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 counsel.
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
2/2/08… Makin’ Tracks