October 22, 2023

Pine Forest, Salt Flats, and Beach Finish Make for an Amazing First Day of Racing

On a foggy morning in Ensenada, competitors began day number one of racing at the Yokohama NORRA 500. The course would have 3 timed stages that averaged 70 miles each on the way to San Felipe and a finish on the beach. Along the way they would pass through Ojos Negros, the pine forest, Valley T, Diablo Lake Bed and new sections of untracked trails before they took the checkered flag in San Felipe. Defending overall champion Dave Mason Jr. would start first followed by a slew of fast, experienced racers after his number one spot. This year’s race has a packed field in Evolution Unlimited Buggy, so Mason has his work cut out for him. The Evolution Unlimited Truck class will also make an impact as they are generally considered the fastest vehicles in the desert. All through the field there are fast drivers who will push their vehicles to the limit in the challenging Baja terrain.

Dave Mason Jr. drove a conservative pace maintaining his position of first on the road all day. “We stayed first on the road and finished second overall on time,” says Dave. “It was tough navigating out there with no existing lines. We were cutting the trail for everyone else, but there was no dust; it’s a trade-off. We are feeling good going into day two. We were very conservative today. We got through the technical stuff clean today so we can push harder tomorrow.”

Mason has the Evolution Unlimited Truck class to contend with for the overall win but also a pair of all-wheel drive buggies going for the overall and Evolution Unlimited Buggy class win. Danny Brown in his Alumi Craft Awd Class 1 and Bill Zemak driving his Rmr Jackal are running second and third in his class. Gay Smith’s monster Baja Bug is sitting in striking range in fourth place. Smith is sharing the driving duties with multi-time champion Justin Lofton. “I drove first 2 stages,” says Lofton. “The bug was great today. It is really similar to my old class 1 car, so it felt like home after only a few miles into the race. Overall the layout and roads were great today. Unfortunately I spent most of it in the dust, but it was fun mixing in roads I have never been on with old race courses.”

Second overall on the road, but first on corrected time was the VMC racing team of Craig McCarthy, Kevin Murphy and Brad Watkins with support from Sean Hoglund’s YT motorsports in their 2015 Geiser Trophy Truck. They too commented on the navigational challenges they experienced on the new trails laid out by NORRA race director Eliseo Garcia. NORRA runs a rally format that puts navigation skills to test as well as all out speed. Following the tracks of the car ahead can get you in trouble if they make a mistake. You have to be fast, but also precise. Teams have to use their brains as well as their brawn.

Finishing only 8 minutes behind McCarthy was Conner McNeil in his TSCO Ford. Racing with Connor is Erik Clay and his father Jason McNeil. Jason is very familiar with San Felipe having won here in the past. “It was our first time racing the NORRA series; we didn’t know what to expect at first,” said Connor. “Tech and everything else about NORRA is so much better, it’s so less stressful. Our first race day was rough for us battling through dust. We had a flat tire that took 8 minutes to change due to a broken jack. We dealt with nausea issues/throwing up, navigation confusion, etc. We didn’t let that stop us. We overcame all the obstacles and made it to San Felipe in 1 piece and in 2nd place in the TT open class. We’re gonna reset and get some sleep and we’ll see what day 2 has in store for us.” Armando Bravo is running third in his Alumicraft Evolution Unlimited Truck.

The UTV classes are always super competitive and especially this year due to the 10 thousand dollar prizes from Speed Energy for the Evolution 2000 class and another 10 thousand for the Evolution Production Turbo UTV class. Max Gordon set the fastest time during qualifying so he had to hold off everyone at the front if he wanted to remain first on the road. Max was challenged by his father Robby and others out front, but managed to cross the finish line first after day one. Robby finished behind him. Unfortunately, it’s not who crosses the line first; it’s who has the lowest elapsed time. Beau Briggs, who started 4th, ran a faster time to take the lead in class. Max and Robby will both be coming for him on day two; you can guarantee it.

In the Evolution 2000 class, Thomas Purcell was top qualifier, followed by Renee Hudson and Bruce Yee. Again, elapsed time ruled the day. Nick Mcphee came from the fourth starting position to take the number one spot on elapsed time; Purcell was 4:39 back in second. Jeff Terzo had an amazing run finishing only 15 seconds behind Purcell. Terzo started the day in 6th place. Renee Hudson had a mechanical issue that dropped her to 13th. It’s so competitive; any little issue will have big consequences. “We broke a tie rod 21 miles in on second stage,” said Hudson. “It was a bad-assed day except for breaking the tie rod. I loved every second of it.”

In Vintage Class 5, you would expect Hap Kellogg to do well; he has backing by the Fab School and you wouldn’t be disappointed. He took the top spot over Carl Rohrer by 49 minutes. “It was a wonderful and very challenging course,” says Hap. “I like the way the NORRA staff has created new challenges for us. The Fab School/Kellogg garden products team already prepped the car for tomorrow. There were no major incidents and we look forward to a safe and fun race on the way back to Ensenada. I downloaded LeadNav incorrectly so Eliseo helped me figure out my mistake. Tomorrow should be an even better day.”

Other notable winners in group one on day one were Zak Langley in Evolution 6100, Trevor Glidden in Evolution Heavy Metal, David Ducote in Evolution Ultra 4x4, Chris Knippelberg in Evolution 4-Seat UTV and T. Bradley Millner in Evolution Production N/A UTV.

Group 2 is made up of the more limited vehicles in the race; the cars that raced in the early eras, prerunners, and production based race vehicles. It’s always nice to see some of the older cars outperform the newer vehicles and that was the case on day one. Bob Howle put in the fastest time in group 2 driving his Vintage Era Chenowth DR-2 4 cylinder buggy. Shawn Aldridge was second overall in his Evolution Prerun Buggies class ES Motorsports Pre Runner. Clinton Pierce was third fastest in an Evolution Prerun Trucks class Ford Ranger, but Jean-Paul Cyr was close behind in his Porter, Vintage Class 1/2-1600. Ed Bonanni was right behind him for 5th place overall and 2nd in Vintage Class 1/2-1600 driving a Lothringer chassis.

Other notable winners on day one were Joe Dean in Challenger Buggies class driving a Chenowth 4lwd that is California street legal, Matt Johnson’s Ford F100 in Challenger Trucks, Richard Cushman over Mike Dario in Evolution Meyers Manx, Mikhail Sidorov driving an Isuzu Vehicross in Evolution Rally Car (such a cool truck), veteran racer Rich Minga in a1962 VW convertible, John D'amico in his Pioneer 4x4s class Ford Bronco, Ramon Castro’s Funco SS1, Nevin Pontious in Pioneer Cars driving an AMC Rambler SC and many others. Full results are at

The limited cars and trucks need to exercise precision and perseverance. The Forsberg Racing 2023 Frontier PRO-4X truck was heading to the finish line with skateboard legend Leticia Bufoni behind the wheel. Imagine racing through the San Felipe whoops in the darkness at your very first desert race. “We are almost at the finish for day one. Leticia is in the truck now and we are charging through the night,” said team leader Chris Forsberg. After finishing he added, “We got stuck behind a lot of other cars today. So happy we made it! It’s a true testament of the NISMO Off Road suspension handling a wicked beating out there and zero flats on our Yokohama tires. We’ll do a quick double check for tomorrow and we are ready to go again.”

It was an amazing first day of racing at the Yokohama NORRA 500 with another epic day planned for tomorrow. Thanks to the support from Yokohama, Bilstein, STEEL-IT, Raceline wheels, Nomad, Mobelwagen and the Fab School NORRA is Honoring the Past While Forging the Future of Baja racing. Be sure to tune in to the NORRA TV You Tube page for live action on race days. For all kinds of information about NORRA and the latest news and results go to

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Mike Ingalsbee
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Val Douglas

NORRA - National Off Road Racing Association. Home of the Mexican 1000 and the NORRA 500