Another post in a series of the experiences from Baja written by John Thawley. Read about some of John’s exploits on Dean’s Garage. John died on July 14, 2009. Published by permission from John Thawley, Jr.
Rally or Race?
The difference between the words “rally” and “race” is the difference between the event promoter and the community public relations community. Ed Pearlman told me that when he first visited with the various levels of the Mexican government, in Los Angeles and then in Ensenada, they immediately recoiled at the mention of the word “race.” They had their reasons. In 1950, the Mexican government promoted a 2,000 mile road race on the mainland to promote the opening of the Panamerican Highway. The event was brutally tough. There were no rules, little in the way of support, and a very poor Mexican government to do anything about anything. At least four drivers and dozens of citizens were killed before the event ended in 1954. So when Ed was making his pitch for an event running the length of the Baja Peninsula, the Mexicans envisioned a re-creation of the previous mainland massacre. Ed went on to tell me that when he saw that reaction, he began changing his tune and started using the word “rally” instead of “race”. As the frowns began to disappear, his plan began expand to the “many checkpoints.”
When smiles began to appear, so did Ed’s description— “by having checkpoints along the way, contestants and the spectators will have time to enjoy the natural beauty of your land, and even do some shopping.” To his credit, Mr. Pearlman was really go at selling that sizzle. In reality there was only one time controlled leg of the trip—Tijuana to Ensenada on the toll road (and yes, we did pay the tolls). There were checkpoints between Ensenada and La Paz, but there was no time control and very little shopping unless you were shopping for something to plug the hole in a radiator.
So, in regards to the Inaugural 1967 Mexican 1000, the words “rally” and “race” mean the same event—just a way to sell sizzle without needing steak sauce.
Rain in the Morning?
Ed Pearlman “volunteered” me to tech cars several times when I wasn’t racing. How could anyone decline—sixteen hours of making enemies and being cursed in exchange for a motel room in Ensenada. Chief Steward, Jack Brady came to me late one afternoon saying he had something to do and if he got delayed, would I please conduct the driver’s meeting that even? Sure. Three or four announcements, no issues. Done deal. That evening I conducted my first and last driver’s meeting. Simple. The announcements were made in a trash filled ballroom to about eighty or so guys that didn’t want be in a room that smelled like a septic tank. I goofed. I asked if there were any questions. One young man on the front row asked what was going to happen in the morning if it was raining. Before I could explode, I managed, “The first green flag will drop in the morning a seven o’clock. Have a good evening.”
We were that naive. Some truly crazy people were planning to go down some of the most inhospitable terrain in the Western Hemisphere, where rattlesnakes and scorpions outnumbered band aids, and a nice young man is concerned about rain in a desert. You gotta love it.
Vehicles in the Rough
Getting 68 cars and scooters to the starting line must have been shear agony and the loss of a lot of sleep for Ed Pearlman. This is reflected in his diary. There was no rush, there was a dribble. There was no pattern of who and what stepped up with the entry fee. The first entry was obvious—Spence Murray and Ralph Poole in their record breaking Rambler American. The second entry was off-the-wall—millionaire, eccentric attorney, Mark Dees. He entered with no vehicle and no co-driver. Mark was certifiable (I worked for him for 11 months). Ed suggested Ed Orr—an impoverished free lance writer who had a Mexican wife, a couple of kids, and had been all the way to La Paz on the ground with Pearlman, Cepek, Drino, Lawler and Claude Dozier. Mark asked Pearlman if Orr could pay half the entry fee! He then bought a new Citroen DS-19. The justification and theory was that with the electro-hydraulic suspension, the vehicle could run the pavement tucked close to the ground. when the asphalt ended; the car could be elevated and the occupants would be transported to La Paz in air conditioned comfort listening to opera and Mexican ballads. Bob Hagen and Floyd Fessler entered a worn out 1959 Triumph TR-3 that had been used for rallys in northern California. The car was wasted before it got to TJ. Two dealership mechanics entered a stock ’56 Chevy 4-door sedan. Scott Foss and Dave Evans made it about half way before tuning back. Somewhere along the route they discarded all doors, hood and trunk lid to lightened the load. The Baja Boot and the Stroppe entered Bronco were the only two professionally prepped 4 wheel vehicles entered. The motorcyclists looked much stronger with Malcolm Smith on a Husky, Ekins Brothers on a Triumph. There were Nortons, BSA, Bultacos, and a single Honda, which ran out of battery about mid way.