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Lynn Chenowth Honored As Grand Marshal For The King Shocks 35th SCORE San Felipe 250 By Larry Saavedra Photos Courtesy Lynn Chenowth Archives When the first SCORE San Felipe 250 was held back in 1982, it was a VW- powered Chenowth driven by Dan Cornwell that won the inaugural race. The following two races were also won with a Chenowth vehicle, driven by Corky and Scott McMillin in 1983 and ’84. Lynn Chenowth’s ideas and vision for a purpose-built off-road racing vehicle had a huge influence on the future of Baja racing. Due to Chenowth’s long-time contribution to the sport, SCORE selected him as Grand Marshall for this year’s King Shocks 35th SCORE San Felipe 250. “His impact on off-road racing in whatever form, short-course, stadium, or desert is immeasurable, and to spend a very special few days with this iconic pioneer in our sport while honoring him in San Felipe will be a wonderful privilege,” said Jim Ryan, SCORE Director of Marketing and Sales. “We are also looking forward to visiting his now-completed Chenowth Legacy Lodge and Museum in Rancho Percebo.” History During the mid to late ‘60s, the popularity of open-wheel buggy racing started expanding beyond recreational vehicles driven on sand dunes. Lynn Chenowth stepped onto the scene in ’69, creating a demand for his mass-produced chassis kit made from mild steel tubing. Before this, Chenowth Racing Products was originally a header manufacturer for circle track and drag cars, but Chenowth changed course and pursued buggy building which introduced the Chenowth Formula 1 to the off-road racing world. Chenowth is a self-taught craftsman who introduced his designs by hand, sketching everything using T-squares, angles, and whatever drafting tools were available before the vehicle design could be prototyped in the shop. “The turn-key Chenowth buggy at the time was $1,600,” he said. “It had junkyard VW engine, transmission, and components like pedals, front end, and suspensions. It was the most affordable way to run Baja.” Chenowth kicked off the ’70s just as multi-time SCORE Champion Bobby Ferro tore up the racing field. It took a while to unseat the two from their continued wins, but Chenowth racers toughed it out. Soon some of the biggest names in desert racing were winning at events like the SCORE Baja 1000 and SCORE Baja 500. Chenowth learned from successes and failures, always reinventing and improving with each reincarnation of his original design. The early model welded cars were changed to 4130 chrome-moly to make them stronger. In ’72, the first two-seater was built for Bill Hrynko when Ferro was dominating the field in his Funco Sandmaster. In ’73, Ivan Stewart drove Hrynko’s Chenowth to the company’s first overall SCORE Baja 500 win. Stewart was scheduled to race in a Class 2 buggy with Hrynko, but unfortunately, Hrynko suffered a broken leg before the event. Stewart then took the wheel and drove the entire race solo to victory. In ’76, Stewart would again drive a Chenowth to victory, this time in the SCORE Baja 1000, eventually earning his nickname “Ironman” from SCORE’s owner, Mickey Thompson. Over the next 12 years, the Chenowth chassis would win the Overall SCORE Baja 1000 multiple times over. Chenowth buggies got a reputation of being hard to beat with a record ten SCORE Baja 1000 Overall Champions from ’76 to ‘90. (1976 Ivan Stewart, 1978 Mark Stahl, 1980 Mark Stahl, 1981 Mark McMillin, 1983 Mark McMillin, 1984 Mark McMillin, 1986 Mark McMillin, 1987 Bob Gordon, 1988 Mark McMillin, 1990 Bob Gordon). The McMillin’s, who have some of the most wins in a Chenowth buggy, first got excited about the chassis in the late ‘70s. Corky McMillin and his sons Mark and Scott, raced several generations of Chenowth designs in multiple SCORE classes through the years, giving them names like Beagle, Beagle II, Red Dog, and Macadu. They took their share of wins with Chenowth, including the ’79 SCORE Baja 1000, ’81 SCORE Parker 400, ’82 SCORE Parker 400, ’83 and ’84 SCORE San Felipe 250, ’84 SCORE Baja 1000, and many more. Vehicles The first Chenowth was the Formula 1, followed by a single-seat called the Wedge, due to its design. It used a VW front and rear styled suspension and had nine inches of travel. “At 100 inches in length, the Wedge was the first real independent rear suspension car that had success with disk brakes and a VW oil-cooled motor,” said Chenowth. “At that time, the other buggy chassis manufacturers were at 92 inches. Only 11 Wedge designs were made.” The Wedge is credited as the first single-seat buggy built specifically for racing. According to Chenowth, a typical Wedge setup forty-plus years ago would have included a VW 1600 engine, dual rear shocks, a large oil cooler, perhaps a side-mounted shifter, an air-foiled aluminum roof design, and a wicked-looking Stinger exhaust. But the setups were custom to each team and driver. The Mears Gang had great success with the Wedge in the mid-‘70s. Chenowth recalls some racer saying that the Wedge was proof that you didn’t need a four-wheel drive to conquer sand, ruts, and other obstacles. The Wedge evolved into the Chenowth 1000. It moved the driver 10 inches forward for more front-end weight distribution. It also had a long back design that wrapped around the engine. There were also different cage heights. “We focused on the look of the car and sold more than 100 of these,” said Chenowth. After the success of the Chenowth 1000, the company launched the Chenowth 2000, which had an even longer wheelbase and an independent rear suspension. There was also a short-course five-link suspension model, which was almost unheard of in its day. Naturally, the McMillin’s, Mears, and other racers loved these designs and drove them to great success. Chenowth also ended up with a couple of military contracts which would later lead to the DR1 and DR2 designs for racing. After years in both desert and short-course racing, Chenowth Racing Products made a change in the direction of the business. “I never sold the racing division of the company but was simply not interested in the military and dune buggy business,” said Chenowth. “In ’80, I divided the company and let my good friend and current GM, Mike Thomas, take the military business, and I stayed focused on the racing sector. Mike later went on to produce the Don Primm inspired Chenowth Millennium and I went out and developed the Magnum SC1.” According to Chenowth, it was the first successful non-VW suspension car. It featured a five-link, two-stage rear suspension system. “The Gilman brothers were dominating in their Funco, but within a year, they, along with most major teams, switched to the Chenowth Magnum,” he said. The Magnum, according to Chenowth, was a new technology and people were apprehensive, but some racers like Butch Arciero suggested that the Magnum permanently changed short course racing. In the ‘80s, the Chenowth DR1 single-seater and DR2 two-seater were created. Both models featured up to 116 inches of wheelbase depending on the trailing arms and two-stage suspension systems. The DR1 also featured 16 inches of wheel travel and a wider front beam than the DR2. It’s been rumored that the first DR2s were made specifically for the McMillin family, most likely Corky. Chenowth doesn’t recall, but approximately 100 DR1 and DR2 designs were made in total. “What we learned is the rear-end could be set up with two shocks on the primary and secondary torsion bars of a VW housing,” said Chenowth. “This allowed for independent adjustment. A racer could also adjust the secondary torsion bars, which would act like an anti-sway bar.” That allowed for fine-tuning of the suspension, which was not available in the early Chenowth designs because bypass shocks didn’t exist at that time. The DR1 and DR2 had it all, and looked great. The DR2 chassis was so successful that it was used by the military during the U.S. Military’s invasion of Kuwait in ’90. As the years went by, Chenowth race cars saw the winner’s circle time after time, driven by racers such as Johnny Johnson, Pat Dean, Rory Chenowth, Dick Clark, Doug Fortin Sr., Doug Fortin Jr., Bill Silverthrone, Marty Coyne, Rory Ward, Al Arciero, Mike Lund, Roger, and Rick Mears, Rudy Townsley, Cliff and Leonard Greaser, Bill Hrynko, Ivan Stewart, the McMillin’s, Bill Reams, Bon Rodine, Bob Gordon, Robby Gordon, Jack Johnson, Rob MacCachren and many more. Collectively, Chenowth drivers have won more than 31 SCORE Baja 1000s. Returning To His Roots Chenowth’s vision continued to evolve, and he later produced the Mini Mag. It was a single-seater with tube-frame construction and wrapped in aluminum panels with a full-cage system for driver protection. To many, it was considered the first production UTV with a belt-drive drivetrain. It was Chenowth who Yamaha contracted to help with the development of the first Yamaha Rhino UTV. The first 50 production Mini Mags sold for $13,950. It sported an A-arm suspension with 16-inches of travel front and rear and Bilstein coil-overs. It had four-wheel disc brakes and rack and pinion steering. It also featured a CNC Balance Bar braking system and CNC cutting brake. It was powered by a 92-horsepower snowmobile engine and had a 15-gallon Fuel Safe fuel cell. “I designed a transmission with forward and reverse for it that was belt-driven,” Chenowth said. After an amazing career building winning vehicles, Chenowth turned his attention to his Chenowth Legacy Lodge, a resort and museum just south of San Felipe in Baja California, where he’s lived for the past 37 years. He acquired a second property and created the Chenowth museum, which is now open and displays many of his Chenowth cars. SJ

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