FireForce Racing, a group of active and retired firefighters, successfully completed a four day (4/28 – 5/01), 1,242 mile off-road race in Baja Calif, Mexico. The NORRA (National Off Road Racing Association) was the original sanctioning body for the legendary Baja 1000 beginning in 1967 – 1970 led by Ed Perlman. His son, Mike Perlman, brought NORRA back in 2010 as a four day, rally style event designated primarily for vintage race vehicles. He attracted some of the legends of the sport including Walker Evans, Malcom Smith, and Parnelli Jones and many of the original race vehicles, restored to their former glory. Although the race is centered around the vintage vehicles, it has been opened up to any year of motorcycle or vehicle, divided into a Vintage Divison and Evolution Division for the newer vehicles. Each division was further divided into various classes depending on age, suspension and engine size.
This year we entered a 1968 Ford F-100 pickup truck. This truck was raced in the 80’s as a Class 8, which required it to retain the stock frame and cab. It has a full roll cage made of 2” DOM mild steel, front to rear which adds rigidity to the frame, safety for the occupants, and attachment points for the suspension. Rear suspension is a three link set up for approximately 24” of wheel travel and a 9” Ford rear end with a spool and 4:11 gears. Using 33”x12.50 x 15” BFG All Terrain tires we had a top speed close to 100 mph. The front suspension is the classic Ford Twin I beam, although strengthened and adjusted for maximum wheel travel. All four wheels were controlled by remote reservoir coil over shocks and 2” bump stops. Power to the wheels is supplied by a Ford 351 c.i. Cleveland, developing approximately 425 h. p.
Our team this year consisted of Bruce Galien (Driver of Record), Bob Motheral (Big Ol’ Bad Ass Bob, Baja Veteran) and Mike Ryan (Stunt driver, Pikes Peak record holder) as owners/drivers. Mike Reitmayer, Doak Smith and my wife Debbie made up our capable chase crew. This year our team name was “Perros Locos” borrowed from FS 98, and representing the Los Angeles Fire Dept. in our Truck #98.
This rally style race is a little different than the traditional Baja 1000 in that it is held over four days with three overnight stops. Each day we had dirt “special stage” sections ran at top speed, then highway ‘transition” sections at controlled speeds to the next stage. The total mileage was 1,242 miles with approximately two-thirds at race speed over dirt roads and trails, and one third on highway “transition” sections. The course is not marked but instead we used GPS and a route book, which described the landmarks and mileages to various turns and roads.
Day 1 – Mexicali – just over the US border into Mexico – Technical inspection, drivers meeting, last minute preparations for race day.
Day 2 – Race day- Left the start line at 10:07, seventh off the line in our class of “Vintage Open Truck.” First stage went well with Bob averaging 71mph! Second stage with Mike driving, again no issues picking off a few competitors.. Third stage was my turn, on a short section just to get used to the truck. My claim to fame was I beat Walker Evans’ time, who was the eventual overall winner. OK, maybe he had a flat tire? It was approximately 400 miles to the Bay of Los Angeles. 9th place overall in the Vintage Division, third in class.
Day 3 – Bay of Los Angeles – worked on brakes which had been fading and a leaking power steering hose. Found the local “soldadura” and did the baja fix on the power steering hose. Mike driving, Bob co-driver for the 125 mile off road section. 80 mph, bad brakes, a big dip in the road and Mike rolls the truck on its side only to be stopped by a “torote” tree. The sap in these trees is blood red and the truck looked like it hit a cow that bled all over it! Got some help rolling it back over and on their way thanks to the #54 and the Suburban guys in #71. Somewhere during that time the rear sway bar broke causing the truck to not corner as it should.
When they got to the pit we replaced the power steering hose with one I had found in a local auto parts store. Now the power steering pump was pouring out fluid. One more trip to the auto parts, two junk yards and finally to “Jose’s” house where he took a pump off the family pickup to get us going. Lost the brake pads from the left rear caliper, pinched off the brake line, and ran on three wheel brakes. By now the rear end is making an awful whining/grinding noise.
Bob is driving and I am co-driver as we do the next section of 175 miles to Loreto. Nursing it along as the rear end is now howling. We were running short on time from downtime from earlier repairs. Going through the town of La Purisima the throttle suddenly sticks wide open as we nearly hit a car, a fence and a goat. Get it shut down and stopped. Pulled the carb off and found a copper vent tube came loose, fell down the throat, and was holding the throttle wide open. How many times does that happen? It’s now dark. Bob is trying to make up time. We lose the other rear brake and are now working with the front brakes only. Bob’s leg is so cramped that he is using his hand to help move his leg from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. We get a flat. We arrive in Loreto at 10:30 pm.
Day 4 – Loreto, BCS, Mexico – Mike buys and scrounges enough parts to rebuild the rear brakes. Doak and Mike Reitmayer are all over the truck getting it ready to go.
Mike driving, Bruce co-driver – first 20 miles is a paved speed section. Got schooled on driving an off-road truck up a twisty mountain road by Mike. Right up until the time he was passed by a VW powered single seat car called the Bel Ray Bullet. Changed places with Mike for a 125 mile section into La Paz. Buried the front end of the truck in an unseen hole filled with silt. The lights went out for a second as we were in a dust cloud and couldn’t see out. Knocked the front end out of alignment. No other issues except the rear end sounding like someone threw some bolts into a garbage disposal.
Day 5 – La Paz – All hands worked on the truck getting ready for the last day – 125 miles into San Jose del Cabo. Bruce driving, Bob co-driver. Showed up at the start line – nobody there, where is everybody? Oops, supposed to start at a hotel in La Paz, not 16 miles out of town where we were. Haul ass back to the hotel, get there with five minutes to spare, start over. This added an extra 32 miles on a rear end that was rapidly coming apart. Hope it makes it!
Ran out of La Paz, to the Pacific Ocean into Todo Santos, one flat along the way. Meet our pit crew, get two new spares, power steering fluid, and a small fire as the fluid flashed on the hot engine. Then it’s over the mountains back to the Sea of Cortez side just north of San Jose del Cabo. Lost the rear brakes again – To close to the finish to try to fix it. Last 30 miles on front brakes only. Took a Sunday stroll and savored our last few miles to the finish line.
This year there were a total of 148 entries. In the Vintage Divison there were 60 entries. In our class of Vintage Open Truck we competed against 12 other trucks, including Walker Evans, the eventual overall Vintage winner. We came out 25th in our division and 6th in our class with an average speed of 49.5 mph. It was one hell of an adventure and we hope to do it again next year.
You can check it all out at http://norra.com/results.php
By Bruce Galien, LAFD retired