• Forum membership has its advantages....

2019 NORRA 500 Post Race Re-Cap – Evolution Stock N/A UTV #1993


Well-Known Member
Finally getting the time to do a write up, this will be a long one. So if you make it to the bottom, thanks for taking the time to read it!

The spark:
My dad (Mario Gutierrez Sr.) and I (Mario Gutierrez Jr.) joked about racing the NORRA 500 shortly after purchasing the Wildcat XX. But I knew I didn’t want this car to be a racecar, just the ultimate prerunner/weekend fun-haver. So my dad brought up the idea again when Tyler Vreeland and Jay Vreeland were over helping me wire up the intercom/GPS/radio before our first ride in the car in September 2018. Tyler and Jay liked the idea, so I said okay, cool. We will race it once…see how it goes.

Fast forward to June of this summer and I’m looking into all the parts needed to make this happen how I want it to be done….nothing short of a 100% effort. Which quickly reminded me of the SDSU Mini Baja SAE program…I wasn’t going to take any shortcuts on the reliability parts needed, spare parts, tire/wheel packages, tools and all the other small items that continue to add up. Yup, exactly like Mini Baja….except I’m going to be spending MY OWN money. Reality check!

I started prep early and started addressing issues I learned working on these cars with Robby Gordon and the cars we took to Dakar. And with the invaluable help or my buddy Tyler Vreeland, my dad Mario Sr., and even some fab work from Glenn Robles (GR Fabrications), The car was 40% torn down and put back together with new parts prior to Labor Day Monday for its first shake down. This car had 4 different shake downs, each one learning something new about the car, and getting myself and my dad more comfortable with the cars new characteristics. We caught some issues, addressed them, and next thing we knew it was race week.

Contingency/Tech Inspection:
Loaded up and departed San Diego to Ensenada at 8:30am Thursday morning ready to make it happen. I was confident in the prep, our logistics and our plan for the two days of racing, remembering....that this is supposed to be fun! Got inline for tech at around 11:45am and even though we had to mock up our Stella, tech went relatively smoothly without stress. We got the racecar back to the house, Jay Vreeland and Bob Laundry started working on final install of the stella device, my dad, mom, and Janelle got the rest of the groceries figured out, while Tyler Vreeland, Scott LeSage and I went to the drivers meeting and got ready for Day 1 of racing. After my good friend Luke McMillin and mentor, Max Krommenhoek showed up, we did a final race meeting and went to bed.

Day 1: ENS-Pine Forest-K62-K77-Ojos Negros-Pierdas Gordas-ENS
We woke up to realize we were starting much later in the pack than expected. We were ready to head to the start around 8am but we wouldn't be off of the line until about 10:30. We were 99th off of the line out of I believe 110 cars. 2nd off the line in our class of 4, and behind all of the vintage vehicles amongst others. Tyler and I were set to stage in front of the Riviera in Ensenada, go to stage the car in line and the siren gets stuck on. We played with it for a short amount of time before simply pulling the fuse. No siren for the day, oh well!! Hope the stella works! We took off from the start line and didn’t have any idea what the pace needed to be out of town. So we caught up to the #214 UTV that started ahead of us and stayed glued to his bumper for 15 mile until the dirt of Pierdas Gordas. Tyler and I got to the staging for the special right on time, and the #214 car pulled off to the side and looked to have gotten out of the car. Tyler and I were ready to go, so we staged and took the green flag. I wanted to have a conservative pace and save the car to make sure my dad and buddy Scott LeSage got to go have some fun. But then I caught my first sign of dust.....Tyler and I carefully pushed through it, hit the stella....they pulled over and we got around them. We continued to pick off many more Vintage class cars and the other vehicles that started ahead of us. I was pretty confident in the section coming into the town of Ojos Negros as I've ran it at least a half dozen times before. Ran a couple lines on the SCORE course which was a little more rough, but a straighter line as we worked our way north to the pine forest. Tyler was quickly learning how I wanted him to call corners and he was all over it! Working the Stella, reading the road book, and calling out corners rally style.....Tyler was definitely working in the right seat! Continuing the quick pace, Tyler and I got to a speed zone on the east side of Ojos and got a Visual from Jay and Bob letting us know that a late starting Turbo UTV was 25 seconds behind us. I saw them, but didn't plan on easily giving the track position away until they were closer or hit the stella. Out of the speed zone, we were jamming! A semi came out of nowhere, and was heading the direction we were which definitely slowed us down. Would the siren have came in hand now? I don't know but this was the only time I got impatient....I tried to shoot of the dirt road on the right....no room, went on the left and passed in this soft wash clearing a washout that I prayed wasn't big. We got around the semi truck. We were cruising along and didn't see dust for quite a while, although we knew we were making it. The terrain was a very loose dark colored dirt and I'm glad there was not anyone directly ahead of us. Starting to get into the pines, we reached out Stock UTV pit provided by NORRA and the previous Mag 7 President, Bill Thompson. We took about 7 gallons of fuel, we got passed by a Class 8 truck and that Turbo UTV in the process but we we not sweating at all. Took off from back into the Pine Forest and we had a blast! We kept talking about how bad ass it was up in the trees, and how we need to come back up here to drive for fun! Heading back south out of the Pine Forest, we maintained our pace and ended up catching and passing the UTV's that started in groups well in front of us. I knew we were doing pretty good! We made it to the end of our special and got on Highway 3 for a few kilometers to hand the car off. I later found out that evening that we had the 24th fastest time through that special (Of 110 cars) and had a 35 minute lead on 2nd place in our class. The car felt amazing, Tyler and I didn't have a single mistake, "uh-oh" and we never drove over our head. We get to out pit and the driver change went perfect! Topped off with fuel and my dad and Scott took off heading east of HWY 3. I didn't know much about their section but they also didn't have any issues and they maintained their pace as we went to see them come back to KM77 and then west off of HWY 3. The chase team took our time heading back into Ojos where we would re-fuel the car for its last 30 miles. After waiting in Ojos for a while, I called out on the radio for a status and was informed they are in the speed zone coming into Ojos....but they are limping the car in 4WD.....the rear diff has lost a bunch of oil. My mind starts racing....thinking about everything possible....Instead of over thinking, we get out the oils we have and still plan to get the car to the finish. The car comes in, we fuel it and notice a bunch of oil around the passenger side inner CV joint. So we pull the fill plug to the diff....its clean, no metal on the magnet. So we filled it up with oil and after about a 10-15 minute put we had them finish the last 15 miles of the special and we would look at it again before the next 15 miles transit back to town. Less than a minute after sending my dad and Scott back on course, the 2nd place UTV in our class came by. So with getting out of the car to learn that the rear diff was leaking, to limping the car in a wide open section for about 7 miles on top of the 10-15 minute pit.....my guess was that we had close to a 45 minute lead on 2nd place prior to the issue. That number doesn't matter now. My dad ended up getting the car to the finish line, which resulted in 2nd place for Day 1. About 2 minutes out of 1st and only a few seconds out of 3rd. Very close going into day 2.

Day 1: Post Race Prep:
We get the car back to the garage at the house and begin pulling the bottom of the car apart as well as the passenger side axle out. We root caused that the differential seal on the passenger side was leaking fluid. Tyler was all over pulling right rear corner apart to begin addressing the leaky seal. Joel, Jay, and Scott went to the local AutoZone to try their luck at getting a new seal per the same dimensions while the rest of the team cleaned up the oily mess and did our best at trying to see if there was any internal damage to the gears in the rear diff without taking it out of the car. We had a discussion between the handful of engineers on the team and the experienced baja mechanics on whether to use the ultra black RTV gasket maker or an off brand ultra grey for "gluing" the OEM seal back into the rear differential. Ended up deciding on the Ultra Black and running with it. We put the same RTV on the driver side seal as well for safe measure, we re-greased all the Speed SXS CV axles, and began assembling the whole rear half of the car. We decided to let the RTV dry as best as possible and fill the diff with oil in the morning before running it up and down the street. It ended up being a late night Friday night, but I was comfortable with the decisions we made, how the car went back together, and hoping for a good seal to last the 281 miles that Day 2 would have to offer.

Race Day 2: Ensenada-Santo Tomas-Erendira-La Calentura-Valle De La Trinidad-Mike's Sky Rancho-Valle De La Trinidad-Las Minitas-Ojos Negros-Pierdas Gordas-Ensenada

The team woke up and Max was the first one to start putting fluids in the diff early in the morning. We needed to confirm that it wasn't going to lose any oil. Topped 'er off with oil, and then went and ran it up the street back and forth a few times. Came back and parked it to realize the seal was still leaking.....but now only out of the inner diameter. With my face in my palms the only other option we had was to try that Autozone seal. The autozone seal was considerably ticker in width than the OEM seal but the OD and ID were pretty close... It was the only option we had, so we pulled that passenger axle back out of the car as well as the leaky seal. Cleaned it all back up and used the Ultra Black to put this new seal back in. Using a hair dryer to try and speed up the curing process of the RTV, we were running out of time and started to re-assemble the axle and the passenger rear corner. Filled back up with oil and ran it up the street and back the same way to come back to park and notice that it was not leaking. Miracle? Nah, I'll call it my luck and God looking down but we still had our work cut out for us. Got the skid plate buttoned up and my dad and Tyler in the car to head to the start line. They got the car there just 1 minute late from their scheduled start time, but the diff was still dry. Max and Luke headed sound on HWY1 with the trailer for "just in case" situations. Jay and Bob stayed back with the car and followed it the 28 miles to Santo Tomas. Where they would top off the car with fuel and my dad and Tyler would start their stage of running down the beautiful Baja coast line. They got the car to Max and Luke to fuel the car before doing the crossover road from HWY1 to HWY 3 and hand the car over to Myself and Scott at San Matias. They said they had zero issues and picked off a few cars in the process. Scott and I got in the car and took our time making sure everything was okay with the car before racing up the "King of the Mountain" which was a race inside of the race. The line was stacking up at the road to Mike's but my buddy Nick Tonelli allowed us to jump in line ahead of him. We waited in line for probably 45 minutes before our go at the 2 mile long straight away to start out 20 mile stage. We took off and had a flawless run up the mountain. Mind you, it was both Scott and I's first time ever going up to Mike's. Thanks to Luke McMillin's unbeatable course notes on the GPS and Scott absolutely killing it in the right seat calling corners, we were catching and passing some of the cars that started ahead of us. We get to the river crossing right at the finish line at the peak of the mountain and I decided not to lift through the water. We splashed the puddle and crossed the finish line. That was bad ass! We did the run in 20:08 minutes. More than a minute faster than the 2nd fastest car in our class. We knew we would be waiting for a bit before heading back down so Scott and I went into the infamous bar at Mike's Sky Ranch to run into Nick Tonelli again and he bought us each a beer! Scott and I got back in the car and cruised the transit stage to our next special stage from Leandro Valle back to Valle T. We would start this stage behind the car that was leading our class. Again, I have never been through this section either so I drove pretty conservatively to not make any stupid mistakes. Shortly after the infamous "Walkers Corner" we were catching the lead UTV in our class. We turned up the pace a little bit more and they let us by them without any issue. We cruised the rest of the special into the speed zone with them trailing our rear bumper into Valle T. Scott and I met with our pit for fuel at "The Whole in the Wall" right outside of the town and they looked over the car before telling us we were good to go and full of fuel. We were getting much better fuel mileage than I had thought. Cruised up the highway and back into the dirt at Las Minitas. Waiting for our time to stage (you get a penalty for being early) and the all green Textron who was in our class showed up behind us. Mmm I didn't think much of it, but now I knew they were there, starting probably not too far behind us. Scott and I take the green flag and cruise at about a 75% pace. I had ran a majority of the roads we were on now, but the sun was now starting to set and we were heading west right into it. Did not want to make any mistakes chasing dust, or the sun. Coming into the known 90 degree right hander in El Alamo our course would continue west straight through it, were we got lit up by the stella for the first and only time all race. I thought, "no way that textron was catching us through that last stuff...." so I dive over on another line and get blown away by the bad a$$ vintage VW Thing. We cross the HWY 3 road crossing and see our team for the last time in the daylight and continue heading toward Ojos. We ran some very cool sections that we tight and technical and our car worked awesome through all of it. Ended up running into the course that was the same as the day before so Scott was familiar with what we were going through. He let me know of a few dips to take it easy through because that's when they learned about the rear diff issues from day 1. We got to an 8 mile speed zone which seemed like forever through Tres Hermanos basically all the way to the straight aways of the Ojos Negros jumps. Bouncing up to and off of the speed limit as the Stella would beep at us, the sun was now just about behind the mountains as Scott and I were now commenting on how the Baja Designs XL-80's on the A-Pillar needed to be adjusted. Scott is constantly reading off the MPH we were going as I we get passed at race speeds by that green Textron in our class.... I freaked! I'm going off on Scott asking if we were still a speed zone and what the hell was that all about?!?! He said not to worry about it, they would get a speeding penalty at the finish because we were definitely in a speed zone. I calmed down, just as Scott knows how to do and we got to the end of the speed zone. My foot went through the floor.....the fastest I drove the car all race long, both days. Now it was an ego thing.....I wanted to be the first car in our class to my last fuel pit, and have control of the race into the finish. We barely lifted over the high speed rollers coming into Ojos as we passed a Vintage Class 10 car and then a Vintage Class 12 car. I remember Scott still calling out MPH as I remember hearing him say something in the 80's coming over those rollers. Scott Is yelling at me LEFT 2 LEFT 2!! as all I could see was dust coming into the last corner before the straight away that leads to the highway. We crest that last hill and I see the rear bumper of the green Textron. I get within about 7 car lengths before he dives off the road at what looks to be his pit. Our pit was another 1/4 mile down the road and I pulled in all worked up on the radio saying we need a 7/16 wrench to adjust the lights. Only about 10 seconds go by before seeing the Textron go by on the highway. Welp, turned out I was wrong on the wrench size too (stupid 1/4" flanged head bolts, it was a 3/8" wrench) I knew we were getting better fuel mileage, So I yell that we are good on fuel and need to go! Max put me in my place and let me know that they needed to fix the lights. I calmed down a bit and let them finish up. We were out of the pit and on the gas about 20 seconds later. Right back into another speed zone through the village of Ojos Negros and then flat out on a few straight aways before a hard left into nothing but stagnant dust. Scott is telling me to drive what I can see and save the car. We end up catching that Class 10 car and right when Scott goes to press the "push to pass" on the stella, it starts blinking red that there is a car stopped ahead and we see numerous brake lights. I look at the course and see a road directly to my left, look at the GPS and see a line from yesterday morning, that we used Day 1. It was the line that SCORE uses! so without any hesitation I took it, and It met back up with the NORRA course no more than a 1/4 mile later. Perfect, we just passed like 3 or 4 cars in a little bottle neck. I remembered the corners from the day before had cliffs that were not forgiving so I took it easy coming into the end of the special stage at Pierdas Gordas and back on to the highway. We finished the special! We pulled onto the highway luckily right in front of my team who pit us at Ojos and they followed us into the finish. We finished our first race in our non-racecar racecar!!!! We weren't too sure where anyone else in our class was but it was quite a while before they finished. We were pumped! Got a couple finish line beers, took some photos with the family and our amazing team and did a little interview with Sean Sermini of NORRA before heading back to our house to celebrate a little!

Woke up the next morning to see that we won our class by just over 6 minutes to the #214 of Josh Schwartz and 2 hours ahead of the #1901 Green Textron of Stacy Clark. My dad got 3 minutes of speeding penalties added on to our day 1 time and to the very interesting surprise that the #1901 did not get any speeding penalty whatsoever for passing us in that speed zone. Oh well, luckily it didn't come down to that as I learned that they ran out of fuel before finishing their last special.

I was blown away that the car survived day 2 after the issues that I thought should've been catastrophic from day 1. I cannot thank my amazing team that came down to support the efforts of my dad and I to race as father and son in our own car. Tyler Vreeland came over to my house numerous times after work and gave up his weekends to help wrench and prep the car as well as get more familiar with how everything worked and went together. I wouldn't have had gotten the car back together without any rushed nights without his help. Not only that, but for Tyler's first time being a co-rider/navigator he absolutely killed it! It's a tricky thing to pick up, especially when having little to no prior knowledge on what I want to hear coming into corners, and how early I want to know it. Tyler will continue to ride with my dad and I when we race and I know he will continue to get better at it. It's also a huge plus to have someone who mechanically knows the car, and that's why I knew Tyler would be a good co-dawg. Big shout out to my dad for helping me with some of the costs of the race and parts on the car. Going and taking care of errands needed both in the garage and while in Mexico to make sure I wasn't getting all stressed out. Everyone was telling me how fortunate I am to be able to do something they wished they could always do.....and that was race with their father. The reason I am so passionate about this sport is because of that man, and I owe it all to him for supporting my dreams and getting in the driver seat with me and making something like this happen. Winning in Baja with my dad will be a gift that I cherish for the rest of my life! I hope we can add more wins to the trophy case as a father/son team! I want to thank Scott LeSage for taking time away from his own racing program to come share his knowledge in the right seat with my dad and help us go fast through the un-prerunable course. We put our confidence in him and it allowed us to go much much faster. Thank you to Jay Vreeland and Bob Laundry for being our main chase support in the red ranger. It sure helped ease the stress on me knowing my team had a combined of over 100 years of Baja knowledge. It's help like that that is truly invaluable. Thank you to my good friend Luke McMillin and mentor Max Krommenhoek. These guys provided tools and knowledge that we would not have had without their help. Luke spent time to help me with course notes for the GPS and getting the car all set up with Go-Pros that lasted I believe the entire race, both days. It was cool to have the tables turned, and have your support down in Baja, I’ll always remember this and can’t wait to see your excitement when you get that big Baja 1000 overall win that I know means the world to you! I can't thank Max enough for always helping me out no matter what it is I'm pursuing. Max has helped me get everywhere I've been in my life through college and beyond and I'll never be able to repay him for the opportunities in life that I've received. Thank you to Joel Avila, Cesar and Issac Preciado for helping chase us around the desert and being there in the pits to lend a hand. You guys played a big part in helping our small team on day 2 when we were short on people. I want to thank my girlfriend Janelle Belzer for putting up with me never being home due to working on the car practically every day and night and having dinner ready for me when I got home. All while studying her way through Law School and a full time job. And of course, thank you to my mom for always supporting my dad and I with our crazy passion and drive to make this all happen. I’m so glad my mom and everyone was there at the finish line to share the moment! And thank you to my family and friends that were following the race at home and letting others know what was going on as well as cheering us on stateside!

I cannot thank Bobby Olimon and Cameron Anderson of Swift Powdercoat for their support and helping make the car look so bad ass! Thank you Dylan Schmoke of DS Moto Customs for bringing my mental design to life and wrapping the car. I was super pumped on how it all came together and received more compliments than I could count on how the whole car looked when it was done. The reflective was key! Thank you to Fernando Ramirez, Bobby Smith, Cody Rahders and all the guys at FOX Factory that helped get my shocks dialed in. It’s so cool to work with a group of guys that all share the same passion and can combine it with the working atmosphere! We did not have a single tire issue with testing, nor race days due to the new 33” DSR Tensor Tires. They hooked up in all the different terrains, show zero signs of wear from rocks and even maintained traction with the little ribs on the side wall while up on 2 wheels in the deep berms! I want to thank Vision Wheels for working with me from the beginning and getting us hooked up with what I would say are the best looking UTV wheels available. And of course I’m happy to be one of the only Wildcat XX’s on their wheels. Thank you to Baja Designs lights for the best LED lights on the market and using my car to help get aftermarket light kits available to everyone that wants to upgrade their OEM lights. Thank you to Alba Racing in Santee for the performance parts that really make this Wild Kitty Purrr. Thank you Glenn Robles of GR Fab for always making time for whatever it is I may need welded, cut for fabricated in anyway! I always appreciate it! I want to thank Nick Tonelli of #TeamBeehive for reaching out to me to put their logo on the car. Thanks again for letting me cut you in line to go up Mike’s and obviously for beers at the bar once we made it to the top! Of course thank you to Robby Gordon, Todd Romano, and Casey Jefferies of Speed SXS and RGM for all their knowledge on these XX’s and helping get me the parts I needed in short timelines. I don’t think I would have one of these cars if I didn’t learn what I learned that first time going to North Carolina to work with Robby and his team on these cars. Thank you to Blake Gustin of G3 motorsports for getting me a primary clutch shipped out, with out that I am certain the stock clutch would’ve grenaded and I wouldn’t have finished this race. And of course thank you to Mike Pearlman and the entire Norra Mexican 1000 organization for putting on one hell of an event. That was definitely the “Happiest Race on Earth”
See you at the next one! 🤘🏼
@swiftpowdercoat | #SwiftPowdercoat
@fox | #RideFOX
@tensortire | #TensorTire
@Visionwheel | #VisionWheel
@bajadesignsofficial | #BajaDesigns
@AlbaRacing | #AlbaRacing
@SpeedSXS | #SpeedSXS
@GRfabrication | #GRFab
@G3_Motorsports | #G3Motorsports
@DSMotoCustoms |