June, 1976, Ensenada, Baja California
The day after the Baja 500, or officially known as the Baja International, someone from SCORE got the idea to move the winning cars into a corner of the impound lot for a photo. Of course, in those days the cars were impounded right before and right after the race to make sure no one monkeyed around with the cars and engines to change them from when they were checked at inspection the day before the race.
Of course, getting the cars in position was one thing; getting the drivers and riders together for the photo was quite another.
After about 15 minutes of scurrying around the impound lot and the nearby hotel restaurants, most of the winners were rounded up to pose in the accompanying photo.
From front row, left to right:
• Bike 432: the Husqvarna entry of Larry Roeseler and AC Bakken, which won the overall, overall bike and Class 21. It was a 250cc bike, which was unusual to take an overall win.
• Bike 645: the winning Class 22 (over 250 cc) entry, a Penton motorcycle ridden by Ron Bishop. Pentons were the predecessor of the KTM brand.
• Bike 356: winner of the Class 20 (125 cc and under class) Husqvarna artfully ridden by Scot Harden and an unknown corider.
• Second row: Class 9 winner Ron Stacy in a Funco SS II.
• Class 1 and overall car First Place driven by Ivan Stewart and Bobby Ferro in their works Sandmaster Funco, sponsored by Modern Motors.
This race was the passing of one era, and the beginning of another, so to speak. Ferro had won three Baja 500s at this point, but his star began to wane after this season. On the other hand, Ivan’s career was beginning to take off, although he had to drive his own Baja Bug and then a Ford pickup for owner Coco Corral for a couple of seasons before inking the famous deal with Toyota. Prerace favorite Parnelli Jones, in his new Chevy Blazer Class 1, crashed into a tree in the Pine Forest, ending his bid for a win.
• Class 10 winner Dave Marquez and Greg Krogh in the Pancho Villa Express in another Sandmaster Funco.
• Third row: Baja Bug winner Carrol Ditson, He had already won many races up to this event.
• Class 7 mini-truck winner Bill Baldwin and Jerry Chrismer in a Toyota beat out the big names in the class, like Jim Conner (Nissan) and Manny Esquerra (Ford).
• Class 6 (non-VW) winners Frank Ball and Ron Thompson, ’70 Datsun 510.
• Class 6 (VW based) winner Andy Poff.
• Fourth row: Class 2 winner Walker Evans and Sam Moses, Chevy truck. Walker was the only truck entered in the class, but it was very high tech for the day, and didn’t fit into any other class.
• Class 4, modified four-wheel-drive Jeep won by Alan and Gene Hightower. The father/son team was always hard to beat.
• Class 3 winners, Gale Pike and Bill Stroppe, Stroppe team Bronco. Stroppe had taken a number of Baja wins coriding with Parnelli Jones, and it may have been time for him to get into a slower class with Pike.
• Class 8 winner Frank Vessels, Ford truck. He was at the start of a big winning streak.
• Class 11 Volkswagen winner Paul Clark
• Somehow the venerable SCORE truck snuck into the photo, but with all the years of its desert service, it is fitting that it be shown here with the other champions.
Vaya con Dios
From the staff of Dirt Sports