SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - Feb 2017

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

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Page 80 of 90

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000. Throughout its many years of competition, the race has spawned heroes, legends, and incredible performance products that have both shaped and fueled the off-road industry. In celebration of the Baja 1000’s 50th, SCORE Journal will be featuring the race’s multi-time winners, teams, innovators and legends which have contributed to the story on how this one race became the most important in all of off-road racing. FIRST ON THE PENINSULA The Journey To the 50th Anniversary Of The SCORE Baja 1000, Begins With the Bud And Dave Ekin’s Epic First Ride By Dan Sanchez and Mark Kariya Photos courtesy of the Ekins family. Spectators often wonder why racers who are well behind the first place finishers at the SCORE Baja 1000, still celebrate so enthusiastically after crossing the checkered flag. The fact is that competing in the SCORE Baja 1000 requires overcoming logistical, technical, physical, and emotional barriers that make finishing the race, let alone winning it. This is an accomplishment that is definitely something to brag about. The challenge of Baja has drawn people worldwide since the very first “official” race that took place in 1967. Among the crowd of racers ready to take on the challenge for the first time, are two experienced motorcycle racers for Honda named Bud and Dave Ekins who at the time, couldn’t believe they were ready to take on another chapter in a challenge that they had initiated several years earlier. Riding approximately 1000 miles from Tijuana to LaPaz had already become worldwide news when the Ekins brothers completed the challenge twice before; once in March 1962 and again in May of 1966. At that time, the Ekins brothers thought it would be a good idea to ride their motorcycles 1000 miles across the desert simply to take on a challenge had never been done before. They wouldn’t realize that their accomplishments would someday start a competition that still challenges racers and teams after 50 years. “The idea that it would become a race known around the world is unbelievable to me,” said Dave Ekins. “It was a race for me personally in 1962 and 1966 but simply against the clock to establish the first recorded records by telegraph.” The Start Of A Grand Idea Bud and Dave Ekins were accomplished desert racers from a young age and had learned to adapt to run fast in this type of environment. “When you grow up out in the San Fernando Valley and you go out riding in the desert, you learn to go fast without being able to see very well because of the dust,” said Dave Ekins. His brother Bud had already won the overall at the Catalina Grand Prix in 1955 and was a three-time winner of the Big Bear Hare & Hound. Dave had also won this event in smaller displacement classes. After both brothers had raced in the International Six Days Trial in Europe, some talk about Baja, Mexico gave them an idea to be the first at accomplishing something different other than winning races. Bud Ekins had a Triumph motorcycle dealership, and after Triumph corporate (Johnson Motors) shot down the idea, Bud looked to some friends at American Honda. “He [Bud] got together with Walt Fulton and Jack McCormack, two ex-employees of Johnson Motors who were at the time, Western States Sales Manager and General Manager of American Honda Motor Company,” said Ekins. According to Ekins, Fulton and McCormack thought it was a “hell of an idea” and were all in for what would be the first Baja 1000 journey. Johnson Motors found out Bud’s plan and prevented him from doing anything with another motorcycle brand. Dave, on the other hand, was an American Honda sponsored racer and knew Bill Robertson Jr., whose dad owned a Honda dealership in Hollywood, California, which offered a plan B. “Bill Robertson and I went down the peninsula to prove that American Honda, a Japanese company, could make a good motorcycle,” said Ekins. “I was working with American Honda at the time experimenting and helping them develop the CL-72. Our bikes were pretty much stock and first off the production line. So we actually accomplished two things in 1962: put American Honda on the map and established the first assisted recorded run down Baja.” The First Attempt March 17, 1962 With Bud out of the picture, for now, Dave and Bill Robertson Jr. decided to take on the challenge and planned to do it in March 1962. The only problem was that neither Dave Ekins or Bill Robertson Jr. had ever been to Baja California, Mexico. “The only time that Bill and I went down there—was on an airplane,” said Dave Ekins. That plane ride was a week before their attempt in a Cessna 180 piloted by former Catalina GP winner Walt Fulton. The plan for Ekins and Robertson Jr. was to utilize remote landing strips made for the organization called, Doctors Without Borders, who brought in medical supplies and services to ranchos and families living out in the remote areas of Baja. It took a day to aerially “pre-run” the basic route, landing four times along the way and finding ranchos where they could refuel. The makeshift airstrips on the various ranchos also had fuel that needed to be siphoned out of 55-gallon drums. By using the fuel for both the plane, piloted by Fulton and the two motorcycles, Ekins and Robertson Jr. had their route set to go along the Pacific Coast side of the Baja peninsula, as it was shorter and less rocky. Honda’s CL72 Are Prepped According to the Ekins, Bud and Robertson Jr. used Honda CL72 motorcycles that had heavier-duty chains which replaced the factory units. They also upgraded the stock shocks with Girlings, added a one-gallon auxiliary tank bag, and made sure all the nuts and bolts on the motorcycles were snugged up. The Hondas also received a set of Goodyear Grasshopper tires that had a more aggressive tread and a six-ply design, (3.25x3.50x19). Ekins and Robertson Jr. carried standard small Honda toolkits, a couple extra spark plugs, and a spare headlight bulb. Since Ekins was a Honda sponsored racer, he had already tested the motorcycles and found that if they traveled faster than 55 miles per hour, the standard 2.4-gallon fuel tanks would be good for 60 miles. When they kept it under 55, they would only need to utilize the auxiliary fuel once during the ride. On midnight Saturday, March 17, 1962, Dave Ekins and Bill Robertson, Jr., checked in at the Tijuana telegraph office to get an official time stamp and headed out to La Paz, Mexico. The plan was to finish in 32 hours, but they faced several issues along the way. Aside from wire stretched across the road at one point, posing for photos from journalists who had heard about the event and wanted to document it, the biggest hurdle they faced was getting lost in the San Ignacio fog. According to Ekins, they had to stop and simply slept until the sun came up the following morning. Afterward, Robertson Jr’s. motorcycle lost a cylinder, after a broken rear fender brace was removed, but exposed the air filter to more dirt and debris which leaned out the engine. Despite the problems, Ekins and Robertson Jr. made it to La Paz in 39 hours and 56 minutes. The two riders then had to turn around and trek back home to the U.S.. With much difficulty, they finally made it back in a few days. The Ekins brothers had expected the journey to be all over the newspapers and magazines but to their amazement, it only received minor coverage. A Second Journey It took a few years later for Dave and Bud Ekins to head back and try to beat their previous time. According to Dave Ekins, Bud wanted to use Triumph motorcycles as they had twice the range as the Hondas. The plan was to beat the 39:56 time without aerial assistance, but with four riders on the team. The motorcycles consisted of two TR-6, 65cc twins and two TR-5, 500cc units. The Ekins brothers were assisted by International Six Days Trials (ISDT) gold medalist Cliff Coleman, and an accomplished desert racer Eddie Mulder. These four motorcycles were used in the ISDT and were virtually untouched but in race ready condition. The technique of multiple riders on a team is something that is used in SCORE today, but the original idea of four riders was a bit different for the Ekins brothers back then. “The four of us, Eddie Mulder, Cliff Coleman, Bud and I, rode our own bikes the total distance. The thought to trade off riders never crossed our minds. We all raced long distances in the desert with success. That was what was familiar to us.” On May 3, 1966, the team headed out and immediately ran into trouble, hitting a grease spot on the road which damaged Bud Ekin’s motorcycle, but still left it rideable. The team decided to ride in pairs with Coleman and Dave Ekins in one team and Bud and Mulder on the other. Aside from Coleman getting lost after taking off on his own, Dave’s bike was having issues burning oil. “My Triumph was really hardly running,” Dave said, “I said to the other guys, to go ahead; you’re going to break the record.” Bud and Mulder went on ahead leaving Dave to nurse his motorcycle running 30 miles per hour with only 130 miles to LaPaz. “I’m running down this long pavement and I see a black line in the middle of the road,” said Dave. “I look ahead and there are two guys on motorcycles sitting there. I get up to them and its Bud and Eddie. The primary chain on Bud’s bike had seized.” With only 60 miles to go, the team stopped to take a break, but Dave encouraged Mulder to go on and try to break the record. "I said to Eddie, What the hell are you guys doing? Eddie, get on that bike and run in there and set a new record," said Dave as he recalled the moment. As Dave recalled, Eddie wanted to stay and smoke a cigarette with Bud. Undaunted, Dave Ekins got back on his motorcycle and continued on before the TR-5’s engine finally seized from lack of oil. Luckily, it happened only 10 yards from a Pemex station that stocked motor oil and Ekins was able to continue on. After spending time trying to find a telegraph office, the official time stamp was 41 hours and 31 minutes. Although they didn’t beat their previous time, the brothers did set a record for a non-assisted ride. The First Baja 1000 Race For the Ekins brothers, the Triumph trip got more publicity in the mainstream media than they did when riding the Hondas. The coverage caught the attention of Ed Pearlman who was so intrigued with the idea, that he convinced friends Dick Cepek and automotive journalist Don Francisco to make a similar journey but in four-wheel-drive vehicles. After completing that run, Pearlman envisioned a race along that route and created what he called “The Mexican 1000” as well as an organization (the National Off-Road Racing Association or NORRA) to run it. The first Mexican 1000 took place in 1967, and wouldn’t be complete without the Ekins brothers in the race. Dave was given the official number one member designation of NORRA and Bud rode the first half of the race, with Dave riding the second half in the dark. “The motorcycle ride was the same for me,” said Dave Ekins. “It just had more people and more things to worry about. We shared a ride on a Triumph TR6 which we had raced earlier in the ISDT in Europe.” Compared to their first two runs in Baja, the actual race competition was much more difficult as Ekins recalls. “It was much more difficult for me because I was anxiously waiting at the half way point for my brother Bud,” said Ekins. “I remember once I got on the bike it was pretty thrashed and I worried about the outcome. There were deeper ruts to follow than years past. Plus riding in the dark is never easy. Despite some early mechanical problems, we still finished third behind second place riders Malcolm Smith and J.N. Roberts.” While the two Ekins brothers are honored with birthing what eventually became the SCORE Baja 1000 race, everyone who has competed in it, understands and appreciates what the Ekins’ did for essentially starting the sport of off-road racing. Their initial adventures helped to create the one race that everyone wants to win, or even finish, at least one time in their lives as well as an entire industry that continues to thrive. “I think Bud enjoyed seeing his idea to ride Baja translate into a race that first year,” said Ekins. “It’s just amazing to me that the race has lasted 50 years. The roads are better, you can’t get lost and most of the rocks are knocked out of the way.” Ekins believes that the continued lure of racers to compete in the SCORE Baja 1000 definitely has to do with the challenge, and with additional press and TV coverage, it has definitely added to the mystique of Baja. To Ekins, however, he sums up his life-long love for Baja in a different way. “There is a site where several telescopes are on a mountain top and standing there, as I have, you can see both coastlines of Baja, across the Sea of Cortes and view the western coast of Mexico,” said Ekins. “There’s a poem by John Steinbeck that I think captures the mystique of Baja for many of us. “If it were lush and rich; one could understand, the pull, but it is fierce and hostile, and sullen. The jagged mountains pile up to the sky and there is little water. But, we know we must return to Baja if we are to live and we don’t know why” SJ

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