Scout Motors Returns To Baja For 2023 NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally

Scout Motors is a new venture by the Volkswagen Group to build EV SUVs and vans. These modern Scouts will be produced at a plant yet to be built near Columbia, South Carolina. The group is making sure to acknowledge Scout’s legacy and history in the new offerings. They have reached out to the faithful Scout following and listened to their responses. We have not seen the new design, but it promises to give a strong nod to the original looks of the Scout. Another way in which they are paying homage to the past is their return to racing in Baja.

Illustration courtesy of Scout Motors.

Scout Was The Unsung Hero

International Scout was active in desert off-road racing from the very start in the 1960s. Several privateers were successful and the factory eventually had its own race team. To be honest, though, the Ford Bronco took most of the attention away from all the other brands racing. Parnelli Jones raced a Bronco. Rod Hall raced a Bronco. Even Hollywood star James Garner raced a Bronco. Sherman Balch had success racing in the same class with Rod Hall and co-driver Jim Fricker who won 37 consecutive SCORE and HDRA races at one point. But when Rod wasn’t winning, Scout racer Sherman Balch was. When Rod came out on top, Balch was usually 2nd or Top 5. He won a lot of smaller races, short course races and earned championships despite Hall’s dominance in the biggest events.

Photo: NORRA Archives

Sherman Balch Carried The Torch

Balch was already winning races in a Scout when International approached him about racing for them around 1970. He partnered with Russ Kirkpatrick who owned Bayshore International, out of the Bay Area. They started building trucks for the team and raced several. Bayshore #3 was Sherman’s race truck from 1977 to 1980. Bayshore #3 is currently being restored by Anything Scout and New Legend 4×4 owner Sean Barber.

Photo: NORRA Archives.

Preserving Scout’s Baja History

Sean Barber planned to race the restored Bayshore One at the NORRA Mexican 1000. Like any restoration project, however, the more rocks they turned over, the more rocks they found underneath. Bayshore #3 has many very unique parts and some interesting engineering. There was no way to get the unique truck done in time for the 2023 race so instead, Barber and his talented crew of mechanics and fabricators whipped up a faithful-to-the-time-period replacement. Scout Motors will sponsor the Scout Terra which will be racing in the Legend 4x4s class in the 2023 NORRA Mexican 1000. His competition will be (you guessed it) a 1972 Ford Bronco and a 1969 Chevy Blazer.

The Very Beginning Of Off-Road Racing

The NORRA Mexican 1000 is a rally that travels down the Baja Peninsula like it did in the 1960s. The pursuit of the Tijuana to LaPaz record was sanctioned in 1967 when Ed Pearlman and Don Francisco created the NORRA Mexican 1000 race. The Mexican 1000 eventually became the Baja 1000. In 2009, NORRA was resurrected by Ed Pearlman’s Son Mike. It has a ton of different classes for everything from RVs to Vespa Scooters, and I’m not kidding. Everything that historically raced since the ’60s can run, as well as modern-day race vehicles, UTVs, and motorcycles. They “Honor the Past, While Forging the Future.”

The Condor RV was one of many unique vehicles to race the NORRA Mexican 1000. Photos: NORRA Archives.

It’s Still an Adventure

The Mexican 1000 is fiercely competitive, but you are racing for five straight days so the proper pace is necessary. Each overnight stop allows you to make repairs and partake in the sights and hospitality offered in a different town. The Rally has sparked an interest in restoring old race cars and getting them in the dirt; instead of just collecting dust. Vehicles and bikes that were built in a certain era will only compete against others of that era. Do you want to know just how tough your ancestors were? Restore a vintage race vehicle and run the length of Baja with NORRA. It’s more than a race, it’s an adventure.

Photos: NORRA Archives.

Everyone Wants To Be Measured In Baja

At least NORRA racers today know where they are going. Back in 1967, there was no AAA, no detailed Thomas Guides, no cell phones, and definitely no GPS. If you broke down, you’d have to figure out a cure, get help from the locals, or start walking. Baja is tough and remote by today’s standards. Back in the 1960s, it was something else entirely. Nobody even knew what type of vehicle would survive. That’s where the huge range of entries came from. Not only did competitive racers flock to the Mexican 1000, but manufacturers and anyone with a product to sell were eager to brag about conquering Baja.

The Mission Statement

“The Balch Scout was raced in VORRA where they just beat the mess out of it,” says Sean. “They didn’t even maintain it that well. It started declining until probably about 1996 or ‘97 to the point where it was not even running anymore. Then it sat for 20 years. I got this vision of bringing Scouts back to Baja. That was my mission statement. Take a real factory effort where we’re bringing a good crew, a well-prepped truck, and bring the Sherman Balch truck back to Baja. But there was a big problem. I have never raced a desert race. I don’t know anything; I mean other than what I’ve read about or watched on YouTube. So I thought if I’m going to show up in this truck, this famous truck, I need to know what I’m doing. I want to know what I’m doing.”

The Scout is fitted with period correct equipment such as Bilstein Shocks, HC HiLites, and General Tires.

The Scout is fitted with period-correct equipment such as Bilstein Shocks, HC HiLites, and General Tires.

Learning the Ropes

“I decided to build this as a kind of a pre-run. Learn how to race a truck with my 17-year-old son first. We built a period-correct 1977 Scout Terra that was inspired by the Sherman Balch trucks. While we are doing a full-scale, period-correct restoration of the Balch truck, we built the ‘77 in a period-correct style too. I kind of knew about NORRA. I knew it was the right race series for us to start our program. On top of the restoration we were doing, we started about a nine-month process of building a race truck. It’s really different and is really fun, it’s invigorating. I learn something every day. It’s different from building a rock crawler or any other kind of truck I have in the past.”

Legacy is Important

It’s the authentic nature of what Sean is doing that Scout Motors is probably so keen on. They must realize that without the legacy that Scout has, it’s just a name. If they get it right, they can build on that legacy. Volkswagen surely knows about off-road racing. Where would desert racing be without VW’s influence? How many classes are VW based? Even unlimited Class 1 cars ran beam front ends in the past. This new Scout EV has great potential when you consider who is involved. They even created their own online community for Scout enthusiasts where they can pool together and revel in all things Scout.

Photo: NORRA Archives.

Scout Motors: Sharing the Same Passion

“The Scout enthusiast community has preserved Scout heritage. Since 1980, these owners and fans have kept Scout alive. We’re excited to be a part of the community and want to foster interaction and exchange as we reimagine this American icon,” says Scott Keogh, CEO of Scout Motors. “We started a forum to nurture an open dialogue with our community members, to hear what they expect in the all-new Scout vehicles. To build a central location where past, present, and future Scout enthusiasts can come together as one.”

Photo: NORRA Archives.

While Sean Barber is restoring a Scout from the past, Scout Motors is designing the Scout of the future. Barber will be racing the 77 Terra this year which will be joined by Bayside #3 next season and then maybe we will see a Scout EV on the team in the near future.

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About the author

Mike Ingalsbee

For more than two decades, Mike Ingalsbee has worked as an automotive writer and photographer and covered just about everything that burns fuel or throws dirt. His writing and photography has been published in over 20 magazine titles and websites in North America, Europe and Australia. He has worked as a design engineer for several manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket and is a founding member of the Association of Motorsports Media Professionals, (AMMP), an organization that consults with racing sanctioning bodies on safety and media issues.
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