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El Carmelo Grande

Posted in Features on August 16, 2017
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In the mid ’80s, through the ’90s, and up until the Baja 2000, there was a novelty about the Baja races that took the form of a giant candy cane, with the south of the border name of “Carmelo Grande.”

Two different cars that were campaigned by businessman Walter Prince during that time, but both were unmistakable at any distance as they sported giant red and white stripes and twin candy canes on the roof. And what made it a real hit with the Baja locals is that his codriver would toss out small candy canes whenever they passed a crowd. They had to be careful that no one was too close behind them, because the crowd of kids that would run onto the track to collect candy could be a disaster if a vehicle were coming.

His team, the Prince Edible Race Car Company, gained instant notoriety in their first outing.

Like most off-roaders, Prince was lured to off-road racing by a friend. In this case, he was asked to pit for this friend Dave Martin, and Walter did it in style by taking his Cadillac limo to Baja.

During his decades-long racing career, Prince came up with such tongue-in-cheek innovations as the “telesoping race car ramp trailer,” which was paraded at contingency at the 1979 Mint. It even featured an aiming device for the car while on the trailer and a ground effects curtain for the front of the trailer.

Once, Walter was asked to give a ride at the Baja 500 to a wine executive from New York whose company was involved in sponsorship at the race. He got in the car at about the halfway point, and they were midway from Mike's Sky Ranch and Highway 1 when the steering column broke in half. “I've got to go, I'm due in New York tomorrow,” the hapless exec said.

Walter told him that he wasn't going to make it; they were 30 miles from the Highway, and another hundred miles from his hotel. So Walter got him a ride on the nerf bars of the next buggy that came along, which ran off the road into the bushes some miles down the course. Walter never did hear what became of him.

But the Carmelo Grande legend that developed in Baja played to Walter's advantage more than once. When Walter was broke down at another event, he needed a tow; he couldn't contact his race team via radio. He hiked and rode out to the sleepy burg of Camalu (today no longer a sleepy burg) after everything had closed except one gas station. Walter tried to make sense with the proprietor that he needed a tow, but they couldn't communicate.

Soon, an old 4x4 truck appeared with two inhabitants, who needed gas. Walter tried to tell them their truck is just what Walter needed to tow him out, but they didn’t understand him. It wasn’t until Walter said “Caramelo Grande” and that did the trick. They knew exactly who Walter was and jumped at the chance to rescue a legend, and soon Walter, his codriver (who stayed with the car out in the wilderness), and his car were on their way to Walter's next pit.

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