On The Rise: NORRA’s Unique Baja Story
Enjoys Promising Future
10 Races of Success To Be Celebrated This April
Record Entries Now In Place In Wide Variety of Classes
AGUA DULCE, CALIF. – It’s hard to imagine that 10 years have passed since Los Angeles area jukebox king Mike Pearlman decided to finally pick up his dusty, and largely forgotten, family legacy. It was his late father Ed Pearlman that first led American racers down the Baja peninsula at his inaugural National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) Mexican 1000 rally. That groundbreaking event is recognized as the first professionally organized off-road race and led the elder Pearlman down a colorful path of organizing and promoting the sport until the mid-1970s.
Flying squarely in the face of naysayers who said another sanctioning body would never survive in Baja, April’s 10th running of the Yokohama Tire Mexican 1000 is proof positive that the decisions of both Pearlman’s were the correct ones.
RETRO REVIVAL: Taking a page from other forms of motorsports, NORRA has been the key factor in opening up the new off-road motorsport of vintage Baja desert racing. For 10 years race teams and drivers young and old have found and restored vintage machinery in the quest to be part of the revived NORRA magic. (Photos: Fotosol)
Today, Pearlman’s original vision is aided by partner Eliseo Garcia Jr., an Ensenada, Baja native whose father Eliseo Sr. was instrumental in helping Ed Pearlman navigate logistics and political challenges from the earliest days of racing on the largely uncharted peninsula. Life has indeed come full circle.
There are just under two months to go before NORRA drops the green flag for this year’s five day, 1,300-plus mile odyssey that race veterans refer to as “The Happiest Race on Earth,” but already 239 entries have already signed up to compete in a wide variety of truck, buggy, motorcycle, and UTV categories. Pearlman expects a record entry for 2019, and he clearly knows the reasons why.
“When we started, one of the smartest things we did was to keep our eyes focused on having fun and making it all about the enjoyment of our racers,” he admits with a sense of contentment. “The multiple day, the rally-style format makes the trip down Baja a more scenic adventure, not a dangerous straight run that can last for three days and nights. There are social gatherings at every stop, and our finish line parties are the best in motorsports. It’s all about the fun, and it’s working.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: In 2009 Mike Pearlman decided it was time to revive his father’s lasting legacy and bring back his National Off-Road Racing Association. While the road to 2019 hasn’t been easy, Pearlman admits the rewards are well worth it. (Photo: Marty Fiolka collection)
That focus on making desert racing less serious and more accessible is only part of the NORRA success story. The more remarkable aspect to 10 years of growth lies in the race’s wholly unique emphasis on creating an environment for vintage off-road race cars, something that didn’t exist before the NORRA phenomenon. For decades, these original race vehicles were largely forgotten relics of the past, related to dark storage garages or non-functioning museum pieces. As so many in the automotive world will tell you, vintage racing has long been a legitimate and vibrant segment of motorsports. Thanks to NORRA, both new and older racers have found a perfect outlet to express their need to experience Baja at its finest.
Now old race trucks and once butchered buggies and sedans are being dragged into the sunshine, with many recapturing the best parts of their past. While the vintage categories do not make up a majority of NORRA entries, certainly they provide the tangy spice that gives the Mexican 1000 it’s a wholly unique flavor. Retro is always cool, and for a new breed of desert racer, nothing is better than returning to Baja for a once-a-year fling with a vintage flair.
FOUNDING FIGURE: In 1967, California florist Mike Pearlman led a fledgling industry into a true form of motorsports with the founding of NORRA and the first annual Mexican 1000 rally. An pioneer off-road enthusiast, Pearlman also founded the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame (ORMHOF). (Photo: Marty Fiolka collection)
The entire NORRA combination is admittedly addictive, and now companies like Yokohama, Method Wheel, Bilstein, Walker Evans Racing, South Point, Rigid, Steel-it, Savvy Off-Road and many more have joined in on the NORRA phenomenon.
For Mike Pearlman, the past decade has been a rapid education in the modern promotional environment of racing and a deeply satisfying nod to his late father’s lasting impact. “Looking at how far we have come and how enthusiastic our growing family of racers seems to be, I would think that dad would be looking down with a lot of pride,” he shared. “It hit me recently that the modern version of NORRA has been in existence longer than the original. That’s hard to imagine. It’s kind of cool.
Beginning in 2010, the National Off Road Racing Association (NORRA) began promoting a rebirth of the NORRA Mexican 1000 rally. The unique off-road rally was co-created by promoter Mike Pearlman to consist of special stages (unlimited speed timed stages in the dirt) linked together by controlled speed liaison / transit sections (highway). The one-of-a-kind, once-a-year, five-day rally includes vintage off-road vehicles and motorcycles, as well as modern desert Rally Raid cars, pre-runner trucks, buggies, UTVs and motorcycles.
Pearlman’s late father Ed and others established the first running of the NORRA Mexican 1000 off-road rally in November 1967. It eventually became internationally recognized and evolved into the Baja 1000 in the mid-1970s.
The 2019 YOKOHAMA NORRA Mexican 1000 is supported by Yokohama, Method Race Wheels. South Point Hotel Casino, Walker Evans Racing, Bilstein Shock Absorbers, Steel-It, Multitool USA, RIGID, Savvy Offroad. VP Racing Fuels, Timberline, Ensenada Proturismo, Mastercraft/Impact Safety, Cerveceria Transpeninsular, Roganto, Biltwell Inc., Schampa. Racing TraX.com, Satellite Phone Store.com, P.C.I. Race Radios, WARN, Magic Bullet, US Action Trax.com, and many more.