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Vroom vroom! Are there any two words more representative of the sheer power and exhilaration behind racing cars? Whether you’re a loyal pedestrian or a person with a passion for off-roading, you can’t deny that driving a vehicle through wild backtrails and patches of mud feels downright primal.

The off-road racing hobby has millions of fans from across the world. Although they might be separated by geography, ethnicity, and culture, there is one thing that draws all off-road fans together: a dedication towards strong rigs that can defeat the environment.

Traditions start where many people congregate. Is it any wonder, then, that off-road racing events have become so popular as to be broadcast across the globe? From events like the world-famous Baja 1000 to The Mint 400, off-road fans have a lot to take their pick from.

If you’re interested in motorsport but don’t quite know where to start watching the most worthwhile off-road races or if you’d simply like a reminder as to what options you have at your disposal, then read on! This article describes the most popular races for you to watch and enjoy.

Introduction to Off-road Racing

It’s hard to imagine the people of the 1920s ever considering that a popular pastime across the country would become none other than off-road racing. Given the cars they had back then, seeing an off-road car would no doubt be close to seeing an alien spaceship.

Unsurprisingly, off-road racing is a relatively recent phenomenon that first came about during the 20th century. While off-road oldheads no doubt know everything about this, the first off-road race took place in 1967 and was called the Mexican 1000.

Before diving into how the races started, it’s important to consider some of the contexts behind the birth of off-road racing. 4x4 cars first started becoming a “thing” during World War II.

At one point, the United States realized it would have to get involved in the war - and in the European theater, no less - which is why they commissioned several automobile companies to create what they called a “reconnaissance car.”

The development of these unique cars wasn’t easy and encountered many difficulties and obstacles. To cite an example, the very first prototype, called the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, was designed by freelance engineer Karl Probst after he was hired by the same company the US Army was paying.

Who knew outsourcing was that old?

Off-roading as a Hobby

The off-road “Jeep” type vehicle became popular during World War II after the first few prototypes proved to be successful. While at first it was being used exclusively by the Army, it soon started receiving sales from people who intended to use them for their utility, such as when traveling through difficult terrain.

Unbeknownst to them, this would be the start of off-roading as a hobby. Realizing the surprising amount of fun you can have behind an off-road rig, these pioneers would help establish a long-lived hobby that is still going strong today.

Although arguably the first off-road vehicle - the Kegresse track, which is almost closer to a tank than a car -  was designed during the early 1900s, it wasn’t until about 60 years later that this type of vehicle started taking off in earnest.

After World War II, there was a huge surplus of military vehicles. Among them were a variety of off-road vehicles that allowed the introduction of this car type to the general public. When the first leisure off-road car owners realized how many modifications they could make to their vehicles is when it all began to get crazy.

All of the vehicles left over from the war, however, were not in never-ending supply. Therefore, after the Army ran out of stock to sell, vehicle manufacturers such as Jeep, Toyota, Land Rover, and Nissan jumped on the opportunity to make a bit of money.

And so they did, creating a new generation of off-road vehicles that offered the same level of utility but with an added degree of much-needed comfort. At first, the new designs didn’t lend much in the way of luxury, but by the time off-road racing became a thing, little additions like radios started appearing on their dashboards.

With so many options at their disposal and ways to change their experience around, innovators like Ed Pearlman would start a new wave of motorsport.

The Baja 1000

One of the most known racing events throughout the United States, the Baja 1000 is a grueling race featuring a route that has approximately between 800 to 1,200 miles. In case that’s not glaringly obvious, that is a tremendous amount of distance.

The Baja 1000 started off as the Mexican 1000 and was first held in 1967 by an off-roading pioneer called Ed Perlman, who is also the co-founder of the National Off-Road Racing Association, which almost every off-road fan knows of.

The event is held each year in November and features thousands of people who come to see and participate in it. The atmosphere around the event is very festive, as everyone who shows up is an off-road fan, and what better place for an enthusiast than there?

Additionally, the backdrop of the race is beyond gorgeous. While the Baja California state is a part of Mexico, SCORE International - the sanctioning body of the event - received exclusive rights to host off-road racing events in that area, allowing racers to experience jaw-dropping sights of picturesque mountain valleys and gorgeous beaches.

There is a lot of hubbub around the Baja 1000 for several reasons. For one, it is considered the grandfather of off-road racing events. For that reason, it attracts a lot of attention and hype, which sometimes makes the event more difficult to withstand than otherwise.

Secondly, the Baja 1000 has an almost cult-like status. Apparently, it is not uncommon for spectators to set up booby traps or to dig pits for drivers so as to make them fail the race. Even worse, drivers have reported being robbed by armed spectators posing as members of the Mexican military.

The Mint 400

If the Baja 1000 takes place in the Mexican desert, then the Mint 400 is its fully American counterpart, instead taking place in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is considered to be the longest-running off-road race in America ever since it was created in 1968 by Norm Johnson.

At first, the event seemed very likely to fail. It was first brainstormed in the lobby of the Mint Hotel on Fremont Street, and by the time it started, it looked as if everything was going wrong. Approximately 115 vehicles took place, and most of them broke down not even halfway through the race.

It was when Norm Johnson was getting yelled at by a Mint Hotel executive - him also being part of the hotel, namely the PR department - that the president of the Sahara at the time, Earl Thompson, showed up in the lobby while covered in head to toe in sand.

He’s quoted as saying, “This is the greatest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen!” That was all it took for the event to cement itself in American history.

The event is held each March and covers four 107-mile laps. It’s estimated that about 550 teams compete in the race every year, which is no small amount. The event is so grueling, it is said, that completing it is an achievement in itself.

Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles

Gender equality has been a popular topic for the past few decades, and it’s likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. Isn’t it fitting, then, that a popular off-road racing event has been designed exclusively for women?

This event does not place in the United States. Instead, it is an ocean across, situated in North Africa, and bearing sights even the most experienced explorer is likely to be awed at. The Rallye Aicha Des Gazelles, as the event is called, takes place in beautiful, enchanting Morocco.

First held in 1990 by Dominique Serra with the intent of removing any notions about hobby preferences between genders and to help publicize her agency, Maïenga, the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles has now come to be considered as one of the most important motorsport events in the country. So much so, in fact, that Mohammad VI, the King of Morocco, sponsored it in 2010.

Compared to other similar rallies, there is no prize money offered to whoever wins the race. Instead, it is claimed that the reward for participating in the race is the journey itself, along with generous amounts of money donated to medical care institutions across the country.

East Africa Safari Rally

First held in 1953 under the name of the East African Coronation Safari, the East Africa Safari Rally became famous due to its difficulty, with some claiming it is the toughest rally out of all of them.

The event takes place in Kenya, which is not exactly the most accommodating environment. For one, the weather conditions can be extreme and change constantly, which can make it almost impossible to drive properly. To make matters worse, the terrain is dangerous, and it’s always hot and humid outside.

For a long time, the Safari Rally stopped existing, being canned in 2003 due to a lack of funding. In recent years, however - namely in 2019 - the rally was restarted, although unfortunately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news? It’s back. The 2021 Kenya Safari Rally was an extraordinary success that will hopefully help breathe some life into what used to be one of the most popular off-road events from around the world.

Ready, Set, Go!

Off-road racing is a blast. It’s hard to focus on everything that’s fun about it since almost everyone can find an aspect they enjoy, if not the rest. If this article has been an interesting read for you, then you’re encouraged to watch a couple of these rallies for yourself.

Who knows? You might compete in them some time from now.