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Good Vibes And Good Times!
At the 2021 Yokohama NORRA 500 presented by Method Race Wheels

PHOTOS COURTESY OF STEEL-IT By Bink Designs / Additional NORRA Photos By FOTOSOL

AGUA DULCE, CALIF. – The good vibes at the Yokohama NORRA 500 Presented By Method Race Wheels were everywhere. Old friends, and new were sharing in the great food, refreshing drink, and unique culture of Baja at the famous Horsepower Ranch when they weren’t out running stages in competition. When time permitted, teams would pitch in and help their fellow competitors get ready for the two separate courses they would run on consecutive days. The first day’s course traversed the Pine Forest which is spectacular in scenery, and challenging for the drivers, and riders. The trail was tight, and technical, and included sand, silt, and water crossings. Day 2 of racing had a run down the beach on the Pacific Ocean shore, a test of speed at the STEEL-IT King of the Mountain special stage, and plenty of tough terrain everywhere else. The mountain trails had deep washouts from recent rains that caused grief for several competitors. You had to pay attention at all times.

The good times were put in by all the competitors that conquered the tough challenges that Baja delivers while battling with their competitors who were just as determined to come out on top. Some were out to test themselves, while others were focused on the fastest racers competing for the class win, and coveted ERA trophies. The motorcycle classes were loaded with fast experienced riders who were all capable of taking the overall win. They have a special challenge due to their solo efforts. They only have themselves to rely on for navigation, trail fixes, and decision making on the fly. Despite their strong independence, they will all work together when the situation calls for it. On day one of racing, Jeff Leonard took a spill that rung his bell pretty good. Fellow riders stopped to render assistance, and helped him get out to a road where he could get help. It looked like it might be serious at the time, but thankfully he was OK, just a little dinged up.

With Jeff Leonard out on day 1, it left the battle for the overall, and the overall trophy up for grabs. Mark Seiler, Buck Vinson, and Thomas Knapp all took a turn out front. All three would win their respective classes, but Mark Seiler took the overall, followed by Vinson, and Knapp. “Day one was gray outside, so the light was tricky,” said Seiler. “It was fun through the Pine Forest. I was riding against guys with a good steady pace so I had to stay on track, and be on time. When Jeff went down we all rode together to get him to the road. On day 2, I was totally cooked, but that’s what I was there for. I had to focus, and stay on the gas even though I was ready to pass out. I pushed hard to the end of the final stage.”

Mark was riding a very special bike. It used to be ridden by his fiend Shawn Price who passed away suddenly due to melanoma. Mark took the well-worn Honda to www.blaisracingservices.com for an overhaul before the 500, and is putting together a team of riders made up of Shawn’s friends to take on the Yokohama NORRA Mexican 1000 in 2022. He is also raising money for melanoma research; you can donate in Shawn’s name here: sutterhealth.donordrive.com

Third overall, and winner of the 60+ Vintage Dudes class, Thomas Knapp was convinced to come to the 500 by his friend, second place overall finisher, and Modern Open class winner Buck Vinson. “I got lost a little on the first stages, but got back on track; I’ve been racing, and dual sport riding for years,” said Thomas. “It was a lot of fun, and I’m glad Buck talked me into doing it. It was a very well organized event, but I downloaded the wrong GPS track, and got off course. We all had dinner together, and I learned that Mark never gets lost. You can be as fast as you want, but you have to stay on course, and in one piece. I had the bike geared pretty tall and there were a few spots where I was riding as fast as it would go. I had a super time; everyone was so nice.”

Since day one of racing through the pine forest was so technical, it produced some interesting results. We had Vintage Class 5 competitors, and UTV’s in the top ten overall with the Evolution Unlimited class cars and trucks that have big engines, and tons of suspension travel. Everyone expected they would get trounced on day 2 of racing when the course got rougher, but they hung onto their advantage to the end. Thomas Purcell was third overall in his Can Am X3. His chassis is a 2 seat model which he credits for his fast times in the tight twisty sections. Thomas got the bug for NORRA back in 2011 when Tim Crabtree invited him to race in Bob Gordon’s old class one car. After winning that year, Thomas wanted to return in his own vehicle so he bought a vintage buggy to race. He then was burned out by all the maintenance he had to do on the purpose built race car so he built the Can Am to compete in. The UTV is basically stock, with reinforcements for strength added where needed. “We won the first NORRA 500 when they brought it back, so we have won both times now,” said Thomas. “Our strategy was to drive hard on the first stages to get us up front. My car had a big advantage in the tight stuff. It was fun chasing people down in the dust. On day 2, we were hoping to stay in front of some of the faster class one cars that we started ahead of; we knew they would be coming. Everyone raced like gentlemen, and pulled over when we hit the push to pass. Then we just tried to run clean, and not throw away the UTV overall. My navigator Steve Cota did an outstanding job. The notes, the course, and the road books were incredible. It was so much fun.”

For his strong performance, Thomas received a big share of the Cartera Grande prize package supplied by Yokohama, K&N, Method, Rugged Radios, Tensor, Seal Savers, Steel It, Slime, HorsePower Ranch, Optima, Eibach, All Terrain Concepts, Multitool Grinder, Bilstein, and Speed Strap. Top UTV finishers Tricia Reina, Sean Yudice, John Zambie, Nick Casillas, Steven Brink, Cameron Ornelas, and Brent Tipps all shared in the pot that totaled well over 20 thousand dollars. The goal now is to increase the UTV Cartera Grande even higher for next year’s 500.

The incredible battle that took place between Hap Kellogg, Mike Belk, Rick Paquette, Mike Scott, Drew Belk, and Jerry Baker in Vintage Class 5 helped to push Hap Kellogg all the way up to 2nd place in the overall standings, earned him the Vintage era trophy, and a first in class. This was a class 5 competition like we haven’t seen for decades. They stayed near the top of the standings while they fought for the win amongst themselves. It’s a wakeup call to everyone that has forgotten how fast and competitive these cars can be.

“I’m so grateful to Rick, Mike, Drew and all for the competition we had,” says Hap Kellogg. “We finished super strong, and take pride in our traditional 5 car. We are even running an air cooled engine. On day one, we lost communications in the car so we had to use hand signals to communicate. With the mist in the air fogging our visors, and the mud puddles, it made it even harder. It was the first time that we ever had to do that. I drove the first day, and Angel Morfin of the Fab School drove day 2. We’ve won races in Baja before in this car, and when we decided to race NORRA, I took it to Troy Johnson who focused on taking weight out of the car. We switched to 35 inch tall tires which gave us better top end speeds. The course was technical, and harsh. I really like the new penalty metrics. If you ignore the push to pass, the penalty gets stiffer every time you do it. NORRA is fun, but we take it serious. We’re in it to win it. That’s why NORRA is our sanctioning body of choice.”

Jim, and Lisa Greenway have been racing for 40 years. Lisa did not make the trip to the NORRA 500 this year so Kevin Gross was riding with Jim in his legends buggy class 1980 Raceco 2/1600. They had a great run; winning the class, but got edged out of the Legends Era trophy by Trevor Glidden who was racing the former Dave Westhem 1978 GMC 1500 truck. “It was a good race,” said Jim Greenway. “We had an issue during day one when we got tangled up with a UTV; we had to do some work on the car. It was pretty neat; I have not run the pine forest in years. Last time I did it was in Bob Howle’s car; we ended up in a tree. The pine forest was a good equalizer. It’s technical so you can only go so fast. It was a fun event. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

At the very top of the overall standings is Mike Diorio. He battled with the likes of Gay Smith, Apdaly Lopez, and Matt Hylton who was driving Troy Johnson’s car. Hylton won the battle; taking the STEEL-IT King of the Mountain trophy, but Diorio won the war. He finished first overall, won the Evolution Buggy class, and trophy for the Evolution Era. “Our race went real well with no mechanical issues,” said Mike Diorio. “We started 4th so we didn’t have to work through many cars in the pine forest. We did catch some overlanders who didn’t know a race was going on. It was raining so it made it difficult to see. On day 2 Hylton started ahead of us until he got a flat and had to stop. That put us first on the road, but then we got a flat. The only other issue we had was that the gates were closed in Ojos. We had to stop and open 3 gates. Our 1998 Jimco Class 1 car is 23 years old, and it’s super simple. This win gives us a huge boost of confidence. My first NORRA race was in 2018. I rented the car from the Ebberts. It ran hot the entire way, but we finished 2nd in class. That taught us a lot. You have to stay consistent.”

Matt Hylton led for most of the race, but had mechanical issues during the final stage that dropped him back to 4th overall. “It was a phenomenal race; we led for most of it,” said Matt Hylton. “I wanted the overall so bad, but winning the King of the Mountain was huge for us; I love it in Baja. Apdaly was behind, and pressuring us. I took an inside line in a turn and didn’t see that there was a huge, 6 foot deep rut behind a bush. I hit it, and destroyed the front wheel. We limped to the pit where Troy and the crew had everything waiting. They swapped the broken parts in less than 10 minutes. We lost some time, but weren’t late for the next stage. My codriver Curtis Zamora did a great job pumping me up, and keeping me calm when I needed it. We are looking forward to the Mexican 1000 next year.”

From the fastest modern era race cars and trucks, to the restored vintage race vehicles, everyone had a great time at the Yokohama NORRA 500 presented by Method Race Wheels. NORRA provides a great challenge, great competition, and the best that Baja has to offer. In addition to the Era trophy winners mentioned above, the Pioneer Era winner was Chris Sullivan, and the Challenger Era trophy was earned by Scot Link. Complete results, information, videos, and more can be found at www.norra.com. See how you too can participate in the race series that Honors the Past, While Forging the Future; NORRA.

###   Good Vibes. Good Times!   ###


ABOUT NORRA

Beginning in 2010, the National Off Road Racing Association (NORRA) began promoting a rebirth of the NORRA Mexican 1000 rally. The unique off-road rally was co-created by promoter Mike Pearlman to consist of special stages (unlimited speed timed stages in the dirt) linked together by controlled speed liaison / transit sections (highway). The one-of-a-kind, once-a-year, five-day rally includes vintage off-road vehicles and motorcycles, as well as modern pre-runners, trucks, buggies, UTVs, bikes and desert Rally Raid cars.

Pearlman’s late father Ed and others established the first running of the NORRA Mexican 1000 off-road rally in November of 1967, which eventually became internationally recognized and evolved into the Baja 1000 in the mid-1970's.

NORRA enjoys corporate partnerships with Yokohama Tire, Method Race Wheels, South Point Hotel & Casino, Bilstein Shock Absorbers, STEEL-IT, RIGID, Multitool USA, Satellite Phone Store.com, Biltwell, Cerveceria Transpeninsular, PCI Race Radios, The Fab School, Schampa, K&N, Baja Bush Pilots, Mag7 Pits, the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame (ORMHOF), B3KREATIV, and many more.