For many off-road adventurers, the dream of racing in Baja is high on their list of "must do" activities. For some, the dream becomes a reality but for many others, it remains elusive due to many factors including cost, time, or logistical challenges.
In 2009, the re-birth of NORRA (National Off Road Racing Association) was heralded as a way for the "common man" or the "little guy" to experience Baja in a friendly, vintage racing vehicle-specific format that promised to be more attainable than competing in a typical SCORE race. NORRA was the original sanctioning body for the Mexican 1000 race, which began in 1967 and became the Baja 1000 in 1973.
From NORRA's website:
We have returned off-road motorsports to its roots — comaraderie, hot rodding and fun! The Mexican 1000 Rally is a fully-supported on-road/off-road rally open to vintage and alternative fueled vehicles. It will be an adventure filled with high-performance driving, incredible scenery and world-class adventure.
The 2012 NORRA Mexican 1000 will be held May April 28-May 2, running the length of the Baja peninsula.
In 2008, my good friend Andrew Norton and I realized one of our life goals and purchased an old Stroppe racing Bronco from a local acquaintance who had stored it in his toyhauler for nearly 10 years after using it for many years as a Glamis sand toy.
After we purchased the vehicle and started doing research on its history, we soon deciphered the DNA on our truck and discovered that we had in our possession the winner of the 1969 Mexican 1000. And not just any winner, because there are winners in a multitude of classes every year the race is held. In 1969, history was made that has never been repeated again in the 44 year history of the Mexican/Baja 1000 races; a 4WD vehicle won the race overall, beating every motorcycle and every other 4 wheeled vehicle. That vehicle happened to be our Bronco - driven to victory by Larry Minor and Rod Hall.
In late 2009, I was approached by a racing friend (Class 8 Baja 1000 winner) who was looking for a "historically significant" off road vehicle to race with his friend in the inaugural NORRA 1000 in 2010. Andrew and I offered several choices, including the dilapidated Bronco now sitting in my garage. In short order, a deal was made whereby our friends Chris Wilson and Glen Straightiff would repair/refurbish/restore our Bronco at their cost in exchange for driving it in the rally. After a very quick risk assessment, we wholeheartedly said yes.
Six months of pandemonium ensued as the project progressed with frequent phone calls/emails/texts between Phoenix, San Diego, and San Jose. But by the time of the race, the Bronco was done and ready to go. We chased Chris and Glen the length of the peninsula and had a fabulous time, soaking up the sights and smells of Baja along the way as our little Bronco conquered the miles and made memories every day. And the Bronco didn't disappoint, as Chris and Glen drove it to a class victory 35 years after it had last raced in Mexico.
The Bronco may have felt it was a homecoming of sorts as it had numerous great victories and finishes in the late '60s and '70s south of the border.
For 2012, we've decided to race the Bronco again - most of the prep is done but with less than 2 months to go, we still have many things to check off the list. Our team this year will be comprised of Andrew and I and several of our friends from Arizona, California, North Carolina, and possibly a Canadian thrown in for a little international flair.
I hope to post some photos and stories here in the time leading up to and during the event.
Our little rig doesn't extract the sensory overload of a modern Trophy Truck or Class 1 buggy but its uncorked exhaust and historical pedigree can still extract a visceral response from onlookers - particularly those with a keen sense of history and appreciation of those earlier days in Baja when things moved at a little slower pace and the roads were a little smoother.
If you're interested in reading more about the Bronco, here's an article that my friend Jay Kopycinski did for Off Road magazine a few years ago:
The following are a series of photos that give a glimpse into the timeline of this vehicle.
A Ford publicity shot taken shortly after the Bronco won the 1969 Mexican 1000. Note - in honor of winning this race, our truck will have #56 on it in 2012.
Rod Hall and Jim Fricker at the start of the 1972 NORRA 1000. We chose this particular paint/decal scheme (it had many) for the refurbishment in 2010. Rod has since checked out the truck and autographed the dash for us and Jim knows of its restoration
Hall and Fricker kicking up a little silt at the '72 Baja 500.
Fast forward to about 1990-1991, and the Bronco is in pieces. Considering its condition, we consider ourselves blessed to have so many of the original parts and pieces on the truck.
It's now the mid '90s and the previous owner is at the Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis) kicking up some sand while wearing his uber-cool shades.
And here's what the truck looks like today. The window screen over the grill has been replaced since these photos were taken. In the 2010 event, Chris and Glen lost our grill screen on the first day. Prior to the start of the second day's stage, a local in Bahia de Los Angeles excitedly donated the screen from his front door so we would have a proper screen for the race! Another wonderful Baja memory.