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Desert racing began in the early 20th century. An early racing sanctioning body in North America was the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA). The body was formed in 1967 by Ed Pearlman. The first event was a race across the Mexican desert, south-eastwards through most of the length of Baja California, originally from Ensenada to La Paz. The event was first called the Mexican 1000, and it later became known as the Baja 1000. The event is now sanctioned by SCORE International.
Most desert races are set up on government recreational land and have tracks that run anywhere from 25 to 1000 miles. Various classes of vehicles run a different amount of laps depending on the size of the engine or the set up of the suspension system. Currently, there are several smaller organizations which are growing quite rapidly in this scene. One of the most popular is the Best in the Desert series, which is known for the Vegas to Reno race (the longest off-road race in the US with the 2009 Vegas to Reno race measuring 1000 miles). Also popular is the Mojave Off-Road Racing Enthusiast series. Started in 1997 as a small family oriented race series, it has grown to nearly 200 per race. MORE uses tracks set up on desert land in the Barstow and Lucerne Valley regions of the Mojave Desert in California. Mojave Desert Racing series has drawn many competitors from the now defunct CORR races.
On August 14, 2010, a modified Ford Ranger pickup truck, racing in the MDR sanctioned "California 200", careered off the track into a group of spectators, killing eight, and raising questions about the future of offroad racing on public lands.
Short course racing
Short course off-road racing has races on a circuit of less than five miles (such as Crandon International Off-Road Raceway), which are sanctioned by CORR (or its predecessor SODA), and by World Series of Off Road Racing (WSORR). The races held by CORR and WSORR take place on short (1½ mile or less) tracks incorporating left and right turns of various radaii, and jumps and sometimes washboard runs and gravel pits. Another format made popular by the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group was called stadium racing, where offroad racing vehicles were used in a temporary offroad racetrack was constructed inside a stadium.
A simpler, shorter track format is popular at many county fairs, and is called Tough (or Tuff) Truck competition. These tracks are ordinarily much shorter, and usually, competitors make individual, timed runs.
As of 2009 there are two major organizations promoting short course off road racing. The TORC Series, owned and promoted by former motocross champion Rick Johnson, holds races from California to Wisconsin. The Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series focuses on promoting events on the west coast. Both series feature professional off road drivers and race teams. There are also several grassroots organizations, one of the longest lived is the Mid America Off Road Association that promotes short course off road racing in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
The general idea of offroad racing can also extend to include hillclimbing or any other form of racing that does not occur on a specified, paved track.
In New Zealand, offroad racing runs its own class structure and has a multiple-round national championship. Its flagship event, the two day, 1000 km Taupo 1000, is a stand-alone international endurance race which is currently held every other year. The event started life in 1992, as the "made for television" Bridgestone 1000 and was the first Offroad Endurance Race in New Zealand to include teams from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. That event was won outright by Les Siviour of Australia driving a Class 6 Nissan Patrol, for Team Nissan. The most successful and popular racer in the sport's history in New Zealand is multiple outright and class national champion Ian Foster of Henderson, Auckland. At the height of his career he had amassed 21 back to back wins, driving for Team Tamiya in an Unlimited Class 1 race car built by Cougar Race Cars. Ian was one of the co-founders of the sports national organising body, known as ORANZ. The sport is about to enter its 30th year. Images and information about offroad racing in New Zealand are available at the sport's official web site: www.oranz.co.nz
In Scandinavian countries, "off-road" racing can refer to a type of motorsport known as Formula Off Road, which involves driving extensively modified vehicles through a difficult course up an uphill terrain.
- "Early off-road history". Web.archive.org. 2004-11-01. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
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- Willon, Phil (20 August 2010), "U.S. agency suspends off-road events organized by promoter of deadly race", Los Angeles Times
- Official SCORE International website