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

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Page 29 of 117

SYMBOLS OF GLORY SCORE Awards Are More Than Just A Winner’s Trophy By Dan Sanchez Receiving a SCORE First-Place Award is one of the most prized possessions of any off-road racer. Moreso for SCORE Baja Overall winners, who typically receive a large (and sometimes heavy) award that is impressive and proudly displayed in the home or team shop. In the early days of SCORE, the awards ranged from beautifully carved onyx statues to large silver cups, to special plaques and six-foot-tall trophies. There have been many versions over the decades, which much like SCORE as an organization, have a history of their own. At the beginning of SCORE International, Mickey Thompson and Sal Fish were primarily focused on organizing races, and in the process, helped build the off-road motorsports and aftermarket industries. In those first decades, it was difficult enough to keep races going and attract sponsors, but knowing it was the racers who also made it all happen, it was very important for SCORE to honor them with some great awards. “Early on, we had a sport that was basically new and uncharted,” said Sal Fish. “This wasn’t a fully organized business yet, like NHRA or NASCAR. It was just a bunch of guys that enjoyed Baja and off-road.” Determined Fish wanted SCORE and the races to be a “first-class” event and felt it was very important for racing participants to receive something memorable for their efforts, and that winners should get something more than a plastic trophy. “I felt the trophies, finisher pins, and dash plaques were very important at the time,” he said. “Especially since racers didn’t have a huge money purse to win, we felt that these items had to be great and desirable on their own.” One of the most desirable trophies at the time, and iconic for early SCORE racers, was the statue of the Aztec warrior, Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, the last Aztec emperor who successfully fought the Spanish, and was revered for his never-ending determination.” But the idea for this trophy came after a Mexican beer company came on as a race sponsor. “Carta Blanca was one of our first race sponsors and shortly afterward, they became Tecate,” said Fish. For the awards, they naturally wanted to promote their beer and so they came up with an award with the beer can on it.” “Naturally it was difficult to give out those awards, but at their facility, I noticed an image of the Aztec warrior Cuauhtémoc Moctezuma, and asked if we could make that into a statue and hand out to the overall winner in the four-wheel class and the overall motorcycle winner. The Aztec warrior was a revered symbol, not just for the company, but for the Mexican people. So much so that they had to meet about it and finally agreed. Unfortunately, they left it up to me to figure out how to make it.” “I had the help of Phil Rodriguez, who at that time was supplying fuel to racers, as well as racing a vehicle called the TJ Taxi. I told him about the trophy idea and he knew the owners of an Onyx factory in Tijuana, which we thought would be a great material for an award or trophy.” When the first statues of Cuauhtémoc were created, they were large and weighed 100 lbs. “These were amazing trophies but it was a task getting them from Tijuana to Ensenada, then having the winners taking them back across the border,” said Fish. “Nevertheless, the racers loved them as they were each individually made and were one of the most coveted of all SCORE trophies. It also showed SCORE had love and respect for the people of Mexico, the artist, and those who received them.” FROM AZTEC TO IRON AND WOOD One of the other popular and iconic trophies during early SCORE racing history was the Ironman statue. These were sponsored by Valvoline Oil and given to those very few racers who would drive a race solo and win. The idea for the Ironman trophy came after Fish randomly approached a wrought iron shop in Ensenada, Mexico. “I spoke with Valvoline and wanted them to become involved in SCORE,” said Fish. “I mentioned that it would be great to give them a Valvoline-sponsored trophy for those four-wheel racers that soloed an event and go along with a monetary purse. They loved the idea and gave me a budget.” While Fish knew what he wanted, as usual, he had to search for a craftsman to create it. “There was a hippie-type guy near Ensenada with a wrought iron shop who made sculptures and other items by hand,” he said. “I had passed by the shop many times and when I saw it again I decided to stop in and approach the subject about the idea for an Ironman award. He sketched something out and I liked it, but I had no idea of the detail and time it took him to make those. The first one was three to four feet tall and although they weren’t overly expensive, they were much better than what I thought they would be. Ivan Stewart won the first one, and that’s how he got his nickname, the Ironman, after Mikey Thompson introduced him that way.” Over the years, many awards and trophies were made from varieties unique materials, selected to create works of art. On one occasion, Fish had trophies that were sculptures carved out of ironwood, a product of the Olneya testota tree native to the Sonora desert. The wood is very dense, and has been traditionally used by the Seri indigenous people of Sonora. “At one time, I convinced some of the local Mexican Governors to get trophies for the overall race winners, and they came up with these beautiful Mexican Eagles carved from this ironwood,” said Fish. “Malcolm Smith was one of the first recipients, and it was one that he cherished and was very proud of.” Other unique materials used for SCORE trophies included some large pieces of Burl Wood and Drift Wood, which made the base of the trophy. “Those were large pieces of wood that were simply amazing pieces, and we added the metal angels on top and engraved plaques to them for the Overall winners,” said Fish. “We were always finding something unique to give the racers but we couldn’t give them to everyone, so we also had regular plaques and silver cups for class winners and such.” Throughout the years, some of the awards weren’t always a big hit. Fish admits mistakes were made, but now seem humorous when looking back at them. “One that I recall is a SCORE Parker award that was supposed to have the outline of the state of Arizona on it. When people began asking what this outline was supposed to be, I realized that it was the state of New Mexico instead of Arizona,” laughs Fish. SOMETHING FOR PARTICIPANTS AND OFF-ROADMAN While many of the trophies and awards were given right after the races, the number of people that SCORE wanted to honor began to grow. Soon it became necessary to have a year-end Awards Banquet to honor sponsors, volunteers, staff, and more. One of the unique awards was for the Off-Roadsman categories, awards for those people who weren’t necessarily racers but contributed to the season in some important way. “I pondered what to give these recipients and I came up with the polished stones,” said Fish. “When we would go out and map a race course, we would often come out towards the coast and come up on Arienda beach. The area is a tidal flat zone and the surf would come up and polish the rocks on shore. Every rock is different and I would hand pick the stones and bring them back to use for the Off-Roadsman trophies. This meant a lot to me and for the recipients, it was giving them a small piece of Baja to remember. Over time we gave out lots of these awards which are still given today over a 40-year time period. That’s a lot of rocks, but that’s what separated the work we did from anyone else. We were passionate and we loved it.” In addition, it was important for SCORE to give racers acknowledgment of their participation in an event, which began with designing finisher pins for each race, which lasted for many decades until they were replaced with larger finishing medals given to racers who cross the finish line of every SCORE race. The tradition of unique SCORE awards and trophies continues with new designs and creations that racers receive after every race and that volunteers, sponsors, media, engine builders, vehicle builders, and more receive at the end of the season for their help in making Baja racing possible. It’s SCORE’s way of saying thank you and to ensure a small piece of Baja and Baja history stays with those individuals. SJ

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