Everywhere one looked, the cars, trucks and motorcycles that were to compete in the 2015 General Tires/NORRA Mexican 1000 seemed to have been dropped into Ensenada from some kind of wonderful time warp. But it was real.
And it was real fun to be not only be around these historic, but still competitive race vehicles, but also the guys who drove them. Names such as Walker Evans, Rod Hall, Bob Gordon, Mark Stahl, Curt LeDuc, Bud Feldcamp, Larry Ragland and 2015 NORRA Grand Marshall Walker Evans are Baja legend and they were here to compete again, and most of them were in the cars/trucks that they raced “back then” or in Stahl’s case, were racing in vehicles that were historic, but that others originally drove.
The weekend’s festivities began Friday April 24, 2105 at the Horsepower Ranch, where the vehicles were displayed and bench racing/bull sessions lasted long into the night. Early the next day, the motorcycles blasted off the line and headed for the far away finish. Ranging from 1970’s era Triumph’s and Husky’s, a new KTM rally bike and incredibly a Honda 3-wheeler, the bikers looked like a hearty bunch.
The cars and truck were flagged off the line promptly at 7am Sunday morning. As can be expected, it was the vintage classes that made up the majority of the contestants. The largest class may well have been the Bronco class with 9 nearly style Bronco’s taking part. They were led out onto the course by the perhaps the most iconic Baja racing vehicle ever, the Parnelli Jones driven Stroppe “Big Oly” Bronco. Our own Boyd Jaynes competed in his Bronco and luminaries such as Rod Hall was back in the drivers seat of the Bronco that he raced way back in the day.
The General Tires/NORRA Mexican 1000 is a rally, not a full out race, so the cars/trucks first transited to Santo Tomas, where the first special speed section began. The first days total mileage is 433.5 miles, with 256 of those being “racing” miles, where the rest is made up of transit miles getting to and from the special speed sections. The group finished the first days racing in Bahia De Los Angeles, where the party really began.
In this coverage, we’re dong things a bit differently. Rather than just telling about the rally, we’re going to let those who were in it tell a little about their time in the saddle. Some won, while some broke. Just like in every Baja race ever, but their stories will live on, just as the Mexican 1000 has.
Bud Feldcamp has been racing in Baja since there has been racing in Baja and won with teammate Malcolm Smith. His observations of his NORRA ride is that while things may have changed in the cities of Mexico, “once you’re out of them the roads and trails of the surrounding desert hasn’t changed at all. They’re still rough and desolate.” “I really enjoy the NORRA rally. They way they space us out at the start, it makes it so there’s very little dust to contend with. I’ve never liked going fast when I can’t see.”
Feldcamp went on to say that once they found a float bowl gremlin, his car ran great. That car being the BelRay Bullet. Like many of the vehicles that ran at NORRA, it belongs in a museum.
Stahl is a multi-time Baja overall winner, multiple NORRA class winner and the proud owner of the Ivan Stewart/BFGoodrich/Fillmore 1978 Ford F100. “We had a great run down the Baja peninsula for this year's NORRA Mexican 1000. We left the starting line first in our class and the truck was running great. About 100 miles into the first leg we started to question our GPS. We got off course a few times and ended up losing about 20 minutes to our competition. Luckily, we found someone with the correct GPS chip and were soon back on track.”
“To prevent the first day’s problems, NORRA loaded everyone’s GPS course route. Unfortunately, when we left the starting line our GPS decided not to work at all. Luckily, the route was one I had travelled many times. We still had over 250 miles of racing to go for the day, so we took a GPS out of our chase truck to finish the day. The rest of the day went great and we pulled into Loreto with the lead in our class.”
“Day three took us from Loreto to La Paz, over the mountains back to the Pacific coast of Baja. We pushed on with another stage win and were onto the last stage of the day to La Paz. About 40 miles from the finish we came up to some major silt and 3 or 4 trucks and buggies were stuck in it. It was a mess. We thought our class competitor John Ehmke made it through cleanly, but we came around a corner to see him stuck. After 30 minutes of digging we got him going, but we were now stuck. Boyd Jaynes in his 4WD Bronco pulled us out and Mark Hurber in his 4WD Suburban said he would get us through. Off we went with no problems, other than not being able to see anything.”
Boyd Jaynes/Bryan Godfrey
Day one proved to be a rough one for Boyd Jaynes, co-driver Bryan Godfrey and the #26 Fox Bronco, perhaps better known as the Caballo del Diablo, as the main shaft in the C4 transmission broke. The pair was lucky to finish the first stage in Bajia de Los Angeles before going in search of repair. Luckily, the parts to repair the transmission were found, and the Bronco was up and ready for Day 2. There were a few handling issues but they continued on at a good enough pace to take another stage win for the day. After leaving Loreto, the Bronco and its competitors entered some rough off-road sections, and some silt beds had trapped a number of vehicles. It didn’t make much of a difference since everyone else was stuck too.
Day 4 would bring a little more trouble for the Bronco. A leaf spring center pin broke and allowed the rear end to move around a little bit, forcing the Bronco to crabwalk the rest of the leg. Unfortunately, this wasn’t during a straightaway section, but while traversing the cliffs that overhang the sea. The Caballo Del Diablo crew would be able to fix the leaf spring during a scheduled fuel stop in time to start the final stage and finish the race in San Jose del Cabo, where Jaynes and Godfrey would finish in first place of their class.
“Take a 45-degree right and drive along the power lines,” I instructed Rod Hall, the winning-est racer of the Baja 1000 and hundreds of off-road races. Just when the course notes stopped matching the track, our GPS malfunctioned. Hall had trained me for off-road racing in 1995 but it had been two decades since I had been back in the “right seat”—and now we were lost.
“Hall skillfully swung the reins of the restored ’69 Bronco that he drove to an overall victory in the 1969 Mexican 1000 and powered through a sand wash. It was a throwback memory of training with—and now riding again with- the legendary and successful racer who calls himself “the tortoise”, who went on to drive his team to a second-place finish in his 48th run of the Baja 1000.
Day Two found me in the right seat next to “the hare” and navigating for the renowned Robby Gordon in his inaugural Mexican 1000. It was hair-raising as Gordon hit a top speed of 143 mph, with an average speed of 70.5mph. Gordon used the event to test his HST “Gordini”, built for the upcoming 2016 Dakar run, and took home the winner-take-all purse of $50,000 in the new Pro Unlimited Class.
Day Four provided a short stint navigating for third-generation off-roader, Shelby Hall. The 27-year-old racer handled the Bronco with vigor and showed the years of training with her grandfather, Rod Hall. In a fitting end to their shared driving duties, Rod and Shelby crossed the finish line together with Shelby navigating the final stages.
Randy “Rapido” Ludwig
“Since we had such a great time at the NORRA event last year, the same team jumped at the opportunity to co-drive and chase for my yellow 1967 Ford Bronco that we call “The Bukineer,” My friends Ron Malekow, Randy Mark, Johnny Richards and I would trade off seat time as we made our way down the Baja peninsula. Our chase support team consisted of Mark Womack, and Tom Kaye.”
“We started Day 1 in the 8 slot and my Bronco’s 425hp 347 stroker ran flawlessly. The Bukineer ate up the sweeping open dirt roads on the day’s 1st Special section and the 2nd Special led us through some spectacular scenic coastal routes to valleys across the peninsula to the Sea of Cortez. By the end of our day we were 40th OA and 1st place in our class. The start of Day 2’s 426 miles from BoLA to Loreto had some rocky hills, and one of those rocks slit open our rear tire. It would be the first of two flats within 20 miles. Day 2’s 2nd Special had some fast roads leading to El Arco, where the Mag 7 Pit Team was set up. Three miles in we got the second flat and then about 25 miles later a front wheel bearing exploded, taking out the hub and spindle. We were able to limp into El Arco, but the damage was too extensive. Unfortunately, the racing part of our adventure was over.”
“On the way home, we stopped in Guerrero Negro to get a room for the night. As Baja destiny would have it, we ran into the banged-up-but-not-out #35 Big Oly Tribute Bronco who were having no luck finding a master cylinder. To keep them in the hunt, we gladly donated ours to their cause. We know they’d have done the same for us.”
All Roads Lead To Cabo
San Jose Del Cabo is where the party is and the NORRA teams couldn’t wait to get there. The backdrop for the finish line was the historic downtown section of San Jose Del Cabo. Lined with shops and cantinas, the party got started early. In Baja, off-road racing is a big deal and it isn’t often the racers and vehicles make it this far south.
Stage 5 of the NORRA Rally went from Los Barrilles to San Jose Del Cabo and it was the bikes that came blasting in first. Mike Johnson would take the overall NORRA win on a Honda CRF450X in the Modern Open class. It wouldn’t be long before Robby Gordon’s bright orange Gordini would come to a screeching halt at the finish. Gordon is considered one of the biggest celebrities in these parts, so of course the minute he stepped out of his race vehicle, fans mobbed around him for autographs. Gordon won the Pro-Unlimited class. Followed by Gordon was Walker Evans driving a modern day class 1.
Robby Gordon’s dad, Bob Gordon kept things old school with a first place finish in a Chenowth 2-seater. One by one, race vehicles would finish the rally, with drivers taking a shot of tequila or celebrating with a cold beer.
At nightfall, NORRA threw a huge beachside party at a private resort complete with all the fixings. Finishing the Rally was an accomplishment for many as table talk all around was war stories from the week. Awards were given out to the top finishers and the night was capped off with a spectacular fireworks show that had guests from adjacent resorts asking questions about the rally. Many of the racers vowed to return next year to race the NORRA Rally, one of the most historic races on the Baja Pennisula.