SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - AUGUST 2017

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

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Page 66 of 103

SULTAN OF SANDMASTER: BOBBY FERRO Driving a Class 1 buggy during the 1970s, Bobby Ferro, was on a winning streak. Champions like Parnelli Jones, Mickey Thompson, Malcolm Smith, and Bud Feldkamp challenged Ferro’s dominance each season, but Ferro hammered away in VW-powered buggies from Gil George’s Funco shop, prepped by legendary builder Scott McKenzie. Ferro left his competition in Baja dumbfounded, and sponsors like NGK, Bilstein, Bell and Norris Cams capitalized on the drama. Ferro won the SCORE Baja 500 four times (1971, ’72, ’74 and ’76) and won the Baja 1000 twice (1971 and ’75). If that wasn’t surreal enough for racing fans at the time, Ferro drove the 1971 Mexican 1000 to La Paz solo and won, a feat he attempted the year before, where he placed fifth. According to records, Ferro was on a roll for an entire decade. He never faltered, until one day, after an end of a brutal racing season, he simply walked away from off-road desert racing in 1979. He’d had enough, thinking he’d accomplished everything he set out to do. From Bikes to Cars Though he was known as a Class 1 racer, Ferro didn’t start out racing on four wheels. At that time, he was a dyed-in-the-wool motorcyclist. He was the type of rider that took risks when needed and only jumped into buggies out of necessity. As Ferro explained it, the only reason he transitioned from motorcycles to desert buggies was because of the sponsorship potential of racing on four wheels. At that time buggy racing in Baja was apparently much more lucrative than two-wheeling it in the dirt, and in that sense, Ferro became a publicity machine for the growing VW aftermarket and buggy builders like Sandmaster. Dare-Devil Teen to Baja Champion The need for speed, as Ferro recalled it, began when he was a teenager and he never looked back. “I was 15 years-old when I bought a used Triumph Tiger Cub motorcycle,” said Ferro. “It was an old scramble bike, and I raced it locally and rode it around Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles until one day it broke in half. I wheeled it into Bud Ekins’ shop in Sherman Oaks for repairs. That’s how I first met Ekins.” This was the same Ekins, who had doubled for Steve McQueen in the Hollywood classic The Great Escape, and who ultimately pioneered the SCORE Baja 1000 race we know today. Ekins’ stunt riding abilities were world famous and he took an immediate liking to Ferro. He hired him to help out at the race shop sometime in the early ‘60s. “It wasn’t long before I bought a new Triumph TR6 bike, which I raced with Ekins in District 37 events for years,” said Ferro. Drafted into Combat Ferro loved motorcycle racing and did it up until the day he was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam in the late ‘60s. He served a tour of duty and returned home. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, however, he immediately attempted to get back into off-road racing and reached out to a friend of his from Chicago named Bob Fields. Fields was looking to sponsor a desert race team and as the story goes, Fields agreed to sponsor Ferro for one season. Ekins had raced the Baja 500 in ’69 so naturally, Ferro too followed suit. In 1970, with Fields’ sponsorship, Ferro raced a Funco Wampuskitty in the Baja 500 and the Mexican 1000. Although it wasn’t his best effort, he still he did manage to pull off a second place finish in the Mexican 1000. “I raced the ’70 Mexican 1000 solo in the Wampuskitty that had a 1500cc VW engine and independent front suspension,” said Ferro. “It wasn’t exceptionally fast, however.” Somehow, Ferro got the most out of the vehicle and officially, that was the start of his successful buggy career. Meeting McKenzie The following year Ferro met Scott McKenzie, Charley Lyon, and some of the other racers at Sandmaster in Toluca Lake, California. McKenzie and Lyon were already well-known within racing circles for their exceptional VW powered sand buggies. In fact, McKenzie was in big demand and his Sandmaster business, which he started in 1966, was one of the most happening hangouts for anything sand dune related. Sandmaster built cars, supplied parts, and became the place for serious racers. McKenzie’s business partner, Lyon, decided to pursue other interests in the late ‘60s and that’s when Don Arnett came aboard at Sandmaster and reinvented the business by paying more attention to desert racing and to racers like Ferro. Rick James, Don Guth, and Gene Hirst were already team drivers at Sandmaster the day Arnett and McKenzie approached Ferro with a sponsorship deal. “It was a brand new chassis,” said Ferro. “I, of course, said yes I’d love to drive!” It was 1971 and Sandmaster put Ferro in the now famous SS1 from Funco that had a 2180cc VW engine that was prepared by McKenzie for maximum performance. From that point, the newly formed Sandmaster team would win just about every race there was in the early to mid-1970s. “The first major desert race I drove in the SS1 was at the ’71 Baja 500,” Ferro said. “I won it overall in 11 hours, 11 minutes!” For the ‘70s, the McKenzie-prepped Sandmaster buggies were state-of-the-art stuff. The Zenith carburetor on a 2180 cc VW engine with Sway-A-Way suspension and Bilstein shocks got the job done. But it came down to Ferro’s ability as a driver, and by all accounts, he was untouchable. Hollywood Calls During the time Ferro worked with Ekins the allure of being a Hollywood stuntman was something Ferro wanted to try. In the mid-1970s, after his successes in racing, Ekins got Ferro his first Hollywood gig. From there he became in demand for movies, commercials, and television work. Ferro was a regular stunt actor on The Rockford Files and the television program CHIPS. Ferro also did the stunts for the movie Death Race 2000, starring Sylvester Stallone. At the same time, Ferro was also competing and winning off-road desert races in the United States and in Mexico. The Stunt work took a considerable amount of Ferro’s time, and towards the end of the ‘70’s he made a decision to leave desert racing behind to pursue stunt driving. He had to pay the bills but didn’t give up racing completely. Although he didn’t do the regular off-road racing circuits, he did go on to drive some Sprint cars and drove in the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Grand Prix races for Mazda in the ‘80s. Though the years have passed, Ferro isn’t one to sit around, even in his retirement. He is returning to his roots and plans to drive in the SCORE Vintage Class at the 50th Anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000 in November. Ferro will be co-driving in Dave Tilton and Bobby Lawrence’s in a ’77 Chenowth (see sidebar for details). If history is any indication of how well Ferro does, don’t be shocked to see him up on the podium once again. SJ Ferro Returns to Baja When SCORE announced the newly created Vintage Class for the 50th Anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000, it immediately sparked interest from some impressive names in off-road desert racing. Dave Tilton, who works for Off-Road Motorsports Hall Of Fame Inductee Bud Feldkamp, was one of the first to organize a team. Tilton is currently restoring a ’77 Chenowth 1000 that will be ready for the race in November. “We have put together a dream team of past SCORE Baja Champions who are in their ‘60’s and ’70’s now,” said Tilton. “They are really excited about returning to Baja again and competing.” The team will feature the return of champion racer Bobby Ferro, along with his former teammate Glenn Harris. SCORE Baja 1000 class winner and Class 12 champion, John Holmes, along with SCORE Baja 1000 Class 5 Unlimited winner Pete Alesi Jr., will also drive sections of Baja in the Chenowth. Tilton, along with his nephew Bobby Lawrence, who is a partner in the restoration of the Chenowth, will each drive a section, with Jake Johnson acting as the race “closer”. Tilton’s growing list of sponsors includes; KC HiLiTES, Pyrotect, PRP Seats, Rugged Radios,, Harmon Fuel Cells, Glen Helen Raceway, Raceline Wheels, Fox Shocks and Wright Gearbox.

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