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Ed Pearlman

Ed Pearlman

Ed Pearlman is the man who first organized the Mexican 1000, co-founded the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) and founded the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame (ORMHOF). His legacy of contributions to the development of off-road motorsports is unsurpassable. He served in the Pacific theater during World War II as a Marine. During his time in Guam he organized fun jeep races for the troops to help keep up moral. When he returned from the War he purchased a surplus jeep and spent three months touring through Baja finding fishing spots. When he returned, he and his wife Shirley opened a chain of flower shops in the San Fernando Valley, California.

In the 1950s off road exploration and fly fishing both interested him greatly. In the early 1960s he began racing for enjoyment at the Riverside off-road events hosted by Brian Chuchua. Pearlman found the stories of the adventures of racing the clock across Baja, Mexico by Eddie Mulder, Bud and Dave Ekins on motorcycles intriguing. In 1966 Pearlman challenged a few of his friends to undertake the race in larger vehicles. The race consisted of three teams, with one team doubling as the press corps to cover the event. Pearlman and Dick Cepek drove a Toyota Land Cruiser with a Chevy engine as did Claude Dozier and Ed Orr. Bruce Meyers donated a Meyers Maxx buggy for the press vehicle, driven by Drino Miller and John Lawlor a journalist. The racers faced a multitude of technical difficulties yet all completed the course. Orr and Dozier crossed the line into La Paz first with a time of 41 hours and 45 minutes. Pearlman and Cepek came across the line in 56 hours. It took Miller and Lawlor an additional 10 hours to finish with a time of 66 hours. During the course of the race Pearlman came to the conclusion that there needed to be a more organized form of off-road racing.

Once back in Southern California Pearlman and friends got together and discussed the idea. At that meeting at Pearlman’s home Pete Condos came up with the name, National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA). The first race to be sanctioned by the organization would be the 1967 “Mexican 1000 Rally” beginning in Tijuana and racing from Ensenada to La Paz. 68 vehicles started the race competing in four classes. For the first time different types of vehicles would compete against each other. After the first vehicle, the Meyers Manx Buggy driven by Vic Wilson and Ted Mangels came across the line Pearlman knew he had an event that held great potential.

In 1969 officials from Mexico contacted Pearlman about hosting a second event in Baja. The Baja 500 which would run as a loop race and have a more affordable entry fee. The inaugural race had over 220 participating racers. Bud Ekins and Guy Jones drove a Vic Hickey built buggy to victory. The race is one of the longest running off-road races in North America. Pearlman and NORRA ran the Baja races until 1973 when SCORE took over all of the races previously run by NORRA. In addition to Baja races Pearlman organized the Stardust 7-11 race in Nevada near Las Vegas in 1968. This race offered a $25,000 cash purse. In conjunction with the race Pearlman hosted one of the first Off Road Motorsports tradeshows open to the public, the NORRA Stardust Off-Road Vehicle and Equipment Show. In 1972 he and NORRA held the first Parker Dam 500.

Sources: Fiolka, Marty. 2005. 1000 Miles to Glory, The History of the Baja 1000. Phoenix, AZ.: David Bull Publishing

Learn more about inductee Ed Pearlman in this Conversations with Big Rich podcast:

Today we remember Ed Pearlman with a conversation with his son, Mike Pearlman. 

3:10 – We never saw a Land Cruiser before, it was a real Tarzan vehicle back then.

8:18 – If we can only get 60 entries, at $100 an entry, that’d be enough to pay for the event.                                

11:37 – You misunderstood, this is the Off Road Rally Association, it’s not a race, it’s a rally. 

22:11 – Why don’t we just put on a vintage race?

34:43 – It all started because dad wanted to take his kid hunting.