Off-Road racing, as we know it in the modern era, is about 60 years old. Since its inception, there have been thousands of crazy happenings that have mostly gone untold.
We hope to rectify that, in a small way, by relating some of those incidents here.
In 1973, the Mint 400 course was changed from the Mint Gun Club in the desert northwest of Las Vegas to the first time at Jean, Nevada, some 25 miles south of Las Vegas. But the lead person in the parade from the Mint Hotel, Don Adams in his Jeep, got on the freeway and headed north toward the gun club, with several hundred entrants following him.
“He was leading the parade,” said Sue Smusliewicz, who worked on the Mint 400 organizing committee. “The police finally caught up with him near the North Las Vegas Airport,” continued Sue. They got him turned around back towards Jean so the race could start where it was supposed to.
In another incident, Las Vegas native Eddie “Go-Go” Gomez was entered in the '78 Mint in his Baja Bug, and at an errant moment lost his concentration and rolled the car. One of Gomez's pit crew showed up in a pickup, and they decided to right the car and continue in the race. Gomez was tired, and wanted none of it, so he took off his race suit and gave it to the pit crewman to continue on. That left Gomez in his skivvies and cowboy boots — that wasn't a problem; he would drive his buddy's pickup back to the pits.
But his buddy had the keys with him as the Baja Bug took off into the desert, leaving Gomez in the middle of the desert nearly naked. “Gomez walked up to the nearest highway,” an unnamed witness said. “Somebody with a motorhome stopped to pick him up; they said they couldn't possibly leave him there. They couldn't figure out what he was doing in the desert looking like that.”
Another time, a gentleman purchased a pickup new, prepped it, and entered it in the Parker 400. Trouble is he didn't pay the bank for four months as he used those bucks to prep the truck.
He ran the truck through tech, and it was put into the impound area (that’s how it worked in the old days). He got up the next morning to race, but discovered his truck was gone — it had been repossessed by the bank!
Old-time racer and Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Dick Landfield recalls how a Baja local helped him in the middle of the desert during a prerun.
“I was checking out the Baja 500 race course one day, and I was prerunning by myself in the Matomi Wash area. It was brutally hot, but I had to take a leak, so I stopped on a little rise, and as I got out, I instinctively turned off the ignition. I knew that was a mistake the instant I did it. When I returned the truck wouldn't start,” Dick said. “So I laid under the truck to get some shade, and soon a Baja local came by in a beat-up truck. I flagged him down and told him bateria esta muerto, (the battery is dead). The man nodded like he understood, and took off down the road.” Dick was wondering ‘what the heck,' when the driver turned around and banged into the front of his truck with his own front bumper.
Dick watched with fascination what came next. The man opened his hood, and then Dick's hood. He went around and got his bumper jack — which moments before was bouncing around in the back of his truck. He laid one end of the jack on his battery's positive terminal, and the other on Dick's positive post, and to Dick’s amazement, got into the car and started it right up. (Editor’s note: Do not try this trick with a pair of modern truck with plastic bumpers; it won't work.)
A couple of seasons later, Dick found his friend Walker Evans with a similar dead-battery while prerunning the Parker 400. Dick performed the same routine on Walker's truck. All Walker could say was, “Where the hell did you learn that?”
The Off-road Motorsports Hall of Fame administrator and curator Barbara Rainey plans to put a spot on their website where stories like these are preserved for posterity. We’ll have more details as things progress, but go to www.omhof.org for all the fun.