Yokohama NORRA 500 Competitors Race Back To Ensenada On Final Day Of Competition
The fastest racers were revealed after an incredible day one of the Yokohama NORRA 500 which saw competitors make their way from Ensenada to the beach in San Felipe. Day two would be comprised of four special stages including the Mikes Peak special stage for group one drivers.
The road up to Mikes Sky Rancho has been pummeled by hurricanes and monsoons that have washed the dirt away leaving ruts and rocks everywhere. It was determined that the limited cars would sustain too much punishment going full out up the mountain so they were routed on a separate course. NORRA wants competition between the vintage race vehicles, not destruction. Most are custom one off works of art built with parts that no longer exist. They don’t have the luxury of huge shocks, huge tires and feet, not inches of suspension travel. This does nothing to diminish the amount of respect given to these competitors. It takes a rare breed to forgo modern technology in Baja terrain. Everyone respects the commitment and fortitude of these drivers.
The modern vehicles were more suited for the punishment. They would be screaming around the countless twists and turns to the top in order to grab bragging rights and a trophy for being the fastest and bravest of the bunch. The current NORRA record holder was Gay Smith and his car would win yet again, but this time with Justin Lofton behind the wheel. Gay Smith helped Justin to launch his 4 wheeled racing career in 2003 at Pikes Peak so this was a full circle moment for the two teammates. In Justin’s very first race he was fast qualifier and finished third. The following event, he was fast qualifier yet again and earned his first race win. I guess he’s a ringer when it comes to hill climbs and Gay is no slouch either. Craig McCarthy was second and the super-fast NORRA rookie Connor McNeil was third. Dave Mason Jr. and Tony Murray rounded out the top five. Sitting in the sixth spot was Max Gordon in his new Speed UTV; only seconds behind the big V8 powered cars and trucks. Max showed his speed during qualifying and on day one and backed it up again on Mike’s Peak.
Mike’s Peak was only one stage, they would have two more to decide who would be fastest on day two and take top honors for the event. The overall race win was a battle between Dave Mason Jr, Danny Brown, Craig McCarthy, Connor McNeil, Gay Smith, and Tony Murray. Dave Mason was attempting back to back wins this year and was determined to achieve it. He drove somewhat conservative on day one, but let loose on day 2 with his goal in mind.
“We had a great time on day one,” said Mason. “The car was perfect so the crew had time to go have fun and we all got good sleep that night. On day two we had another perfect day. My crew chief Seth Walther does a great job. We have no room for error. The race was so competitive; there was no time for an issue or a single flat tire. My goal is always to run a fast pace without hitting anything that can damage the car. You hit a lot of rocks but try to avoid anything gnarly. I’m really good at reading the terrain and the dirt. Each type of dirt has its own texture and consistency. Being aware of the dirt allows you to hit the turns at maximum speed while holding your line. I learned precision racing wheel to wheel on the short course and I bring that same level to the desert. Eliseo always lays out courses that are very challenging and give you a lot a variety. Every stage is different and has its own challenges.” When asked if he will be going for three 500 wins in a row next year Dave said “Heck yeah! NORRA is our favorite race because it has everything. It’s a great challenge and also a lot of fun for the whole crew.”
Dave Mason bested second overall Craig McCarthy by a couple minutes when the dust had settled. Both Mason and second overall McCarthy won their respective classes. Third place overall and second to Craig McCarthy in the Evolution Unlimited Truck class was Conner McNeil who had a very impressive showing in his first NORRA race. Going fast is one thing, but NORA also provides the mental challenge of navigation. Teams have to be smart and fast and Connor has proven he is both. Gay Smith and Justin Lofton were fourth overall and second in the Evolution Unlimited Buggy class. Rounding out the top five overall was Danny Brown who took third place in the Evolution Unlimited Buggy class. The Evolution Buggies had a strong field with ten cars entered and took three places out of the top five for a very strong showing.
The Heavy Metal trucks are always fun to watch and they didn’t disappoint at the 500. It was a battle of Chevy versus Ford and the Chevy’s won this time. Trevor Glidden got the top spot followed by Kevin Adler also in a Chevy. Mark Van Leeuwarden was the first Ford in third and Scott Ulrich’s Ford F150 was fourth.
Vintage class 5 is an interesting class as it’s from an older era, but is still fast enough to hang with the Evolution era cars and trucks in group one. Hap Kellogg had a great race going on day one, but succumbed to an engine that went sour on day two. There is nothing more frustrating to a driver then trying to nurse an ailing engine to the finish line. It gradually loses power until it just won’t go anymore. It’s almost better to grenade it and get it over quickly than to drag it out for miles wondering if it will survive. Carl Rohrer had what it took this time and took the win.
In the Evolution 2000 and Evolution Production Turbo UTV classes that were battling for ten thousand dollars in prize money for each class, Thomas Purcell, Max Gordon, Robby Gordon, Bruce Yee, Javier Gonzalez and Jeff Terzo were all on the gas. In Evolution Production Turbo UTV Max Gordon flat out dominated. He sat on the pole, finished first on day one and kept the pressure on the rest of the way. Max beat second place Javier Gonzalez by over 24 seconds and his father Robby in third by one minute. It was an impressive first race for the Speed UTV with Max’s win and three out of four Speed UTV’s in the top ten.
Many people have said that the Polaris Pro R is just like a class 10 car. NORA’s Evolution 2000 Class combines these two classes together. Both are an open wheel category with unlimited suspension and limited engine. Each has strengths and weaknesses but their compatibility was proven out at the NORRA 500. Thomas Purcell driving a Polaris Pro R took the top spot finishing eighth overall just behind Max Gordon. Purcell did not have a perfect race, but was strong enough to overcome a broken shock shaft and a loss of brakes to outpace everyone for the win. He has been with NORRA since 2010. That first race with NORRA he was co-driving with Tim Crabtree in Bob Gordon’s iconic class one car.
In ninth place overall and second in the 2000 class was Bruce Yee driving a Jimco class 10. They were separated by only 24 seconds. Congratulations to these two for such a competitive and hard-fought battle. The debate over which car is faster has just begun. Third place in 2000 went to Jeff Terzo who had an incredible day one starting sixth and inishing third.
The Pioneer Buggies class was a standout with Ramon Castro in a Funco, Jon Steinhilber driving a Meyers Manx, Timothy Martin also in a Funco (the famous Wampuskitty), Sonya Kieslich in their “Lil Blue” Meyers Manx and Mike Higbee in his Wright Metal Products single seater. It takes a real man or woman to wrestle these cars to the finish line. You really need to read the terrain and manage the punishment to the car to be successful. Ramon Castro proved he still has it by taking the win in his Funco single seat car. Ramon is a legendary racer and promoter who also earned a well-deserved Madonna trophy from Bilstein at the 500. The rest of the order was Jon Steinhilber in second, Timothy Martin third and Sonya Kieslich in fourth. Mike Higbee succumbed to Baja and suffered a DNF (did not finish).
Of course everyone loves the class 11 bugs. Ramon Manriquez, Dennis Sletten and Jennifer Coleman were fighting for the win. That was the finishing order for the stock VW beetles. Martinez finished with a time of 12:55:59 which is quite respectable compared to the much more advanced cars, trucks and UTV’s in the race.
The 2023 Yokohama NORRA 500 was an epic race. We mention the drivers a lot but every team is made up of family, crew and their sponsors who all share in the glory. Thanks to the support NORRA gets from Yokohama, Bilstein, STEEL-IT, Raceline wheels, Nomad, Mobelwagen and the Fab School we can showcase the hard work of all these talented people. NORRA is Honoring the Past While Forging the Future of Baja racing. For complete results and all kinds of information about NORRA and the latest news go to www.norra.com. We look forward to seeing everyone at the next event the 2024 NORRA Mexican 1000.