Walking 'Contingency' Is My Favorite Part Of Watching Off-Road Races

Desert racing isn’t for everyone–competition is punishing and standing on the sidelines will leave you picking sand from your pockets for weeks. But even if you’re not into that, can I interest you in tacos, swag, cervezas and stickers? Thought so. Come check out what’s called “contingency” with me.

I’ll explain what that means in this context. It’s basically a thing where sponsors give out prizes contingent on performance and promotion. For example, let’s say you’re racing in an event hosted by Best In The Desert. As of this writing, the gauge company Autometer will give a team a $100 gift certificate contingent on the fact that you run Autometer gauges, have one Autometer sticker on each side of your car, and get first place.


Just look at BITD’s Contingency Awards chart and you’ll see what I mean. But we’re not at a BITD race on this little video walking tour—BITD just has the most easily readable contingency chart to illustrate what I’m talking about.

The video is mostly just a walking tour of what contingency looks and feels like from a spectator’s perspective, plus me sharing some remembered context gleaned from old-timers that like to talk about earlier days of racing. But if you want to understand more about what’s happening, we can dig in just a little more.


We’re not really here to talk about the technical specifics or history of continency, either. We’re in the city of Ensenada on Mexico’s Baja Penninsula at a new event hosted by the National Off-Road Racing Association called the NORRA 500. It’s a cool atmosphere and a fun scene that anybody can appreciate.

NORRA has been running Baja races since way back–we documented its Mexican 1000 event a few years ago–but 2019 is the first time the group is running an Ensenada-to-Ensenada 500.

While the best-known title events south of the border, like the Baja 1000 and Baja 500, are now operated by an outfit called SCORE I’m a huge fan of NORRA races because they focus on historic vehicles and set competition at a less aggressive pace to make the race more of an adventure event.

While SCORE races run straight from start to finish, NORRA races in Baja are punctuated to allow time to party and give old equipment some rest. Here are some images from the race, which of course took place in the days after I made this clip:


Coming back to this video, contingency in desert racing in Baja typically looks like the scene I walk you through in the clip. The cars wait in line to go through tech inspection, to make sure they’re safe and race-legal, through a lane of vendors slinging stickers and t-shirts tacos.

As I mention in the video, I’ve been told that back in the day “contingency” was less formalized than the chart I linked to above. Racers might have been able to cut deals with sponsors on the spot while they rolled by their booths en route to tech inspection.


Today, it seems like those arrangements aren’t as casual. But as a spectator, contingency is a great opportunity to check out race cars up close, collect stickers, and even talk to team members as they roll into tech.

(Though upon rewatching the clip, I realized I used the language “climb in,” but uh, please interpret that in an abstract sense. Probably don’t climb into anyone’s car without permission.)


Ensenada itself is a cruise ship stop and has a main drag (the word for such being malecón in Spanish) full of restaurants and junk shops, but there are plenty of incredible legit taco joints you can find without looking too hard. And of course, some of the most fun off-roading on Earth is just a few miles out of town.

What I’m trying to say is: come down to check out some race cars, stick around to eat some good food and go play in the sand. If this contingency tour doesn’t entice you, I’ll have a longer writeup of how well my cheap Mitsubishi fared on the rest of this most recent trip through Baja soon.

Jalopnik Staffer from 2013 to 2020, now Editor-In-Chief at Car Bibles

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Turning Jalopanese, the refreshing choice

You had me at tacos, swag, cervezas and stickers. Fourteen of each, please.