In 1967, the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) was formed by Ed Pearlman. Their inaugural event? A Mexican desert down the entire length of Baja that would later become known as the Baja 1000 – aka the rough-and-tumble godfather of the sport.
Now, the races round the globe and come in all stocks and models, from modded-out rally racers to budget-conscious dune buggies.
They’re tough. They’re dangerous. And they’re a filthy good time.
Here are seven of best and baddest — beyond the Baja, ‘course — worth seeing in this lifetime.
The Mint 400
Originally created for both motorcycles and autos, the Mint was started by Howard Hughes consort Del Webb to promote the Mint Hotel and Casino in Vegas. Due to some ancillary activities, the race went quiet for 20 years before resuming service in 2008. Beginning with a flashy promenade through Sin City, the Mint dashes through the desert some 92 miles every March. Check Best in the Desert for similar upcoming races.
King of the Hammers
Multiple U.S. locations
One of the toughest in the game, the original KoH takes place each February on public lands in Johnson Valley, CA. What was once 12 teams racing for bragging rights and a case of beer now includes more than 300 teams, 35,000 fans and a seven-race series held across the country over a variety of terrains, from desert plains to rock-crawls.
Now in its 37th year, this January’s race was the eighth successful Dakar Rally out of Buenos Aires. The adventure began in ‘77, when a young Thierry Sabine found himself lost in the Libyan desert during the Abidjan-Nice Rally. He was inspired to share his fascination with the sport with the world, and coined the race’s motto, “A challenge for those who go. A dream for those who stay behind.”
Rallye Aicha des Gazelles
A race for the literal tough mothers out there — this one’s just for the ladies. Created in 1990, the event brings together women from ages 18-65 from over 30 countries worldwide. There’s no speed limit and no GPS. Just old-fashioned, guttural off-road adventure through the Moroccan desert.
The dream of Samuel Shaw, a visionary and entrepreneur who acquired the Crandon property off Route 8 in Wisconsin in the 1880s. The race bills itself as the “World Championship of Off-Road Races” and takes place on Labor Day. Crandon also hosts an annual bout of 4x4 rally madness called Trophy Trucks.
Originally inspired by a conversation between motorsport devotees Eric Cecil and his cousin Neil Vincent, wherein Vincent said of racing at the freshly built Langa Langa circuit, “I can imagine nothing more boring than driving round and round the same piece of track. But if you will organize an event where we get into our cars, slam the door, go halfway across Africa and back and the first car home is the winner, I’ll be in it.” Et voila: the East African Safari Classic was born.
Lucas Oil Off-Road Series
The LOORRS was founded in ‘09 by Lucas Oil head honcho Forrest Lucas. The races bring the thoroughly Midwestern tradition of short course off-road racing to various West Coast locations: its intense four-wheel action spans courses in Arizona, California, Utah and Nevada.