January 7, 2019
Like many great things, the Crandon International Off-Road Raceway is a phenomenon with deep -but highly organic roots. The entire Midwest off-road movement that the tiny town of Crandon, Wisconsin birthed, did not follow some carefully calculated path to greatness. Rather, it came from a television program filmed thousands of miles away in a remote, largely unknown part of Mexico known as Baja.
In 1968, legendary action sports film pioneer Bruce Brown of Endless Summer and On Any Sunday fame convinced ABC Sports producers that a new sport and race, the NORRA Mexican 1000 desert rally, would be an ideal subject for the network’s hugely popular Wide World of Sports and its millions of weekly viewers.
Wanting to experience what they saw on television, by September 6, 1970 the Crandon Jaycees organized the inaugural Crandon Brush Run 101. Led by Jaycee President Roland Yocum and roughly 150 volunteers, nearly 50 dune buggies, modified sedans, trucks and motorcycles descended upon the Forest County Fairgrounds.
There was, of course, not a single cactus, dry lakebed, silt bed, or Baja taco stand to be found -not within 1000 miles in any direction.
Nonetheless, the Brush Run and its 101 miles snaked through a heavily wooded 25 1/4-mile race course that included a muddy swamp near a place called Carter’s Field. A last-minute newspaper plea by Yocum to assemble the volunteers needed had worked, and by race time the first race in Crandon, Wisconsin was ready for the green flag.
Two young men from Chicago piloted a dune buggy over tricky terrain to victory in the Open Division of the first annual Brush Run 101. Jim Zbella and Wally Schauer crossed the finish line after a grueling 3 hours, 2 minutes and 15 seconds of some of the toughest off-the-road vehicle racing imaginable. The two men collected $500 for their first place finish.
In spite of overcast skies and intermittent drizzle throughout the day, a large crowd gather at the fairgrounds to watch the racers begin the first of four laps around the 25 1/4-mile course. Many stayed around to hear on the spot reports from the various checkpoints, and of course, to cheer on their favorites across the finish line hours later.