SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - May 2018

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

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WHEN THE 500 ALMOST WASN’T Sal Fish, The Co-Grand Marshall For The 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500, Recounts The Times That The Legendary Baja 500 Almost Didn’t Happen By Stephen Romero For the past five decades of its existence, the Baja Peninsula has been the location for the SCORE Baja 500. The race originally started in 1969 and in 1974, it was taken over by Mickey Thompson and SCORE. Thompson hired Sal Fish, the publisher of Hot Rod Magazine, to run the organization and ran it for 39 years. SCORE’s celebration of the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 couldn’t happen without recognizing Fish’s contribution to keeping the race ongoing and is one of the many reasons why he was selected as Co-Grand Marshal for this 50th celebration. Needless to say, there is perhaps no-one else that knows how the race began and succeeded more than Fish. In recalling some of his most memorable moments of the Baja 500, the ones that stuck in his mind the most, were the times when it almost never happened. Fish set the record straight on what it was like at the inaugural Baja 500 in 1968, the early race competitors, and why he feels the Baja 500 has remained competitive for 50 years and counting. “I was there in ’68 at the first Baja 500,” said Fish. “I was invited to the race by Mickey Thompson who brought me there to see what it was all about. It was just crazy. At the time it was much more loosely organized than it is today and Mickey was attempting to get me to partner with him. The first SCORE Baja 500 was like herding cats, it was total chaos. There wasn’t even an aftermarket industry supporting desert racers.” Natural Disaster Avoided Fish recalled one year where Mother Nature stepped in and nearly stopped the SCORE Baja 500 dead in its tracks. “Our course communications were terrible back then,” said Fish. “We didn’t have cell phones, powerful radios, or GPS at the time, and when the racers left Ensenada, we seldom heard from them. Somehow I got word that there was a flash flood in the mountains. It was maybe three hours into the race out of Ensenada and we had heard that none of the racers could get past the flood water, which had by then grown into a river and the course was completely washed out. The racers were parked on one side of this huge river with no way around it. I think it was SCORE Weatherman (Bob Steinberger), who announced that the race was going to be canceled due to the floods.” Although it looked like the race was going to be canceled, Fish stepped in to prevent it from happening. “I yelled out, wait a minute,” Fish explained. “I remember I was panicked, but I wasn’t going to call the race because of that.” Fortunately, the racers couldn’t be held back and according to Fish, they got inventive, with one competitor finding a passable spot where was the water was not as deep. “Everyone followed the lead vehicle, and the race was on again,” said Fish. “I didn’t know if they had made it across the raging river or not. I was on pins and needles until I heard back from one of the checkpoints.” Another Cancellation Averted Fish has definitely experienced the ups and downs of running the organization for 39 years. He recalled another time when the SCORE Baja 500 was nearly canceled. This time, it was 1984 and according to Fish, the race had to be moved to Barstow, California. “Because of a political problem that was taking place in Mexico between the politicians and the landowners they used the SCORE Baja 500 as a political ping-pong ball,” said Fish. “It was two weeks prior to the start, and Mexican officials told me that the race probably would not happen in Baja. Usually, I was able to talk my way through the situation with Mexico and those landowners on the Baja Peninsula, but not this time. I called my wife Barbara from Ensenada and told her I was heading directly to Barstow to meet with the BLM (U.S. Bureau of Land Management).” “The next morning I met with the BLM and explained the last-minute the situation. After four days of negotiations, I pulled together a SCORE Baja 500 course on U.S. soil and we ran the race. It was unbelievable. I think it aged me 20 years!” Popularity of the SCORE Baja 500 While the SCORE Baja 1000 is known as the granddaddy of off-road desert racing, the SCORE Baja 500 has also attracted its own legion of faithful racers. Fish suggests that it’s because the mileage makes it more of a race for the average guy and that is its big appeal. “Compared to a point-to-point race like a SCORE Baja 1000, the SCORE Baja 500 is doable by the average guy with a family,” said Fish. “Because it’s a loop type race, and racers feel at home running out of Ensenada, they don’t have to take a week off work and have a fleet of chase trucks to compete. The cost of it is much more manageable.” Early SCORE Baja 500 Favorites Over the years Fish has seen racers come and go. When asked about his favorite class of Baja 500 competitor, Fish was quick to say that he enjoyed every class equally. But when pressed to answer what class was his favorite, he said it was Class 11, the stock Volkswagen Beetles, or Baja Bugs. “The Baja Bug was the first vehicle that got in at one of the early Baja 500 events, and that’s why on a personal level, I enjoyed seeing them,” said Fish. “But the truth is I worked very hard to treat everyone the same. What’s not to love about SCORE Trophy Trucks or a Class 1, but I never did have a favorite. It was like asking me who was going to win. I’ve watched the most well-prepared team leave the line and go a hundred yards and break down, and I’ve watched a clapped out pick-up truck go out and finish the race.” Celebrities of the SCORE Baja 500 The appeal of racing the SCORE Baja 500 also was big with celebrities and movie stars. With names like Paul Newman and Mario Andretti coming to the race, the SCORE Baja 500 has seen its share of famous people on the starting line. Fish knew how to handle them better than most, however, no matter their status. “Celebrities are great and it’s good to have them in the race,” Fish said. “But I never got consumed by their fame because they really didn’t care about the race the way the average guy did. I’ve had celebrities ask for free entries. I would tell them that I should be charging three times as much because of the amount of money they had. I would have given a free entry to a Class 11 competitor before a celebrity.” Preparations For The 50th Anniversary Both Fish and Ivan “Ironman” Stewart are this year’s Co-Grand Marshalls for the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500, and Fish seemed genuinely pleased with his role in this pivotal event. “I’m very excited about being this year’s Co-Grand Marshall,” Fish said. “There was no way you could have told me five years ago that I wouldn’t be putting on the Baja 500. It’s a high point in my career though, and I really am honored to share it with Stewart.”SJ Sal Fish, The Co-Grand Marshall For The 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500, Recounts The Times That The Legendary Baja 500 Almost Didn’t Happen

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