One More Win: Off-road icon Rod Hall celebrated in new documentary
There isn’t a more physically, mentally, and mechanically demanding race on this planet than the Baja 1000. Mexico’s tropic desert strip from Ensenada to La Paz has gnashed numerous drivers and trucks against its rocky teeth since the maiden race in 1967. It should come as no surprise, then, that the driver who rewrote the Baja record book would be equally formidable against every element, including time.
For 50 consecutive years, dating back to the first run down the Mexican peninsula, Rod Hall raced—and persevered—in the Baja 1000, making his final appearance in the contest at 80 years old. He stands alone in these accomplishments.
Filmmaker and off-road racer Amy Lerner met Hall in 2012 while training for the Gazelle Rally in Morocco. Immediately, Lerner was charmed by Hall’s relaxed methods of teaching and the two stayed in contact over the next few years. While chitchatting in 2015, over dinner at the Off-Road Hall of Fame, Hall informed Lerner that he was attempting to run 50 consecutive Baja 1000s over the next two years.
Lerner knew she had to tell the story, so the following day she pitched the idea of a documentary to Hall. He agreed, based on the duo’s friendship. “After I did a set of mental cartwheels, I said to myself, oh shoot, I’ve never made a documentary,” says Lerner. To help her in the process, she recruited several experienced film industry folks, including Richard Heeley, who directed some of the first Top Gear episodes. The cohort set to work on the documentary that would become One More Win.
Growing up, Hall competed in numerous regional off-road contests throughout the 1960s. It was at the first Baja in 1967 where Hall and his unassuming pink Jeep made headlines. “There was 65 of us adventurers. I wouldn’t say racers, but adventurers,” says Hall of that first race. “We had no idea where we were going. None.” Hall used a compass strapped to the truck’s hood to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint and eventually win the 4×4 class. “He drove a pink-colored Jeep with an ice chest in the back,” says wife Donna. “It was just a long off-road trip for him.”
The off-road trip turned into a full-time gig, as Hall was noticed by the Carroll Shelby of off-road racing: Bill Stroppe. Ford man Stroppe grew tired of the self-sponsored Hall beating his hot-rodded Broncos at every race. True to the old adage, Stroppe swayed Hall into the seat of his familiar orange, white, and blue trucklet for the 1968 Baja 1000, where the team eventually won first overall.
There was no looking back from then on. Hall became a household name in the off-road industry. He eventually jumped ship to Dodge and then to Hummer, amassing some 200 wins along the way.
Lerner’s documentary chronicles Hall’s rise to off-road stardom while splicing in his modern exploits that lead up to the star’s 50th run through Baja. “I came to fully understand why nobody makes movies about these races,” says Lerner with a chuckle. “They’re so hard an expensive to shoot. I had five film crews at each race, because I knew if I missed it, that I wouldn’t have a second chance.”
The group’s efforts translate effectively to screen, and the on-trail action is as raw as Netflix’s Drive to Survive. There’s a moment in the film, for example, where Hall and his codriver take a wrong turn out of Loretto and sink to their axles in a wash. Immediately, just how treacherous the race truly is comes into focus. One minor mistake can lead to a whole day of turmoil. “I would gladly do it all over again,” says Lerner of the film’s production.
During the filming, Hall’s health began to deteriorate, and his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s eventually relegated the ironman to a wheelchair. “We followed Rod for two and half years,” says Lerner. “And the shape the movie ended up taking was very different than what I expected because of the health problems Rod faced along the way.”
To help tell the story, Lerner frequently interviewed Hall’s entire family, including his teenage sweetheart-turned-lifelong-partner Donna Hall, off-roading sons Chad and Josh, and his granddaughter Shelby Hall, who raced with her grandfather in the 2016 NORRA 1000 vintage race aboard Hall’s original 1969 Bronco.
To off-road fanatics, Hall is Elvis in a fire suit. “We went to Ensenada to film and that was the first time I had ever been to Mexico with Rod,” says Lerner. “Every two steps we had to stop for pictures and autographs.”
It’s no wonder. The same charismatic energy that captivated Lerner in that first-time meeting Hall drips from the film, and by the end of it you feel better for understanding his victories, his defeats, and, above all, his lifetime of off-road heroism.
One More Win is currently available to stream on iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, and Amazon.