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Hourglass: A Chunk Of Baja

Posted in Features on April 20, 2017
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It was marketed as “A Chunk of Baja.”

It was Mickey Thompsons way of telling fans that you can come to a stadium and see all the excitement of Baja racing in capsulated form. Instead of sitting at a remote spot on the Baja peninsula, spending a couple days getting there and back, and maybe not being at a good spot anyway, you could just watch cars go by.

Instead said Mickey, pay some bucks and go to Anaheim, Mile High in Denver, or Dallas Stadium. Have a beer and a dog, and see all the best Baja drivers battling it out before your eyes. Mickey, as many have said, was a genius.

But there was much more to it to creating this “Chunk.” At first glance, you would think you’d bring in truckloads of dirt from “somewhere” and push it around until you have what you want to race on. If only it was that simple.

Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group’s (MTEG) competition director Jerry Stansbury, at the time, said that he designs the tracks with the Trophy Truck class in mind. “We have to make do with the technology they have. The Super 1600s (buggies) and the rest of the classes will run through whatever we build.”

But Stansbury, in his interview for the race program, failed to mention that the Trophy Truck class was where all the money came from in terms of support for MTEG and entry fees. After a certain first practice session on a Saturday morning of the race at Mile High Stadium, a couple of nasty jumps had the tops shaved off by the track crew’s skip loader after the Toyota teams telemetry was analyzed in their race trailer. Those jumps were just too jarring for the trucks (particularly the Toyotas), so they were made more race compatible. Such adjustments were commonplace, because the tracks were always different, even if the race had been held for a number of years in the same stadium.

Other problems came up. At New Orleans, for example, the material for the track was purchased before a big rain, and the consistency was that of mud, despite the mostly dust-free clay recipe that MTEG preferred. So much mud was picked by the trucks during practice some drivers figured they had 200 to 400 extra pounds of added weight by the end of the session. Ric Miller, MTEG’s Race Stewart, said that afternoon it was all hands on deck (that is whoever was in the pit area), who were drafted into service to spread the half truckload of lime that MTEG had purchased to successfully dry the muck. It worked.

To build a track, a crew of 35 would start working five days before an event, with five trailers worth of water barriers traveling from place to place. Stansbury would hand over the plans, and Jim Kitchens, who had 20 years of experience building supercross tracks, would start moving dirt—the 25-million-pound pile of the 75 percent clay/25 percent dirt mix was stored on a remote area of the stadium’s parking lot, and saved year to year. Plywood was laid on first, and the water barriers were laid out to protect the infield of a baseball diamond, or any other area that the particular arena deemed sacred. God only knows what it would have cost MTEG if an errant buggy was to burn tracks into the pitcher’s mound at Angel Stadium. So in case anyone out there plans to put on an event similar, it will cost you $125,000 in 1990 dollars to build a track.

But lest we forget, it was this 250,000-pound pile of dirt that led to the tragic death of Mickey Thompson and his wife, Trudy. Mickey felt that it was smarter to partner up with the Supercross promoter at a venue and only pay for half the dirt being hauled in (or out), so he made a business deal with promoter Mike Goodwin. It didn’t take long for the partnership to sour, and Mickey sued Goodwin and won. (Mickey was always sure that when he signed a contract, it was in his favor.)

The case went to appeal for a number of years while Goodwin made minor threats to Mickey. Mickey won the appeal, and collected a large sum. The threats escalated, with Goodwin even telling a retired sheriff that he was going to take Mickey out.

One morning in March of 1988, two gunmen waited in Mickey’s backyard bushes, and killed both Thompsons as they left for the MTEG offices.

Goodwin left the country for a couple years, vacationing in the Carribean, and after many years of legal wrangling, and reluctant witnesses finally coming forward, he was eventually convicted of first-degree murder (although he didn’t pull the trigger) and is serving a two life sentences as we speak.

All over a pile of dirt.

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