Prepping Historic Racecars for the NORRA Mexican 1000

We catch up with racer and restorer Norm Francis.

Desert racecars of yesteryear aren’t museum pieces to their owners. This crowd of dedicated enthusiasts believes in the origin of off-road racing and sees themselves as the care-takers and custodians of the Baja legend. Norm Francis of Retro Racing is one such dusty historian and takes pride in keeping the stories alive.

“More and more people are passing away from my generation and a little older. It’s important for me to get these cars out there and show the kids where it all came from. Without you guys, there’s no Retro Racing!”

The primary car that Norm is fielding in the current day NORRA Mexican 1000 is a 1977 Chenowth Magnum, converted from a Class 2 to Class 1. The technological advancements made in suspension technology set a trajectory for this cars evolution. Using a longitudinal torsion bar as the main spring and technology borrowed from Sprint Car suspension, Lin Chenowth revolutionized short course and desert race buggy design with the Chenowth Magnum.

“It took me about two races to actually understand exactly how the five-link worked. Between Juan, myself and videos, he was able to get the valving dead-on,” Francis explained. The BILSTEIN M7100 classic yellow shocks he uses are period correct for a vintage buggy of this sort and represent the original BILSTEIN monotube favored by desert racers.

“This car was originally the Mario Alesi Budweiser car, it had quite a bit of success and I found it at the Pomona Swap-meet about four years ago. It’s a 102-inch wheelbase car and weighs about 1,300 pounds race-ready. The motor is built by CB Performance, it’s a 2275 and the dyno sheet shows 194 horsepower at 6,100 rpm, and 142 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm.”

In preparing for the NORRA Mexican 1000, Norm told us his straight forward strategy;

“I have to give them a wining racecar and all the spares. I’m going to sit in the chase truck and let [the drivers] do all the magic. This is my first time back in Mexico since 1991. The goal is to drive 60%, get it mile after mile and don’t hit any gotchas.