Dust to Glory is an amazing odyssey through the deserts of Baja California from Ensenada to La Paz. It’s a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat documentary that puts the viewer smack in the middle of the Baja 1000, the longest non-stop off-road race, and quite possibly the most difficult and most dangerous race for driver and spectator alike. Racers have to deal with pedestrians crossing the vehicle’s pathway, silt beds that swallow the unfortunate, and booby traps set by local residents. People line the tracks as the racers go by, and there is no barrier between them and the vehicles. If I were a spectator, I would want to be up on a rooftop, not lining the streets or crossing the roads. This race with its complete disregard for safety would never be allowed to run in America.
Director Dana Brown is the son of Bruce Brown, director of the legendary surf documentary The Endless Summer. He followed in his father’s footsteps and created the acclaimed surf documentary Step Into Liquid. He continues that tradition with Dust to Glory. Bruce worked with ABC’s Wide World of Sports when the race was first run in 1967. In 2003 Dana and his team covered the Baja 1000, start to finish, with more than 50 cameras in formats such as 35mm, 16mm, Hi-Definition video and Mini-DV. Camera crews were on the ground and in the air, racing alongside and embedded in vehicles. Some drivers even wore helmet cams to provide an inside view of the race.
The word “race” is a misnomer because it makes it sound like a singular event, but the Baja 1000 is an amalgamation of races taking place simultaneously. Numerous classes of cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs, leave the starting line in different stages, but they don’t stay separate for long. Each class has a winner and an over-all race winner is crowned for the vehicle with the best completion time.
The film combines the race footage with interviews that feature many compelling dramas. There’s father and son team JN & and Jimmy Roberts. JN won the first Baja race back in 1967 and hadn’t been back in 30 years. There’s also the battle between Andy Grider and his former Honda factory teammates. Andy had been cut shortly before the race and has something to prove to them and himself. One of the most interesting stories is motorcycle racer and the film’s co-producer Mike “Mouse” McCoy. Usually two-man teams, alternating approximately every 250 miles, drive the vehicles over the course of nearly 24 hours. McCoy took the bold, others would say insane, step of driving the entire race solo because no one had before.
While some racers strive to win the contest, the majority of the participants are just looking to finish. It’s man and their machines versus the terrain. Like marathon runners, these drivers are trying to prove to themselves and the world that they can surpass their limitations and accomplish their dreams. Hopefully, that drive and determination can be passed onto the viewer. Dust to Glory is a brilliant testament to the human spirit.