Never has a group of athletes been looked upon with both equal parts reverence and genuine astonishment as off-road racers. And in the world of off-road racing, there are certain events that truly make us question the sanity of the men and women behind the craziness.
In fact, even a quick glance of this list of the World’s 15 Most Extreme Off-Road Races will make you think twice about complaining of shoddy city engineering and crazy weekend traffic ever again.
1. NORRA and the Mexican 1000
The craziness began at the National Off-Road Racing Association’s inaugural event in 1967. Since then, the Mexican 1000, which gets its name from the fact that it’s 1,000 miles across the Mexican desert, has been one of the most legendary events in extreme off-road racing. NORRA handed the event to SCORE International shortly after its inception, so watch for the “Baja 1000″ at No. 2 on this list. The original event made a comeback in 2010 and will be returning in 2012 with an assortment of categories: ATVs, vintage cars and buggies, rally cars, motorcycles and more. The event will be held May 5-9, 2012, and will include three separate legs: Mexicali to Bahia de Los Angeles, Bahia de Los Angeles to Loreto, and Loreto to the finish line (location yet to be announced as of Sept. 26).
2. Tecate SCORE Baja 1000
The organization SCORE International is known for the Baja 1000, which was formerly known as the Mexican 1000 (see No. 1) until 1973 when this body took it over. The Baja 1000 is typically held in November, and begins in Ensenada. There really isn’t a finish line per se. The race includes multiple groups of vehicles, as with the newly formed Mexican 1000, and a winner is picked for each style of vehicle based on overall time from Ensenada to the predetermined finish point for that classification. Speeding penalties and other violations in regulated areas are deducted from the overall time to determine a winner. Finish points include Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas and La Paz. Motorcycles and quads are included in the event.
3. Lucas Oil Off-Road Challenge Cup
The Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series always ends its season with the dirt slinging action of the Challenge Cup. The stadium-based event, this year held in December 2011 at the Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Arizona, will offer a wide assortment of vehicle competitions including buggies and ATVs. The event is the climax of a racing season that includes 15 rigorous rounds throughout Arizona, California, and Nevada.
4. MAORA Enduro Races
The desert races of Mexico and Nevada may be longer, but the Mid-America Off-Road Association’s (MAORA) Enduro packs a lot of extreme into three hours of racing. MAORA follows a similar format as the Baja 1000. Different divisions of cars are started at separate intervals and the race is timed rather than being a “point A to point B” sort of thing. The overall track, however, is much shorter, usually not scaling past 5 miles in length. “Pro” and “Trophy” divisions are allowed with the professional drivers competing in Pro and the novices in the Trophy circuit.
5. TORC Series
The Off-Road Championship (TORC) Series combines off-road racing and motocross into a rigorous series of events that make rough and tumble use of their natural terrain tracks. The races are held from California to Wisconsin. Past champions include motocross legend Rick Johnson. While nothing near the length of a Baja 1000, the TORC Series offers short course off-road racing that is every bit as rigorous as its longer counterpart. Specific events that are included as part of this series take place at Chicagoland Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Pikes Peak International Raceway.
6. Best in the Desert Series
The Best in the Desert Series, ran by long-time promoter Casey Folks, is one of the more well-known US-based organizations for off-road racing. Folks has attracted notable talents over the years, such as Rod Hall, Mike Groff, and Robbie Gordon. His two biggest events are the Nevada 1000, which is the “longest point-to-point desert off-road racing event in the United States,” the official website notes; and the Vegas to Reno challenge, which places competitors against one another in one of the most unforgiving tracts of desert land in the world. Motorcycles, quads, buggies and trick trucks, are all included in the Best in the Desert Series.
7. Taupo 1000
North America points to the Baja 1000 as the premier event for off-road racing, but ask anyone in New Zealand, and you’ll certainly get a different answer. For New Zealanders, it doesn’t get more rigorous than the Taupo 1000. In 2011, Australian racer Brad Prout claimed the title after 1,000 grueling kilometers across the heavily forested area on the North Island of New Zealand. While the drivers get a more enchanting view of Lake Taupo, the Waikato River, and the Huka Falls-more than they can say for their desert counterparts-they generally face stiff competition from drivers all over the world.
8. The Dakar Rally
It was once called the “Paris to Dakar Rally,” but changing tides and increased security threats in the world at large have moved this race from its traditional Paris, France to Dakar, Senegal location to (as of 2009) South America. The new race covers Chile and Argentina. Hundreds of competitors-both amateur and pro-compete in true off-road vehicles and cover as much as 560 miles per day. In the past, they’ve had to deal with sand dunes, mud, rocks, erg and camel grass, just to name a few of the obstacles. Cars, trucks, quads, bikes and ATVs are all allowed into the competition.
9. Rallye des Pharaons
The Rallye des Pharaons is sponsored each year by the International Motorcycle Federation. It begins and ends in Cairo, Egypt and covers an unforgiving length of desert that totals around 3,100 kilometers. Three-time champion of the Dakar Rally Richard Sainct died on Sept. 29, 2004, when his motorcycle crashed in the midst of the event. Motorcycles along with cars and trucks are all allowed to compete.
10. Spanish Baja
The Spanish Baja is an annual rally-raid event that forces competitors into the unique desert environment of the Monegros (located in Northern Spain). The Monegros is like most deserts in that it is given to drought and high temperatures. It does, however, contain a number of different lakes, more than one would typically expect from this type of environment. The Spanish Baja originated in 1983, and is a part of the International Motorcycle Federation’s Off-Road World Cup series.
11. Raid de Himalaya
The Raid de Himalaya, originating in 1999, carries the distinction among rally-raid enthusiasts as being held at the highest altitude. In 2009, the event began in Shimla and finished in Srinagar. It is generally held in October in order to avoid the impossibly cold and snowy winters that often plague the event’s starting point. (Shimla’s altitude is greater than 7,200 feet. Srinagar is at 5,200 feet.) The event is open to all types of true off-road vehicles from the two-wheeled to four-wheeled variety.
12. Tecate SCORE San Felipe 250
San Felipe, Baja California, is known as the gateway to the Sea of Cortez. It’s the hearty mix of desert and resort life that has attracted spectators and competitors from all over the world for a number of years. SCORE International usually puts their San Felipe 250 event on each year at the end of February or the beginning of March. It’s a looped course that starts and stops in the same location. The 2011 Winner was Rob MacCachren in Cars and Trucks and Colton Udall and Jeff Kargola in Motorcycles.
13. Russian Baja Northern Forest
SA latecomer to the World Cup event hosted by the International Motorcycle Federation, the Russian Baja Northern Forest entered the fray in 2007. Unlike many of the different rally-raids and off-road events presented in this list, the Northern Forest (as it is called for short) is held on snow and ice in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the month of February. On average, competitors can expect a 14-degree Fahrenheit temperature. Motorcycles are not recommended!
14. SNORE SoCal 250
Southern Nevada Off-Road Enthusiasts (SNORE) has offered races all throughout Nevada since being created for recreational purposes in 1969. While the fun is still emphasized, the playing field is a bit more competitive. Races include “the bushed hills of Southern Nevada,” “the pine tree dotted coolness of Central Nevada,” and “the decomposed granite boulder country of Southern California,” according to the SNORE official website. It is this last choice that acts as a standout for off-road enthusiasts, who are drawn to the challenge and the danger. The SoCal 250 is 250 miles in length and generally held in May each year.
15. MINT 400
Del Webb’s Mint Hotel and Casino started the MINT 400 event in 1969. It was open to buggies, cars, trucks and motorcycles until 1988, and was referred to mostly as “The Great American Desert Race.” When the Mint Hotel sold in 1988, the event was dropped and didn’t return until SNORE brought it back in 2008. The event will forever be tied to Hunter S. Thompson’s novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because Thompson was supposed to be covering it as a short article when he ended up with his 25,000-word drug-induced tirade that would later become a bestseller and a major motion picture starring Johnny Depp. The race itself was a successful event that drew both professional off-roaders and celebrities. The 400-mile trek across Southern Nevada remains legendary for all that it brought to the sport. Not to mention those Mint 400 ladies!
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