Five Reasons You Should Race (Or Chase) The NORRA Mexican 1000
The NORRA Mexican 1000 is an experience hiding inside an event. The five-day rally down the Baja, Mexico, peninsula pits competitors against the desert and the hills during the day, and ends in a party every night—assuming you aren’t off in a local mechanic shop, using a mix of Spanish, English and charades to get your ride ready for the next day’s route.
The Baja Peninsula is a magical place. Its ocean is a color that would shame a gemstone. Spiky plants defy the dry air, blooming delicate flowers twist into curlicues and many-armed towers.
During this event off in the distance, a dust cloud rises behind a well-sprung trophy truck. It’s a tiny speck, and then a whoosh of hot air and silt, and then it’s a tiny speck again, disappearing over the horizon. As the sun sets on the far side of the mountains, nearly 200 racers will have passed this spot, starting small and coming into focus as trucks, buggies, motorcyclists and then, back to dust. This is the 2018 NORRA Mexican 1000.
The SCORE Baja 1000 may be the most famous of the endurance races in Mexico, but the National Off Road Racing Association (NORRA) has its roots in the same 1967 event that grew into the Baja race. The revival of the Mexican 1000 in 2010 aimed to send racers over the same challenging terrain as the Baja 1000, but in a rally-style, with the mileage broken down into daily stages. The change was done to be friendlier to entry-level teams and more importantly, to the vintage and classic race vehicles that NORRA promotor Mike Pearlman wanted to see return to competition. The result is a race where you’ll see everything from an 80s-era off-road truck to a stock VW Beetle to a Harley-Davidson Sportster. Chase trucks and spectators just along for the ride fill the small beach towns from Ensenda down to San Lucas del Cabo and everyone goes home with a story to tell.
There are as many great tales from this year’s NORRA Mexican 1000 race as there are grains of sand along the Sea of Cortez, but here are our top five.
5. The Germans: Team Westafari Racing and the Rothsport Racing Porsches
We’re cheating already because this pick is four cars, but how are we supposed to choose between a team crossing the desert in a pair of Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia campers and a team braving the same landscape in a set of Porsche 911s? Both teams are return racers to Baja. GoWesty specializes in VW camper components so they were confident they could trundle through the water crossings and silt beds, although they made no claim to quickness. On the other side of the speedometer was the yellow Porsche driven by Cameron and Eric Healey and their teammate (and car builder) Jeff Gamroth in the red 964. Despite their low profile, the sports cars ripped through the terrain, catching serious air, and in a few cases for Gamroth, some body panels. They ended up taking First and Second place in the Vintage Stock Production class. GoWesty took First and Second in the RV class at the NORRA Mexican 1000, but then, they were the only entries.
4. Dos Locos: The Two Up Terror of Kevin and Michele Busch
Running Baja on a motorcycle is hard. That’s what makes Kevin and Michele Busch so astounding. Kevin races a Honda XR 650 R, and Michele goes the whole way standing behind him on the pegs. When complimented on their riding skills, Michele just laughs. “Kevin’s good,” she said. “I’m just a cape.” The pair has been riding together since they first met. “Michele wanted to come see all the places I was going on the bike, and I tried to teach her to ride, but she just liked hanging on,” said Kevin, Michele grinning in agreement. “Now we go like this all the time. I don’t even know how to ride solo anymore.”
3. Desert Dragster: “The Snake” Don Prudhomme
No, we didn’t get lost and end up at an NHRA race. Famous straight-liner Don “the Snake” Prudhomme was on the NORRA Mexican 1000 entry list running a Polaris RZR 1000 in the Stock Turbo UTV class. The Snake had unfinished business down in Baja. Way back in 1968 he attempted a run with fellow drag racer Tony Nancy. They blew the engine on their Porsche-powered buggy just a few miles out of town, which Prudhomme now says was a blessing in disguise. “We were so unprepared, we would have died out there. You wouldn’t be talking about me now.” Even in a modern machine prepped by racer P.J. Jones (son of Parnelli Jones), Prudhomme says the desert nearly did him in. On the second day he got rear-ended in the silt. On the fourth day he hit a cactus and then rear-ended someone else in the silt and had to drive the rest of the stage with the front wheel dragging on a broken control arm. “We entered the pits making smoke, and I had to back up to push the wheel forward, so we could open the door to get out,” he said. “Man, you should have seen that cactus we hit. I thought it was going to fall over but it just stopped us cold…whoomp…and that motherf**cker just looked down on me like, ‘What?’ Boy I tell you, this is some serious stuff.” Prudhomme drove all but one day during the race, and when asked if he’d be back to run again, his answers morphed from “Probably not,” on the third day to “Yeah, maybe,” on the fourth, and by the time he was crossing the finish line we heard, “Definitely going to do this again.” Looks like the quick-striking cobra is becoming a desert rattler!
2. American Motors in Mexico: Larry Trim’s 1969 SC/Rambler
Larry Trim’s red, white, and blue AMC is a tribute to the American Motors racing team cars built for the 1969 running of the Baja 500. Actor James Garner was involved with the build and promotion and a young Walker Evans made his debut off-road drive in one. Trim says he built his as close as possible to the one Evans drove. The ’69 Rambler is wrapped in weathered race lettering, and powered by an AMC 390 V8 backed by a 4-speed. The suspension mods are as-done in 1969. “They’ve learned a little about off-roading since then,” said Trim, but even with a few visits to local welders, he got the Rambler to the finish line. Walker Evans—who was racing his own vintage buggy during the week, can be proud.
1. Pick-Up Artist: Sol Saltzman and Anne Mourer’s Rod Hall Dodge
These stories weren’t in any particular order, but we won’t deny a special love for this last one, the 1976 Dodge stepside raced by Anne Mourer and Sol Saltzman. The yellow small block-powered Dodge is what the NORRA Mexican 1000 was created for, a real vintage race truck once piloted by off-road hero Rod Hall. Saltzman has had the pickup for five years, and has raced Baja on and in a variety of vehicles. 2018 was the first time Mourer was joining him in the navigator’s seat, and her enthusiasm was infectious. “I can’t wait for jumps, for the scenery, and to meet everyone!” she said when we first spoke with the couple at the start in Ensenada. Every time we saw them afterwards she was just as bubbly, even when she was telling us about their late night of repairs or a flat tire on course. At the finish line she looked ready to do it all again. That adrenaline rush of beating the odds is what keeps people coming back to the Mexican 1000.
Sure, there’s a party every night and the starting line against the ocean every morning, but during the day, it’s just you, your team, and your ride against the world. Every finish line is a triumph.