SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - October 2018

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 89 of 127

Driving Angry Curt LeDuc, one of the icons in off-road motorsports, recalls winning the 1995 SCORE BaJa 500 in a Jeep Trophy Truck By Dan Sanchez Photos By Centerline Images One of the biggest successes for Jeeps racing and winning in Baja came from racing legend and veteran Curt LeDuc. His long career and influence within the off-road motorsports industry spanning more than 30 years, beginning in the 1970’s with only a tubing bender and a Lincoln welding box, building roll cages and brush guards for his friends who owned Jeeps. “I built stuff for my buddies who participated in local club events in Massachusetts, “ said LeDuc. “This evolved into a four-wheel drive shop, and ultimately I got into racing to grow the business.” While LeDuc ultimately built many race vehicles, including a Jeep Commando that he raced along the East Coast, he finally met up with Walker Evans at a race in Crandon, Wisconsin, which ultimately introduced him to racing in Baja. “Walker was one of those impressive racer guys you read about, but when I met him, I realized he put his shocks on one bolt at a time just like I did,” said LeDuc. “Walker invited me to be a part of his team and volunteer at the SCORE Baja 1000. I fell in love with Baja and realized it was the ultimate challenge.” LeDuc pitted for Evans around La Purisima, and during his time in Baja saw a much simpler life that intrigued him. “People lived in wooden houses with a thatch roof. I realized you don’t have to get into the grind of keeping up with the Joneses,” said LeDuc. While his love for Baja grew, it was difficult for LeDuc to keep up his business and family life with a hectic schedule, so he packed up everyone and moved to the West Coast. “I would still race Jeeps on the East Coast,” said LeDuc. “I would drive to Crandon and race, then pack up my van and head out to Riverside Raceway, and tow the Jeep home to Massachusetts. Then I would come out to Baja and race with Walker. I did that for three or four years.” LeDuc driving Mike Leslie’s Class 6 Jeep Cherokee During his early years in motorsports, LeDuc raced straight axle 4x4 Jeep Cherokees. It wasn’t a typical race vehicle, but LeDuc wasn’t a typical racer either. “Most people don’t think four-wheel drive vehicles had good speed, but we won 100 races with one,” said LeDuc. “These were short course races where you’re wheel to wheel and the four-wheel drive Jeeps proved themselves to be superior at that time.” Curt LeDuc got his SCORE Trophy Truck ride with Clive Skilton’s Don-A-Vee Jeep/Chrysler effort While working with Walker Evans was a great experience for LeDuc, he still operated his business of making Jeep parts and building vehicles. “I was involved with Don-A-Vee Jeep, the largest Jeep dealer in the U.S. and owned by Clive Skilton, who later founded Jeepspeed. Along with that, I was building lots of race cars in my own shop.” While Evans was the lead driver in his Class 8 effort, LeDuc only drove sections for Walker, and had wanted to have his own truck, as well as fabricate for the team. Knowing, however, that Walker was the main guy behind the wheel, there was little chance for him to reach that goal anytime soon. Driving one of Walker Evan’s Class 8 trucks during the 1994 SCORE Baja 500 Not one to give up hope of having his own truck and team under Evans, LeDuc saw his chance once the SCORE Trophy Truck division became a reality in 1994. “My dream was always to race and drive for Walker,” said LeDuc. “When Chrysler went to Walker and told him they wanted to move from Class 8 to SCORE Trophy Truck, I thought this was a chance to finally drive my own race truck.” According to LeDuc, he got the call, and with Evans now operating a three-truck team, LeDuc was offered his ride. “Knowing how much time and work would be involved, I called Clive and told him that Walker offered me a ride and that I have to take this,” said LeDuc. “I learned that Clive had just bought a Trophy Truck for his son Darren, but he told me that I had to allow him to make a counteroffer. Later, I get a fax from Don-A-Vee Jeep and it’s an offer from Clive for a three-year deal. I could put anything I wanted on the car, and I had a budget. Walker’s deal was only for one year.” LeDuc drove this Jeep Grand Cherokee Trophy Truck for Clive Skilton’s Don-A-Vee Jeep With only two gears, LeDuc managed to win the SCORE Baja 500 in 1995 LeDuc took the better opportunity and was also involved with the structure and meetings on the SCORE Trophy Truck rules. “I was sitting there with Sal Fish, Jimmy Smith, Cal Wells from PPI, guys from Chevrolet and others,” said LeDuc. “In the beginning, there were only 12 SCORE Trophy Trucks, but they were some of the best-built vehicles. I held my head high!” 1994 was the first year of SCORE Trophy Truck competition during the SCORE Baja 500. In that race, Ivan Stewart won the division in his Toyota Tundra Trophy Truck. Along with many of the other racers, LeDuc was determined to win this race and entered his Jeep Trophy Truck into the SCORE Baja 500 the following year. “We started first that year and at the time, Troy Johnson, now the owner of the Fab School, was my crew chief. We took off from the start and I went to put the car into third gear and found that it wasn’t there,” said LeDuc. “Because this was a Chrysler Jeep, it had a Dana 60 axle and we had to run 4:11 gears. With that gearing, we were still able to get up to 115 miles per hour in second gear. I was mad as this was our second year running the car and it still seemed like we didn’t have it all together. Over the radio, I told Clive that I wasn’t stopping. I was driving angry.” Without a third gear, LeDuc managed to keep it all together along a tough course. “We finally stop to get fuel when they told me we had passed Jim Baldwin and were second on the course. Back then we only had two radios,” said LeDuc. “I got even angrier once I saw Jimmy Smith in front of me. I pass him coming down to Valley T and then I know I’m the first car on the course. I stop for a splash of fuel and I chase down the Simon and Simon team. They end up crashing and I get to the finish and won the race.” According to LeDuc, Clive Skilton was the happiest guy in the world after winning the race. “It took us a year to win it but we finally did,” said LeDuc. “I remember having dinner that night with Ivan and a bunch of sponsors. Ivan knew that once I won the race, I figured it out. We won four other races that year in other venues, but winning the SCORE Baja 500 remains at the top of my list.” While this would be the only year that a Jeep Trophy Truck would ever win a SCORE Baja 500 race, LeDuc’s career continued to blossom. He would compete tirelessly in many races throughout his 30 plus year career and in 1997, he became the SCORE Trophy Truck Champion. “Winning the races were more important to me than winning the SCORE Championship,” said LeDuc. “That year started off normally and ultimately led us to a position to battle for the championship. Now looking back at it years later, winning the championship in ’97 was one of the proudest things that I’ve accomplished.” To commemorate the championship an show appreciation to his team, LeDuc made some keepsakes for the occasion, one that is still a unique part of his Baja racing heritage. “When we won the SCORE Trophy Truck Championship, I collected souvenirs and put them in baggies,” said LeDuc. “I ended up making 12 of these jars filled with Pesos, sand, pine cones, sea shells, arrowheads and so on. These were Baja in a bottle, and I gave them to my chase guys.” In 2015 Curt LeDuc was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. Another milestone in his long and illustrious career. Recalling how many people have helped him along the way, LeDuc has also given back to the off-road racing community. For nearly 20 years, his Off-Road Swap Meet has helped newcomers to the sport and kids buy used parts and build a race vehicle or have fun off-roading. “A guy asked me one time about my racing career and wondered what scares me,” said LeDuc. “I didn’t have an answer but my real fear is failure.” SJ

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