Playing in the Dirt
When the subject of off-road racing is mentioned, the conversation naturally turns to half-million dollar trophy trucks, dune buggies and fearless flyers on high-revving dirt bikes. It is a world that is all too often foreign to muscle car and drag racing enthusiasts. However, the origins of this type of racing are deeply rooted in production cars, such as coupes and sedans dating back to the ’60s.
While off-road racing will always be dominated by trucks, bikes and buggies, the 2010 rebirth of NORRA (National Off-Road Racing Association) has also brought about the resurrection of the historic desert racing vehicles that originally competed in such events as the Mexican 1000.
Two of these vintage-style, purpose-built machines take the classic Ford versus Chevy war to the dirt. Competition between Galaxia De La Baja, a ’64 Ford Galaxie built by Triple Nickel Racing, and the Rippin’ Rooster, the ’57 Chevy of Jim Riley, both competed in the most recent Mexican 1000.
A stroked Dart 427 Windsor small-block with a Ford Toploader to a 9-inch rearend powers the Triple Nickel Racing Galaxie. The extensive suspension engineering allows for as much as 13 inches of travel. It can take on any and all terrain with reasonable assurance it will not rattle apart. There are few original parts left on this 5,500-pound off-road machine. What was kept from when the car left the showroom floor does include the factory frame. Other than that, the body and bumpers are about all that remain. In addition to the Mexican 1000, the car has also run the Mint 400 as well as made a few passes at Hot Rod Reunion at Fomoso Raceway.
The counterpart to the Galaxia De La Baja is the Rippin’ Rooster, a wild ’57 Chevy. The classic off-road machine was first built by Larry Schwacofer in the ’80s. It was a follow-up to an earlier ’55 210 desert racer. After a decade of abuse, the car, now in pretty ragged shape, was retired. It sat in Schwacofer’s garage for nearly 20 years before Azunia Tequila Racing acquired the car and performed an extensive restoration. They completed the rebuild just in time for the 2013 Mexican 1000. A new Robert Simpson-built 350 engine was added as well as a Currie Ford 9-inch rearend.
To no one’s surprise, these two classic-bodied off-road racers are fan favorites. While they don’t necessarily race side by side, fans always talk about the two cars in the same conversation. They add another dimension to the entire Blue Oval vs. Bowtie argument.