A couple women had already gone into off road racing, but by the early 1970’s, only one had driven a Class 1 Unlimited Buggy. They even finished third in the 1972 Baja 1000; something that really rocked the dirt racing world at the time.
“We got started in a strange way, said Judy Smith, a petite blonde from Playa Del Rey in California.
“Someone owed my husband money, and all he could pay was with an old VW. I then picked up copy of Hot VW’s Magazine with a Baja story featuring Bud Ekins, who won one of the first Baja races in a VW. We sorta knew Bud through motorcycle racing, and I said ‘If Bud can do this, so can I,”
Judy and her a nighborhood girlfriend decided to go racing in a big way. “We called NORRA (who promoted the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 at the time), and asked if they allowed women to race, I don’t know if they had ever been asked that question, but after a moment, they said “Sure! Come on and enter.’”
“We took our Baja Bug and finished 31st overall, We had a flat and the pits we had pulled into had trouble putting on the spare we had. It finally got sorted out, The whole experience was so neat.”
She and her husband as pit crew did some race in Adalanto, and then in Las Vegas in the bug that year. Judy went on to say, “I was buying a lot of stuff for the car at Sandmaster, and got to know co-owner Scott McKenzie. He was always very helpful, and I got a job there helping in the office, After all, I needed a discount on parts.”
Sandmaster, based in Sherman Oaks, was the winningest outfit racing at the time, with legendary racers Bobby Ferro, Gene Hirst and Johnny Johnson driving for the team. At Sandmaster, she saw many race cars being built in the back shop. After awhile, she told McKenzie “I sure would like one of those buggy things.”
So for the next year’s Baja 500, in her own single seater, Judy entered the ‘72 Baja 1000 as a solo entrant, and drove all the way from Mexicali to San Felipe solo. No sat phones, no GPS, no radios worth a darn, just Judy and her buggy and Baja.
She finished third overall among the car entries, then went to her assigned hotel room (rooms were supplied to finisihers as they came into La Paz and well as gasoline along the way: part of the entry fee).
Judy cleaned up and went down to the hotel bar. “I didn’t know anyone there, but Parnelli Jones (who had won the event) saw me and invited to join his group. He didn’t know me at all, but he was very gracious and set the tone among the group there that I was just another racer. It was a nice experience that I’ll never forget,” said Judy.
“But later there was one guy who asked why I wasn’t back home raising kids; that was the only negative comment, I received ” Judy related.
Over the following seasons, she made the acqaintance of journalist and racer Jean Calvin, and the two soon partnered up to race in many Mint 400’s and SCORE events for the next 15 seasons.
Post Race Notes: When Dusty Times started in the 1990’s, Judy got involved as a journalist and covered races for them and other off-road journals until her retirement in 2014. Judy and her husband John Howard live comfortably on their spread near Victorville, CA.