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Page 39 of 90

THE FIRST SCORE BAJA INTERNATIONAL 1974 Brought The First SCORE BaJa Race With Sal Fish As President By Dan Sanchez, Larry Saavedra, and Stuart Bourdon Sal Fish recalls wondering if his decision to leave a well-paying job at Peterson Publishing to become president of SCORE International was foolish. It was 1974 at the start of SCORE International, and the difficulties of putting on the company's first Baja race began to set in. On his mind was the looming controversy of the races, which were first organized officially by NORRA, then subsequently assumed by the Baja Sports Committee. After a significant decline in participants and local revenue compared to the previous year's Baja 1000 (1973 Mexican 1000), the races were handed over to the newly-formed SCORE International, which was tasked with returning them to their former glory. The first Baja race of the 1974 season was also the first for SCORE and Fish. They called it the SCORE Delco Baja International, as legal issues prevented SCORE from calling it the "Baja 500" until 1991. Fish had already overseen the Parker 400 race in January, but the Baja International in July came with a lot of pressure to prove SCORE could handle this event and the Baja 1000. "I was still new to SCORE and I didn't have the experience organizing races like Mickey and his son Danny had already done," recalled Fish. "This first SCORE Baja International was a real bath of fire for me. I was in this new role of being the president, and it's not like you're sitting in the owner's box at the Indy 500 or standing in the pits of a drag race or NASCAR watching things unfold in front of you. It was hands-on, trying to deal with everything thrown at you all at once." The race started in Ensenada as planned, and without issue, 279 starters left to race in the Baja desert. According to records, motorcycles left the starting line at 6:45 a.m., followed by the rest of the classes at 8:15 a.m. After several hours, the team of Mitch Mayes and A.C. Bakken on a Husqvarna crossed the finish line first. They were followed by the team of Jim Jasper and Joe Padilla, also on a Husqvarna. Five minutes later, Bobby Ferro, in a Sandmaster single-seater he co-drove with Don Emstmeyer, crossed the finish line to be the overall four-wheel winner. As other racers came streaming into the finish line, Fish found himself facing numerous questions, accusations, and protests by teams and racers on all sorts of matters. "Here I am, proud as could be that I'm the guy that's running this event and everything," said Fish. "Mickey was off doing his thing, flying in an airplane and taking pictures of the course. I'm suddenly bombarded by people making accusations, telling me the rumors of what they heard happened on the course," said Fish. The biggest rumor was that Bobby Ferro had cheated by taking a different section of the course. "I recall that race specifically," said ORMHOF Inductee and SCORE Legendary Champion Bobby Ferro. "It was the race where I was leading and Mickey Thompson was following me in his airplane, filming as I shot through the obstacles." As Ferro raced through the Baja desert, he realized he was going the wrong way and thought one of the locals had changed the course markers for a laugh. "I was given a bum steer," he said. "I was heading west when I should have been going east. I turned around when I realized I was going in the wrong direction." Although the mistake cost Ferro fourteen minutes, he backtracked and returned to the course. Fortunately, he was far enough ahead to still take the checkered flag. When Ferro began hearing rumors that he had cheated, he recalled approaching Fish. "I told him that I didn't cheat," said Ferro. "I also told the protestors that Mickey Thompson would have the proof on film as he was filming me from the airplane as it happened." Not knowing the truth, Sal Fish couldn't make heads or tails out of the protests and recalls trying to get more information about the situation. "Back then you had to rely on all the information from course workers, racers, and even spectators who may have seen something," said Fish. "We didn't have radio communications and GPS like SCORE does today. At that time, we had what we called a Stuck Stub. This was a piece of paper and a pencil that was included in each driver's kit that we handed out before the race. If you had a problem on the course, you would write it down and give it to the people at the next checkpoint. If that checkpoint person had a HAM radio it would be possible to talk to someone in another country, then relay that call back to someone else in a different country, and eventually make its way back to us in race headquarters. It wasn't easy." Fish recalled racers congregated at the Bahia Hotel where the SCORE headquarters was located. By then, Mickey Thompson had landed and returned to headquarters where he heard the rumors. Thompson announced Ferro as the winner, as he had the proof on film. "He definitely had the footage showing the course signage had indeed been altered by the locals," said Ferro. "I ended up being presented with the trophy by Thompson himself. It's funny looking back at it all now, but it wasn't funny at the time." "Once, Mickey said he saw the whole thing and that Ferro backtracked to where he made the wrong turn on the course, the dispute was over," said Fish. "You couldn't argue with the guy who owns the race and said he saw it. But I wondered if this type of thing was going to happen at every event?" A Who's Who Of Legendary Racers While Bobby Ferro received yet another Baja win under his belt, other relatively new racers saw the 1974 Baja International attract some of the biggest names in off-road racing, who would later become inductees of the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame and also become legends in SCORE. The first was Malcolm Smith, who by the early '70s had raced the Baja 1000 and already earned a reputation as one of the best moto racers. Smith teamed up with his friend and fellow moto racer, Bud Feldkamp, and the two raced in Class 1, sharing driving duties in a Sandwinder single-seater. The team finished second in class– less than five minutes behind Ferro. Walker Evans had already formed a relationship with Mickey Thompson, helping him lay out some of the Riverside courses, and was already experienced in Baja racing at the time. He had raced in the previous Baja 500 events, winning Class 4 in 1970 and 1972 with Shelby Mongeon. Walker entered the 1974 race with Jimmie Baird in Class 8 and added another class wins to his record. Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe competed in Class 4 with the Ford Bronco and had an unfortunate accident with a local in a motorcycle that pulled out in front of them behind the dust, going the wrong way on the course near Ojos Negros. The incident left Jones and Stroppe shaken. Another Bronco in Class 3, driven by Rod Hall and Jim Fricker, managed to avoid any mishaps and finished first in their class. At this Baja race, Ivan Stewart had driven other off-road races but teamed up with Bill Hrynko in a two-seater Chenowth. They went on to finish first in Class 2, which was Stewart's first Baja 500 win. "I had raced the Ensenada 300 in 1973, but this was a major race to win," recalled Stewart. "This first SCORE Baja International had a lot of hype that came along with it as Mickey brought Sal in and it was the first major race for SCORE. It was a special race." For racers like Stewart, it was an opportunity to race with the best of the time. "As I recall, the race did have the controversy with Bobby Ferro, but Bobby didn't need to cheat to win," said Stewart."He was that good. My way of thinking back then was to establish myself in racing and doing so among some of the best racers. This race in particular had credibility with guys like Bobby, Parnelli, and others." While Mitch Mays and A.C. Bakken won overall in the moto category, newcomers Larry Roeseler with Andy Kirker (SCORE's current moto liaison) were also racing in this event in Class 20. "We were eighteen or nineteen years old at the time and were hot-shot racers from District 37, said Kirker. "In our mind, Baja was the next level, top of the food chain for off-road racing, and the SCORE Baja International was our crown jewel to go after. I teamed up with Larry and were leading, but we had a problem with the rear drum brake stay that broke on my riding section along the beach. It messed up the whole mechanism. Some locals helped me fix it, but I had no rear brake for about 100 miles. Brought the bike to Larry, and he made up a lot of time for us to finish in third place." In the end, 173 of the 279 official starters finished, and Fish had made it through his first SCORE Baja race. The problems were never-ending, but after contemplating what had occurred during his fist SCORE Baja race, Fish realized this was his calling. The race itself would become one of SCORE's most iconic races, making legends out of many of the racers who participated in it. SJ

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