Baja is a whimsical, magical place that lures adventuresome off-roaders to fall in love with its people, culture and breathtaking landscapes. Baja is not for the weary or faint-of-heart; it is for the venturesome people that take risks, understand dangers and love the desert. Racers flock to Baja to endure its compassion and bitterness, man and machine vs. the desert. Baja often wins the battle and as was the case with this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 with only 72% of the field making the full 1,347 miles from Ensenada to San Jose Del Cabo.
2016 marks my ninth year covering races in Mexico’s Baja peninsula, and this was my first NORRA Mexican 1000 since the race was reintroduced six years ago. If you ever get an inclination to race in Mexico, the NORRA Mexican 1000 would be my first suggestion to get your feet wet in racing in Baja. It is a different animal south of the border, but there is a reason why the Mexican 1000 has been dubbed “The Happiest Race On Earth”.
Cars park at contingency as they wait to be called by class for tech inspection.
Although the roots for both races are entwined in NORRA’s history, the Mexican 1000 is a four day rally race zigzagging across Baja’s grueling desert, unlike SCORE’s Baja 1000 continuous 44hr race. The Mexican 1000 has transit stages, specials (race stages), tent city (bivouac), food, fun and lots of wrenching to make the start of the race the next day.
By no means is it an easy race, but it is relaxed, and everyone helps where they can when they can so as many people can make it to the finish line as possible. Case in point: Robert Acer rolled his Evolution class pre-runner on day 2 of the race. He was leading the field. Two vehicles behind him was the legendary Larry Ragland in his Evolution class pre-runner and he was nice enough to stop and roll Acer back on his wheels. “This was our first NORRA race ever, we had heard about how different it was from other races in Mexico, and Larry Ragland proved everything to be true. Thank you Larry for the assistance. NORRA has put the heart and soul back into racing in Baja.” Said Acer about his incident on course.
Steve Ollgies races through Special Stage 3 from Chapala to El Parador in the ZORRO F-100.
Vintage is Alive in NORRA
With NORRA, the classes are not your typical Class 1, Class 8 or Trophy Truck as in other desert racing. NORRA loves its heritage and encourages vintage cars to come out of retirement and endure their legacy in Baja once again. Jim Riley rebuilt the 1957 Chevy dubbed the Rippin Rooster. Boyd Jaynes and Brian Godfrey brought back to life the Caballo Del Diablo, their 1968 Ford Bronco, that took first place in Pioneer 4x4 class beating Off-Road Hall of Fame member Rod Hall by 29 minutes. John Gable, with co-driver Curt LeDuc took first in Vintage Open Trucks.
The Mexican 1000 truly is the Happiest Race on Earth for the sheer fact that at the finish line of each day there is a party that breaks out. This year in Bay of Los Angeles, Loreto and San Jose Del Cabo dinner awaited with a frosty cold beverage for drivers and crew. Yes, teams had work to do on vehicles nightly, and some worked into the wee hours of the morning fixing axles, transmissions or even doing full engine swaps to get ready for the start of the next day. But the camaraderie for this race is unparalleled to others of its nature. Tall tales were told of adventures of the day, while even taller tales were anticipated for the next days racing.
Lets not forget about the awards ceremony that was set on the beach at the Grand Mayan Resort at sunset. As racers and teams gathered around a sea of white tablecloths to enjoy the delights offered for dinner and drinks, the emcee, Cameron Steele, did a Roast of sorts on racers over the years that have adventured to the Mexican 1000.
Libations were drank and awards were handed out to first second and third of each class. Trophies are the coveted Baja peninsula trophy to signify that not only did you beat Baja at its game, but your concord 1,347 ahead of your class finishers.
Poolside on the beach at the Grand Mayan Resort is where finishers were made legends for 2016.
This year winners of each Era class received a trophy that commemorated the greats that have raced NORRA. Pioneer Era: Steve McQueen with Baja Boot; Legend Era: Frank Vessels with BFG Blazer; Challenger Era: Manny Esquerra with Motorcraft Ranger; Vintage Era: Corky McMillin with Macadu; Historic Era: Nye Frank with the mid engine 4WD buggy; Evolution Era: Larry Plank with his ProTruck; Moto Overall: Danny Hamel on his Kawasaki.
The grand finale: fireworks galore on the beach in epic proportion that is the perfect ending to four days traversing the peninsula. We may be tired from our adventure but can appreciate the race, its promoters and staff that makes it awesome. Racing the NORRA Mexican 1000 truly does embed the smile that Baja brings with memories that last a lifetime. This is what racing in Baja is all about.
With fire suits mimicking a mariachi band, Boyd Jaynes and Brian Godfrey entertained and enveloped all things NORRA.
Terrible Herbst team brought back the LandShark, which later found its demise engulfed in flames on Day 3.
From left to right: Larry Ragland, Robert Acer, and George Peters at Contingency.
The winners of each Era for 2016 held trophies high as the crowd congratulated them on their wins.