SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - May 2018

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

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Page 111 of 120

HEAD-FIRST INTO BAJA Phillip Drew Recounts His Incredible First-Time Experience Participating In The SCORE Baja 1000 Race By Dan Sanchez Photos Courtesy Phillip Drew Most racers who challenge the desert of Baja, often see what it’s like, pre-run one of the courses and prepare for their first SCORE race. For Phillip Drew, an engine mechanic from Hamilton, Ohio, racing in Baja was a dream he had that was completely foreign to most Mid-westerners who prefer drag racing and circle track. When Drew showed up at the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000 last November, SCORE officials and racers were amazed at how “green” he was to the event but found his enthusiasm to be completely admirable. “We’re trail riders out here in the mid-west and we’ve always heard about the Baja races,” said Drew. “Our dream was to simply go and watch it someday.” As a mechanic and engine builder, Drew knew lots of racers and had some experience competing in the Texas Desert Racing Association. “I built an engine for one of my racer friends, Robert Lawrence, and he told me about an old Chenowth chassis he knew about, that would make for a great race car build,” said Drew. “My cousin owns Drew’s Off-Road, a dune buggy parts and supply warehouse, and suggested the old chassis would be perfect for something like Baja. At the time I heard about the SCORE Baja 1000, but I didn’t know much about the race other than driving 1000 miles in the desert to finish. Once I found out more about it and heard about SCORE adding the Vintage class, I made the decision to go for it!” Having never even stepped foot on Mexican soil, Drew began preparing and building the car without knowing how he was going to get there. “When I first saw the car, it was sitting on top of a shipping container. I had saved some money to put a Pole Barn on my property, so I had the means to put the car together. Learning that the race was also the 50th Anniversary of the Baja 1000, also made it more attractive for me to build the vehicle and attempt to race in it.” Not Just Any Chenowth Drew managed to get the old chassis home and began working on it. He soon realized that this wasn’t just another buggy chassis. Scratching the number plate to see when it was constructed, Drew discovered this was the number one Chenowth Magnum chassis. “I didn’t believe it at first, but we contacted Lynn Chenowth and he verified it was built in late 1982 and that it hadn’t raced until 1983. We had the complete body too, including the deflector wings,” said Drew. “We moved it into the garage and began working on it. It was in great condition, without a scratch or dent.” One of the first obstacles was finding new parts for the vehicle. Drew realized this was a difficult task so he used his mechanical ingenuity to adapt and create parts that he needed. “The torsion suspension needed new hubs and I found you could use front hubs from an ’87 4WD Dodge Dakota. It worked with the six-lug and had a 35-percent larger bearing,” said Drew. “I also added Toyota truck disc brakes for improved stopping power.” With his cousin’s help supplying buggy parts, Drew was able to complete the suspension and start working on the rest of the chassis. “I cut the frame on the seat and made it wrap around the chassis bar,” said Drew. “I’m six-foot tall so I had to adjust the seat so I would fit in the car.” Drew also added a 26-gallon fuel tank and built the front beam and shock towers. “Once I got it all together, I stripped it down and spray painted the chassis black with rattle cans.” Drew got the car assembled, built a potent 2276 cc engine for the buggy, and painted the body panels bright red. Once locals heard about Drew’s attempt to race at the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000, he gained lots of support. The local bowling alley in his hometown of Harrison, Ohio had a fundraiser to help Drew get enough money for fuel. “It was amazing to see people support me,” said Drew. “It was all the encouragement I needed to get to Baja, not knowing if I would even be able to race.” Making It Down To Baja When Drew began building his Chenowth buggy, it was 65 days before the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000. Along with his friends, Jasper McDougal, Jim and David Huber, and Jerry Weaver, they packed up and drove with the buggy in tow all the way to Ensenada. Once they arrived, they were amazed at the assistance they received. “We only had one chase truck so we ended up borrowing a trailer from a guy we met in Ensenada and promised we would bring it back,” said Drew. “When we arrived, the car still wasn’t totally finished. It was only wired to run the engine. No lights, GPS or even the electric fan were wired yet,” said Drew. “Fortunately, we arrived early and we spent three days in the Estero Beach parking lot finishing it up.” A fresh, bright red, vintage Chenowth definitely got some attention from other racers and fans. “Lots of racers and folks came by to check out the buggy. I didn’t know who they were at first. The ones I remember were UTV racer Kristen Matlock, and the Reid family from the RPI racing team,” said Drew. “Then these guys that were dressed really nice, came by and were interested in the car. They offered to help and I soon found out they were from BFGoodrich Tires. They offered to mount new tires and beadlock wheels on the buggy! What struck me about this was their complete willingness to help without wanting anything in return. To travel to Baja without knowing a single soul, and having everybody treat us so amazingly, was incredible. I was really taken aback by that.” With the car ready and set-up with new BFGoodrich tires, Drew still had to register and get his paperwork together. “My phone got wet so I couldn’t get a hold of anyone at SCORE,” said Drew. “I found out I needed to get a hold of Christine Wait at SCORE Race Operations and found out where she was located. “She was very patient and helpful and guided us through the process. There were so many entries and we found out they had split some of the chassis inspections. So we spent a lot of time not knowing where to go and how to fill out the various forms.” For Drew, one of the most confusing aspects of the race was navigating the course. With no pre-run or even a course map, Drew had to rely on GPS navigation which he had never used before. “The confusing part was how to work with the GPS files. I had just purchased the Lowrance unit and couldn’t get it to work,” said Drew. At The Starting Line The moment finally came for Drew to get into the Chenowth and start the race. “I had an idea of the course and was just going to use the GPS to know my location,” said Drew. “I had also made arrangements with my crew, to meet at RM 340, where I could buy fuel from the Pemex station.” When he finally made it to the starting line the green flag dropped and Drew said he took off in the Chenowth. His dream had finally come true but he still had to make it around the first corner. “I made that first left turn from the start and I was faced with all the barriers,” said Drew. “I didn’t know where to go and I stopped. The sideline guys prompted me to go on so I did, but none of it looked familiar until I saw the cut to where the course headed to the wash and under the bridge.” Admitting he was scared to death, Drew managed to stay on the course without the GPS course map, and relied on visual cues to make his way. “Around mile marker 60, I remember passing other cars, some were disabled on the side, so I knew I was still good. I never did figure out about the virtual checkpoints but I went on,” said Drew. The car traveled 130 miles into the race before the front-end parts gave out. “We broke down just 30-miles from BFG Pit 1,” said Drew. “A crack in the spindle caused the front end to give out and it was the end of our day.” With no way to contact his team, Drew realized he had to limp the buggy to one of the checkpoints, and communicate with his team. “I jacked-up the buggy and strapped the suspension down with a heavy-duty strap,” said Drew. “I pulled the front wheel off and put a spare tire on and drove on three wheels to the BFG pit.” The BFG pit crew notified Drew’s team to tell him he was done, but they had no way to get him or the vehicle from that position. “The BFG guys offered me a ride back to Ensenada, but I wanted to stay with the vehicle,” said Drew. “I packed up everything and drove back on the highway on three wheels. The BFG guys called me the ‘Buggy Man’ and I got a lot of strange looks on the highway.” A Fantastic Experience Continues For Drew, the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime event that he will never forget. His presence at the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 1000, also left a lasting impression for SCORE officials and racers who got to know him. Drew’s ingenuity and eagerness to participate in a great race reminded everyone what SCORE was really about. In return, the experience and the people Drew met during the race, has left him with some prospects for the future. “I was able to meet so many great people during my first SCORE racing experience,” said Drew. “Not only did I get to meet some great racers, but I also met with Lynn Chenowth there, who loved the car. I was also invited by my friend Robert Lawrence, who told me about the car in the first place, to fly out and meet with Off-Road Hall Of Fame Inductee and Baja Champion Bud Feldkamp.” According to Drew, Feldkamp, and Lawrence wanted him to crew chief for them at the Mexican NORRA 1000. “I also got to meet Bobby Ferro, Malcolm Smith, and Johnny Johnson,” said Drew. “I admit I didn’t know who they were at the time, but after looking them up, I was amazed at their legendary status and how they were impressed with the Chenowth.” Drew is planning on rebuilding the buggy and will try to make it to the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 at the end of May. “This was truly a life-changing experience and for me, it puts a lot of things into perspective,” says Drew. “I’m definitely hooked!” SJ

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