2016 NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally
- Marco Polo
Over the last six years since the NORRA Mexican 1000 came back into existence we’ve been privileged to have covered the event in the general sense and as part of a chase crew. This year, we were given the opportunity to join the race itself thanks to Bill Hernquist of Hernquist Motorsports.
This year’s four-day,1300-mile run down the Baja Peninsula would be much like the past few years. The terrain varies as you travel south, as the course spans across the peninsula and touches on both the Pacific and Sea of Cortez coasts multiple times until reaching the final destination in San Jose Del Cabo. We were privileged to ride in the navigator’s spot in Hernquist’s 1982 Ed Fisk-built VW Baja Bug for two sections of the 2016 journey.
Contingency was great. We had a chance to meet the other competitors, take photos and have a great time before the race started.
The next morning after contingency, we lined up to take the start on the first transit section. For those unfamiliar, the Mexican 1000 is a rally format with transit sections and specials. The transits are untimed road sections whereas the specials are full race speed mayhem. For me, the transit was a good time to really get familiar with the car, its sounds and how it felt while we made our way to the special.
As we entered the staging for the first special stage you could feel the intensity in the air. Racers were jockeying for position to take the start. We were instantly confronted by another team in our class who tried to dart in front of us at the last moment, but an official made them back up and start behind us.
As we lined up for the green behind a “faster” competitor, we went through our final check: belts tightened, GPS ready, road book ready… and bam, we get roosted by the car in front of us leaving the line. Welcome to off-road racing! We haven't even left the line and a pound of dirt and rocks are in my lap.
Five seconds to go, the flagman counts us down and throws the green and we leave the line hard.
Bill Hernquist is a veteran desert racer with a laundry list of accomplishments. Within a few miles we caught the racer who “gifted” us a lap full of dirt off the start. While riding his bumper the guy in front of us decided brake check us - BAM. Hello there! He quickly scooted out of our way and off we went.
For the next 175 miles it was an intense run down some of the most scenic coastline on the Pacific. We were reaching speeds of nearly 100 mph on loose, unkept dirt roads complete with rain ruts, rocks and boulders that can smash your car into next week, not to mention a wrong turn can send you flying into the ocean. There are no dull moments, no time for a missed call on a turn, no time to second guess your decisions. Everything is full commitment, every second, all the time. It’s mentally draining for both the driver and navigator, as the entire race you’re being thrashed about in the cab of the car like a rag doll.
We handed the car off to our teammates to take the next special and we were off chasing them to the next location for a visual. During this time we were able to grab some nice action shots of our racer from the outside.
At the end of the day pulling into Bahia de Los Angeles we had passed around 15-18 cars and moved up the ladder a bit. When we checked our stage times we were leading our class by a few minutes. It’s at this point you start to feel the competition; you start thinking about winning and what has to be done to make that happen.
“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”
- Ernest Hemingway
One thing that many don't realize about desert racing is that anything can and will happen. This is even truer in Baja. On the third day of the rally we would see a little bit of everything: cattle, horses and a myriad of other animals pop out when you least expect it. Hitting a bull or a horse would end your race or possibly even your life, but random animals are not the only thing that can get you.
The fact that you’re riding at maximum speed in a car full of fuel across an unmaintained dirt surface is something you can’t think about for more than a second. As much as you prepare yourself with helmets, fire protection, five-point harnesses, anything can happen.
Coming into the final part of the stage is what’s known to many as the “grand canyon” of Baja. This single-lane path chiseled out of the side of the mountain with steep grades, jagged rocks, switchback turns with thousand-foot-high cliffs is nothing to be taken lightly. Luckily our torque, nimble Baja bug could climb with ease and made quick work of the section.
This would be the final section for me. The run into La Paz is almost indescribable, as you crest over the Sierra Mechudo mountain range and catch a glimpse of the Sea of Cortez. You almost forget for a second that you're racing for a win, but then reality sets in and you push a little harder knowing that every second counts.
With three days of racing under our belts we had but one more day to go. Having had one flat on day two, we slipped back into second place in our class. Not to be discouraged, we decided as a team to push for a win if we could. In the end, it was not to be and we ended the rally in a respectable second place. The sting of losing was quickly replaced by the satisfaction of knowing we did our best and completed the 1300-mile rally with no major issues, no one hurt and the car in one piece – that itself is a win.
What did we learn? We learned it’s dangerous, navigation is hard, Baja is beautiful and fun, racing is seriously habit forming, and it’s an awesomely good time.
We’d like to thank the whole team for inviting us to come race the NORRA Mexican 1000. Bill and his son Trey Hernquist, Todd Henderson, Buddy Crisp, Rick Ellison, Micheal Lund, Rob Ott, Brad Smith, Robby and Austin Ash, Paul Mischel, Kenny Garrison, Mark Stacy, Dan and George.
MORE NORRA MEXICAN 1000
2015 NORRA Mexican 1000 Coverage