Author Archives: bryan novak

Harold Soens

We welcome Harold Soens to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2009 in the Pioneer: Advocate category.

San Diego Off-Road Coalition President Harold Soens of Santee, California, was one of those individuals who did not spend time behind the wheel of an off-road car but instead chose to work behind the scenes making sure that others could compete in the sport.

From the early 1990s until his death in March of 2006, the personable Soens worked tirelessly attending meetings with land managers, politicians and other OHV leaders to make sure the sport of off-road recreation remained healthy.

He may not have received the trophies and the checkered flags, but you can bet that he was like the director whose purpose seemed to be making sure others received the credit. The thousands of hours were given with sincerity because Soens cared deeply about off-road racing and the people who participated in the sport.

In short, Soens was the volunteer everyone could count on to get the job done. His word was gold and his heart was sincere, especially when it came to doing things like rising at 5 in the morning to tow the latest fundraising raffle vehicle to a show. And when the show was done, it was Soens who stayed late to clean up.

Every year, Soens organized the CALPALS At Risk Youth Play Days where at risk youths that performed well in school spent the day learning how to ride an OHV. He was instrumental in getting an ATV training course opened in Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. Always known to use the phrase “It’s all about the kids,” the training course was named after him following his death. When he passed, the off-road racing world lost a tireless advocate, to say the least.

At last count, Soens belonged to something like 20 off-road groups with one tie or another to off-road motorsports. If he wasn’t home, you could bet that he was involved with the activities of at least one of the clubs.

However, among all of his strong points, one of the most effective may have been his ability to mobilize OHV advocates to make a difference. He was convincing, and there is little doubt that his ability to guide others led to continued improvement in off-roading. Land managers and politicians all over the state of California respected his opinion and continually counted on him for advice.

“Without Harold being the major organizing force behind so many fund raisers in the early ‘90s, I believe that many Southern California organizations like SDORC and CORVA would not be the major political and fund raising forces that they are today,” said Meg Grossglass, a Winchester, California resident who nominated her long-time friend for Induction to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame . “Both of these organizations helped for EcoLogic, which directs and funds the only full-time attorney working only off-road issues.

“Harold was a friend to hundreds of people at the local, state and national levels,” said Mindy Scharf, treasurer for the San Diego Off-Road Coalition.

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.

Manny Esquerra

We are honored to include Manny Esquerra, of Parker, Arizona with the class of 2008 inductees in the Competition: Off-Road Racing category. Throughout his career, which spanned over three decades, Manny earned countless race wins and a dozen major series championships. Some of his many wins include the Parker 400, thirteen times, the Mint 400, twelve times, the Frontier 500 five times, the Baja 500 five times and was a six-time winner of the Baja 1000. Esquerra was voted driver of the year in the SCORE Desert Series in 1980 and 81 and won the coveted Toyota “True Grit” award in 1986, which is awarded to those few drivers who complete every mile of every race in a season. Known for his easy going manner and an ever-present smile, Manny was not only a legendary driver but a mentor who always seemed to have time to work with the younger generations of aspiring racers in and around his home town of Parker, Arizona.

Much of his success behind the wheel was done under the watchful eye of ORMHOF member and legendary team owner, Bill Stroppe, who hired Manny as a contract driver to pilot his Class 7 Ford Ranger trucks in 1981. During the ten years that followed, Stroppe and Esquerra became good friends and one of the most formidable teams in off-road racing history. Manny helped to develop the Ford Ranger brand and was supported by many national sponsors whose brands everyone will recognize. Companies like 7-11, Chief Auto Parts, Ford Motor Company, Firestone Tires, Motorcraft, BF Goodrich and Coors Brewing Company were some of his many sponsors over the years. Later, as part of the Rough Rider team, Manny and Stroppe had the support of the best in the sport and were part of an elite group of racing teams that may never be duplicated. The Rough Rider teams were some of the best in off-road racing and all capable of winning any race they entered. Support from major brands like Ford Motor Company, BFGoodrich, Texaco and others made the Rough Riders the first large coordinated joint marketing program in off-road racing and has yet to be equaled in scope.

You could find Manny and his winning Ford Ranger in numerous nationally circulated magazine ads and articles during the eighties and nineties. Manny’s face was everywhere promoting off-road motorsports and his sponsor’s products. These focused marketing efforts raised the public awareness level of our sport with Manny at the core of these programs. If his success as a driver was Manny’s principle accomplishment, that would easily qualify him for induction into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame but his legacy is greater than his driving skill alone. Manny was always known for his competitive nature and could beat the competition in many different ways but he was always gracious in victory and in defeat. He was known for his compassion toward others and was known to have returned to the course after he had finished to help a fellow competitor get to the finish line. Manny was a teacher and mentor to a number of race teams and drivers that have risen to the top of the sport because of his guidance and consul.

As Cliff Irey of Ford Truck Motorsports recently said, “Manny lived as a model for the up and coming. He made ours a better world, serving as a coach, counselor and advisor. Manny thought out of the box; never to be bothered by small problems, he lived life to the fullest, seemingly with never a harsh thought. He was a great ambassador for off-road racing”.

Manny passed from an apparent heart attack doing what he loved to do; driving a Ford truck during the second lap of the Parker 425 on February 2, 2008. Shortly after his untimely death, a group of close friends gathered in the desert, near the spot where Manny drew his final breath and constructed a monument in concrete and steel. The plaque reads:

King of the Desert
Manny Esquerra
2/2/08…Makin’ Tracks

Judy J. Smith

We are honored to welcome Judy J. Smith to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2008 in the Pioneer: Journalism category. Anyone who has been involved in off-road racing for any length of time has to be acquainted with the exemplary work in the field of journalism that Judy Smith has contributed to our sport. She seems to be ever present in and around every event – whether at the starting line or somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Judy is there, chronicling the progress of every race participant whether first or last. She’s there at the finish to record your impressions of the race no matter where you finish. Judy Smith has brought to us irreplaceable chronicles of the sport of off-road racing. Without her magnificent dedication to the sport via her knowledge and effort the history of off-roading would be sadly lacking.

Judy Smith was born in Connecticut and moved to California in 1947. She graduated from Venice High School in 1950 and married Val Smith the following year. They had two children, daughter Dominy and son Amery. Judy graduated from UCLA in the early sixties, where she majored in design. She went on to graduate school, but the responsibilities of raising two children eventually made it too difficult to continue. “My husband became a dirt bike racer in the early ‘50s, and I was his pit crew and chase person for several years. This was in the period when Bud Ekins was the big hero in the desert. He was also a personal friend, and when, in 1970, I read that he had won the Baja 1000 it astounded me. I had never considered the fact that race drivers were just ordinary people. I knew Bud well enough to know that he was just people, and therefore I was convinced that if he could race in the Baja 1000, I could too. So I did.”

Judy started racing in 1971. Her first race was the Baja 500 in a Volkswagen sedan with co-driver, Muriel Heath. “We finished about 10th in class and had already decided we’d do it some more. But the car died in the Mexican 1000 in ’71, literally broke in two, and was fodder for the local dump. By then I had a single seat Funco Hustler in the works. I first raced it in an ARVRA race in January of ’72. I rolled it over, landed on my wheels, but didn’t hurt it. I loved the fact that I was alone in the car with nobody telling me where to go or what to do.”

About this time, Judy started working part time for Scott McKenzie at Sand-Master. She had joined FAIR (First Association of Independent Racers) and was helping with their newsletter. For several years Judy wrote the newsletter, and also started writing a column about FAIR for Stan Parnell’s monthly Off Road Action News. She wrote several items for Hot VWs in the mid ‘70s and in ’77, after her marriage with Val ended in divorce, she started writing articles for Off-Road Action News and also for Fred Horton’s Off-Road Advertiser. “I did a column called ‘The Losers’ and would talk to all the racers who had not finished a race, and write their stories, because I often felt that the non-finishers, especially those that struggled before they finally gave up, had the best stories. I loved doing the Losers, but when Jean started having me write regular race stories (for the newly created Dusty Times) there was no time – so I just got in the habit of incorporating the Loser stuff into the race story. I always thought it made the stories more interesting. I still do.”

Judy also wrote a number of articles for various SCORE publications in the late ‘70s such as histories of the Baja 500 and 1000 and short biographies of season points winners. She continued to race sporadically, through the late seventies and into the mid eighties with Jean Calvin or John Howard, who became her second husband in 1998. In 2002, Judy & John seized the opportunity to make the peninsula run one more time and drove the first half of the Baja 1000 in Jim Kirby’s 5-1600 Baja Bug. Jim took over on the final leg to become the last official finisher in the grueling 1000-mile race, while Judy jumped in the van and drove the rest of the way to La Paz so she could be on hand to report the final results of the race for Dusty Times.

Joe MacPherson

We are pleased to induct Joe MacPherson into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Class of 2008 in the Pioneer: Advocate category. Joe MacPherson’s genuine and unselfish support of off-road racing made him one of the most valuable “assets” of the sport. Always available either personally or through his team members, Team MacPherson Motorsports was always there to assist other competitors as well as SCORE management.

A self-made man, MacPherson got his start after a stint in the US Navy selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door in Los Angeles. So taken by his tenacity, the owner of Angelus Chevrolet gave Joe a job selling cars. In the 1950s, Joe opened a leasing company in Santa Ana, California. His business grew to a number of dealerships and the creation of two major auto centers in Southern California as well as one of the most successful and visible teams in off-road racing history.

MacPherson was one of the earliest and most ardent supporters and advocates of the sport, going back to the mid-1960s when he visited Baja with Bruce Meyers in a specially prepared buggy built by Meyers to tame the wilds of the peninsula. After the trip, Joe was hooked and in 1972 he formed Team MacPherson Motorsports with Jerry MacDonald, campaigning a 1972 production class Blazer in the Baja 1000.

From the team’s headquarters at Joe MacPherson Chevrolet in the Irvine (Calif.) Auto Center, Joe directed the team’s efforts over the next 28 years with vehicles competing in Class 4, 7, 8 and Trophy Truck. The team garnered 10 class championships and 83 wins over the years that followed and Joe was twice voted Off-Road Person of the Year by the membership of SCORE International. The Team MacPherson Class 7 Chevy S-10 entries won an unprecedented 7 championships in a row and the Trophy Truck known as “Big Mac”, built from the ground-up in the team’s Irvine, California race shop, was arguably the fastest ever in it’s class.

Over the years the team attracted some of the best drivers in the sport including Jerry MacDonald, Jeff Lewis, Steve Kelly, Butch Arciero, Ivan Stewart, Brian Stewart, Larry Roeseler, Jeff MacPherson, Doug Fortin and Johnny Johnson.

Working extensively with GM Truck & Bus Engineering, Team MacPherson was a test bed for product development and innovation and many features found in today’s GM trucks and SUV’s, including electronic four-wheel drive, were born in the MacPherson shops and the terrain of Baja California.

Always a stalwart champion of the sport, Joe MacPherson stepped up to support the efforts of SCORE president Sal Fish on numerous occasions over the years. His in-house marketing agency produced the official SCORE program for two years and his in-house television production crew produced and aired all SCORE television shows in 1997 on SpeedVision. Over the next five years, this production team produced a total of 47 SCORE and Best in the Desert one-hour shows for SpeedVision, all supported financially by MacPherson.

His interests ranged from off-road racing to Indycar racing where son Jeff MacPherson campaigned in 1987, placing 8th at Indy. Joe was also an ardent car collector, building and restoring an eclectic collection of cars, hot rods and motorcycles. His “Infinity Flyer” won the “America’s Most Beautiful Roadster” award at the 1994 Oakland Roadster Show. To house his ever-growing collection, Joe built “Joe’s Garage” in the Tustin Auto Center and it quickly became a preferred venue for parties, weddings and even hosted the annual SCORE year-end awards banquet in 2000.

Over the years, Joe contributed significantly to the community. His philanthropic efforts supported such organizations as Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Orange County, the Santa Ana Boys and Girls Club, the Juvenile Diabetes Association and through his “Help the Schools” program, has presented more than two million dollars to Orange County Schools.

William Bryan

Bill Bryan is a pioneer in four wheeling and off-road racing dating back to the late 50’s. During that time, Bryan served as Secretary/Treasurer of the Indio Volunteer Fireman’s Club, a founding member club of the California Association of Four-Wheel Drive Clubs. In 1960, Bill formed the Al Jamal Four-Wheel Drive Club of Indio. Bill served as Chairman of 4WD events for 20 years and actively led the committee that organized the annual Indio Sidewinder Cruise, a popular trail ride through the desert. About the time Bill formed the Indio 4WD Club he became friends with mystery writer Earle Stanley Gardner. Together they traveled the deserts of California and Mexico, co-writing a number of articles about off-roading for magazines such as Popular Science and Ford Times. He was a founding member of the National Four-Wheel Drive Association, serving as a director for five years. Although the National Four-Wheel Drive Association would eventually fold, two of the founding members went on to establish the United Four-Wheel Drive Association, which has grown to become the largest group of 4WD enthusiasts in North America.

Walter Lott

Walt Lott, is one of the founding fathers of off-road racing. A man of great vision, perhaps his single, most important contribution was his dream and successful effort to extend off-road racing beyond the regional level and gain “greater national recognition and corporate involvement” through sponsorships and, ultimately, television coverage. In July of 1969 Walt joined with a group of friends and founded the Southern Nevada Off Road Enthusiasts (SNORE), a non-profit association of off-road racers who have organized races in the southern Nevada area for the past 38 years. Walt served as President of SNORE in 1973 and again an 1975 and also served as the chief race steward and eventually organizer for Del Webb’s Mint 400 Desert Race (1971-1988), which grew into the richest, largest and most successful off-road race in the country. In 1976 he founded the High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) and promoted a half dozen races each year around the southwest. In 1985, Walt joined with Sal Fish to combine the HDRA series (four events) and the SCORE International series (4 events) to create one major points series competing under one set of rules. The HDRA/SCORE Desert Series brought increased entries and sponsorships to both organizations and made it possible for Walt to realize his dream.

Sue Mead

Sue Mead began her automotive career in 1988 as a free-lance evaluator for Four-Wheeler Magazine, on the first team that included women as test drivers. She immediately became hooked on four-wheeling and the places it took her. Over the next few years Mead developed relationships with all of the leading 4WD publications in the US and then began to work with the mainstream press writing columns, such as “Get off the Road”, a syndicated newspaper column, gaining a reputation as a woman who understood and could write about 4WD vehicles. Mead’s goals were not only to learn about and participate in 4WD events, but also to write about the fun and adventure of four-wheeling and inspire others to participate and to promote safe technical driving and responsible use of the backcountry. She also served a 3-year term on the board of directors of Tread Lightly! Mead has been a participant in four Camel Trophy events, the Baja 1000 six times, twice as a driver and competed with Darren Skilton in the 2000 Dakar Rally. She has written about her adventures and extreme four-wheeling for publications around the globe focusing considerable attention on the world of off-road motorsports. Today, Mead travels the world test-driving vehicles and working as a photojournalist/feature writer for more than 100 publications. She has been four wheeling in 36 countries during the past 19 years and has accumulated enough off-road miles to have circumnavigated the world in the dirt. It has become her professional and personal passion.

Dick Landfield

Dick Landfield, whose wisdom and guidance has been instrumental in making the sport what it is today. A Ford dealer in Yorba Linda, California, Landfield began his off-road racing career driving a Ford Bronco with Irv Hanks in the 1968 NORRA Baja 500. He fell in love with the challenge of off-road racing and the following year, started Enduro Racing, which has been a major force in the desert for many years. In 1972 Landfield was one of the founding members of the “First Association of Independent Racers” (F.A.I.R.), the oldest and largest independent pit support team in off-road racing today. Landfield’s Enduro Racing competed in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series for 10 years beginning in 1979 and in 1980 talked Thompson into starting the Annual SCORE Show on a bet. In 1986, Dick retired from driving and continued on as team owner, hiring Dave Ashley as Enduro Racing’s driver and team manager. In 1991, he developed the idea for the sport’s first multi-truck team, the Rough Riders, and convinced Ford Motor Company to sponsor and campaign the team, which included Enduro Racing, Simon & Simon Racing, Stroppe Racing, Spirit Racing, Swift Motorsports and Venable Racing, all top Ford teams. Over the course of forty years, Dick Landfield has used the knowledge and influence that he earned from business and racing to help drivers, teams, promoters, sponsors and organizations at every level, achieve their goals and promote the sport.

Mickey Thompson

Mickey Thompson is a man who needs no introduction for his accomplishments in off-road racing. He made a major impact as a car builder, designer, innovator, driver and race organizer. He founded SCORE International in 1973 and the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) in 1979. From his fist day in the “dirt” he fell in love with the sport and his presence in racing, no doubt because of his fame in other forms of racing, made an impact. He was full of ideas and a master at selling his ideas to others, in large part because of the enthusiasm and energy he brought with him. To this day his developments in tire, shock and suspension design are still visible in the sport of off-road racing. Certainly his achievements in the organization and rulebooks of the sanctioning bodies are still evident. However, probably his most important impact on the sport and the people in it, was his ability to sell the concept. Whether it was to sponsors, racers, spectators or television executives, Mickey was a master salesman. What he achieved for the sport from the early days of bouncing through Baja with nearly no sponsorship and no notice from the rest of the world was to build a lucrative industry with many success stories, millions of fans and many more millions of dollars invested by sponsors to market their products to the many enthusiasts that have been introduced to the sport…in large part through the efforts of Mickey Thompson.