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1987 Mini-Metal Championship

Posted in Features on July 19, 2017
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Photographers: Trackside Photo

In the mid 80's, Spencer Low and his Nissan team were the ones to beat in the mini-pickup class. Scott Douglas and Chuck Johnson, among others, were among his biggest competitors. So the two of them decided to pool their resources and team up to make a bid for the Mini-Metal and class championship in the 1987 season.,

These former rivals, Johnson and Douglas, had teamed up for the 1986 Baja 1000, mainly as an economic move, since both were independent racers on a budget, and they won that event. So the pair decided to have a go at the '87 season. When they made it official, the team picked up some extra sponsorship from BFGoodrich and Ford.

A little background history: A few days before the 85 Parker 400, BFGoodrich's Frank DeAngelo put together a meeting that was to change off-road racing forever-- he got High Desert's Walt Lott and SCORE's Sal Fish to set aside their differences and talk about a merger. The meeting went well, and soon, the two sanctioning bodies merged as far as schedules and sponsorships were concerned.

Soon, manufacturers were flocking to get involved with the now combined series. Lott and Fish thought they had the sponsorship world by the 'cajones' as Fish put it. No other sanctioning body, including NASCAR and NHRA, had as many major sponsors under their belt---every major auto maker and tire company was signed up and offered contingency money for the season. Moreover, these companies also all had direct sponsorship with their own teams among the various truck classes. Chrysler, Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Jeep, Toyota and even Chevy, who by company decree declared they were not to be involved in racing but were anyway, with the MacPherson sponsored mini pickup of Jerry McDonald.

BFGoodrich, Goodyear, Mickey Thompson, Bridgestone, Firestone and Yokohama were all signed up as well.

It was in this atmosphere that Scott and Johnson found themselves. So instead of fighting each other for race points, they decided to join up and make one team, alternating each other’s truck to save bucks and gain prep time between races. Running independently, they saw little chance of dethroning Low's dominance in the class, but as a team, they felt they had a chance.

Even so, the class was very competitive. “There's always been six to eight guys out there who can win a race” Johnson said at the time.

During the '87 season, four different drivers did win class 7s races. Low picked up four wins, Johnson and Douglas got a pair, and David Ashley and Paul Simon won the other two, but in spite of giving up four wins to Low, the Douglas/Johnson team made up for it with consistently high finishes, including a second place to Low's fourth in the double points Colorado 300. They finished second to Low at the season opener Parker (Ariz) 400, and then ran to victory at the Gold Coast 300 in Jean, NV. At the Great Mojave 250 they experienced an hour of downtime with carburetor problems, ending up with a fifth place finish. The biggest dissapointment came at the Mint 400, the roughest race of the season. This was before the Nevada desert was groomed before a race, like the Mint course is now. They led going into the last lap; a bell housing broke, and they finished third.

Next event: the Baja 500 looked bleak for the team when they had an hour and a half of down time at the start, but really poured it on to finish fourth in class. At the Fireworks 250 at Barstow, they and many others got stuck on a hill that was really chewed up and they finally got a fifth place, but not before one of their front springs decided to leave the car and fly out to the desert. The Colorado 300 finish was a close second to David Ashley. This was the only time this race was run, and was a one-time event near Craig, Colorado. All that put them into the points lead going into the final event of the season; the Baja 1000.

So going into the Baja 1000, the duo found themselves (after they threw away their two worst performances) as the class points and Mini-Metal leaders, slightly ahead of Spencer Low and his Nissan. All they had to do was place higher than him at the 1000 to win the class championship.

The event was a wet one, lots of slippery mud, and the team had a few minor brake and rear shock incidents, but the otherwise excellently race-prepped truck by Warren Baird (he had prepped earlier class 3 Jeep champions Don Adams and Ray Russell) came in first in class to take the championship.

Chuck Johnson summarized it all when he said after the race, “to win the 1000 last year was something I could only dream about, but to win it again with all that was riding on it proved we're for real”

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