INSIGHT: Behind NORRA’s painfully correct decision

Image by Marty Fiolka

INSIGHT: Behind NORRA’s painfully correct decision

Off Road

INSIGHT: Behind NORRA’s painfully correct decision

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To be sure, this has been a week like no other. For better or worse, we are both witnessing history and rewriting what normalcy means. Every aspect of life on this planet has, by and large, been reshaped by interruptions and cancellations that come not by the day or by the hour, but often by the minute.

The RACER faithful are painfully aware of this, with the constant stream of bad news providing a suddenly unyielding backdrop of dull white noise that has permeated international motorsports.

Given that paradigm, this week’s rescheduling of the 2020 Yokohama NORRA Mexican 1000 from April until October was not shocking or unexpected. A false sense of hope for the event moving forward next month was shared within tight-knit off-road racing circles, one that mirrored the sport’s bedrock ideals of self-reliance, being tough and finishing at any cost.

Armed with that attitude, NORRA’s management team of American Mike Pearlman (pictured above) and Mexico’s Eliseo Garcia held on as long as possible. The inevitable word finally came on Wednesday afternoon, with the obligatory press release including the now familiar, CYA boilerplate: “NORRA has continuously been in consultation with government officials, and health experts on both sides of the border during this coronavirus situation” and “until we are able to know more about this virus, and everything needed to stay safe, a postponement is the most judicious course of action we can take.”

That is all safe and fine. But the real backstory behind the rescheduling was an element much more human, and more fundamental, to what’s made this annual gathering such a beloved success years after the race revived in 2010. A refreshingly honest line buried down further in the announcement said this; “How can you hold ‘The Happiest Race On Earth’ if you cannot shake hands, hug your friends, rub elbows while solving the mechanical gremlins that surface, or give a kiss on the cheek that our foreign competitors are accustomed to? The friendships, socializing, and shared experiences gained along the way are some of the greatest take-a-ways that racers get at NORRA events.”

NORRA’s admission is also it’s greatest strength.

Creating a place to restore and showcase vintage off-road machinery like Mark Stahl’s vintage ex-Ivan Stewart Ford Class 8 truck is a core mission for NORRA. Image by FotosolNORRA

For those unfamiliar with the NORRA Mexican 1000, the five-day, trans-Baja rally is a wholly unique mix of Goodwood, the Baja 1000 and a rolling annual family reunion from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas. Much like the original Monterey Historics, in large measure the NORRA platform was built on creating a place for vintage off-road machinery to be discovered, restored and then raced that never existed before. Unlike almost all vintage competitions, however, the old bikes, cars and trucks are raced in anger over 1,200 or more Baja miles each year. While many are brought back to their former glory (or even better) this is no smarmy car show for those yearning for leather racing gloves.

NORRA’s unique rally format, which also does not allow pre-running and encourages the use of pump gas – as opposed to $16 a gallon racing fuel – has provided formerly retired racers an annual hall pass to indulge long held passions that normal life had set aside. While the vintage machinery remains key, any type of legal truck, car, bike or UTV can enter.

Friends, family and spouses arrive each April in the beautiful Mexican enclave of San Jose del Cabo, flying down to anxiously watch the finish with frothy margaritas and the anticipation of a nice vacation in one of countless nearby resorts.

Perhaps most importantly, the Mexican 1000 has become the perfect portal for those wanting to experience the magic of Baja racing without the massive expense, stress and uncertainty that comes with the more traditional SCORE Baja 500 or Baja 1000. Winning at NORRA is but a byproduct of life affirming experience, not the point of the exercise. There is no prize money to be won, but there are handmade brass trophies that serve as reminders of the self-titled “Happiest Race on Earth.”

An unforgettable NORRA finish ine moment with Andy Grider, Neil Grider, dune buggy inventor Bruce Meyers and the author (L-R). Image by Mad Media

In the end, it’s easy for all of those effected by the rescheduling of the NORRA Mexican 1000 to point to government restrictions or an abundance of caution. As a 10-time participant and NORRA advocate, I get it. But, that’s not the real reason. Social distancing sucks. Unlike every other event in off-road motorsports, the attraction of coming to a NORRA event is that the racing is equaled by the quality experience it provides to all of the teams, drivers, media and volunteers who love it. If that quality social experience is reduced, or even removed entirely, the entire point of it diminishes to the point of just being another race.

Now we can all look forward to another family reunion in October. The anticipation will build, the green flag will drop, the five-day celebration will commence, and all will be right in the world again.

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