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Going Gets Tougher, Longer in Baja 1000

For the first time since the inaugural Baja 1000 in 1967, the 28th annual race will go the full length of the Baja California peninsula--1,146 miles from Tijuana to La Paz--starting next Thursday.

Actually, the Ford Tecate SCORE race will be the longest ever; the 1967 race had only a ceremonial start in Tijuana and then got under way seriously in Ensenada. This year it will start from the Lucerna hotel in downtown Tijuana, head east past the aqueduct and through the suburbs over the Compadre Trail on its way to San Felipe.

From San Felipe, the course will be roughly the same as it was in 1992. A time limit of 44 hours will be in effect for all classes.

The Tecate Trophy-Truck race, featuring series champion Ivan Stewart in a Toyota, is the main event in the SCORE production. Stewart clinched the title and its $50,000 bonus by winning the Laughlin Desert Challenge, his second victory of the seven-race series. Battling for second place are Jim Smith of Buena Park, Rob MacCachren of Las Vegas and veteran Walker Evans of Riverside.

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Also in the Trophy-Truck race will be Indy car veteran Robby Gordon, who got his start in desert racing and was the overall 1000 winner in 1989. He will be driving a Ford pickup of his own design.

In April 1967, Bruce Meyers and Ted Mangels drove a Meyers Manx four-wheel dune buggy from La Paz to Tijuana in 34 hours 45 minutes, an effort that stimulated interest in the fledgling world of off-road running. Ed Pearlman founded the National Off Road Racing Assn. later that year and established what he called the Mexican 1000 in October.

There were 68 entries, all of whom drove leisurely from Tijuana to Ensenada before starting to race. The first vehicle to finish was a Meyers Manx driven by Mangels and Vic Wilson in 27:18.

Thursday’s Trophy-Truck winner will probably reach the fishing village of La Paz in about 23 hours.

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“Driving in the Mexican desert is always tough, but this race presents an even greater challenge,” said Stewart, 50, who plans to drive solo. “When you drive that far by yourself in Mexico, anything can happen. And usually does.”

Stewart, known as the Ironman for driving long distances alone, has won the Baja 1000 overall twice, in 1976 and ’93.

Drivers from Team MacPherson of Irvine have prerun the 1,000 miles twice in hopes of adding to their six Baja victories. Jeff Lewis of San Clemente has already clinched his third series Class 7 championship for mini-pickups in his Chevrolet 4x4, while former motocross champion Rick Johnson of Encinitas is contesting in Class 8 for full size trucks in another Chevrolet.

Johnson, who won the Cajon Speedway stock car championship last month, will be driving in his first 1000. He is only 12 points behind class leader Dan Smith of San Bernardino, who drives a Ford. Smith, like Johnson, is a former motorcycle champion.

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“We’ve prerun the course twice just to be sure we have all our bases covered,” said Jerry McDonald, Team MacPherson manager. “The course is so long and so rugged that anyone who doesn’t do their homework won’t have a chance. We’d done ours and we’re ready for whatever the Baja peninsula wants to dish out.”

Rod Hall, the only man who has competed in all 27 races and the overall winner in 1969, is entered as co-driver of a Hummer. Hall is using the Baja 1000 as a tuneup for the Paris-to-Dakar African Rally next January.

Motor Racing Notes

SPRINT CARS--Only three races remain on the Sprint Car Racing Assn. schedule and two of them are this weekend at the Imperial County Fairgrounds, near El Centro. Defending champion Ron Shuman, who has won seven times on the three-eighths mile oval, leads Lealand McSpadden by 44 points going into the 10th running of the Quaker State Classic on Friday and Saturday nights. There are 172 points available in the remaining three races. The season will end Nov. 11 at Ventura Raceway. Imperial Raceway is called “the fastest oval below sea level in the country.”

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MOTOCROSS--The White Bros. will hold their world veterans championships Saturday and Sunday on the Glen Helen Park course, near San Bernardino. Two-time defending champion Doug Dubach of Costa Mesa will face a formidable field that is expected to include former national champions Jeff Ward and Guy Cooper, plus Warren Reid of Westminster, who moved to Pennsylvania after winning the vets championship in 1989. In the youthful world of motocross, a vet is anyone over 25. Racing will start at 9:15 a.m. both days.

MISCELLANY--The fourth annual Blythe 100 on Saturday night at Blythe Speedway will conclude the Southern California pro stock series. Gerald Lair of San Bernardino is leading after winning at the Orange Show Speedway. . . . Leon Lee Herbert III of Altadena, driving a Rotax-engined Dominator super kart, won the Southern California Karters 250cc championship for the fourth time.

AWARDS--The American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Assn. will hold its 26th annual All-American team banquet Jan. 6 at the Long Beach Hilton Hotel. The banquet, which is open to the public, will honor 12 drivers named to the All-America team.

NECROLOGY--John Keeling, 55, a former National Hot Rod Assn. jet car director from Buena Park, died of cancer after a short illness. A former top fuel and funny car driver, Keeling owned the dragster that Rick Ramsey drove to victory in the first Supernationals at Ontario Motor Speedway in 1970.

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