SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - AUGUST 2017

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

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Page 48 of 103

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. Handlebars to buggies BUD FELDKAMP AND MALCOLM SMITH HAD SUCCESSFUL CAREERS IN MOTORCYCLE RACING, BUT THEY CAME TOGETHER TO RACE ON FOUR WHEELS By Stephen Romero The iconic blue and white number 29 Bel-Ray Bullet, driven by Bud Feldkamp and Malcolm Smith, made its mark in off-road racing record books after winning the Overall Championships in the 1975 and 1977 SCORE Baja 1000. Yet, it didn’t stop there. Feldkamp and Smith went on to win three SCORE Baja 500s, two of which were driving the Bel-Ray Bullet in 1976 and 1978. During this time in off-road racing, one and two-seater buggies were the fastest vehicles in Baja. The Bel-Ray Bullet was definitely one of the fastest with Feldkamp and Smith behind the wheel and was challenged by racers like 1970s star Bobby Ferro in his agile Sandmaster SS-1 buggy. Some speculated that Feldkamp and Smith might have walked away with even more wins if it were not for the tough competition. “Off road-racing is like fishing,” said Feldkamp. “Every driver has a story about the big one that got away.” The Making of a Legend Feldkamp and Smith initially met sometime in the late 1960s and were an unlikely pair. Smith was already a superstar in the motorcycle trials, as well as Enduro and Grand-Prix off-road racing. Feldkamp was a local racer, who was working his way through dental college. As Feldkamp tells it, he needed to find parts to repair his dirt bike and so he walked into Smith’s motorcycle business in Southern California. Soon Feldkamp and Smith were trading race stories and their friendship began to grow. Introduction To The Mexican 1000 Feldkamp ultimately returned to college to complete his education while Smith traveled around the world, racing trials, (cross-discipline skill events) when he first heard about a race called the Mexican 1000 that took place in Baja. “I was racing in the National Six-Day Trials in Poland for Husqvarna and my roommate Bud Ekins asked me if I’d ever heard of an off-road race in Mexico from Tijuana to La Paz,” said Smith. “As soon as I returned to the U.S. I looked into the race, and called Husqvarna and asked them for a bike. I promised to win the Mexican race if they provided the ride.” The motorcycle was delivered to Smith as promised. It was a Husqvarna 350 two-stroke, four-speed that he modified with a larger five-gallon Triumph fuel tank, especially for the Mexico race. Smith was prepared as he could be. Even though he had not pre-run the course, he and teammate J. N. Roberts somehow managed to win their motorcycle class and took a second place finish overall. That was in the late ‘60s and Smith’s reputation in desert racing was beginning to take off. Smith was hooked and rode the Mexican 1000 solo on a motorcycle on two other occasions. By late 1970’s, Smith had appeared in Bruce Brown’s classic motorcycle epic “On Any Sunday” and he became even more famous as a world-class motorcycle rider. (Bruce Brown is the father of Dana Brown director of Dust to Glory and the sequel Dust 2 Glory that will be released later this year). In the meantime, Feldkamp was just finishing dental school and although he raced bikes only occasionally, he and Smith started to seriously discuss the possibility of racing buggies in Mexico. That year, Feldkamp decided to talk to Smith about Sandwinder buggies and walked into Smith’s motorcycle shop to get his reaction about racing on four wheels. Smith agreed to give it a try, and they climbed into a VW-powered buggy for Sandwinder, a California based fiberglass buggy manufacturer run by Don Rountree. Neither Feldkamp or Smith had experience in Class 1, but they knew how to read the terrain as motorcyclists often do, and they found that their styles of racing in the dirt were extremely compatible. That proved to be the beginning of a buggy racing team that lasted for another ten years. Feldkamp and Smith’s relationship grew and with it, so did the amount of overall and class wins with this now iconic Bel-Ray Bullet that took them to the podium time after time. The Early Days In Baja “The early Baja 1000 races were always to La Paz and every year I always looked forward to it,” said Feldkamp. Before he raced it with Smith, however, Feldkamp would travel to Mexico to watch it and learn. “It was always an endurance race, and yes you wanted to beat the other guys, but it was a matter of simply beating the course too,” said Feldkamp. “I saw it as an adventure to go all the way to La Paz with no radio and no GPS because it was just you and Baja.” As Feldkamp recalled, their first race together was in 1971. The Sandwinder nearly ended their day only hours after it began when disaster struck near San Ignacio. “Smith was the superstar back then and I was this dental student. He ran the first half of the race, and I got in the car for the second half,” said Smith. “I was heading out of San Ignacio when suddenly the left front wheel comes off the buggy. I was traveling toward the ocean about 80 miles-per-hour when the tie-rod snaps and the wheel came off. I limped it into the pits on three wheels, while being passed by the buggy of Bobby Ferro and several others.” After apologizing to Smith about the wheel incident, he continued the race after their pit crew replaced the entire front end. They were still in the hunt for a podium finish, but the damage to the vehicle was too much. Smith and Feldkamp learned some valuable lessons though. “Never give up, someone else will have trouble too,” said Smith. The Switch from the Sandwinder to the Bel-Ray Bullet Prior to 1974, Feldkamp and Smith drove the Sandwinder buggy exclusively, but they agreed that a change in plans was needed in order to dominate Class 1. In 1975, Feldkamp and Smith purchased a single-seat buggy from Ray Oyer. The #29 Bel-Ray Bullet was based on a Funco buggy chassis, and Scott McKenzie was asked to prep the car. Smith remembers it as being “bullet proof,” and the name stuck. “McKenzie was the reason for our success because that car never broke after McKenzie came aboard,” said Smith. The first major SCORE race they entered was the 1975 SCORE Baja 1000. Thanks to superb driving skills and the excellent setup of McKenzie, Feldkamp, and Smith took the SCORE Baja 1000 Overall Championship in the vehicle. Then two years later, they won it again. Both Feldkamp and Smith agreed that racing motorcycles helped tremendously in racing buggies. “You learn to read the terrain as a motorcyclist and then you pick the right line in a car,” said Smith. “The margin of error on a motorcycle is a lot smaller than in a buggy,” Feldkamp added. So the two drivers often pushed the envelope when they had the chance. That strategy made the difference. There were times, however, when things could have gone the other way. One incident during the SCORE Baja 1000 in the mid-‘70s that was still fresh in Feldkamp’s mind was when Ivan “Ironman” Stewart led the race with Smith one minute behind in the Bel-Ray Bullet. Late in the day, both cars had pitted at the same time. A driver’s change ensued in the Bullet, and Feldkamp strapped himself in. Stewart took off early and Feldkamp followed only minutes behind. According to Feldkamp, the road came to a fork and he lost sight of Stewart. “Stewart takes off in one direction and I took the other direction, which was very rough and slow,” said Feldkamp. “I knew Stewart was on a faster gravel road. Once I made it to the checkpoint about 2 a.m., I asked the official if Stewart had passed through, and he said, he had come by twice.” Feldkamp zoomed off into the desert, puzzled why Stewart would pass a check-point two times! “I kept on going down this road and racing for our next pit and that’s when I see a guy waving at me,” said Feldkamp. “It was Johnny Johnson from Stewart’s team and he thought I was Ivan. That meant Stewart was still behind me! Smith and I ended up winning that event.” Feldkamp and Smith saw Stewart later that day. Apparently, Stewart hadn’t pre-run the course at night and had gotten lost. Little White Lies Racing with a legend like Malcolm Smith was never easy for Feldkamp. “You didn’t want to screw up around him and unfortunately because of the short suspension in the Bel-Ray Bullet, I ended up flipping the race car once at a SCORE Baja 500,” said Feldkamp. “But with some help, we ended up getting it back on the road and made it into the pits for a driver’s change; it had oil spilled all over the body. That’s when Malcolm asked me where all the oil had come from. I said I went under an oily underpass, and I guess he believed me,” Feldkamp laughed. Even with a major mishap, Feldkamp and Smith pulled off another SCORE victory. Looking Back at the Bullet “That car is still fun to drive if the road isn’t too rough, but there is no power steering,” said Smith. “That car would just slide through the desert though,” recalled Feldkamp. But the last time Feldkamp and Smith actually raced the Bel-Ray Bullet, was in 1980 during the SCORE Baja 1000. During that race, they had a two-hour lead on Walker Evans with Feldkamp in the driver’s seat. “Suddenly near the finish, the flywheel exploded and I could not get it in gear,” said Feldkamp. “I was stuck there in the middle of the desert for the longest time when Evans races up and asks what’s wrong. I explained the problem and he asked me why I didn’t pull the engine and fix it on the spot. He roared off and won the event. All I could do was sit there and think about what he said to me, and the two-hour lead I had on him, and ultimately laugh.” No matter how one describes the adventures of these pioneers of Baja, there is no mistaking that the number 29 Bel-Ray Bullet team of Feldkamp and Smith endured when others might have thrown in the towel. That in itself is the making of a true racing legends. SJ

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