Dennis ‘Buzz’ Fromherz (left) and his brother Jim work to prepare a 1953 Willys Jeep to race in the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally Thursday through May 2.
“I’ll probably have a class to myself,” Fromherz joked. “Nobody else is going to run one of these. They’re going to let me go last because it’s going to be one of the slowest things out there.”
Nonetheless, Fromherz plans to race the Willys — the same vehicle originally manufactured for the U.S. military — at the NORRA Mexican 1000 Rally, which features vehicles made before 1989 and will begin Thursday morning in Mexicali and end Saturday night in La Paz.
“The mystique about the whole thing is that Baja is reputed as one of the roughest terrains in the world,” Fromherz said. “What I’m impressed with is even the people, the plants and the animals — everything in Baja — have to be the toughest thing to survive the terrain and climate. It kind of reflects what the race is all about. It’s about endurance and stamina; can you make it, more or less.”
Fromherz, who will be accompanied by his brother and co-driver/navigator, Jim, was encouraged to enter the race by friend Don Rotundo, who has agreed to “chase” or follow along behind Buzz in another vehicle and assist if and when problems arise.
“This thing is a big event in the off road world,” Rotundo said. “It’s a major deal to those of us who do it.”
Fromherz is actually borrowing the vehicle from friend Larry Fritzie, who, along with his brothers Douglas and Vince, inherited it from their father.
“We were having a beer after a golf game and he was telling us about his trip,” Fritzie said. “My brother and I were sitting there and saying that we have this pretty cool ‘53 Willys, I don’t see any reason why he can’t use that. Buzz thought that was a cool idea. We said OK as long as it comes back in one piece.”
The question, however, doesn’t seem to be whether the Jeep will make it through the race, but rather if Fromherz will.
“I have people tell me that I have to have my wife take a 2x4 and hit me in the back about 80 times to get used to it because that’s what it’s going to be like,” Fromherz said. “It’s the second-roughest ride known to man. ... I think the jeep will make it, but there’s money on the fact that I won’t make it. Everybody’s teasing me.”
Having chosen the vehicle he has, Fromherz clearly isn’t concerned with winning the race.
“He’s not looking to win any trophies, he’s just looking to have a good time and enjoy the trip,” Fritzie said. “He knows it’s going to be physically demanding, but he’s going to love every minute of it.”
For the past several years, Fromherz has worked in a pit crew for Honda with friends Dave McKay and Pat Hawket at the Baja races run by SCORE International, so it was no problem for him that race organizers told him he would be the last to start and asked him to help any wrecked or broken-down racers he comes across.
“His idea is to have everybody have as much fun as he has,” Fritzie said. “That would almost be impossible, but they can try. He’s that type of guy.”