It was Rick Bodle’s first race. Not his first Baja race, but his very first race.
He and his brother-in-law, Tom Brusca, bought a used Hi-jumper prerun car, and said “Hey, lets go racing.” This sentence and story has been played over and over, but each one has its own twists and turns that makes it worth telling.
The 1972 Baja 500 had the largest entry up to that point, 311 entries. The two novice racers had a high starting number, in fact one of the last numbers issued. Nearing the first checkpoint at Camalu, 88 miles south of Ensenada, they encountered a small group of boys standing on the side of the road, throwing rocks at the race cars. One of them grazed Tom’s googles and broke his lens . Luckily,he was not injured, and the 2 seat buggy didn’t lose a beat.
Soon after, they started running on dirt (the pavement ended at Camalu) and they came upon a broken race car. This being their first event, they stopped to see if they could help. Rick was convinced to get back in the car; there was nothing that they had to help the breakdown.
Nighttime fell well before they got to El Rosario (where the photo was taken). The checkpoint was straticially set up right in front of Mama Espinosa’s resturant /motel, where the checkpoint officials would have quick access to cold cervezas and Mama’s famous Lobster tacos. But having pulled into town too late to grab any grub, Rick and Tom stopped for gas at the Chapala Dusters pit and then disappeared into the darkness.
“Funny thing,” Rick said, “We passed a lot of other cars, but no one passed us the whole race. It was now nighttime, and we entered into Laguna Chapala Dry Lake. It was total silt. We couldn’t see a thing, but then out in the distance, we saw a white light. We headed towards it and it turned out to be the checkpoint at the end of the dry lake”. At that point, the course turned north towards San Felipe. Just before Puertocitos, on the infamous three sisters grade, they came upon a weird sight,-- three motorcycle riders on the side of the road, burning their bike’s tires to keep warm. One bike had parts missing, “I guess he broke down, and when he went to get help, someone started stripping the bike,” commented Rick.
They drove through checkpoints 6 (San Felipe) and 7 (Diablo Dry Lake) without incident, but coming into Check 8 (Valle De Trinidad), daylight was just breaking, and they took a wide turn,and went through a rancher’s fence. The spent some time trying to fix it as best they could, and then headed north to Check 9 (Ojos Negros) and then to the finish line in Ensenada, 26 miles further.
“Our wives stayed near the hotel the entire race, but NORRA radio relay told the finish line we were coming in, so our wives got a ride out to see us finish,” said Rick. “It was really nice of someone to do that.”
They finished 18th in class 4 (Two wheeled vehicles with two drivers, same class as Parnelli Jones) and for first timers, a very respectable 78th overall. At post race tech, race officials were surprised with the stock pre-runner turned racecar--“You made it all the way in that?” they asked.
“After the race, we took the car over to Fritz Kroyer at Hi-Jumper and he worked on the suspension,” said Rick. “Fritz’s work made a BIG difference.”
Postscript: Rick is now nearing retirement age and he is in the process of selling his pharmacy business near Riverside, Calif.. He raced with various partners until 1984.