Photo: Norm Johnson racing the Baja
As a former competitor from 1969 till 1982, this reporter participated in some of the greatest off-road races in the world. Among them was, of course my very own Mint 400 which will be celebrating its 50th Anniversary in March 2018, and the famous Baja, California races: The 1000, the 500, and the San Felipe 250. I had a pretty good record as a finisher, and took Third place in the 1976 Baja 1000, racing in class Nine. It was my pleasure to drive a Toyota Mini-truck as a relief driver for the original listed driver who became ill during the San Felipe race. We took first place that year (There’s a great story about this race and after we crossed the finishing line, which I will tell in a later story someday). I loved racing those great races. So, now, the Baja 1000 is celebrating its 50th year in existence. That’s a ton of broken vehicles, a few deaths, and one hell of a lot of memories for this writer. Unfortunately, I will not be down there this week, as my health is questionable, and I lost my passport! But I felt it was appropriate now to letcha know about what is happening this week. Thus, this special edition of my weekly column. Hope you enjoy!
For many, this coming week in Baja California, Mexico will be a sentimental journey down the proverbial ‘memory lane’. For many more, this week will decide coveted season point championships in Pro and Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, UTVs, motorcycles and quads in the 2017 SCORE World Desert Championship. For all, this coming week will be a heart-warming, memory-building, nostalgic golden celebration of the world’s most iconic desert race—the 50th annual BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000. The world’s most iconic desert race, this year’s Baja 1000 is being held over a 1,134.40-mile rugged race course down Mexico’s majestic Baja California peninsula, starting in Ensenada, Baja California Norte and finishing in La Paz, Baja California Sur.
Commemorating the first race, motorcycle and quad classes will start at midnight (PT) on Wednesday, Nov. 15, and the car, truck and UTV classes will begin their journey in the elapsed-time race 10 hours later at 10 a.m. (PT) on Thursday. While the fastest vehicles are expected to complete the course in approximately 19 hours, all vehicles will have 48 hours from the time each starts to complete the course and become an official finisher of the 50th anniversary race. The start line in Ensenada is once again located on Blvd. Costero in front of the historic Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center. The finish line in La Paz will be located adjacent to the Grand Plaza Hotel on the outskirts of the city just off of Highway 1.
Sal Fish, 78, the Legendary racing promoter who owned SCORE International for 38 years, is the Grand Marshal for this year’s event . The Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer, who lives in Malibu, Calif., has earned more awards in his life than most racers have won races, and was the face of SCORE from 1974 until he sold the company to Roger and Elise Norman on Dec. 20, 2012
Entering late, on-site racer registration that started Sunday in Ensenada, there are an astonishing 397 total entries with racers from 44 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, two U.S. Territories and 27 countries officially signed up to compete. In addition to the United States, the U.S. Territories of Guam and Puerto Rico and host country Mexico, the other countries with racers entered are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, England, Finland, France, Germany, Guatemala, Hong Kong/China, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, and Spain. In all, this year’s talented field includes an incredible 152 racers who have combined for 501 class wins in the legendary desert races. Included in that total are 26 racers who have combined for 88 overall race wins in either four-wheel or two-wheel categories. There is also at least one racer who won an overall title in each of the last 24 years.
Entering this week’s late, on-site registration window, led by the marquee SCORE Trophy Truck division with 42 entries, 15 total classes have double figures in terms of entries. While several other classes have nearly reached at least 10 entries, the other classes with double figure entries are: Class 10 (33), Trophy Truck Spec (25), Pro UTV FI (25), unlimited Class 1 (20), Pro Moto Ironman (18), Class 1/2-1600 (18), Pro UTV (17), SCORE Lites (13), Baja Challenge (12), Class 7 (10), Class 5-1600 (10), Class 11 (10) and leading the Sportsman classes are SPT M/C (25) and SPT Quad (12).
Pre-race festivities include for the first time, the vastly popular tech and contingency of all vehicles and the SCORE Manufacturer’s Midway being held over two days on Boulevard Costero in front of the Riviera del Pacifico Cultural Center. Contingency will run from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 P.S.T., and pre-race tech will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00. for motorcycles, quads, UTVs and several car/truck classes on Tuesday, Nov.14, and for the remaining car and truck classes on Wednesday at the same times. SCORE sponsor Monster Energy will host the Monster Energy Papas y Beer SCORE Street Party on Avenida Ruiz in downtown Ensenada from 7:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. (PT) on Tuesday. The celebration continues Thursday night to all day and evening on Friday until the early afternoon Saturday in La Paz while official finishers cross the line and tales and epic accomplishments are added to the legacy of the event. The post-race awards fiesta will be held at the FidePaz Marina next to the Grand Plaza Hotel in La Paz starting at 7 p.m. (PT) on Saturday.
This year’s race will again commemorate the achievements of legendary desert racers like Rod Hall, Ron Bishop, Johnny Johnson, and Larry Roeseler. Hall, who will turn 80 on Nov. 22, has a record 24 class wins (including one overall win in 1972), and is the only racer who has competed in all 49 SCORE Baja 1000 races. Bishop, who passed away in 2014, was the only racer who competed in the first 40 SCORE Baja 1000 races all on a motorcycle. Hall will be racing this year in the Stock Full class with his son Chad Hall as he attempts to add to his untouchable legacy.
Roeseler, has won 17 times in this race, including a race-record 13 overall wins (10 on a motorcycle). Roeseler will share driving duties this year in SCORE Trophy Truck with Luke McMillin in the No. 83 Mark Racing Ford F-150. Roeseler won the unlimited Class 1 for four consecutive years (2004-2007), driving with the youngest of the three racing brothers, Troy Herbst, in the Smith-built-Ford open-wheel desert race car that was known as the ‘Land Shark’. Roeseler is the only racer in the history of the event to win the overall 4-wheel in a truck and in a car as well as the overall 2-wheel title.
In 2008, Roeseler split the driving with driver of record and team owner and now SCORE owner Roger Norman when they were the overall 4-wheel and SCORE Trophy Truck champions and the pair was second in 2009. In 2010, Roger Norman drove solo the length of the peninsula and finished third overall. Retired from racing, Johnson had 15 class wins in the SCORE Baja 1000, amazingly in eight different classes.
Among the car and truck classes, just 22 points separate the top five who are from four different classes. Leading the overall point standings and the Trophy Truck Spec leader is Elias Hanna with 245 points. Second overall and leading SCORE Trophy Truck is Justin Matney with 241 points, third is Class 10-point leader Broc Dickerson with 240 points, fourth overall and second in SCORE Trophy Truck is two-time defending season point champion Carlos ‘Apdaly’ Lopez with 229 and in fifth is Pro UTV FI point leader Marc Burnett with 223 points heading into the season finale.
The four class point leaders who enter this year’s BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 undefeated in their respective classes after winning the first three races in the 2017 SCORE World Desert Championship are Elias Hanna, Ensenada, Mexico (Trophy Truck Spec, No. 274 Chevy 1500); 16-year old rookie phenom Broc Dickerson, Brawley, Calif. (Class 10, No. 1023 Alumi Craft-Chevy); Jose Carrasco, Rosarito Beach, Mexico (Pro Moto Ironman, No. 721x Suzuki RMZ450X), and Said Sanchez, Tijuana, Mexico (Pro Quad, No. 13a Honda TRX450R).
Among the third-generation racers are Andy McMillin (SCORE Trophy Truck), Daniel McMillin (SCORE Trophy Truck), Rafael Navarro IV (Class 10), Broc Dickerson (Class 10), Luke McMillin (SCORE Trophy Truck), Ramon Bio (Class 1), Andy DeVercelly IV (Class 1-2-1600) and Jessica McMillin (SCORE Trophy Truck). A special three-generation family team racing together in Trophy Truck Spec will be Mexico’s Iribe family in the No. 276 Chevy Silverado. All from Rosarito Beach, Gerardo Iribe, his father Carlos, son Gerardo Jr., both as additional drivers and Gerardo Sr’s daughter Samantha as a navigator for her brother. Also as part of this team is the father and son Dakar Rally racing team of Fernando Ferrand and Fernando Jr., of Peru, which forms a formidable group of competitors.
With numerous champions from gone-by decades and the current decade in the field, several other of the early overall winners will be competing this year as part of the tribute to the legacy of this golden event. Past overall winners from the ‘70s and ‘80s participating this year are Bobby Ferro (1973), Dr. Bud Feldkamp (1975 and 1977), and Mark Stahl (1978 and 1980). Ferro, 70, of Palmdale, Calif. will be a co-driver for Bob Lawrence in the special Vintage-Trailblazer class. Dr. Feldkamp, 73 of Redlands, Calif., will be a co-driver for the team led by his son Buddy in the special Vintage-Innovator class. Stahl, 66 of Ramona, Calif. who spent over a decade racing in the NASCAR Cup Series in the 1980s and 1990s, will be a co-driver for the team led by John Leon in the Baja Challenge class for spec Subaru-powered open wheel Baja Touring Cars. Stahl was also the first overall winner to finish the race driving solo.
All 42 SCORE Trophy Trucks entered have an opportunity to win the marquee SCORE racing class for high-tech, 900-horsepower, unlimited production trucks. SCORE Trophy Truck is the unique class created by SCORE and launched in 1994, so this will be the 24th SCORE Baja 1000 with these monsters of the desert competing. The 42 entries represent the most in SCORE history of this star-studded class. This year’s field includes the SCORE Trophy Truck class winners from the last 11 consecutive years in this treasured race. One thing is certain, these thoroughbreds of the dirt will add much to the rich and legacy of the Granddaddy of all Desert Races.
BFGoodrich Tires is celebrating four decades as a major player in SCORE Baja racing. As the title sponsor of this year’s race, BFGoodrich Tires has produced the tire of choice for 28 of the overall 4-wheel vehicle winners in the SCORE Baja 1000, including 28 of the last 31 years along with a record-run of 20 straight from 1986 through 2005. In total, BFGoodrich Tires has now been the tire of choice for the overall 4-wheel vehicle winner in 86 SCORE Baja races including 31 in the SCORE Baja 500. BFGoodrich Tires also provides unmatched pit support for racers using their tires with eight full service pit areas and more than 200 support crew personnel spread along the race course and complete radio relay the entire race course. BFGoodrich Tires will also award $50,000 contingency money to the overall winners of this year’s 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 running exclusively on their tires.
Award-winning documentary filmmaker Dana Brown, ‘Dust 2 Glory,’ scheduled to premiere nationwide on Dec. 6, chronicled each of the four races in the 2016 SCORE World Desert Championship. Brown’s original Dust to Glory, released in 2005, became a classic: highlighting the legendary SCORE Baja 1000. D2G, which began shooting at the 2015 SCORE Baja 1000, continued up close and personal coverage capturing the robust racers in their amazing adventures in Mexico’s majestic Baja California peninsula through all four spectacular 2016 races. Executive Producer is BCII’s Bud Brutsman..
The four-race 2017 SCORE World Desert Championship in Baja California, Mexico along with the SEMA SCORE Baja 1000 Experience and the SCORE Baja 1000 Qualifying in Las Vegas are all airing on El Rey Network in the United States. International distribution is by way of syndication. The season-ending 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 will have a two-hour show produced while the other race shows are each one-hour telecasts. El Rey Network is available in 45 million homes across the country through cable and OTT providers, and via satellite on DirecTV Channel 341 and Dish Network Channel 253. For more information on how to watch El Rey visit http://elreynetwork.com.
Well, gang, I won’t be seeing you in Baja, but don’t forget the Mint 400 is just around the corner, and should be huge this year.
See you there for sure!