San Jose del Cabo–the dry wash that leads into this beach city at the southernmost tip of Baja California Sur was the final off-road push for the 4 x 4 racers of the 6th Annual National Off Road Racing Association Mexican 1000.
The field of 86 cars that started in 21 Vintage and Evolution Classes saw 70 vehicles take the finish, while 12 bikes (including one 3-wheeler) in Moto, UTV and ATV Classes passed under the orange arches after the four-day-long rally traveled over a course of 1,334 miles, beginning in Ensenada. Moto competitors endured a 5-day course of 1,285 miles, beginning a day preceding the cars classes and, thereby, have safer riding.
When the rigorous challenge event with transit and “special” off-road racing miles posted an 81 percent finishing rate, with no serious injuries and an elated crowd of finishers and enthusiasts, organizer Mike Pearlman quipped: “It’s still the happiest race on earth, and it gets smoother and easier every year.”
The Mexican 1000 was initiated 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, that began in 1967. Among the 13 Vintage Classes, the hotly-contested and crowd-pleasing short-wheelbase 4×4 pre-1978 class drew nine Bronco contenders, with the legendary Rod Hall driving the ’69 Ford Bronco that he rode to victory in 1969.
Hall, now 78 and the most successful off-road racer in the country, attracted widespread attention in his ORMHOF Bronco. He finished in second place, bested by Boyd Jaynes in a modified Bronco, who finished 15 minutes ahead of Hall. Hall 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.
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 2-seater Chenowth. 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 the NBC Sports Network on June 6th.
Walker “The Legend” Evans was tapped as this year’s Grand Marshall and 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 Motor Team.
Speaking of Garner, the actor and racer was recognized for his impact on off-road racing with a special tribute and video screening at the drivers’ meeting. This took place the evening before the start of this year’s event. Viewers were reminded of those early days, and reminisced about Garner’s first off-road race: a Porsche 356-powered Meyers Manx fiberglass dune buggy, which he piloted amidst 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 Ensanada, 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,” meaning “off track”), 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.
The NORRA Mexican 1000 is one of those interesting events that pleases the crowds and participants of today, yet still gives an eye toward the past and the legends who came before. How fortunate we are that some of those legends are still alive today, like Hall and Evans–and are still strapping in and giving it their all on the Baja sand!
Photography by FOTOSOL