wide World of Sports" plunked it in front of the American public for the first time.  Such noted figures as Parnelli Jones, James Garner, Bill Stroppe and Malcolm Smith were all part of the early fabric of the race, which had a unique feel because anybody could drive in it.

Through the years the grueling race has kept its down-home, dual-nationality demeanor, while at the same time proving elusive to capture on film.  That is, until Dana Brown decided to employ a crew of about 70 action film production experts who were asked to do things a little differently. In many cases, they were given only GPS coordinates to their locations and then were asked to shoot for as long as 35 hours continuously. Armed with a Mad Max-like battle plan crafted by DP Kevin Ward, Producers Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy and Brown, the camera ops team set out to cover the race ubiquitously, deploying more than 50 cameras. 

After the gargantuan task of shooting footage during the 2003 race, which took place in November of that year, Brown was confronted with the equally gargantuan task of taking the enormous amount of footage he's gathered into a riveting 90-minute film.  Now he has accomplished that task, and "Dust to Glory" is set to open in April in theaters across the country.

The story is multi-layered.  Certainly the racers lend their own, idiosyncratic presences to the documentary, but equally important to the texture of the story are the Baja Californians themselves and the wild, rugged country they call home.

Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad is a fan of off-road racing, but he admits he's never really seen an off-road race.