Any 1957 Chevrolet on the road will draw stares and a curious fan now and then. When it’s an historic off-road racer like the Rippin’ Rooster, it snaps necks and draws big crowds wherever it goes. It’s an iconic Tri-Five Chevy, a race car, and an off-road veteran with a long pedigree. The car’s fan base in Baja has been growing for years, and thanks to print coverage in Roadkill Magazine and an article in Hot Rod Magazine, the car is drawing fans from all over. One fan from Northern California drove 30 hours to take in the Baja experience and see the car in its natural element at the finish of stage one at the NORRA Mexican 1000 in Bay of LA. At every stop along the over 1400 mile rally, the Rippin’ Rooster team was surrounded by fans.
Many had 57 Chevy Hot Wheels cars, posters; some had hero cards from years past that were hanging on walls and taken down so car owner Jim Riley could autograph them. Popular with all kids in Baja are stickers. They are cherished, and traded like currency. Rippin’ Rooster stickers are worth a fortune on the sticker exchange. This year the team had 2000 shop rags with the Rippin’ Rooster on them to hand out; they were a big hit.
As much as the fans look forward to seeing the Rippin’ Rooster, Jim Riley and the crew can’t wait to return to Baja each year for the Mexican 1000.
The first order of business is always a visit to Rancho Milagro, an orphanage outside Ensenada. There are difficulties transporting goods across the border so funds are raised during the year and then used to purchase three months of food and essential supplies for the orphanage at Costco in Mexico. This year, thanks to Eric Morley of Blue C Advertising, the kids were also treated with a visit from the mystery man in the black helmet, Robert Acer. Acer does amazing charity work and is tireless in his efforts to support children, families, schools and orphanages all over the world. Seeing the smiles on those kid’s faces is very rewarding and is a way the team can give back to the people of Baja who allow them to race on their beautiful peninsula.
Contingency and technical inspection was packed with fans and Azunia Tequila hosted margaritas along with the Margarita Man. It was a lot of fun but the gravity of racing more than 400 miles in the morning was beginning to sink in. When the rally kicked off in the morning, the first to drive the Rippin’ Rooster was Eric Morley who has raced other baja racing series but this was his first NORRA (and not his last) NORRA race. Morley says that it was “one of his bucket list items” and appreciates that Jim Riley reached out to him to share the driving duties.
He delivered the car to Jim Riley in perfect shape who took it the rest of the way to Bahía de los Ángeles, (BOLA). Day two was a challenging run from BOLA to Loreto, also over 400 miles in length that had rocks, silt beds and huge cacti. For the Rippin’ Rooster crew, it was the beginning of an engine issue that plagued them to the finish.
It’s a good thing so many fans greeted the team at the end of every stage because crew members James Pfeiffer, Jim Dillon, John Lucas, Sonny Tudor, and Lucas Hand were able to feed on their enthusiasm and energy during long nights of preparation for the next day’s challenge. They used every bit of knowledge and Baja engineering to coax the wounded engine across the finish line in San José del Cabo. Other team members Eric Morley, Juan Torres and Bill Bryant contributed to the team’s success. Missing from the line-up was Elana Scherr from Hot Rod Magazine who could not make the trip. She had to experience it vicariously through nightly reports.
The final stage was beautiful and a little scary. Going over the mountain, it was Rowan Horncastle from Top Gear BBC calling out the turns. He had ridden in the modern pre-run buggy of Robby Gordon, a slightly older full size Nissan truck as part of the Gentleman’s Guide to Racing, and finally the vintage Rippin’ Rooster car to get a taste of everything from the rally.
Horncastle got out and Samantha Riley, Jim’s wife, got in to navigate some super critical miles and take the checkered flag. Like all the competitors, she was able to enjoy a shot of Azunia Tequila after a long day of racing. That shot of Azunia and a cold margarita at the finish line got the celebration underway.
That evening, the awards ceremony at the Grand Mayan resort was phenomenal. There was also a celebration at the Agave Hotel and Cantina in Los Barilles on Thursday that drew a huge turnout. It was another amazing NORRA Mexican 1000. Everyone was relieved to get to the finish but a little sad it was over. Next year’s race will be even more special as NORRA celebrates their 50th anniversary.