The 2015 General Tire NORRA Mexican 1000
The Happiest Race on Earth
It’s called the “Happiest Race on Earth”, and for almost all, it was! This year’s 6th annual National Off Road Racing Association’s (NORRA) Mexican 1000 drew a field of 101 racers and saw 82 finishers that motored under the orange arches in San Jose del Cabo, with the sounds of cheering crowds, Mexican music, and off-road race cars and motorcycles. Eighty-six cars in 21 Vintage and Evolution classes started the race in Ensenada, with 70 that completed the 4-day race course of 1,334 miles, while 17 motorcycles and one three-wheeled vehicle was whittled to 12 in Moto, UTV, and ATV Classes that crossed the finish line at the southernmost tip of the Baja peninsula. Moto competitors endured a five-day course of 1,285 miles, beginning a day preceding the cars classes and, thereby, having a safer ride. When the rigorous challenge event with transit and “special” off-road racing miles posted an 81 percent finishing rate, with no serious injuries, organizer Mike Pearlman quipped, “It’s still the happiest race on earth, and it gets smoother and easier every year. It was a happy ending”!
The Mexican 1000 was brought back to life six years ago as a way to honor the legends of the sport and the vehicles they drove in the first formal race along the majestic Baja peninsula; the Mexican 1000 began in 1967. Among the 13 Vintage Classes, the hotly-contested and crowd-pleasing short-wheelbase 4x4-pre 1978 class drew nine Bronco contenders, with the legendary Rod Hall driving the 1969 Ford Bronco that he rode to victory in 1969. Hall, now 78, attracted widespread attention with his Off Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Ford Bronco Project. He finished in Second Place, bested by Boyd Jaynes in a modified Bronco, who finished 15 minutes ahead of Hall. Hall, who has now competed in 48 of the Mexican and Baja off-road races, shared driving duties with is granddaughter Shelby Hall. The 27-year-old third-generation Hall racer went over the finish line navigating for her grandfather.
“I saw the Bronco less about winning and more about creating an image,” said Hall at the finish. “ I didn’t think we should have won, so getting an honest, hard-earned Second Place is a good story, and it was great to see my granddaughter driving and then sitting next to me and navigating for the last stages. I love her smiles and enthusiasm for what we do!”
New for 2015 was the addition of a stand-alone Pro Unlimited Class. Off Road champion Robby Gordon initiated the class this year, along with its winner-take-all $50,000 purse, awarded to the class winner. Gordon drove his second-generation HST “Gordini” to victory, while his father Bob Gordon’s team placed second in the class motoring a Vintage Open Buggy Chenowth two-seater. The champion’s new off-road Gordini SUV is being prepped for the 2016 Dakar. Gordon’s Formula Off Road is producing a one-hour television special on the Mexican 1000 and the Pro Unlimited Class to air nationally on NBC Sports on June 6th.
“NORRA and Mike Pearlman did a great job,” enthused the world-renowned Gordon. “It was a really fun rally, with some great times with good friends.”
Walker “The Legend” Evans was tapped as this year’s Grand Marshall, and he drove an Aluminum Craft Grand to a third-place finish in the Pro Unlimited Class. Evans’ long and successful off-road career began with the NORRA Baja 500 in 1969, when he piloted a Rambler sedan for actor James Garner’s American Motors team. Garner was recognized for his impact on off-road racing with a special tribute and video screening at the driver’s meeting the evening before the start of this year’s event. Garners’ first off-road race was in a Porsche 356-powered Meyers Manx fiberglass dune buggy in the 1968 Stardust 7-11 race in Las Vegas.
Also new this year was the dovetailing of the first-annual 2015 Cortez Rally, a dream come true for its pair of organizers, Dakar veterans Darren Skilton and Scott Whitney. The three-day off-road event attracted 18 competitors (14 bikes and 4 four-wheeled vehicles) for a course that challenged the racers in the Sonoran desert of Mexico, with a start in Mexicali and a finish in Ensenada, one day before Moto start for the Mexican 1000. Skilton and Whitney worked with NORRA to combine the two events for interested racers with a back-to-back “Cortez Challenge”.
Dakar Rally veteran Quinn Cody rode his KTM 450XC to the Modern Open and overall Cortez Rally victory edging out fellow KTM rider Scott Bright by 18 minutes, 53 seconds. Third in class and overall was the Honda CRF 450X of Mike Johnson. The only rally of this type in North America, racers had to use true, Dakar-style “HP Navigation” (from the French phrase “Hors Piste”), following existing trails, but after arriving in the sand dune areas, the only way to get through and to the finish was via compass and expert Whitney’s Roadbooks.
Racers Scott Bright and Mike Johnson went on to complete the “Cortez Challenge”, competing for eight long days, Johnson reached the tip of Baja in San Jose del Cabo and took home both the Mexican 1000 overall motorcycle victory and the first Cortez Challenge win.