In 1967, NORRA created sanctioned off-road racing at the Mexican 1000. That race eventually became the Baja 1000. Today’s Baja 1000 is a point-to-point speed contest, while NORRA Mexican 1000 is a stage rally format that has timed speed sections. At the Baja 1000, you go all-out from when the green flag drops until you reach the finish line, or until your race ends early. The NORRA Mexican 1000 travels the length of the Baja Peninsula, but takes several days to complete, and has an overnight stay in a different town every night.
This allows competitors a chance to recover from a problem or a bad day of racing. Wayne and Kristen Matlock have incredible insight into all forms of off-road racing as they have raced on several continents and competed at the professional level in both rally racing and desert off-road. Kristen started racing on quads, Wayne raced bikes and quads and was a factory rider for team Honda. They both have made the transition to racing UTV’s.
“I started racing the SCORE series in 2016,” said Kristen Matlock. “My first NORRA race was in 2019. That was my first experience with the stage rally style. Everybody has raved about how exciting and fun it is, and how it’s just one big party throughout the week. Little did we know how competitive it was going to be. That just added even more fun. It gives me an opportunity to actually step out of the vehicle and stretch my legs. I really enjoy the strategy to it as well, and there’s a lot of strategy. You don’t have to start each stage at precisely a specific time. There’s a little bit of a cushion there, so you can strategize the dust a bit more to give yourself a better window of dust-free racing.”
“You don’t necessarily have to be right on time, but you can’t be early and you can’t be late,” says Wayne Matlock. “Usually they give you a half hour window or more to check in. If you have a 30-mile transit section to do and they give you 45 minutes to do it, that is the earliest you can check in. If you check in before then, you get a time penalty, but after the 45 minutes you can check in for up to an hour and a half. You can take that time to work on your vehicle, get fuel, get food, do what you want. But if you don’t check in as early as you can, the people you just passed on course can get in front of you. You will have to eat their dust passing them again.”
“One of the biggest misconceptions of the Mexican 1000 is that it’s just for fun, it’s just a party, and it’s not really a race. That’s just wrong. True, it is a good time, but it’s still a serious race. When we showed up in 2019 with our four-seat turtle class UTV, we still had the back seats in. It still had a bunch of spare parts, tools, and a roof rack on it. The first night after we got down to San Felipe, we took the seats out, the roof rack off, and stripped the spare parts, like this is a race! It’s a ton of fun. Last year there was a dogfight between myself and Kristen, Casey Curry and RJ Anderson, and Rodney Anderson and PJ Jones every dayto see who was going to get the fastest time. The top two UTVs were usually within a minute of each other every day. On the last day, Kristen beat all the UTVs, all the unlimited buggies, and all the trucks. She set the fastest time of the day.”
One thing that is quite different between desert and rally racing is navigation. Desert racing primarily uses GPS to navigate. The co-driver calls out directions to the driver based on the GPS track and their notes from pre-running the course. In rally racing the route is unknown. You have to find your way based on a road book that tells you where to go. The drivers don’t get a chance to practice the course. The NORRA rally uses a combination of both GPS and road book navigation. Other rallies have a road book only, with no GPS. If you want to compete in rallies like the Dakar, you need to learn road book navigation. NORRA is a good place to learn this. Anyone who has watched the Dakar Rally on TV or seen it in person has witnessed the cars driving around in circles trying to find their way. Road book navigation is not too difficult to master, but it takes practice.
“What I like best about NORRA is the mix of people that are involved,” Kristen continued. “If anyone ever asks me what race beginner drivers should start with, I always recommend NORRA if they’re looking for a bigger race. You get to enjoy little sections through the Baja Peninsula, versus going for the Baja 1000. At the Baja 1000 you don’t get to see much. The majority of the race this past year was all at night. Such a small percentage of what we raced was during the daylight hours when you actually get to see and enjoy the beauty of Baja.”
Read more about the race at norra.com.