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Stewart Seeks to Turn Baja Tragedy ‘Into a Positive’

In 30 years of Baja 500 off-road races, no one has driven like Ivan Stewart. The Ironman has won 11 times overall, seven times in the last nine years.

Last Saturday, a day after his 54th birthday, Stewart won by driving solo in his Tundra Racing Toyota V-8 Trophy-Truck for 447 miles over a rugged desert course in the northern part of Baja California.

Then he said it will be his last 500.

An accident barely two miles off the starting line in Ensenada killed a Mexican spectator and severely injured Stewart’s son, Craig. Eight others, among them Craig’s wife, Sherrie, were also injured when Jason Baldwin lost control of his pickup truck at a highway crossing and flew into the crowd alongside the course.

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“I don’t blame Jason,” Stewart said. “He was just driving aggressively, the way a racer should. But I am concerned over how fast our vehicles are going and how crowded conditions have become in Baja. I would like to turn this tragedy into a positive.

“When I first started racing in Baja, we were running 80 [mph] tops, except maybe Parnelli [Jones] could hit 100 in his big Bronco. Now, it’s commonplace for cars and trucks to go 100, and we get up to 130 in our truck. And we race over 500 miles with no fences, barriers or protection for spectators or residents.

“I am not retiring, but I want to work with SCORE [the off-road sanctioning body] to start educating people--drivers, crews, sponsors, spectators, everyone involved. We’ve got to educate people to make our racing safer.”

Stewart plans to run in the Baja 1000 in November and several races next year in Nevada. The 1000 traditionally starts farther out of Ensenada and runs through more remote areas than the 500, which is a circle race starting and finishing in Ensenada.

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Drivers started at 30-second intervals last Saturday. Jim Baldwin, 60, of Irvine, was first off the line in a Ford. Second was his son, Jason, 29, in the family’s other Ford.

As Jason approached the Tecate highway crossing--a favorite viewing area--he was about to overtake his father. However, instead of making a left turn onto the highway, the younger Baldwin’s truck rolled and sailed into the onlookers.

Ivan Stewart was the fourth Trophy-Truck off the starting line.

“I came by about a minute later and saw Jason’s truck upside down on the side of the road, but that is nothing unexpected in off-road racing,” said Stewart. “I had no idea anyone was injured, least of all my son and daughter-in-law.”

Craig was going to drive in another class for smaller trucks later in the day, but decided to watch his father come through the highway crossing.

“Linda [Ivan’s wife] was in the Toyota helicopter following me when SCORE called for it to help with the injured people. When it set down, Mark Johnson, our team manager, went to help and discovered that Craig was one of the injured.

“It wasn’t until I was about an hour into the race when I heard someone say that Craig was in stable condition. I called back on the radio and they told me he had a bruised shoulder and a bad headache, not to worry.”

Dale Carrison, the SCORE medical director who is also head of the trauma unit at Las Vegas Medical Center, was concerned that it was worse than it appeared and said that Craig should be flown to San Diego for a CT scan.

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“When the race was over, the last I had heard was that Craig was getting checked out at the UC San Diego hospital. I packed up and drove home to Alpine [about 40 miles east of San Diego], expecting to find Linda and Craig with his shoulder in a sling.

“When I got there, the phone was ringing off the hook. Linda said to get to San Diego quick, that Craig was having major brain surgery.”

The CT scan had shown a massive blood clot on the brain.

“The chain of circumstances is really unbelievable,” Stewart said. “Craig was in a major trauma accident Saturday, had major surgery Saturday night, was in intensive care Sunday, in a regular hospital room Monday, and on Tuesday they told him he could go home.

“He still faces probably six months’ recovery, but at least he’s home. Sherrie’s OK too. She had a cut on top of her head.”

Mexican federal police charged Baldwin with excessive speeding and reckless driving, but he was permitted to return home to Laguna Beach.

Paul Fish, vice president of SCORE International, said Thursday his organization will not make any decisions about Baldwin’s future in racing until after a lengthy review.

TUSTIN THUNDER

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The long-awaited Senior Championship Racing Assn. will make its preseason debut this weekend as part of the Motor Trend Thunder Historic road races at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin.

The senior drivers, all of whom are retired, include former world Formula One champion Jack Brabham, Indy 500 winners Gordon Johncock and Rodger Ward, off-road champion Roger Mears, IMSA champion Gene Felton, and John Morton, Kevin Cogan and Jerry Grant. Each will be paired with a celebrity driver in pro-am competition.

On Saturday, the celebrities will race, with the pros coaching. On Sunday, roles will be reversed. All will be driving Dodge Neons. Both races will start at 2 p.m.

The senior season will officially open June 26 at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and includes a race Sept. 6 during NASCAR’s Streets of Los Angeles event in Exposition Park.

Motor Trend Thunder is a three-day extravaganza that includes Vintage Automobile Racing Assn. events today, Saturday and Sunday on a 1.7-mile course laid out near the massive blimp hangers that serve as a historical landmark. There also will be historic NASCAR stock car races, a truck challenge and a race for battery-powered vehicles.

The marine base is scheduled to close next month, so this will be the final time for VARA cars and drivers to compete on the facility.

LAST LAPS

Another surprise in the National Hot Rod Assn. ranks. Last week, funny car driver Cruz Pedregon split with Joe Gibbs’ team. This week, it’s veteran crew chief Roland Leong being let go by funny car owner Don “Snake” Prudhomme. Todd Okuhara, Leong’s assistant, and Garry Kennedy, formerly with Tim Wilkerson, will turn the wrenches on Ron Capps’ Camaro funny car. Capps, runner-up to John Force last year, has won only one round in nine events this season.

Jet boats of the International Jet Sports Boating Assn. will compete Saturday and Sunday off Silver Strand Beach on Coronado Island. The event is Round 4 of the eight-race national series. Chris MacCluggage, who recently moved from Florida to Canyon Lake, has his Kawasaki Team Green watercraft leading in both pro ski and pro runabout 1200 classes. Nearly 200 entries are expected for 17 classes. Pro finals are set for Sunday.

While Ron Shuman’s Sprint Car Racing Assn. teams are headed East for the first Non-Winged World Championships the next two weeks, Perris Auto Speedway will feature flat-track motorcycles Saturday night. Gene Romero, 1970 American Motorcyclist Assn. champion, is promoting the dirt track series. There are two classes, open and open vintage, in which bikes must be 1974 models or older.

Bakersfield’s Casey Mears, son of Roger and nephew of Rick, has moved into the Indy Lights points lead after four races. Casey Mears, who finished second to Derek Higgins last week at Milwaukee, has not finished lower than fifth and is the only driver to have completed every lap. With 50 points, he is seven ahead of Airton Dare. The next race is June 20 in Portland, Ore. Clint Mears, Casey’s cousin and Rick’s son, left the series to be an instructor at the Evernham- Hawley driving school at Irwindale.

Mike Wallace, former Winston Cup driver and winner of Winston West races this season at Phoenix and Colorado Springs, has entered the Irwindale 250 Winston West race on June 19 at Irwindale Speedway. Wallace has also won two NASCAR Craftsman Truck races this year.

Ford Motor Co. has bought Jackie Stewart’s Formula One team in an effort to strengthen its involvement in the series. Stewart will remain as chairman and Rubens Barrichello as the team driver.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week’s Races

WINSTON CUP, Kmart 400

* Site: Brooklyn, Mich.

* Schedule: Today, first-round qualifying, 12:30 p.m.; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 8:15 a.m.; Sunday, race (Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

* Track: Michigan Speedway (d-shaped oval, 2 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps.

* Last year: Mark Martin slipped past Jeff Gordon on lap 149 and held on for the victory. Dale Jarrett finished second, 2.3 seconds behind Martin.

* Last race: Bobby Labonte won the MBNA Platinum 400 in Dover, Del., for his first victory of the season.

* Next race: Pocono 500, June 20, Long Pond, Pa.

****

BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL, Textilease/Medique 300

* Site: South Boston, Va.

* Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 11:30 a.m. (TNN, 2:30 p.m.); race (TNN, 2:30 p.m.)

* Track: South Boston (Va.) Motor Speedway (oval, 0.4 miles, 12 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 120 miles, 300 laps.

* Last year: Tim Fedewa won by taking advantage of a penalty to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt led the first 245 laps, but was penalized for rough driving when he forced Joe Bessey’s car to spin. Earnhardt was held for a one-lap penalty.

* Last race: Earnhardt got his long-awaited first victory of the season in the MBNA Platinum 200 in Dover, Del.

* Next race: Lysol 200, June 27, Watkins Glen, N.Y.

****

CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS, Pronto Auto Parts 400

* Site: Fort Worth, Texas.

* Schedule: Today, race (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m.)

* Track: Texas Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 250.5 miles, 167 laps.

* Last year: Tony Raines won the crash-filled race, holding off Andy Houston by 0.241 seconds.

* Last race: Jack Sprague pulled away in the final laps to win the Coca-Cola Family 200 at Bristol, Tenn.

* Next race: Portland 200, June 19, Portland, Ore.

****

NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSN., Pontiac Excitement Nationals

* Site: Columbus, Ohio.

* Schedule: Today, second-round qualifying, 11:45 a.m.; Saturday, first-round eliminations, 8 a.m.; Sunday, final eliminations, 8 a.m.

* Track: National Trail Raceway.

* Last year: Frank Pedregon won his first funny car final, beating Dean Skuza. Kenny Bernstein won the top fuel final.

* Last race: Mike Dunn won his third top fuel final of the season at the Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill. Tim Wilkerson, Warren Johnson, Matt Hines and Bob Panella also were winners in their respective pro categories.

* Next race: Sears Craftsman Nationals, June 24-27, Madison, Ill.

****

INDY RACING LEAGUE, Longhorn 500

* Site: Fort Worth, Texas.

* Schedule: Today, qualifying, 5:15 p.m. (Speedvision, 6 p.m.); Saturday, race (Fox Sports West, 4:30 p.m.)

* Track: Texas Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns).

* Race distance: 312 miles, 208 laps.

Last year: Billy Boat won, holding off Greg Ray by 0.928 seconds.

* Last race: Kenny Brack won his first Indianapolis 500 when race-leader Robby Gordon ran out of fuel with just over a lap to go. Brack earned a motorsports record purse of $1.47 million.

* Next race: Radisson 200, June 27, Fountain, Colo.

****

FORMULA ONE, Canadian Grand Prix

* Site: Montreal.

* Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, (Speedvision, 10 a.m.); Sunday, race (Fox Sports West, Speedvision, 9:30 a.m.)

Track: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (road course, 2.747 miles, 15 turns).

* Race distance: 189.543 miles, 69 laps.

* Last year: Michael Schumacher won for the second consecutive year, overcoming a penalty for veering wildly out of the pit lane to easily beat Giancarlo Fisichella.

* Last race: Mika Hakkinen ended Schumacher’s win streak at two races, taking the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. David Coulthard finished second, with Schumacher third.

* Next race: French Grand Prix, June 27, Magny-Cours.


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