The plane tickets are booked, hotel reservations are finalized and your significant other just finished buying the last of the numerous “must haves” before you depart for your long-awaited beach vacation. For months you have saved, planned, organized and daydreamed about sitting on the beach while sipping your favorite ice-cold beverage.  For car guys, you leave your beloved toy(s) sitting alone in the garage, or even worse, in airport parking lots, and you temporarily leave your automotive passion behind.  I mean, what automotive fun could you possibly have during a beach vacation in Mexico?  Reading the latest copy of Autoweek is the closest you will come to burning rubber while sitting by the pool.  No track days, no F1 on early Sunday morning TV, no weekend wrenching sessions in the garage and certainly no spirited driving. Right?

Wrong. Enter Wide Open Excursions.

Wide Open Excursions, based in Irvine, California, has been providing adventure tours since 1997.  They offer one, three and seven-day tours out of Nevada, Baja North or Baja South.  The tours give you the rare chance to drive a high performance, authentic Baja 1000 race car.  Company founder and off-road racer Todd Clement, wanted to let the world in on what he experienced while racing in the legendary Baja 1000.

My first exposure to off-road racing was when my parents gathered up the family for the annual vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I would walk along the streets year after year and stop to admire a shiny, mysterious buggy that was parked along main street in downtown Cabo. I would look at my Dad and curiously ask why this race car looked so different from the ones I was accustomed to seeing at Indy or Pikes Peak. He said, “It looks different because it’s built for the desert”. Inevitably, my second question was “can I drive it?” Well, I finally fetched a yes to my childhood question.

My wife and I recently ventured south of the border, to Cabo San Lucas, for a week and I arranged a one-day Wide Open tour called “Baja South”. We arrived in the morning at the Wide Open offices and met our guides for the day, Andrea and David, and settled in for an introductory video. After the video, we loaded up and headed 20 minutes outside of town to Wide Open’s beach side Motorsport Ranch.

Grinning from ear to ear, I stepped out of the Suburban and was greeted by the sight of three mean-looking Baja race cars parked side by side with the dark blue Pacific Ocean in the backdrop. I was stunned at the machinery and scenery before me. Our lead guide, Andrea, passed out balaclava’s and helmets before he gave us the safety briefing. The “break it, you buy it” speech was effective and got me thinking about what kind of obstacles I could potentially encounter while I was flat out in fourth gear – cows, horses, ranchers and the occasional dirt biker. After selecting our car, we loaded up, snapped a few pictures and got belted into the car. My co-driver (aka the wife) was on camera, video and radio duty for the day. We hooked up our nifty air-ventilation systems into our helmets and plugged in the intercom. We were ready.

With first gear engaged, I eased off the clutch and we were off. Immediately, I could feel the Fox Racing suspension soaking up the terrain with ease. I went up and down the gearbox as we tore through sections of open road. The rear mounted, Subaru flat four provided great low-end torque, but I couldn’t resist winding it up to redline.

The first, lush green mountain climb was a riot. Flicking the car corner to corner and hearing that flat four singing its raspy melody was intoxicating. My wife shrieked and I smiled every time the car started to “drift” sideways. We were driving on roads that were made famous by the legendary Tecate SCORE Baja 1000. I was amazed by the thought that I was driving a real-deal, Baja 1000 racecar on the very same roads that have been attacked by Baja legends such as Parnelli Jones, Ivan Stewart and Larry Ragland. My appreciation for the untamed Baja Peninsula grew deeper and deeper after seeing each breathtaking view over the steering wheel. Our lunchtime destination was the sleepy, seaside village of Todos Santos, but this was one lunch I didn’t mind being late for.

We pulled into Todos Santos and discovered that we were in for another treat —a great lunch at the Eagles’ favorite accommodation, The Hotel California. Smoked Marlin quesadillas and lamb burgers with caramelized onions satisfied our adrenaline-induced appetite. After a brief tour of the hotel lobby and gift shop we began our return trip to Cabo.

Within minutes of departing Todos Santos we were back attacking the Baja. My wife was expertly calling out the hazards ahead as she listened to the lead car call them out. We hit a fast section of road and I pointed my right foot to the floor. Suddenly, she yells “Slow down, horses!” I locked em’ up for a good 20 feet before narrowly avoiding a herd of horses that decided to play chicken at the last minute. Car still in one piece?  Check. After catching out breath, we set off again traversing a few more switchbacks.

One of the coolest parts of the day was witnessing the close relationships that our guides had developed with local farmers and their families. The group was greeted by bright smiles and waves as our lead tour guide stopped to pass out candy to the local farmers children that had heard us coming from miles away.

In short, Wide Open offers one hell of an experience. You get to see and taste a side of the Baja that I never knew existed. Everything from the cars you get to drive, to the sights you get to see, is awesome. My wife and I walked away knowing that we had just experienced an amazing adventure and we immediately started planning our next trip. And the next time I check my bag at the airport, I no longer have to check my automotive passion along with it.

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