SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - May 2018

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

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Page 69 of 120

Beyond Borders President of Proturismo de Ensenada Nico Saad recalls the efforts to keep Baja racing in Mexico and the continued importance of SCORE’s relationship with the country By Dan Sanchez Photos Nico Saad archives As the 50th Anniversary of the SCORE Baja 500 approaches, racers and fans will converge in Ensenada, Mexico to witness and be a part of one of the most legendary off-road races in motorsports history. But in order for the 50th BFGoodrich Tires SCORE Baja 500 to take place, there are many behind-the-scenes preparations that are done months, even years, before the green flag drops on race day. One of the most important items that are addressed before every SCORE race, is coordinating with the local government and department of tourism in Mexico and the city of Ensenada. This very important relationship goes all the way back to the beginning of Baja racing, and Nico Saad is one of the pioneers who has helped develop those relationships, earning him a place in the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. A native of Ensenada, Mexico, Saad’s parents migrated from Lebanon in the late 1920’s and eventually opened the Hotel San Nicholas. “At that time, Ensenada only had one hotel and about 500 people,” said Saad. “My dad started working as a cook and eventually he opened a little store with a friend. He did well for many years and eventually, he opened the Hotel San Nicholas.” The tourism business grew in Ensenada, and after attending Brown Military Academy in San Diego, California, Saad attended college to get a business degree. He began working for the family which had many businesses at the time. “We had a GMC and Pontiac dealership, a tractor dealership, a department store and some ranches,” said Saad. “There were a lot of opportunities here in Ensenada, and I became proud of it as the city gave us everything that we had and worked for.” As a sport, Saad took up water skiing and became very good at it. Eventually, he was touring at ski shows, boat races and got invited to perform at the World Water Ski Championships. Being from Ensenada, the city officials were proud of one of their own, who was making headlines. “It was after I had met some of Ensenada’s officials, that I was contacted by them to talk to racing promoter Ed Pearlman,” said Saad. “At that time I didn’t know about Baja racing and I loved the idea. I helped them get the first races started and It quickly grew, attracting big racing names like Parnelli Jones, Steve McQueen, Jim Gardner, as well as auto manufacturers such as Ford and Chevrolet. With Saad’s family owning more businesses and hotels, Nico became president of the Hotels Owners’ Association in Ensenada. By 1971, the Baja races had formed an uncomfortable situation between the race organizers and the mayor of Ensenada. “The courses were never clearly marked and some of the racers would cross into ranches and agricultural fields,” said Saad. That is one of the main reasons why they stopped it. The differences between race organizers and the city of Ensenada, caused the Governor of Baja to appoint a group in Mexicali to handle the race,” said Saad. After a couple of Baja races in Mexicali, Saad had been appointed as the State Director of Tourism in Baja, and by then, he wanted the race to be brought back to Ensenada. “In 1973, the President of Mexico was coming to visit his hometown. Saad thought it would be a perfect opportunity to showcase how good the race is for Ensenada, and would try to convince the president to bring it back. “I tried calling Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe to see if they could bring the Big Oly race car to Ensenada,” said Saad. “The president was coming to the Ensenada agricultural convention, but it was an opportunity to get him excited about the Baja races. Stroppe brought Big Oly down and I set it between a huge combine and tractor. The president thought the race car was very exciting and wanted to sit in it. He grabbed the door handle and I reminded him that there were no doors, so I ended up helping him get into Big Oly and sit in the driver’s seat.” With Saad getting into the passenger seat of Big Oly, it was the perfect opportunity to discuss with the president, the idea of bringing the races back to Ensenada. “The president looked at me and knew I wanted something of him,” said Saad. “He asked me, ‘So what can I do for you sonny?’ and I told him how important these races were for Mexico and that we needed his support to keep them going and to have them in Ensenada. He responded by saying, ‘You have it!’” Two months later, Saad was approached by Mickey Thompson and Sal Fish to run the races. “I knew Mickey Thompson was a great promoter and racer, but I wanted them to understand that it was very important to the people of Ensenada that they be respectful to the authorities here and to keep their word,” said Saad. In the days that followed, Saad coordinated a meeting between the state governor and Mickey Thompson. Ultimately the governor, with input from the president, made the changes and Baja racing was back in Ensenada promoted by SCORE. Saad continued to work closely with Sal Fish, who took over SCORE and ran it for 38 years. “We’ve had many ups and downs but I was always in the back seat trying to help negotiate meetings and improving the relationship between SCORE and the people and government in Ensenada. Over the years, we’ve made contracts with farmers, respected their property and set up great working conditions that have survived for 38 years,” said Saad. “With this 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 500, I’m happy to see these relationships continue and are very proud of what has been done. SJ

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