Cal Wells III – ORMHOF Class of 2020
Born October 12, 1955, Cal Wells began his motorized journey in 1968 by cleaning auto parts at an engine rebuilding shop in Westminster Calif. He quickly became enamored with how engines and automobiles operated and kept that passion for learning about cars throughout high school.
In fact, when he graduated Cal’s yearbook included his senior salutation stated his plans to “Race the Baja 500, The Baja 1000, The Daytona 500 and the Indy 500” Overall, I plan to race, race and then race some more”.
And so, it came to pass, and in a very big way.
By 1972 Cal was helping a neighbor prep a Ford truck for the Baja 500. The owner was Bill Deterlie who was running his truck through Bill Stroppe Racing in nearby Signal Hill, Calif. Soon after he started volunteering at Stroppe’s shop and became friends with many of the mechanics, machinists and fabricators who worked there.
In 1973 Cal bought a flood-damaged Ford Bronco from North Dakota, brought it home and stripped it to the bare frame in the family garage. He rebuilt it into a race-ready class 3 for the Mint 400. With his entire family working as his pit crew, the car was pulled from the race after nine hours of racing. While Cal was upset at the result, the hook had been set and the Wells family was going racing!
Cal rebuilt the Bronco and raced the Baja 500 with his father, Cal Wells Jr., as his co-driver. Sadly, Cal III was injured while riding as a passenger in a street accident, ending his days of driving competitively. But he turned his energy to building race cars for others, including his brother and father.
By November of 1979, Wells officially opened a small race shop in Westminster. It was still more of a hobby shop, but one of Cal’s first customers was off-road legend Joe MacPherson. Soon Tommy Morris arrived with his old Class 8, followed by Frank “Scoop” Vessels, Bob Gordon and Charlotte Corral. During this time Cal also worked for MacPherson and ORMHOF inductee and off-road pioneer Drino Miller.
Eventually PPI moved to a huge, state-of-the-art complex in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, and Cal Wells and company eventually expanded their reach to include winning Toyota’s Indy Car and NASCAR programs, as well as running the Toyota Motorsports garage.
Looking back, that high school salutation wasn’t a dream, but a direct roadmap to the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Cal Wells: The Records
While every racers dream is to somehow, someway obtain and hold the title of “factory team,” that achievement also carries with it an unwavering and universal reality.
It’s all about winning.
For Cal Wells and his PPI powerhouse, that aspiration became a reality in 1983 thanks to a relationship with Toyota that still exists today. Their all-conquering off-road racing campaigns lasted until the historic 2000 SCORE Baja 1000, but still represent the strongest partnership the sport has ever seen.
That’s not empty hyperbole, but an enviable fact based on world-class execution, a dynamic evolution toward technology and, most importantly, getting a Toyota truck to the finish line before anyone else. Unfortunately for their competition, they did it better and for longer than everybody else.
Cal Wells: The Numbers:
Win Totals and Championships:
• 50 MTEG Stadium Victories
• 9 MTEG Stadium Driver’s Championships
• 11 MTEG Stadium Manufacturer’s Championships
• 33 SCORE Desert Victories
• 4 SCORE Off-Road World Championship Victories (Riverside)
• 2 SCORE Off-Road Overall Championships
• 1 SCORE Off-Road Driver’s Championships
• 1 HDRA Desert Victories
•11 Total Off-Road Driver’s Championships
•14 Total Off-Road Manufacturer’s Championships
•88 Total Major Off-Road Race Victories
Major Race Victories
•11 SCORE Baja 500 Victories (1984, 86 ,89, 1990, 92, 93, 94, 97, 98, 99)
• 2 SCORE Baja 1000 Victories (1993, 1998)
• 4 Mint 400 Victories (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992)
Auto racing’s most famous team owner once observed that “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
In almost every way, Roger Penske’s insight mirrors the backstory to Cal Wells III.
Like Penske did in the early 1970s, Cal amplified the entire narrative of what the top rung of off-road motorsports can represent. No other effort in the history of off-road has ever reached the levels of preparation, execution and presentation than Cal Wells and his Precision Preparation organization.
In order to achieve that, Wells demanded greatness from all aspects of the operation, especially from himself. To Cal, there was only one barometer of ultimate achievement, and that was winning by doing whatever was necessary. His reputation of perfection led to the Toyota factory opportunity which resulted in lots of hard-earned luck along the way.
That underlying perspective and PPI’s rich history of victory should stand on its own merits in terms of induction into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Like so many of the ORMHOF inductees that have come before him, Cal Wells did not carve out this legacy in a vacuum. There are countless examples of his commitment to make the sport of off-road racing and its unique culture of racers, teams and promoters a far better place.
Some examples of this aspect to Cal Wells’ story include:
• Forging a leading component to Toyota’s entrance and growth as a legitimate truck brand in the U.S. market. Off-road racing on a factory level was a long-held initiative for Toyota, and the influence of the PPI-built trucks and driver Ivan “Ironman” Stewart is still tangible today.
• Cal Wells and PPI set the gold standard for all of off-road motorsports, mimicking the very finest operations in all of racing. The innovation and performance found in the factory Toyota’s raised the stakes for all unlimited truck racing – leading directly to today’s top-tier Trophy-Truck construction and competition.
• Cal Well employed some of the sport’s most legendary drivers to pilot the Toyota off-road trucks, a list that includes ORMHOF inductees Ivan Stewart, Robby Gordon and Frank Arciero Jr., as well as Steve Millen, Rod Millen, Jeff Huber, and Tommy Morris.
• Less well known is the list of industry leaders whose passion and excellence were forged underneath Cal Well’s tutelage and employment. This list includes:
- Ted Mangels: The very first Baja record holder and winner of the inaugural NORRA Mexican 1000, the late Ted Mangels was the self-taught engineering wizard behind much of the PPI success story.
- Tommy Morris: Considered the “professor” of off-road technology, went on to work with Wide Open Baja, Zero One, Polaris, Fox Shox and others.
- Mark Johnson: Formerly the Team Green Manager for Kawasaki, Mark played a pivotal role in the growth of PPI Motorports and its eventual transition to Indycar racing.
- Jim Blackmore: One of the sport’s best crew chiefs, Jim went on to work for Mark Post/Riviera Racing and now leads Rob MacCachren’s team.
- Russ Wernimont: A legendary designer and fabricator that went on to work for the Ford program of Jim Venable, Simon & Simon, Jimmy Smith and others.
- Peter Miles: Son of legendary sport car racer Ken Miles, Peter crafted his mechanical prowess to eventually move on to Wide Open Baja and now the vintage sports car world.
- Lee Perfect: Learned through the PPI system, went on to work for Church Racing, Baldwin Racing and is now the Lucas Oil Regional series director
- James DeGaine: Came from Kawasaki to PPI for expert desert logistics, has now guided thousands of guests through Baja via Wide Open.
• While a longtime technical partner with BFGoodrich, in the late 1980s PPI helped the Yokohama Tire brand enter the sport via sponsorship of the desert and short-course Toyota trucks. Cal then formed Precision Service Racing Group (PSRG), which worked hand in hand with Yokohama engineering staff to design, develop, and service product for all forms of racing. The entity still exists as Trackside Performance offering racers of all disciplines (including off-road) Yokohama tire support at events.
• Not so well known is that in 1986 and 1987 Cal assembled a design and engineering team to work with General Motorsports Truck and Bus to develop an engineering and development platform for their all-wheel drive trucks. These vehicles were tested and developed in the SCORE series in two categories; Class 4 and Class 7. These produced both race victories and extensive data for the GM factory – a program that Team MacPherson brought to PPI for design and construction expertise.
• Under Cal’s leadership, Toyota would also become a longtime sponsor of SCORE International, providing financial sponsorship, support vehicles, marketing resources as well as founding the long-running Toyota Milestone awards for SCORE classes.
• In addition, the PPI organization helped SCORE with course marking and in-race safety for all competitors when SCORE allowed them to fly over the race in a helicopter that carried paramedics. They often altered their race plans to give aid to an injured racer or spectator.
• Cal Wells also served as head of technical development for SCORE International, creating and managing competition rules for many years.
• Cal also worked with Micky Thompson on forming the rough driving committee for the MTEG stadium series. Each truck manufacturer was required to provide a person who would work during the races to monitor rough and unsafe driving.
• While best known for the PPI Toyota trucks, Cal also produced historically significant off-road machinery for Charlotte Corral, Joe MacPherson, Mike Nesmith and Frank “Scoop” Vessels.
• Today, Cal Wells continues his work as one of the world’s top motorsports consultants and executives. Via his company LNGA Consulting, he recently worked with Andy McMillin’s Red Bull/Toyo Trophy-Truck team to enhance their team’s overall performance and increase all levels of excellence, efficiency, and competitiveness.
Written by ORMHOF inductee Marty Fiolka.