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The 1978 Parker 400

Posted in Features on September 28, 2016
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It really was an ideal day for an off-road race at the 1978 version of the Parker 400. Clear skies, and temperatures were in the high 60ss at the start of the race on the California side.

These were the "old" days at Parker, when the race ran on both sides of the Colorado River, and before the California-based environmentalists talked the BLM into banning the California portion.

Off the start, the course snaked north up a narrow canyon, in some places only wide enough for one car at a time. After about 10 miles, the course came upon a series of rolling hills, until it turned west toward State Highway 95, another six or seven miles further on where many chase crews were waiting.

Amongst these rolling hills was a photographer's dream, a roller about 10 feet high, where all but the most timid racers got some air. This particular photo location, usually populated by only a handful of spectators and photographers, had grown to about 30 fans who had dune-buggied their way across the desert from the isolated California/Nevada resort on the River. Word of mouth had traveled over the past year about the great action to be seen at this photo spot in the hills.

They weren't going to be disappointed.

Timid was not a term used on Hal Harris, the driver of a Baja Bug who was looking for first place in his class. He was teamed up with Carrol Ditson, who already had won many races and class championships and was considered one of the top drivers, regardless of the class he ran.

Hal was the owner of Jules Auto Parts, in North Hollywood, California, a popular shop where many off-roaders did business and hung out with Hal and his crew. Hal had a lot to live up to, hoping to turn the car over to Carrol on the Arizona side in first place.

In the middle of the pack of Baja bugs, one in particular was coming faster than the others. It was Hal. He hit the gentle rise at speed and came down on his bumper, which threw his car into a cartwheel.

His car finally stopped, upside down, off to the side of the track.

Some ran up to help, including your humble correspondent. By this time someone had loosened his lapbelt, so we could pull him out of the vehicle through the rear of the passenger compartment and under the engine.

As we were pulling him out, Hal came to, probably by the burning sensation of the engine oil that was falling on him. "I'm on fire; I'm burning," he kept hollering until we got him clear of the engine, and we told him he'd be OK. Only then did I recognize him (and he me), when he looked straight up at me, and said "Jim, what are you doing here?"

I knew then that Hal had his senses, and after a few minutes, those of us who had at least basic first aid training determined that Hal had no broken bones or other ill effects. After he settled down, the crowd of fans offered him drinks and food. He was treated like a king until his crew came to retrieve him.

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