SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - May 2018

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

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Ivan Stewart: A Record Never Broken The Co-Grand Marshal for the 50th BFGoodrich Tire SCORE Baja 500 is at the top of the list of legends in this race By Stephen Romero Photos courtesy Ivan Stewart Archives Off-road racing records are meant to be broken and often are but don’t mention that to Ivan “Ironman” Stewart. His record 10 Overall wins and 17 Class titles, in a four-wheeled race car, during the SCORE Baja 500 is one of the most coveted racing records that remains to this day. Stewart is synonymous with the SCORE Baja 500, a race that has propelled him to legendary status, not only because it’s difficult, but also from him winning most of the races while driving solo. It’s safe to say Stewart knows Baja inside out, and he revealed that the secret to his success was understanding the performance limits of the race car. It’s a proven philosophy by veteran racers that shines a light on what it takes to become a true champion of an event that is celebrating its 50th year anniversary, and in which Stewart is the co-Grand Marshall along with former SCORE owner Sal Fish. Secrets of Racing “A lot of people don’t have a feeling for their race car and equipment,” Stewart said. “Most people don’t realize when they are hurting the suspension, transmission, steering or whatever. I’ve learned when and where to go fast, and when to go slow. I was told this years ago by a friend of mine. It was one of the secrets to my career with SCORE racing. It’s a game of endurance on the driver and race car. If you don’t have a lot of experience you need to go slow and learn the rhythm of the race car first. But most people go out and drive the race car too hard, too soon.” Yet for all its worth, advice doesn’t win races. Some suggest that it was Stewart’s gutsy solo driving style that took him to the podium year after year. Stewart raced solo when others relied on a co-driver and navigator to finish the race. In Stewart’s case, everything was on him, there were no excuses if he didn’t win. It was a strategy that made Stewart stand out from a crowded field, something the media loved to exploit in magazines and newspapers, especially when he landed on the top of the podium. Technically, a single driver lightened the vehicle. But what we know for sure is that his style of racing didn’t happen on a whim. It was it born out of necessity in early 1973 after Stewart’s co-driver Bill Hrynko suddenly withdrew from a race they had entered in Mexico. Stewart had to take the wheel alone for the entire race (the Ensenada 300), but instead of holding back, he drove it harder and faster to victory. According to Stewart, his style of driving solo was a result of racing for “Modern Motors in a single-seat buggy” after racing Class 2 two-seaters. “I saw solo racing as a way to promote myself and be different from the other competitors,” Stewart said. This was at a time when single-seat buggy racer Bobby Ferro was making headlines for going it alone, and so naturally, Stewart followed suit. But no matter how it started, Stewart never looked back on is racing solo, which became a trademark of sorts. “I wouldn’t doubt I had some influence on racing solo in an event,” Stewart said. “When I first started racing I wanted to be a part of the elite group of competitors like Parnelli Jones, Walker Evans, and Mickey Thompson. I wanted to beat them, and I decided to race solo to do it differently. If I were a competitor today, I would be doing something to gain the recognition that I got through the years racing solo. I don’t know if I’d be racing solo or not, but I’d do something to set myself apart.” Competitors He Loved to Race Against Part of Stewart’s success also comes from having confidence in himself and his equipment. He is quick to acknowledge his long-term relationship with Toyota and the positive impact PPI had on his career. But if he ever showed any uncertainty about winning a race like the SCORE Baja 500, it may have reared its ugly head only when Walker Evans was entered in the event. Evans was one of the top drivers of the time in desert racing, and surely he must have looked untouchable by a much less experienced Stewart. “He was one of the toughest competitors in the field,” Stewart said. “There were a few times when I finally got a chance to beat him. Anytime anyone could beat Walker in a race like the SCORE Baja 500 they were doing pretty darn good. He’s still one of my best racing friends though.” A Near Flawless Career Call it good luck, driver skill, divine intervention, or a combination of all three. But in 30 years of professional racing, Stewart never had a major crash during a race like the SCORE Baja 500, and while under contract with Toyota. Although he dared to race solo against all odds, and his vehicles could reach speeds in excess of 100 miles-per-hour in treacherous conditions, Stewart says he wasn’t one to take foolish chances, but he certainly experienced plenty of close calls. “All the years that I raced I never did crash or hurt anyone, Stewart said. “The wrecks I had happened only in testing.” Stewart retired from racing in 2000 after racing everything from Class 7 to Trophy Trucks for Toyota, but he recalled the fun he had in all the races he entered and there were hundreds of them. “I don’t care what I was driving, it was always a lot of fun and all great memories,” he said. “I was there to win my class and maybe win Overall. That’s all that mattered to me.” Longevity in the Event Stewart would have no idea that the SCORE Baja 500 would be around long after he entered his first event in 1973. He says he was too focused on winning to worry about the SCORE Baja 500 returning year after year. But as he reflected on the significance of the race, he compared it to the Indy 500, noting that the promoters of the event can make or break it. “I never thought about it back then,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t surprise me that it is still going on though, and it should continue for many years as long as there are fans that support it and promoters like Roger Norman. I look forward to this year’s event and seeing all my friends and feel extremely honored that I was asked to be involved as the co-Grand Marshall.”

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