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THE PATH TO THE FIRST SCORE SAN FELIPE 250 Land Use And A Growing Fan Base Eventually Brought SCORE To BaJa’s San Felipe By Dan Sanchez Images Courtesy of Sal Fish This 50th Anniversary Special Section showcases SCORE International’s history, events, and great moments in SCORE Baja Racing History, and will be ongoing throughout the 2023 calendar year. In 1982, SCORE International successfully put on its first San Felipe 250 race. It was called the Pernod SCORE San Felipe 250, which took place in March of that year and had a total of 232 racers who came to participate. Pernod is a French liquor distiller who sponsored the entire 1982 season. According to SCORE’s former president and owner, Sal Fish, the race was a success and the participants loved it. “Honestly, it wasn’t too difficult to get racers to come to San Felipe as we were already using parts of the area for the SCORE Baja International (Baja 500) and SCORE Baja 1000. Once they had experienced the beauty and the people, it was its own selling point. The officials and community of San Felipe were ready for their own event, and the top teams at the time all loved this race and wanted it to continue.” With 133 of the 232 competitors finishing the race that year, the first SCORE San Felipe 250 would be the start of a new Baja race that continues today in SCORE’s history. Among the first-year winners was Dan Cornwell, who took the Overall in the four-wheel division racing a VW Chenowth buggy. In the Moto division, Bob Balentine won riding a Honda XR500 in Class 22. Other class winners included Tom Morris and Steve Kelley in Class 9, Rod Hall and Jim Fricker in Class 3L, Manny and Trudy-Joe Esquerra in Class 7, Jeff Kaplan and Bruce Ogilvie in Class 21, and Dean Sundahl in Class 33 (Pro Quad). “I recall when Dan Cornwell won the race– he was a young kid back then,” said Fish. “Bill Savage was our tech director at that time and had remained in that position for more than twenty years. Later, after the company transition between myself and Roger Norman, Dan took over as SCORE Tech Director in 2016, and he is still in that position today.” A MOVE TO THE SOUTH Fish said the San Felipe race seemed almost inevitable, even before SCORE first considered a third race in Baja, Mexico. “My job back then was to grow the series, and when I came to SCORE in 1974, we had the Riverside Race, the SCORE Baja 1000, and SCORE Baja International. We had also just taken over the Parker 400 race that same year, which was also a great venue for fans and racers in California, Arizona, and Nevada to see and participate in it.” As those races continued over the following four years, an incident in 1978 began a serious and necessary move towards adding a third SCORE Baja race that would ultimately lead to the first SCORE San Felipe 250. “The Parker 400 race had grown and was attracting more people and racers,” said Fish. “I ultimately developed great relationships with the Bureau of Land Management, the local Chemehuevi Tribe, and the Parker Chamber of Commerce. Individually, they loved what we did with the race and our ability to keep it going. It helped that Mickey Thompson was also friends with people in the Parker Chamber of Commerce, as he and his sister Coleen had a trailer by the Colorado River with race boats and other toys he would house there.” That year, however, changes in personnel at the Bureau of Land Management had them more involved with the land use and what areas SCORE would be allowed to plot a racecourse through. “They began putting restrictions,” said Fish. “Parker was an ideal place at the time, but there was a lot of misinformation that emerged asking why SCORE was allowed to race over sacred tribal lands and other false accusations. Despite the efforts by myself, the Parker Chamber of Commerce, and members of the community, it became very difficult to get the proper permits for the 1978 Parker 400 race.” Fish was quickly running out of time to get the permits he needed to put on this race. “I really couldn’t believe that it looked as though we would ultimately not be able to put on the Parker 400 race as scheduled,” said Fish. “I was trying to figure out how and where I was going to move an event I had been working on for more than a year and do it within a matter of a few weeks.” Fortunately, his relationships in Mexico, including those with the Mexican government, influential hotel owners, and heads of tourism, such as Pepe Limon and Nico Saad, came to Fish’s aid. “My friend Pepe knew the Lieutenant Governor of Mexicali, Kiko Santana, and was also good friends with the Mayor and Governor there,” said Fish. “He had heard about the problems we were having in trying to get permits for the 1978 Parker race and thought we could put it on in Baja, starting the race in Mexicali and running a course down to San Felipe.” “At this point, we tried to salvage as much as we could when moving the race from Parker, Arizona, to Mexicali,” said Fish. “We had the race t-shirt already printed up, so we took them and printed ‘canceled’ across the back and added ‘Mexicali’ on them.” Out of the chaos, Fish managed to create the 1978 Mexicali 300, but it also came with some setbacks. That year there was heavy rain in the area, and some of the racers only learned about the change in the venue at the very last minute. In addition, some of the hotels and restaurant owners in Parker were not pleased that SCORE had to move the venue. But despite the necessary move of the Parker 400 to Mexicali, it was the start of a third SCORE Baja race that would be added to the series. The following year, 1979, SCORE mended relationships in Parker and would return to continue working with the Parker Chamber of Commerce and the BLM to produce the race. The SCORE Parker races would continue to run every year thereafter until 1997. MEXICALI TO SAN FELIPE Along with the Parker race, the 1978 SCORE Mexicali 300 continued annually through 1981 as a 250-mile race. But soon, other issues would require another change of venue from here as well. “Mexicali was a very busy area, and it became difficult to put on the race there,” said Fish. “The course would typically go through silt beds and the tidal flats along the Sea of Cortez, where racers would often get stuck. I spent a lot of time down there, and to top it all, it snowed one year. So we would often have to move the course and re-route it over the summit last minute. In addition, getting in and out of Mexicali was a nightmare, so we finally decided in 1982 to start and end the route in San Felipe.” Moving the race from Mexicali to San Felipe was a delicate situation that Fish had to handle carefully to avoid offending any of the local officials who had done so much to help him bring a SCORE race there. “At this time, the city of San Felipe was a county of Mexicali and had yet to become its own municipality as it is today,” said Fish. “I didn’t want to offend the people in Mexicali, but fortunately, San Felipe as a county allowed the two cities to work together with the ranchers, farmers, and politicians there to make it all happen.” When the first SCORE San Felipe 250 finally happened in 1982, it proved the San Felipe area afforded the racers a significant challenge with an amazing course. “The race did what it was supposed to and much more,” said Fish. “I never wanted a NASCAR or Indy-type loop event, so the San Felipe area provided the perfect challenge and adventure that the SCORE family wanted. It was important for us to get the teams and families there as a group of unique people who love off-road racing and to have an adventure in Mexico. Unfortunately, the U.S. events didn’t have the adventure aspect because of the restrictions placed upon us, and so this first San Felipe 250 and other Baja races were the perfect home for SCORE.” “I believe what made the difference in this race’s success over time was how racers honed their skills by crossing the border and pre-running in Mexico. All of those racers who appreciated the land and people, as well as those who respected the traditions of Mexico, all became some of our greatest racers who are now three and four generations competing there.”

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