The last time Evan Evans drove in the Baja 1,000, he was only three days out of a hospital, where he had been told he was paralyzed from the chest down from a motorcycle accident. He was helped into a Jeep Cherokee specially prepared with hand controls by his father, Walker, so he could at least start the world's most famous off-road race.
Evans, then 24, drove the first 72 miles before turning the Jeep over to Brian Stewart, who finished the 1989 race. It was enough to assure Evans of the SCORE/High Desert Racing Assn. championship in Class 6, one for production sedans. Evans was voted SCORE's off-roadsman of the year, the highest award in the sport, one his father had won in 1983.
Evans did not race in 1990, sitting out to rebuild his strength and to build his own car to race.
"It's a full-size Chevy Blazer, one my mom used to drive around town, that I rebuilt and engineered into a race car," Evans said at his garage in Riverside. "I swapped her a little pickup for the Blazer and put on hand controls so I could operate it."
Friday, in the 24th annual SCORE Baja 1,000, Evans will be in the driver's seat when the field of more than 200 racers takes off from Ensenada on a 736-mile course that zigzags across Baja before returning to Ensenada.
"This time I hope to drive all but about 100 miles in the middle of the race," Evans said. "I'll take that much off to rest while my co-driver takes over, and then I'll come back to finish. I'd like to do it all, like my dad does, but I get fatigued."
Evans engineered controls for shifting, braking and the throttle that he operates with his right hand while steering with his left.
"I'm proud of the job we did in making the Blazer into a race car, and we hope to make Evan Evans Racing into a shop where we can build other people's cars," Evans said. "But my real love is to be behind the wheel--racing."
Evans first raced in the desert in an old Datsun truck for John Nelson in 1988, and after finishing seventh in his class with non-competitive equipment, he was hired by his father--one of the sport's legendary figures--to drive a Jeep Comanche for his factory-supported team.
"My dad had always said he made it the hard way, without anyone giving him anything, and he said if I wanted to race I would have to do it the same way," Evans said. "I guess I opened his eyes driving for Nelson, so he hired me. I thought my future was unlimited when I won the championship for him."
Then came the accident. Evans and a girlfriend were riding a motorcycle one night when they hit an unmarked ditch. The impact broke Evans' back.
"I'd been going down that road since I was 8," Evans said. "The water company had dug a hole, and there weren't any temporary flashers to mark it."
When the 1990 season started, Walker Evans was reluctant to rehire his son to drive the Jeep again, fearing that Evan might be unable to maintain the strength needed for a full season. He also figured he would be responsible if Evan were injured again.
"I could understand his reasoning, but I didn't want to quit," Evan said. "That's when I talked my mom into using her Blazer. She still teases me that she drove it better than I do."
His mother, Dolly, acts as team manager, bookkeeper, parts chaser and drives her son to and from races.
The Blazer wasn't finished until mid-season, and Evans unveiled it in the San Felipe 250.
"We finished every race but the last one, the Gold Coast 200 in April, and we were leading that when the drive shaft broke," Evans said. "We won a heat race at Willow Springs, and I felt pretty good running against guys like my dad and David Ashley in the heavy-metal race.
"We're looking at this as sort of a shakedown season, getting ready for a serious effort next year. Right now, my objective is to finish the 1,000 and finish strong. That would give the guys a real boost going into '92."
To succeed, though, he must nurse his Blazer over mountains, across rolling desert, low-lying badlands and dry lakes and trails through pine forests and along the Pacific surf.
MOTORCYCLES--Speedway bikes will return to Ventura Raceway's banked oval Saturday night for the Ventura Fall Classic. Among the riders scheduled to compete are four from the British League: Billy Hamill, Ron Correy, Greg Hancock and Dukie Ermolenko. Also on the program will be New Zealand sidecars. . . . Bruce Penhall, former two-time world speedway champion from Balboa, was inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame, joining Dan Gurney as motorsports' only inductees.
WINNERS--Bill Sedgwick of Van Nuys, 21st overall but the first West Coast driver to finish in the Pyroil 500 Winston Cup race last Sunday in Phoenix, clinched the Winston West championship. . . . Steve Saleen of Anaheim won his first driver's championship in the Sports Car Club of America's race truck series. Saleen won five of the seven races in a Ford Ranger. . . . Actor Bobby Carradine of Hollywood, who won two consecutive SCCA Escort World Challenge races in a Lotus, switched to a Corvette for the season finale in Mexico and wound up second in the series standings. . . . Lake Elsinore-based Team Suzuki Endurance won 11 of 13 races for the WERA national endurance series.
MISCELLANY--The format for the world 500cc championship motocross series has been changed from two 45-minute motos to three 25-minute motos. The United States round will be run April 5 at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino. . . . The Southern California Karters will conduct races Saturday and Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway. . . . Former national motocross champion Broc Glover of Rancho Santa Fe and Elton Julian, 17, of Beverly Hills, are among 10 finalists in the Skip Barber Racing School's Formula Ford runoff Nov. 17 at Sebring, Fla. . . . The CART board of directors voted unanimously to put the Cleveland Grand Prix back on the Indy-car schedule, although the possibility exists it will not be until 1993. The race was not on the 1992 CART schedule when it was announced last month at Nazareth, Pa.