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This Desert Hills Life: Rod Hall, 24-Time Baja 1000 Winner




Hall has claimed more podium finishes than any American off-road racer — 24 Baja 1000 Class wins and the only overall win in a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

“Well, this isn’t fun,” hollered legendary off-road racer Rod Hall into my wired helmet. “I’m not sure why anyone would even do this,” I responded from the right seat of Hall’s restored and rally-prepared 1969 Ford Bronco. We shared a long and hearty laugh as we nearly bounced out of our five-point harnesses, after a number of miles of nonstop, rough, and rain-troughed dirt track, some along narrow and winding ravines with heart-arresting drop-offs.

It was day one of the 2016 NORRA Mexican 1000, and we were somewhere between Santo Tomás and San Quintín, along the Baja California peninsula. Our communication to this point had been cursory, consisting of course notes from a road book that directed turns, warned of terrain hazards and varying degrees of danger along the route, imposed speed zones through small villages, and led competitors to the start and end of race stages. We were on the clock for a 476.70 mile-long run that would end in Bahía de Los Ángeles in the dark, where Hall’s team would camp and then continue for three more punishing days before ending in San José del Cabo, with a total of 1,374 miles traveled since starting in Ensenada.

This moment of levity catapulted my grey matter back to the first race I did with Hall, the 1995 Baja 1000 in a Hummer H1. I was a neophyte in the world of off-road motorsports then, and as we started out on our 12-hour-long stint over a swath of body-jarring “woops,” I swore it would be my first and last such race. It was not fun, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone participated in this brutal pursuit more than once. However, by the time we finished in first place, I was hooked on the off-road racing constellation: intense competition, remarkable friendship, and high-speed motoring over incredibly diverse terrain through some of the planet’s most picturesque and hauntingly beautiful locations.

“I loved the challenge of not knowing where we were going. Bill Hardy gave me a compass at the start and said, ‘Just go southeast to La Paz!’”

All of it hooked Hall, who has claimed more podium finishes than any American off-road racer, including 24 Baja 1000 Class wins and the only overall win in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer started his racing career in 1964, when he won the Afton Canyon Jeep Junket in the desert near Riverside, California. Though he bought his first Jeep in 1957 when he graduated from high school and was an avid four-wheel-drive enthusiast, Afton Canyon was his first race. Some consider it the first organized off-road race in the U.S., since it was three years later that desert racing officially began on a regular basis, with the 1967 NORRA Mexican 1000 in Baja.

Hall entered the inaugural Mexican 1000 and won the 4WD class in his stock Jeep CJ-5 with co-driver Larry Minor. Two years later, Bill Stroppe hired him as a driver and Hall was the overall winner of the 1969 event along with Minor, piloting a ’69 Bronco. It was the wellspring of a five-decades-long career that has led Hall to race on a number of continents, achieving a record-winning streak of 35 races in a row, and earning him the accolade of “winningest off-road racer in America.”


Rod Hall is turning over the reins to granddaughter Shelby Hall Baker who was co-driver for her grandfather at the Mexican 1000.

Now 79, Hall is battling a few health issues that affect his mobility, but most who battle against him on the off-road circuit would have little to no idea that his crew lifts him in and out of his race vehicle. Once settled in the Bronco’s saddle, he becomes an indomitable force of talent and tenacity. All who know him would also wax long about his wit and wisdom, as he remembers practically every race mile he has ever driven, and he is the consummate storyteller/historian for a pursuit that continues to grow in popularity around the globe. Hall has seen it all.

“The ’67 Mexican 1000 was the first true adventure that I went on,” he said. “I tried to setup my new, stock CJ-5, but nobody really knew how to do things properly at that time for the racers, [or] Ed Pearlman, who set up the race with no signs, seven checkpoints, and, although fuel was included in the entry costs, you had to find the fuel stops and pump your own gasoline!

“I loved the challenge of not knowing where we were going. Bill Hardy from Jeep Communications gave me a compass at the start and said, ‘Just go southeast to La Paz!’

“Minor and I were shocked to win after getting lost a dozen times and performing repairs in the unrelenting desert sun, so we felt pretty famous in our driving suits and T-shirts when we arrived at the official finish at the Hotel La Perla. I was given a steak that covered my plate and free drinks, and there were lots of ladies and members of the press that had been flown in. It was then that I decided my career was going to be off-road racing,” kidded Hall.

2016 NORRA Mexican 1000 03

2016 NORRA Mexican 1000 03

Hall’s motivation to race the 2016 Mexican 1000 coincided with the opportunity to make a 50th run down the peninsula he knows intimately, to champion the restored Bronco in the Pioneer 4×4 Class, and to share driving duties with granddaughter Shelby Hall Baker, 27, a contender to follow in her grandfather’s tracks.

“I’m getting old, and I am about to run out of gas,” said Hall when he took to the podium with her by his side after a second-place finish in Cabo. “This might be my last time to be famous in my little world. You don’t want to miss a time to tell your story. I feel so fortunate to have done the things I have done. Bill Stroppe was a good teacher. He told me: ‘You’re in show business, and you’re representing the manufacturers that support you.’

“I don’t see myself as a legend. I feel fortunate that I am still here, and I like the sport. I have a great support team that is hardworking, honest, and loyal and great sponsors like BFGoodrich. I have been true to them from the beginning. I think we have a camaraderie, whatever that word means. Sometimes people don’t have loyalty and sell out for a few more dollars.

“I feel privileged that people want to do a story [about me] that will encourage other people coming up. I started with nothing. … I’m just a workin’ guy. My wife calls me a B-movie star — you know, the ones who are always working, and I like to think of myself that way. The big guys come and go.”

Hall has been going for a long time, and despite what he says, there is still fuel in the tank to burn.

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November 4, 2016