“There might be people that do fifty Baja 1000s, but not the first fifty. You never win enough. Always one more win.” — Rod Hall
Rod Hall is a venerated name in the desert racing community. He raced in the legendary SCORE International Baja 1000 from the inaugural event in 1967 to the fiftieth in 2017, a feat that will never be matched, winning the overall in 1969 and his class twenty-five times. Getting to #50 was no easy task, especially as he was in his late seventies and managing Parkinson’s disease, yet he aimed to achieve this virtually impossible goal until it finally became a reality.
Hall’s efforts to run the fiftieth Baja 1000, as well as the final stages of his racing career, were the topic of Amy Lerner‘s documentary One More Win, which was formally released in January. It was a years-long production that profiles Hall’s life on and off the track, featuring interviews with family members and following his participation in races like the NORRA Mexican 1000 and two Baja 1000s. Lerner, an off-road driver herself, even teamed up with Hall’s granddaughter Shelby to compete in the 2017 Mint 400 in his legendary 1968 Ford Bronco, a segment that coincides with Hall’s health battle.
One More Win is a poignant story of overcoming difficult odds to accomplish one’s dreams, yet still remaining grounded in reality. It is easy to paint the protagonist of any film as an infallible hero and Hall might have even appeared that way throughout his driving days, but he is human like everyone else with his own challenges physically and mentally.
The Checkered Flag had the opportunity to speak with Lerner on the film, her relationship with Hall and his family, and her own racing career.
Making a Movie
Lerner, who used to work on Wall Street, became acquainted with Hall when she was training for the Moroccan all-women’s Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles. Despite having no off-road experience prior to entering the rally raid, her interest was piqued after reading about it in the news. Although Hall seemed like an ordinary instructor at first glance due to his “sort of humble, low-key” nature, she eventually learned that was far from the case.
“We went to a restaurant in the area and walked in and we were waiting for a table and all of a sudden, I hear the whole restaurant going, ‘Rod Hall! That’s Rod Hall! It’s Rod Hall!’ And I just looked, and I thought, ‘Okay, who the heck is this guy?’ Got home, googled him, and realised that I had just had the honour of getting my first driving training from an absolute legend in off-road motorsports,” she recalled.
The two went from student and teacher to fast (literally and metaphorically), close friends. In 2015, with the fiftieth Baja 1000 just two years away and seeming like a good way for Hall to cap off his decorated career, Lerner pitched the idea of following the campaign in documentary form. Hall, who had a history of denying biographical works about him as he never felt “the time was right,” finally decided, “‘The time is right and Amy, because you’re the one that’s asking me, I’m going to say yes,’ so that was the beginning of One More Win.”
Of course, filmmaking is not a walk in the park, especially as Lerner had never worked in the industry save for consultation on a documentary about women in rallying. To help her, she brought on Richard Heeley, a British director who previously oversaw productions like Top Gear and Fifth Gear but had never led a feature-length movie, as co-director. The connection arose via Iain Greenway, a brand designer and BAFTA winner who worked with Heeley at the BBC and was the creative director for One More Win.
While Heeley possessed zero prior knowledge of Baja racing, let alone Hall’s legacy in said realm, his filmmaking insight and dedication to the project were invaluable. Lerner noted that “as we progressed through filming, he just became more and more captured by the story and what Rod ended up going through with his health issues and his family. He really became just as engrossed in the story and with Rod as I was. It was amazing to have someone who had such an impressive résumé. It’s tough to get any better than Top Gear back in the day in terms of directing something on the automotive side, to have him willing to come on board and he’s got a super creative eye.”
The documentary’s racing scenes begin with the 2016 Mexican 1000, which Hall drove in his then-newly restored Ford Bronco, and Lerner was “completely unprepared” for her subject’s celebrity status in Ensenada.
“As soon as somebody noticed he was there, we could not walk two steps without someone coming up for a photo, for an autograph, they have to tell Rod a story, they have to ask Rod a question,” the director recalled. “I was blown away. I had no idea. Even having known him for so many years and been already deep into the dive of his history and the sport and seeing the headlines and the newspaper articles, I had no idea.”
The Mexican 1000 was also the production’s first test in a racing environment. Due to its nature in duration and distance, rally requires a different filming skillset than a conventional circuit race that might take a few hours at most: “You don’t see a lot of documentaries, you don’t see a lot of footage, you don’t see a lot of TV coverage, and I realise because it’s pretty much impossible to fully cover a race. It’s not like they go around, the cars come past you and then you just wait a little bit of time, and they make the loop and ‘Woot, there they are again!’.
“Once they go by you, you’ve got to catch up to them and get in front of them and try to see what’s happening at the next mile or the mile after that. You got to get the camera set up, and it’s really difficult to capture everything that’s going to happen.”
To maximise recorded content, the One More Win team hired as many camera crews as possible before planning out where the best action shots could happen. Still, luck also had to be on their side, as was the case when Hall’s Mexican 1000 was hindered by his Ford Bronco getting stuck in the sand outside Loreto which was captured on a drone stationed at a nearby bridge. While a great moment for the documentary to get, Lerner regarded it as a case of being in the right place at the right time; describing it as “a super fortunate happenstance.”
“When you’re going down a thousand miles of a race, the odds that your crew is where the car will be when something happens—they hit a rock, they get stuck, they have a flat—it’s infinitesimal that that happened. […] But you spread your crews out, you do your research beforehand and you do your best to be where you think the best chances are that you’re going to capture something that’s either going to be interesting to watch or it’s going to forward the story as it’s unfolding.”
In some respects, filmmaking is comparable to desert racing as both last long periods of time, require plenty of preparation, and even a little bit of good fortune. Lerner found that despite being different fields, both have philosophies that overlap with a slogan Hall frequently espoused and is prominently featured in the documentary’s promotional material: “To finish first, you must first finish.”
“You have to take the end goal and keep the end goal, which is to finish the race and cross the finish line because you don’t end up on the podium if you don’t cross the finish line,” she explained. “And if you don’t have the footage you need and your story planned out a bit ahead of time, you’re not going to end up able to make a film that anybody’s going to want to watch.”
Discussing Lerner’s Driving
The conversation also focused on Lerner’s time behind the wheel. Going from Wall Street to off-road and film is quite a massive career shift, but she has since found herself competing in major events such as the Dakar Rally and the 2017 Mint 400. The latter is featured heavily in One More Win as Hall, unable to race due to his ailments, watches Shelby and Lerner team up to drive his Bronco. Shelby Hall drove the first stint in her maiden start as driver of record before Lerner took over and secured a podium finish in the Vintage class by placing third.
With a chuckle, Lerner admitted she was “a bit terrified” about driving the Bronco: “It was a very significant opportunity for me. Not only was it the chance to race in such a historically recognised vehicle that had a storied history of success in racing, it was also a chance to race with Shelby. I believe that it was, in a way, a sign that Rod was okay with me driving his Bronco. He trusted me as a driver and it was also I think a little way of his saying thank you that I felt that his story was something that needed to be shared and captured and he was glad about that.”
In 2021, Lerner’s rally raiding guided her to the inaugural Dakar Classic, a side event to the Rally that focuses on navigation rather than speed, followed by the most recent edition in January. Her two Classic entries came in a 1982 Porsche 911 SC with her friend and co-driver Sara Bossaert, who had no prior rallying experience.
“She barely drove a car. She barely drives her car,” Lerner said of Bossaert with a laugh. “When I decided to go six weeks before the entries closed for the 2021 Rally, I had another co-driver in mind and she, after a couple of weeks of deliberation, couldn’t go. I thought, ‘Well, I can get a pro co-driver in, but I also kind of want to have somebody in the car that I know I’m going to have a good time with because I’m not sure how this is going to work out competitively. Worst case, I’ll learn a lot and I’ll have a great adventure with somebody I like.’ So I sent her an email and about thirty-two seconds after I pressed send, she calls me and says, ‘I don’t know what you mean I need to do but sure, I’m going to go. I’m in, yes.'”
The Halls’ own Dakar expedition in 1996 was touched upon in One More Win, though son Chad Hall remembered it unfavourably due to the team’s poor preparation. While that year’s Rally ran from Granada to Dakar, the event currently takes place in Saudi Arabia. The country is infamous for its poor record on human and women’s rights, though it has seemingly been more accepting of the latter in recent times, having legalised driving for women in 2018 and hosting the female-only Rally Jameel in March. Lerner attended the latter as a member of the press, while the 2022 Dakar Classic saw her and Bossaert win the ninth stage in what she described as a “super cool, super important” moment, especially as a woman in the racing world.
“It just kind of says, ‘You know what? There’s no reason why women can’t do this and can’t compete at the top of motorsports.’ That was neat to be able to have that achievement personally, but also to be able to just show up and show that accomplishment, that if I can come in and achieve that, it’s possible for pretty much anybody.”
When pressed on whether the Mint 400 start or the Classic stage win was the ultimate highlight of her racing career, she opted for the latter and explained, “Year One, I didn’t really drive the car that well. I drove it okay, we finished, we did well, but I was determined to come back that second year.
“Sara and I, we put a lot of work in to learn not only the driving but learn the regularity, learn the format, learn to communicate with each other. We came back knowing we were going to want to do really well, and we were doing really well until I ran out of gas two kilometres before (the) finish line, which in a regularity rally the clock keeps ticking and you end up with some significant penalties, followed by a day that I got stuck on a little sand dune because I didn’t know it was coming and didn’t realise what was happening, and I unfortunately let my foot off the accelerator. In a two-wheel-drive sports car, where you’ve got the vast majority of the weight in the back, the second you do that in soft sand, you’re buried up to the axle. So we got huge penalties there. Those two days back-to-back meant that we had no chance of even a top ten unless something weird happened in the overall.
“The day that we ended up winning the stage was the day after those two days. It was also, you know, we had to dig deep mentally and just say, ‘Okay, what we thought we were going to accomplish is off the table and there’s nothing we can do about it. But what can we still do?’ I’m super proud of Sara and myself that we did that and in that sequence of events was where that stage win fell, so that was pretty cool.”
While Lerner did not disclose her racing plans for the immediate future, she is open to competing in the Mexican 1000, Baja 1000, and the East Africa Safari Classic Rally.
“For me, I really enjoy that rally format, multiple days and multiple stages,” she opined.
Chasing One More Win
Much of the documentary’s second half intertwines Hall’s health with its impact on his career, such as his detached behaviour during the 2016 Baja 1000 and his wife Donna‘s impression that sons Chad and Josh were reluctant to accept their father’s condition leading up to fiftieth edition the following year. While certainly scenes that evoke worry and establish the atmosphere for the film’s climax, Lerner covers them with tact, drawing emotions and allowing the viewer to develop a personal connection with the Halls without being melodramatic.
“That was one of my bigger challenges as a filmmaker, to make sure that I kept a step back because this was still my friend who was going through these things and my friend’s friends and my friend’s family whom I had known,” said Lerner. “I think that relationship also gave us a lot of access and there was a lot of trust that allowed the family to share those moments that are so kind of impactful on camera because they trusted that I would treat it with respect and honour as you would hope that it would be handled.”
To be officially classified as a competitor in the race, the driver and their co-driver simply need to cross the starting line to begin the event. It was a simple task, but one that carried much emotional weight for the team. Lerner accompanied Hall as he rode shotgun with Chad in the Hummer: “I was right with him at the start and when they crossed the start line, I basically started bawling from relief. That was it: he did it, officially for the record books, mission accomplished, and then we just had to get through the next thirty-six hours of racing.”
The race’s action scenes were interspersed with thoughts from Hall’s team and fellow competitors like former 1000 winners Bob Bower and Cameron Steele; off-road great Curt LeDuc proclaimed there would “not be a dry eye at the finish,” a quote that Lerner corroborated. Despite mechanical issues, which resulted in a delay in the driver swap as Lerner and the crews awaited the finishers, the two generations of Halls arrived in La Paz with the Stock Full class victory.
“Chad got very emotional because they didn’t know if the Hummer was going to make it the full way,” commented Lerner. “Rod and Donna sat in that spot where you see him get lifted into the car for probably six hours because they originally thought the car was going to come by around 10, and it ended up that he crossed the finish line at I think 3:00 in the morning. I and the crews had been sitting there for four or five hours and the whole place looked deserted because there weren’t very many cars still crossing.
“When Rod’s Hummer hit the little sort of lead-up to the finish line, word got out and as he pulled up onto the podium, I think a hundred people just swarmed his car. They had all been there, sleeping, napping, just waiting to experience that moment when he went across the finish line, for what a lot of people had a feeling was going to be his last ride.”
Besides a happy ending, one could say the biggest takeaway from the film is its message of perseverance.
“That was something that we wanted to convey,” Lerner stated. “Rod was a tough guy, and he had a lot of grit and intense throughout his whole career. He said that he was really down for quite a while and his physical abilities were very limited at that last race, but he was going to do it. He was going to do whatever he needed to do and bear whatever hardship he needed to bear to accomplish that, not just for himself, but for his family and the crews and the fans and the crowds and he was going to do it.”
Hall passed away in 2019 at the age of eighty-one, though Lerner has kept in touch with his family and hopes his story continues to serve as an inspiration.
“His tenacity was something I was hoping was going to shine through.”