November 7, 1980, Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico
What started out as a simple sharing of an interesting photo of the awards ceremony, after some digging, turned into a story of intrigue, adventure, and coincidences.
The photo is of the awards ceremony the night after the race, Saturday, November 8. It was held in the courtyard of race HQ, the Bahia Hotel. It was very well attended, despite the weather being chilly and a fog threatening to roll from the nearby harbor that November evening.
One of the attractions of attending the awards ceremony was ABC Network’s Wide World of Sports had been filming the race. They were there in full force, with three announcers (Jim McKay, Indy car and Trans-Am racer Sam Posey and Formula One Champion Jackie Stewart), four helicopters, three camera vehicles, and four camera crews in Ensenada shooting the start and finish. Sam Posey was riding in the BFG Blazer with driver “Scoop” Vessels for a first-hand look at the course during the race.
The Media Book of the race, published by SCORE after every event from the mid ’70s to present day, is now considered a historic document, and is chock-full of facts and figures. Also in the book is a mystery, a celebrity’s story, and a race tragedy. It all makes for an interesting read indeed!
The press room team published the book during each race of the ’70s and ’80s, and thanks go out to Deke and Olga Houlgate. The excerpts here are taken directly from the Media Book.
Pre-Race Notes No. 10: Class 3 entry Roger Mears will attempt to compete with two broken wrists and a broken left arm, suffered in a Sprint Car accident Sept. 19 at Ascot Park, Gardena.
Race Day Note No. 2: As the motorcyclists were starting (at 6:30 a.m.), Mickey Thompson and his radical No. 116 Class 1 machine were parked across the street from hotel headquarters, and Mickey was draining his fuel tank. He had drained off 2 gallons of water and feared there might be more in the tank. This operation continued as time for his official start in the race approached.
Race Day Note No. 34: Word reached the race HQ at the Bahia Hotel shortly before 1 p.m. of the death of actor Steve McQueen. McQueen was a participant of this race in 1969, driving the Baja Boot with codriver Harold Daigh, who is now technical director of this race and SCORE International, “We spent about six weeks prerunning, and we covered about 4,000 miles. He was just a really regular guy and a fierce competitor. He just wanted to be known just as a real race driver, trying to do the best he could.” Daigh and McQueen got lost for two weeks on the prerun and encountered some “cowboys” way down south, camped out. Later we found out that cowboys don’t carry guns, and that they were bandidos. “We slept that night with one eye open, sure that we were going to get our throats slit.” They got out of there pronto the next morning.
Race Day Note No. 58: No. 118 Malcolm Smith—he followed Mickey Thompson (on the return loop) to Nuevo Junction in a lot of dust and couldn’t get around him. But Thompson dropped out there, Hints of sabotage to Thompson’s car caused Smith to reflect that he had a strange circumstance too. “We had a gallon jug of water in the car. I wanted to take some aspirin, and I went to take a drink and the jug was empty.”
Could Malcolm’s water have been part of the sabotage to Mickey’s gas tank? They were only two cars apart when parked in the “secure” impound lot the night before the race.
Other events of note that occurred during the race: After all the cars left the start line, a car that resembled a race car got on the course and ran hard down the course until at the edge of town, about 4 miles out, the driver lost control and got airborne and plowed into a crowd of local spectators. One was killed and four were injured, including a 4-year-old boy with a broken leg. The driver was being sought as a hit-and-run suspect.
The last vehicles to leave the start, but not considered official entries, were two Honda ATCs, three-wheelers. This race was their debut to off-road racing (as far as SCORE was concerned). World Champion motorcycle racer Roger DeCoster was entered on one and they planned to take the ATCs to San Felipe. 338 miles down-course and finish there.
Mark Stahl won the Class 1 and was the fastest car in his Chenowth, while Jack Johnson and Larry Roessler won overall and the motorcycle division, finishing in the daylight with a very respectable speed of 51.75 mph, on a Yamaha YZ. Johnson/Roeseler finished the course 45 minutes faster than Stahl.
Vaya con Dios
From the staff of Dirt Sports