By: Marty Fiolka | May 2, 2018 2:40 PM
Considering his blue-chip racing pedigree, the fact that Ryan Arciero made the most poignant observation of all at the recently concluded NORRA Mexican 1000 rally wasn’t surprising.
Dressed in black Nomex with helmet at the ready, he stood in remote oasis of San Ignacio next to Baja’s trans-peninsula highway. Scanning the northern horizon, he strained to hear the staccato exhaust of old “Betsy,” the Toyota-powered Chenowth buggy he shared with father Frank “Butch” Arciero Jr. The famous No.3 Riviera Racing Trophy-Truck of Mark Post had just flashed by, and Ryan was chomping at the bit, ready to take the wheel for the day’s long 170-mile second stage to Loreto.
“You know, this, this right here is the real story of this race,” he shared with a grin. “Here we are doing battle for the overall victory in a car built in 1988. It has a junkyard Camry motor that puts out maybe 200 horsepower. That’s the beauty of this whole NORRA deal. Vintage can still rule.”
For the next 734 miles the Arcieros would engage in a historic battle with Post and his co-driving team of Ed Herbst and Jesse Jones, along with the modern-era entries of Baja 1000 veteran Larry Ragland, Mike Dario, Butch Jensen and King of the Hammers overlord Dave Cole – who was surprising everyone with the performance of his team’s Ultra4-style rock racer.
Arciero’s observation summed up the Mexican 1000’s captivation to its core. It’s a once-a-year event that embraces a huge variety of vintage off-road machinery with a blend of modern cars, truck, UTVs and bikes driven by desert-savvy racers and wide-eyed newbies. Depending on your skill or outlook, the NORRA experience can be an all-out competition or a well-organized adventure through the Baja.
The rally’s five-day format transforms the whole thing into a rolling band of gypsies, traveling to the next overnight stop that dot the peninsula. With the aid of new title sponsor Yokohama tire and lots of logistical support by NORRA’s tireless staff, these destinations have become outright parties on to themselves, with competitors enjoying cold drinks, hot food, music and the expected bench racing sessions.
That “Happiest Race on Earth” aspect of the race, however, didn’t take anything away from the challenge of competing for 1,369 miles over some of the roughest and most desolate ground anywhere. It’s tough, long and dangerous. There were several accidents involving racers and crewmembers, and, sadly, San Clemente, California desert racing veteran Jason “Jake” Batulis succumb to injuries sustained after crashing his motorcycle on the event’s final day.
The race may be considered one for the everyman, but, it may not be for every man (or women). Baja didn’t get it’s worldwide reputation for no reason.