The National Four-Wheel Drive Grand Prix


The Grandfather of Off-Road

To get a clearer picture of short course racings earlier days we talked with the Grandfather of Off-Road, Brian Chuchua (pronounced Choo Choo Ah). It was Chuchua that designed a short course race, especially for spectators in 1965 and held near Riverside, Ca. The National Four-Wheel Drive Grand Prix, or as it was often called the Riverside Grand Prix, was put on by Chuchua 1965-72. Chuchua said he wasn’t alone and had help from Bill Bryant, the Jeepsters club, and the Rubio Jaycees, with all providing their assistance. There were previous events, but his Grand Prix brought off-road racing to the public instead of them having to travel many untold miles to see it. These events often drew over 100 contestants.

Churchas’ event was not a typical short course event by today’s standards, but keep in mind all things evolve; especially off-road racing. Raced over natural terrain the track was a figure eight of approximately a mile in length and was held in a partially dry Santa Ana Riverbed over mud holes, steep hills, and sand washes. At the start, the racers were each sent out on opposite loops of figure eight. They came back to the intersection and then raced over the opposite loop. This way both traveled the same distance. The first to get back to the start won and moved on to compete later in an elimination format. The first event was a success and received the attention of many off-road standouts so when the second event was held he enjoyed a good turnout with notable participants of the day such as Ed Pearlman, Vic Hickey, Dick Cepek, Rod Hall, Bill Stroppe, and Larry Minor all trying out this new form of off-roading. Chuchua says he still has an entry form signed by the late actor and off-road racer James Garner. Chuchua’s spectator-friendly track may not have resembled today’s man-made short course tracks, but in this case, it proved the fans enjoyed the racing action enough to pay to watch. Because of its structured format and spectator paid admission this event gets credit for spawning organized short course events. Besides, Chuchua being given the title of the Grandfather of Off-Road when NORRA’s Ed Pearlman announced that the idea of the National Off-Road Association NORRA came to him after competing in Chuchua’s Grand Prix’s.

Taking a page from Brian Chuchua’s success another short course event was born in the Phoenix, AZ area. A principal of Sandmaster and co-designer of Claimjumper buggies and promoter, Don Arnett, who also formed the International Desert Racing Association IDRA, teamed up with NASCAR standout Mel Larson and leased land at the local drag strip in 1968. By today’s standard, it would have been considered a closed course race. This was a four-mile loop race that utilized part of the paved drag strip and ran out into the surrounding desert. The first event had a weak turnout as the public had probably never heard of such an event. On race day only 31 racers showed with 1000 spectators in the stands. This early experience must not have detoured Arnett as he teamed up with Scott McKenzie and promoted an event in 1969 at the Devonshire Downs Fairgrounds in San Fernando, CA. Arnett was also instrumental in starting short course races held at Ascot Park in Gardena, CA. The Ascot events were popular among many desert racers including actors/racers Steve McQueen and James Garner. Arnett and his partners ended their partnership and Ascot management took over the races, continuing them on  through the late 1970s. After his Ascot experience, Arnett then moved to Las Vegas and became involved in the promotion of the Mint 400. These events helped to prove the demand from both racers and fans alike for the sport.