SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - SEPTEMBER 2017

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

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Page 39 of 87

Driving Solo Four-time SCORE Baja 1000 Winner Mark Stahl Talks About His 40 Years in Motorsports By Stephen Romero Photography courtesy of Mark Stahl Mark Stahl’s racing career began 40 years ago on dirt and asphalt, in buggies, motorcycles, trucks and stock cars. The turning point in Stahl’s lengthy career, however, came in the late 1970s when he climbed into a Chenowth during the SCORE Baja 1000. While he continued to campaign stock cars in select events, he stopped racing motorcycles shortly after the ’76 SCORE Baja 1000, and got hooked on SCORE Class 1 single-seat desert racing, and the Chenowth 1000 was the perfect fit for Stahl’s style of driving. While he never landed the factory backing of some of today’s leading Class 1 racers, he repetitively proved that his ability to win was far greater than what money could buy, and that apparently motivated him greatly from the beginning. A Privateer on the Podium Stahl became the consummate privateer, and he would go on to do what others thought was impossible at the time by winning two Overall SCORE Baja 1000 Championships in 1978 and ’80. He also won two SCORE Baja 1000 Class 1 Championships in 1981 and later in his racing career in 2007. In all, he was presented with three SCORE Baja 1000 Ironman awards for his efforts in ’78, ’80 and ’81, racing solo without the aid of another driver. “I was in my late twenties when I won my first SCORE Ironman award in ‘78,” said Stahl. “I was never intending to race solo, my co-driver just could not find time to pre-run and race the SCORE Baja 1000, and so I tried to find someone else. I even asked Ivan Stewart, but he couldn’t race because he was going to run the Class 8 Fillmore Ford. So, I just raced it alone in the Chenowth and won.” Best Memory of the Race “I had been going to Baja with my parents since I was a child,” he said. “The SCORE Baja 1000 has always meant so much to me personally, it’s the biggest off-road race in the world and I’ve always thought it was really special.” “The first one I won in ’78 was nearly a disaster, it rained constantly. I managed to catch Frank “Scoop” Vessels, who was leading the Baja 1000 in his truck. I was in the Chenowth and was on his tail when his tire shot out a big chunk of cholla cactus into my car and onto my driver’s suit and steering wheel. I was trying to throw this cholla cactus out of my car when I got bumped by someone from behind, and I pulled to the side of the road.” That could have been an end to the race for Stahl, but he managed to get most of the cactus out of the car, and he slowly caught back up with Vessels in the BFGoodrich Blazer, who by this time had run nose first into a huge boulder on the course. “I don’t know how he hit that rock, but he was stuck, I couldn’t help him,” Stahl recalled. Moments later Stahl caught up to the car who bumped him off the course, it was Bob Rodine. “He had a suspension issue and I passed him,” Stahl said. “I was thinking I was in the lead and I came into the pits to change tires and to pick the remaining cholla cactus out of my fire suit. I got back in the car and headed for the checkered flag, and that’s when I saw Vessels sitting in his Blazer at the finish line. He had beaten me to the finish, but I didn’t know how he did it.” With Parnelli Jones standing next to Vessel’s Blazer as the team owner, Stahl came flying across the finish. “PJ looked at his watch, looked at my car number and where I started in position, and then began cursing so loud because he knew that I had beat his team by only eight minutes, which gave me the win,” said Stahl. Years later Stahl would learn that Vessels apparently had taken a short-cut on Jones’ advice, and had passed the Type 1 Chenowth with the 2140cc engine without Stahl even knowing it. But officially, Stahl would end up the victor. Opened a Race Shop In the late ‘70s, Stahl opened up his own performance shop and hired celebrated performance engine builder Don Hatz to build his VW engines. “I took care of my car and other customer cars,” said Stahl. “I was working construction for my dad, but I ended up opening up my own business. My Chenowth was one of the first Baja buggies to have independent rear suspension and longer trailing arms. We always ran Bilstein shocks, too. The only issue was the transmission; they just couldn’t take too much performance. “ In 1982, Stahl relocated to South Carolina to pursue a NASCAR racing career full-time. “I started racing stock cars locally when I was in high school and loved reading about it. I sold all my desert racing stuff and moved there after winning the SCORE Baja 1000 the second time. I gave NASCAR a shot, but I wasn’t getting any younger and it was expensive to compete. I was a privateer and it wasn’t easy to find sponsors, I often raced on used tires. I enjoyed racing NASCAR, but in 2007 I moved back to California and went desert racing again.” After a 26 year hiatus from off-road racing, Stahl returned to the SCORE Baja 1000 and ended up winning his class in a Wide Open Baja car. “I think that was neat coming back to Mexico and winning. I drove 25 percent of the race, and that was so much fun.” With renewed interest in off-road desert racing, Stahl went searching for another race car and ended up buying Ivan Stewart’s old Fillmore Ford, which he completely restored and continues to race it to this day. As for his winning Chenowth 1000, Stahl sold that car back to Len Chenowth to be displayed in his museum. SJ

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