Nico Saad

We are proud to welcome Nico Saad as a 2008 inductee to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame in the Pioneer: Industry category. Over the past four decades, Nico’s unwavering support of off-road racing has been instrumental in allowing off-road racing to attain it’s current level of success while creating a major tourism draw for the state of Baja California, Mexico.

In 1925 Nico Saad’s parents immigrated to North America from Lebanon. As soon as they were processed through Ellis Island his parents moved West to California and then to the state of Baja California in Mexico. They settled in the City of Ensenada where Nico was born in 1939. As a young man in the late 1950s and early 1960s Nico gained recognition as a world-class barefoot water skier and participated in numerous shows and exhibitions.

At the age of 24 Nico became involved in the growing tourism industry in Baja. It was around that time that Nico broke ground on the construction of the Hotel San Nicolas. During construction, local businessmen appointed him to the position of the President of the Ensenada Tourism Chamber. While in his new position as the representative for the City of Ensenada he and other tourism officials began working with a group from the United States who were interested in hosting a long distance off-road race in November of 1967. The newly formed group, the National Off-Road Racing Association (NORRA) named their race the “Mexican 1000 Rally” and the event originated in Tijuana, traveled south and ended in La Paz.

The following year, Ed Pearlman, President of NORRA, decided to start the race in Ensenada rather than Tijuana. Through his position with the Tourism Chamber Nico worked closely with Pearlman, and acted as liaison between the local and national officials and key members of the automobile industry. By October of 1969 the new Governor of Baja appointed Nico Director of Tourism for Baja California. Nico left the post in 1971 to turn his attentions to his growing hotel, however he remained very active in assisting the growth of off-road racing in Baja.

In the early seventies, after problems developed between NORRA and Baja government officials, California race promoter, Mickey Thompson, contacted Nico who had already proved himself an advocate of both the City of Ensenada and off-road racing. Mickey wanted to know what needed to take place for SCORE to take over the operation of the Baja 1000. Nico quickly arranged a meeting between Mickey, the Lieutenant Governor and the Governor of Baja. The meeting led to an agreement between SCORE and Baja officials in 1973 and the Baja 1000 has since developed into one of the most prestigious motorsports events in the world today, drawing hundreds of participants from every corner of the world each year. Nico’s support would lead to a close working relationship and great friendship with SCORE’s Sal Fish, which has lasted over the past forty years.

In the mid 1970s, in an effort to solidify the developing governmental backing of off-road racing, Nico invited the President of Mexico, Jose Lopez Portillo, to stop in Ensenada while on a trip through Baja. Nico arranged with Parnelli Jones for the president to meet legendary racecar builder, Bill Stroppe and to see his famous vehicle ‘Big Oly’. After the meeting and a tour of the vehicle, government support for the race was set. This federal support helped to smooth private landowner relations with the race organizers. The government’s involvement allowed for repairs and improvements to be made to the private ranches and farms through which both the Baja 1000 and the Baja 500 crossed.

In 2007, Nico served as the Grand Marshal of the 40th Annual ‘Baja 1000’ alongside Rod Hall and Ron Bishop who have both raced the event every year, a fitting honor for his dedication to off-road racing in Baja which has never faltered through the years.