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Sal Fish

Sal Fish

The long path that took Sal Fish to the top of desert racing began on May 2, 1939, when he was born in Los Angeles. He was educated in parochial schools; Transfiguration Grammar School and Loyola High, where he was class president three years and earned an industrial relations degree at the University of San Francisco.

After graduation he began working in his father’s auto repair business. Fish attended Rochester carburetor school, General Motors transmission school and Bendix brake school and was managing the family business. In 1966, he decided to take a job selling advertising for Petersen Publishing Company, a job which led him up the ladder to the publisher’s office. In 1970, Fish was traveling the country attending races for Hot Rod magazine when he met VW aftermarket parts manufacturer Joe Vittone, who eventually talked him into driving in a desert race in Baja California, Mexico. Fish and fellow Petersen employee Bob Weggeland started the race with no experience and no pre-run. In fact, Fish had never even been to Mexico.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Fish said. “I thought there would be a white line down the middle of the course. We had massacred our vehicle to put in creature comforts; we stockpiled food, spare tires and tools to work on the car. It was more an odyssey than a race, as far as we were concerned.” He recalled that most of the serious racers reached Lake Chapala in eight hours. Fish and Weggeland had driven 16 hours before they broke their transmission and they still hadn’t reached the Chapala checkpoint. Fortunately, one of Jim Garner’s mechanics stopped to help and towed them to Chapala.

“We went faster on a tow rope behind the mechanic than we had been going in the race,” Fish said, “and when we got there I wondered why we bothered. I had pictured this hacienda with senoritas serving cold drinks, but all we found were some families living in shacks and two cars to lean on. The checkpoint was closed.” Fish was recruited by the late Mickey Thompson, founder of SCORE International, soon after Mickey started it in 1973 and immediately began to make the organization and the sport more visible. He broadened exposure of the legendary SCORE Baja 1000 until it became the premiere desert race in the world, now covered by national and international television as well as journalists from around the world.

Fish developed TV coverage of the SCORE Off-Road World Championships at the old Riverside International Raceway and created a number of highlights that made it a unique spectator event. He developed the concept of “heavy metal” and “mini metal” divisions, pioneered a system of emergency medical response in the desert and created an independent review board to hear appeals by racers who have been penalized for rule infractions during the heat of competition. The SCORE Trophy-Truck class, for unlimited production trucks with upwards of 800 horsepower, was another innovation when he christened the division in 1994.

In late 1986 the team of Sal Fish, president and chief financial officer Ted Johnson, acquired full ownership of SCORE International. Long associated with Mickey Thompson, in reality, SCORE had been managed solely by Fish for many years leading up to the acquisition. Not long after that, SCORE joined with the late Walt Lott and Lott’s High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) to produce a combined championship series unparalleled in the world of off-road racing. Together, Fish and Lott organized the major manufacturers into an advisory committee, which served to recommend technical and safety rules to the organizers, assist with public relations and communicate to participants. The combined HDRA/SCORE series ran from 1985-1991. SCORE purchased HDRA outright, forming one organization in 1993.

A feature-length documentary, directed by Dana Brown, called ‘Dust To Glory’, was produced in association with SCORE International. Released in April, 2005, it is a tribute to the legendary Tecate/SCORE Baja 1000. The DVD sales of this unique movie continue today at a record pace.

Sal Fish is a man of vision. Over the years he has earned the respect of the off-road racing community and set a standard of leadership for future generations to follow.

Biography by Dominic Clark