When you have the opportunity to race, or in my case, chase the NORRA Mexican 1000 you better take it. Because this race more than a race is a journey, a journey that shows you the best that Baja Peninsula has to offer and if you let it embrace you, it can be life-changing.
Mike Pearlman, Eliseo Garcia and all the NORRA crew puts together what it is known “the happiest race on Earth” and you know what, like Han Solo in the ‘Force awakens’ says… “It’s true, all of it” (yeah, save it.)
The Mexican 1000 it’s a celebration for our Baja culture taking a journey by the very places and people that shaped Off-Road racing the way it is now, starting in Ensenada heading all way down to Cabo, 1 peninsula, 6 cities, over 1200 miles and millions stories later, here I am back, not with millions of stories but the ones captured with my camera.
This won’t be the usual racing coverage stuff, it gets real, more personal in the same way NORRA is all about, hope you like it.
Ensenada ~ San Felipe
Suddenly, we’re back in time. The Original Stroppe rig alongside the original Big Oly and their Bronco cousins in a celebration of the off-road legacy.
I speak as a local when I say Ensenada is somewhat stuck in time, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
Let’s head southwest as southwest go.
And then once again, it’s time to race, both old and new, legends and rising stars sharing the race track.
For us (the media guys) the chase begins and the hard drives start to get filled with footage and moments we freeze in time.
Special leg 2: Diablo’s Lake to San Felipe timing gate. In the background, the Sierra de San Pedro Martir, with the highest peak of Baja, the Picacho del Diablo with 3100 meters above sea level.
Diablo’s dry lake bed, as hellish as it is beautiful.
Then we reached San Felipe, and The Safari Watchmen.
San Felipe ~ Bahia de Los Angeles
223 miles (438 miles total)
Second day of racing, let’s do this.
In the shadows, because the sun was too hot.
There’s something special in a Porsche racing Baja, something that blows your hair off.
Las Delicias just south of Puertecitos, the sand starts to get heavy, we’re just getting started.
Road trip to Bay of LA.
Made it to fight for another day!
Smiles that will last forever.
Bay of LA is simply too small for the NORRA caravan. This is where the bikes and safari class goes straight to Guerrero Negro while the whole downtown of BOLA becomes the “compound” for the car teams where thousands of small stories are being written, all at once.
This is Sol Saltzman and he was one of my favorite racers to follow all week, he drives (in boots!) a single-seat ’72 Funco SS1.
You likely will end up camping in Bay of LA, but that’s not a bad thing at all if you’re prepared.
And night fell and we all rest.
Bahia de Los Angeles ~ Loreto
421 miles (860 miles total)
Half of rally done and things are starting to get dicey.
For us, part of the game is to chase-and-find “cool spots” to capture whatever story that unfolds in front of you, ‘silt’ is the key-word in most cases.
We found this spot right before crossing the state line into Baja Sur, it was a matter of time for that silt to take its first victim.
And it did…
… and did…
… and did several times more.
Silt beds are media’s best friend and racer’s worst enemy. I love silt.
Moving on, the desert starts to change into something out of an alien movie.
Side-street pit stop.
The mandatory San Ignacio postal card photo. If you have been in San Ignacio, you know that the place is an oasis in both literal and figuratively speaking.
San Ignacio entrance street, imagine this in the middle of the desert, lovely.
In San Ignacio there’s a checkpoint that give us time for some portraits…
… and cigarettes.
Thank you San Ignacio, let’s continue our journey.
Loreto ~ La Paz
291 miles (1151 miles total)
Loreto and its surroundings are some of the most beautiful places that Baja has to offer.
Loreto malecon, start of activities for day 3 of the NORRA rally.
Marcus and Philip Benham came all way from Italy along with their ’78 Vespa’s, the idea is to race in style. “For those happy souls that enjoy a drink with their friends, reached a full filling joy and always maintain their chivalry” – Vespa #4
Lyle Tonelli and his 3-wheeler deathwish.
Couple more frames before start chasing dirt.
I was able to capture the safari class as they leave Loreto. Again they took a different racetrack to meet us in La Paz that night.
Always expect live cattle on racecourse at all times, also on the highway chasing. Expect the unexpected.
After driving miles looking for our next shooting spot, we had to settle for a long stretch with a small puddle of silt, not my favorite place to shot but in this cases we just need to believe…
Then it happens, my favorite racing car (besides Big Oly and all other vintage jewels) this ’89 Porsche 964 of Jeff Gamroth who ran out of fuel right in front of us, right in the middle of nowhere. Luckily for them we were prepared and gave them 10 gallons of fuel, enough to make it to their next pit stop. Not sure who was more stoked, they for getting out of trouble or us for helping them and be part of their journey (and no, we didn’t accept their money).
By the nature of this day special stages, we were only able to catch them once during the day, then we headed to La Paz.
La Paz ~ San Jose del Cabo
143 miles (1295 miles total)
We reached our destination, not without catching a glimpse of Baja postals first, off-road museums with the best chorizo-machaca burritos (Cheko’s just south of La Paz, that’s the spot) and views that you fell in love with instantly.
Once we reached the finish line, the smiles never stopped…
Bruised but not dead, Big Oly crosses the finish line probably one last time.
The Vespa’s made it all way to the finish line in Cabo, this is why NORRA’s special.
I don’t know who was the craziest at this race, the Vespa’s, the 3-wheeler…
… or #535 Adam Sheard who took the challenge in a ’66 Triumph TR6. When he was asked if he’s coming back next year and he said “yes but with a different bike!” We can only imagine how rough those rides went.
Then the big names started to show up, young off-road rising star, Max Gordon driving with Ryan Arciero.
When you’re an off-road legend like Arciero, you get smoking thumbs up.
The UTV family is stoked as they can only be.
One by one every finisher had their moment on the podium, all with their own celebrations and feelings that translates into the frames.
Spoils of racing.
The only team made up entirely of women, #1356 leaded by Nancy Koval in their ’73 Meyers Manx made it all way to the finish line while raised breast cancer awareness, incredible job ladies.
4-time Baja 1000 winner, Mark Stahl made one last race just to announce his retirement of racing, hats off for Mr. Stall.
After a bad luck streak during the last NORRA editions, El Caballo del Diablo takes back their natural-habitat on the top spot of the podium box!
The Safari style.
No better time to celebrate with tequila…
… or Mexican chips with lot’s of salsa.
SCORE international Godfather Mr. Sal Fish himself had the opportunity to enjoy his own legacy, never-once stop smiling.
Families, friends, team members… People together celebrating life, the NORRA way.
This is not for bragging rights like the “real” Baja 1000 or any other of the famous races; but to celebrate who we are as desert racers and the opportunity we have to enjoy paradise while we write our own adventure, because NORRA is about lessons…
Photography and words by yours, truly.