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Summer of 1984

Posted in Features on February 7, 2016
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In the summer of 1984, two major off-road promoters were in the middle of a big squabble. But ironically, that disagreement led to the two series entering into a partnership with a common points championship.

It started when SCORE boss Sal Fish ran into big problems with the ranchers east of Ensenada over where the racecourse could go. The Eijdo bosses thought they needed a bigger piece of the off-road pie, so with two weeks to go before the ’84 Baja International, they pulled Sal’s ‘permit’.

But Sal, while dealing with the unpredictable situation in Baja, always had a fall back plan, and this one was to switch the race to Lucerne Valley, an off road recreation area that was virgin territory as far as organized races were concerned. Sal had filed for the necessary permit 6 months ahead, so with a few phone calls to the Bureau of Land Management to confirm, he was back in business with a replacement event.

But Walt Lott, the boss at the Las Vegas based High Desert Racing Assn. (HDRA), took Sal’s moving the race to Lucerne Valley as moving in on his territory. Walt had been holding an event near Barstow for many years in early July, and considered SCORE’s early June race as being ‘too close’ in both time and space, although it was at least 5 weeks and 40 miles from Walt’s Barstow course to the closest part of Sal’s race course in Lucerne Valley. Walt issued a letter to all his racers and to the general public as to his displeasure at the whole thing. Also, in his letter to his followers, he alluded to the fact that he was responsible for moving the SCORE race from his Barstow venue to Lucerne Valley because of his intervention with the BLM, which was not the case at all.

Sal’s response was an open letter to his constituents which countered Lott’s accusations, and threw in a few of his own, mainly that Lott had doubled up on his race schedule, pitting his races in conflict with the Baja 1000 in November and the Mickey Thompson stadium race at Pomona in August.

Sal’s SCORE race ran as scheduled in Lucerne Valley in lieu of the Baja International. It was mostly a success, but there were a few problems at the start in downtown Lucerne Valley and getting the racers out to the desert via a narrow power line road. Ivan Stewart and his Toyota truck were the overall winners, but everyone agreed that there were too many cars on such a small loop course. But the real benefit of this entire squabble was that Walt Lott and Sal Fish, former bitter rivals, came to the realization that this could not go on without serious damage to the sport.

There is some historical debate as to who took the first step. At the time, most observers said that Frank DeAngelo, a key player with the major tire sponsor of the day, BFGoodrich, came forward and got the two together for a pow-wow.

Sal Fish, however, held that it was he and Walt who sat down man-to-man and worked out the details to merge the two series into one. As quoted in the 1985 SCORE Parker 400 program, “the uniting of the two sanctioning organizations has come after countless hours of meeting between the two leaders.”

The eventual outcome was that each organizer would stage four events, and the points accumulated in six races would count towards a combined championship prize fund at the end of the season, with the drivers choosing which two events they do not want to count toward the championship.

The Parker race program continued “I am really pleased that Walt Lott and I are working hand in hand to assure that the 1985 season will guarantee more enthusiasm for the entire sport”, said Sal.

Walt Lott added, “Two groups tugging at each other, running head to head trying to get the best race dates and the best drivers doesn’t help anyone. The drivers, the race teams and their sponsors were caught in the middle of a very expensive tug-of-war.”

The combined series continued for a couple years until Walt Lott passed away at a Barstow event. After that, Walt’s wife lost interest and sold her interest in High Desert Racing to Sal Fish. Fish eventually combined the series into just the SCORE series.

The first race under the one united series banner, the ’85 Parker 400, was almost a disaster. It snowed heavily on the Arizona side of the race and some racers temporarily couldn’t find the course, but things cleared up and the race had no serious incidents.

Left to Right: Sal Fish, President of Score International and Walt Lott, president of High Desert Racing Assn. present an award to driver Ramon Castro, Class 11 winner at the 1986 SCORE HDRA Awards. The award was presented at the end of a season in which the two racing associations completed a partnership which few thought would ever happen.

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