La Carrera Classica


In the spring of 1986, the air was thick with anticipation as Dan Gottlieb, Richard Gottlieb, and their friend Chris set off for Baja, Mexico. Their destination was the inaugural La Carrera Classica, a daring road race stretching from Ensenada on the Pacific to San Felipe on the Gulf of Cortez. Inspired by the legendary La Carrera Panamericana, this new challenge beckoned with the promise of high-speed adventure. Their vehicle of choice was RJ’s modified Fox Body Mustang, a decision made partly out of youthful audacity and partly out of sheer enthusiasm for the challenge that lay ahead.

Amid the competition was the famed Hollywood stuntman and director Hal Needham, who clinched a decisive victory driving a NASCAR Winston Cup Car. This stung Dan and RJ, fueling their resolve to return the following year with a vehicle that wouldn’t just compete but dominate. The seed was planted for what would become a legendary transformation: the birth of Big Red.

big red camaro events
camaro car 1969
big red camaro events

Over the next year, they poured their passion and mechanical prowess into creating the ultimate racing machine. A 1968 Camaro was procured and outfitted with a monstrous 540-cubic-inch Lingenfelter-built engine, robust suspension upgrades, and safety enhancements, including Recaro seats and a comprehensive roll cage. By the time La Carrera Classica 2 rolled around in 1987, Dan, RJ, and Chris were ready to test their mettle in what would prove to be an enlightening 123-mile battle through one of Mexico’s most scenic and treacherous routes.

The race was not without its dangers, a fact they were painfully aware of from their previous year’s escapades. With RJ behind the wheel and Chris as his navigator, Big Red, now a striking red Camaro, quickly showed its prowess. It surged past competitors with alarming speed, a red blur on the desert highway. However, the race was not without setbacks. An untested suspension and a high-powered engine pushed beyond its limits led to a dramatic crash. A steering component failure sent them careening into a rock wall, a vivid reminder of the thin line between triumph and disaster in high-speed racing. Miraculously, both RJ and Chris emerged unscathed, saved by the robust roll cage that held under the immense impact.

big red camaro old event
iconic race car

The aftermath of the crash was a mix of frustration and resolve. As they returned home, Dan mused on the need for a vehicle built not just for speed but for the rigors of such punishing races. It was then that the iconic ’69 Camaro was sourced—a car that would not only continue the legacy but redefine it. Under Bill Osborne’s skilled hands, Big Red was reborn with a chassis designed to withstand the brutal demands of road racing.

Their return to La Carrera Classica was marked by determination and a newly built machine that looked deceptively similar to the one that had met its match against a Mexican rock wall. This time, however, the car was no mere muscle car; it was a fortress on wheels, engineered to conquer. Big Red’s performance was nothing short of spectacular, tearing through the course with such ferocity that it soon became the car to watch.

La Carrera Classic III
La Carrera Classica

As the years progressed, Big Red’s fame only grew. Each race was a testament to its power and the vision of its creators. However, its dominance was not without controversy. After repeated victories and astonishing performances that often overshadowed the capabilities of European sports cars, the racing community began to question its classification as a stock car. The suspicions and debates culminated in Big Red being banned from the La Carrera Classica, a move that only cemented its status as an “Outlaw Racer.”

Undeterred by the ban, Dan and RJ continued to push the boundaries of what Big Red could achieve, participating in the Silver State Classic in Nevada and various other events that allowed them to showcase the car’s exceptional capabilities. Each race added to the legend, each victory more thrilling than the last. The car’s legacy was not just built on speed but on the spirit of innovation and the relentless pursuit of perfection.

big red camaro

As Big Red blazed through courses and captured the imaginations of car enthusiasts and the media alike, it became clear that it was more than just a car; it was a phenomenon that had reshaped the landscape of American muscle car culture. Its influence was profound, inspiring a generation of gearheads and giving rise to the Pro-Touring movement that celebrated high-performance, heavily modified classic American cars designed for serious road racing.

From the dusty roads of Mexico to the glossy pages of motoring magazines, Big Red’s journey was a dramatic saga of speed, innovation, and unyielding ambition. It was a testament to the dreams of those who built it and a beacon for those who believe that with enough passion and ingenuity, any challenge can be overcome, any race can be won.