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Baja legend looks ahead
by Dan McGee - Special to the Tribune
Jan 27, 2014 | 1416 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Dan McGee - Rod Hall (left) and his right-hand-man, Tom Heyl, stand by one of the modules being build at the Wild West Motorsports Park. The module will be part of the '4X4 Drive 4 Excellence' event, which is an event showcasing a driver's skill rather than speed.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee - Rod Hall (left) and his right-hand-man, Tom Heyl, stand by one of the modules being build at the Wild West Motorsports Park. The module will be part of the '4X4 Drive 4 Excellence' event, which is an event showcasing a driver's skill rather than speed.
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Tribune photo by Dan McGee - During a pit stop at the 209-mile mark for November's Baja 1000, Rod Hall stepped out of his hummer and put co-driver Shelby Hall behind the wheel. Joining her was Damien Michelin and the pair switched positions for the remainder of the event. The elder Hall is the only driver that's competed in all 47 Baja 1000 races.
Tribune photo by Dan McGee - During a pit stop at the 209-mile mark for November's Baja 1000, Rod Hall stepped out of his hummer and put co-driver Shelby Hall behind the wheel. Joining her was Damien Michelin and the pair switched positions for the remainder of the event. The elder Hall is the only driver that's competed in all 47 Baja 1000 races.
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MUSTANG - It would be a huge understatement to describe Rod Hall as a well-known desert racer. In the sport of off-road racing, he's a legend, having competed in every Baja 1000 event.

"Yes I believe I have and I read that I'm the only person that did the original one in 1967, and have done every one consecutively since," he said.

Years ago Hall started with small events in places like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico and Boulder. At that time these were called Jeep O'Ramas.

"Then I actually put on probably the first off-road race in California in '62 or '63, when I was the president of the Hemet Jeep Club," he said. "So to do something different I decided we needed to do a race around the mountains."

Hall explained that he marked out a pretty basic course and kind of threw markers here and there.

Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, "So we did that and I found out that when you lay out an off-road race it's a lot easier to win it."

Hall added that back then, before all of today's regulations, they could run just about anywhere they wanted. His association with the Baja event started at Pismo Beach in 1967 during a meeting of the California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs.

"And we sat around the campfire and somebody said, 'gosh did you hear about this race they're going to have in October from Tijuana to La Paz,' So Larry Minor and I said, 'nah, tell us about it.'"

Hall and Minor went and entered that first race in a stock CJ5 Jeep.

"Let me tell you, you cannot design a worse off-road race vehicle than a CJ5 Jeep. So that's what got me started, we won our class and I've been an off road racer ever since," he said.

Several years ago Hall promoted two races, the Reno 400, outside and north of Fernley. And this past November he drove in the 47th annual Baja 100.



Now he's also helping the next generation of the Hall family make their mark at Baja.

"The race was good and I race now for the enjoyment of it and my granddaughter Shelby is racing with me. This is actually her second Baja with me," he said. "She and a good friend of mine, Damien Michelin, like to race and I enjoy getting them involved and seeing them get all excited and so I drive the first 150 miles or so and then that's enough for me."

Around mile 209 Hall got out and Shelby took his place behind with wheel with Michelin taking over the co-driver's seat. Then they switched back and forth for the remainder of the event.

"She's got talent, she likes it and like grandpa, she just does it," he said.

Now the he's officially "retired," well except for the Baja race, Hall has had time to work on an idea he's had for the past 25 years.

"What's kind of got me motivated for this is the '4X4 Drive 4 Excellence' where all the competitors are going to be competing in exactly the same vehicle, which is a production vehicle the way Detroit or Japan makes them," he said. "I think production is where it is as and I've always raced the production classes.

"What I see is everything being extreme. It's the same in motor sports, the big guys drive Trophy Trucks or they have the Rock Crawlers that have 45-inch tall tires on them and 600 horsepower. They just point and shoot and so I thought all these guys are hot shoes but let's do this, put them in the same vehicles and see who really has vehicle control, who has the throttle control, who knows how to pick a line with a production car. "

So after taking almost a year off, Hall struck a deal with Wild West Motorports Park creator Norm Dianda to put in what is needed for the new event.

Hall added his event has nothing to do with racing although the first part will have competitors competing against the clock and another team.

The program will probably start out with demonstrations as well as competition that are graded more like a trials event. Penalty points will be added for certain things and the driver or team with the lowest amount wins.

Before the timed event there will be a raffle to determine just who partners with a driver that is either in or will be inducted into the ORMHOF

The teams then line up in separate lanes and at the start, each driver puts his Jeep on top of a teeter-totter where they must hold that position for 10-seconds.

After that they go through a left-right chicane and onto a steeply banked corner. While steep, the corner won't be enough to roll the vehicles.

The aim is to stop at a certain point where the driver and passenger insert a ball into a drop. After that they head for the finish line.

Now the driver switches sides with the passenger and they run the course again but in different lanes.

After the teeter-totter event, fans can move out of the stands to the modules to root for their favorite team.

"It's going to be kind of like the Rubicon, you can make it but we're not going to tell you how to pick your lines. But if you drag your rear end, touch a spring hanger, you get a demerit. It has nothing to do with speed but you've got to get through there without touching anything," he said.

Along with the four to five modules, there are going to be two hill climb sections.

"First thing is a mud hill climb then a dirt hill climb where they have to stop and then start up again," he said. "So it's throttle control."

And the other modules will have soft dirt sections that also put a premium on throttle control as well as picking the right line through them.

Hall also intends to expand competition.

"I've added the motorcycles and side-by-sides as I figure just watching those Jeeps all day could get boring," he said. "So we're going to have a side show, sort of. Maybe a half-hour Sunday with the bikes and a half an hour on Saturday with the side-by-sides."

And the motorcycle riders and side-by-side drivers will compete in identical machines. So far the Triumph and Can-Am side-by-side dealers are interested in being a part of this event.

Looking further into the future, Hall feels the modules have opportunities outside of competition.

"Eventually what I think the potential of this thing is for training sessions for tire companies, automobile companies. I think we could do this for Range Rover, Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Toyota pickups, and right now I'm talking with GM about their new Colorado pick up," he said. "So I think it could become a training thing for Toyo(ta) Tires, General Tires could be for BF Goodrich tires and it could be for dealers like in northern Nevada."

But right now he has a certain format in mind that would include many types of people.

"Saturday is going to be for a four-wheeler guy that wants to maybe donate to the Hall of Fame and then he gets to be a contestant with a Hall of Fame driver. But on Sunday I'm looking at one of the prominent people in the Truckee Meadows and they will compete with an ORMHOF driver," he said. "And I've got different people in mind that would bring some notoriety to what we're doing and two under consideration are editors of off road magazines as they can compete."

He also wants women to compete in this event.

Currently Hall and his right hand man Tom Heyl are busy supervising the construction of the modules as well as figuring out how they will set up the teeter-totter course with its steep corners.

For a "retired," driver Rod Hall is one busy person these days and he's enjoying himself. Those wishing more information can contact Hall at rodhall@charter.net or Shelby Hall at shall@ormhof.org.
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