While the Mex 1000 is the happiest race on earth, it is still a race. And when there are more than a thousand miles of desert between you and the checkered flag, it becomes a game of attrition. Cars were dropping like moths from a bug light, and we’d picked up a couple of spots in the overall standing. But if the shock mount failed again, the domino effect could jeopardize our entire race. We needed a proper fab shop.
Philmore, a rough-cut expat and VW afficionado, had escaped the rat race in the States and landed in San Felipe. This was our lucky day, as he was also one of Jon’s buddies and had a well-equipped garage. We pulled El Gusano in, put a jack under it, pulled out some steel tubing, and went to town effecting a repair that would have made Bruce Meyers proud.
1,140 Dusty Miles in a Meyers Manx
While much of auto racing is pushed by the corporate world with high-profile drivers in mega-buck cars, NORRA is about independence and vintage iron. They have a class, or will create a class for just about anyone. Have a VW Vanagon or AMC Hornet? No worries, you’re in. No one is excluded from The Happiest Race on Earth. The deep-pocket factory teams are present, but many NORRA competitors stick to tradition; they either run solo or with a single chase vehicle. Chase teams play a game of leapfrog with their race cars, setting up at highway crossings and preparing for anything. A typical pitstop might include checking the suspension, drivetrain, and steering, torquing lug nuts, and a 10-100 (watering a cactus).
When I asked Jon, a habitual humorist, why he chose the Manx and if they had sponsors, he laughed and said, “Nope, sponsors sound like too much work. We race for the fun of racing.” As a kid he grew up kicking around Baja with his dad in buggies and Baja bugs. When he got involved with the Manx Club in the 90s he knew he wanted to do a vintage race. NORRA was the perfect venue, and a Manx was the perfect car.
He acquired El Gusano about five years ago, and after stripping off several coats of paint found the original lime green gel coat. As a guy who loves to make stuff, he built the motor and fabricated everything from the bumpers and skid plates, to the roll cage. While I would wager there were half-million-dollar vehicles on the track with us, Jon said, “It is pretty much a stock VW drivetrain and I’ll bet I don’t have $20,000 in this car,” and with a Cheshire cat grin, “…and that includes the purchase price.”
Continuing tradition, he made racing a family affair, his son and daughter joining him as navigators in past events. He and the El Gusano team have also competed in the Sonora Rally, Vegas to Reno, and Parker 425, landing first-in-class or podium finishes each time. Tipping back another coldy he added, “And hey, we completed every mile of every race.”