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1977-2007 Anniversary Racing - Racing Through The Years

Posted in Features on November 1, 2007
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Photographers: The 4-Wheel & Off-Road Archives
We like to get up close and personal with our race coverage, much to the chagrin of our spouses and the delight of our dry cleaners and camera repair shops.

The term "off-road racing" seems like a contradiction. A lot of folks still believe driving off road is about "going as slow as you can and only as fast as you need to." Yet there's something almost hard-wired in the human psyche that pushes us to go fast, especially if there's a guy nearby who thinks he can walk/run/bicycle/ride a horse/drive/fly/you-name-it faster than we can.

Off-road racing is no different. This magazine has been around to document various forms of motorsports for 30 years, but off-pavement racing has been around far longer than that. November, in fact, will mark the running of the 40th Baja 1000 desert race. But really, motor racing predated what we now know as roads, so go back far enough in the history of the motor vehicle and all racing was "off-road."

Don't worry; this retrospective won't go back that far. But we'll start with the very first monthly issue and our never-ending fascination with hauling ass in the desert.

March 1978: In our very first monthly issue, staffer Jim Brightly rode along with Walker Evans as he raced the Baja 1000, setting a precedent that just about every staffer on this magazine has followed in one way or another. The technology aboard Evans' F-100 impressed Brightly: "With $25,000 invested in the race truck, Walker Evans owns one of the most expensive '72 F-100s in existence."


May 1979: Performance pioneer Mickey Thompson was an avid off-road racer. He formed SCORE in 1973, the sanctioning body that started short-course off-road racing in stadiums and eventually took over the Baja 1000, and he appeared many times in our racing coverage. This sad scene took place during the '79 Parker 400: "When his motor went sour, Mickey Thompson lost his spot in the victory circle. All he could do was stare in disbelief and hope that his crew could solve the problem."

March 1980: The most extensive desert race coverage in our history filled some 12 pages when just about the entire staff covered the '79 Baja 1000. Editor Craig Caldwell's infamous ride-along, in which he barfed (among other things) in his helmet, is probably the best race story this magazine has produced, but a close second is Technical Editor Jay Sadler's tale of building a Baja racer out of-get this-his "grocery getter" Dodge Challenger. Sadler made it 7 miles before a broken wheel put him out of the race.






March 1987: Despite the awesomeness of this cover image, martial artist/action star Chuck Norris didn't drive in the '86 Baja race. Still, Steve Campbell and I had a blast chasing Jim Connor, Norris's brother Aaron, and the rest of Connor's Nissan race team down the peninsula.










August 1989: Ivan Stewart earned his "Ironman" nickname by tackling endless desert races driving solo. He became somewhat controversial when his Toyota racing "truck" evolved into a Class 1 single-seat buggy with trucklike body panels, but it proved to be a potent competitor. Here he's on his way to an overall win at the '89 Mint 400.



March 1994: Veteran racer Rod Hall (the only person to have raced every Baja 1000 since its inception in 1967) brought "a couple of surprises to Baja" for the '93 race: Hummers. He and his son, Chad, ran H1s in the Stock Full class and finished First and Second. To this day, the Halls are still racing-and winning-in Hummers.




May 1994: Desert race technology took a big leap with the introduction of the Trophy Trucks at the '94 Parker 400. With their long-travel (20-some inches) suspensions and gobs of power, the high-tech/big-buck Trophy Trucks took off-road racing to a new level-one that couldn't be any further away from the short-travel, stiffly suspended, nearly stock vehicles that started desert racing decades earlier.



February 1980: "You desert rats won't like hearing this, but closed-course off-road racing is growing fast." With those words, Randy Black summed up the popularity of desert racing's kissing cousin, the short-course race. Held in venues as diverse as the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Pontiac Silverdome, and a brushy track in Wisconsin's farmlands, short-course racing brought the desert's speed, jumps, and carnage to cities all over America. Below, Doyce Henderson negotiates the U.S. Off-Road Grand Prix in Fresno, California, in his winged Ramcharger.

February 1999: "Insane!" was the title of Trent McGee's coverage of the Brush Run 101 in Crandon, Wisconsin (above). Probably the most famous of the short-course races, the Brush Run got its start several years before Mickey Thompson started closed-course racing in southern California. The appeal is undeniable: "You haven't lived until you've seen a gaggle of high-tech race trucks heading into the nasty 90-degree first turn four and five across at speeds topping 100 mph with tires and fiberglass flying everywhere," wrote McGee.

January 1998 and January 2001: The SODA (and later CORR) Midwestern short-course race series were the subjects of several posters in the magazine. Here you see Scott Douglas's SODA Class 4 championship Ford in action, and Rob MacCachren's CORR Pro 4 championship truck naked.

PhotosView Slideshow

August 1995: If short-course racing distilled the desert's action to smaller venues, tough trucks reduced the formula even more to nothing but air time and breakage. In a story called "YeeeeeHaaaww! Tough Trucks Mean Cheap Racing," Editor David Freiburger described the competition this way: "The premise is simple...You show up with your truck, register for about $30, then put your foot in it until either you see God or something breaks."


January 1998: Jamborees, 4xFun Fests, U.S. Truck Fests, and other events we sponsored, staged, or supported were good sources of tough truck mayhem. Staffer Tori Tellem called the action at Petersen's first U.S. Truck Fest this way: "Psycho-II got way jiggy wid it on day one, hour two of the Truck Fest. He went high, came down and compressed the front suspension until sheetmetal hit dirt, then decided that wasn't dramatic enough, and fell heels over head to the finish line, bending the Bronc into a grin."

July 1996: Sand drags were another form of competition that was covered more often in our early years than later. But Editor Freiburger took a fresh look at the sport when he went to the 25th annual Las Vegas Jeep Club Jamboree in "Sand Blasting": "We hadn't seen this form of derbying in a while, and it was way neat."




June 1980: We covered this wet-and-wild form of competition just a couple of times over the years, but it was always interesting to watch. The truly fast machines are the boat/truck hybrids, with their hull-like bodies and tall, skinny mud tires. But as we saw at this event in Naples, Florida, Jeeps have their place in the swamp too.

PhotosView Slideshow

January 1992: Like swamp buggy racing, ice racing was a sport we covered only a couple of times, probably because our thin Southern California blood couldn't stand much time on a frozen lake. Staffer Ed Fortson braved the cold in Georgetown, Colorado, to bring back this report, which was filled with references to "studs" and "cheaters." He was talking tires, of course.


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