In 1971, Bobby Ferro drove solo from Ensenada to La Paz in a Sandmaster Funco to win the Baja 1000.
That same year, Willie Valdez was learning the welding trade in his Baja California hometown of San Quintin, hoping eventually to go the United States to earn money to help support his 10 brothers and sisters.
Today, Ferro and Valdez will be competing against one another in the SCORE Baja 1,000, driving stock mini-trucks--Ferro a Mazda and Valdez a Ford Ranger.
For Ferro, 39, it will be the first major desert race since he crashed a Tracy Valenta buggy seven years ago while chasing the leader in the 1979 Baja 1,000.
"I guess today you would call it burnout," Ferro said of his quitting racing. "I had been racing every weekend from 1963 to 1979, and it just wore my body down. When I broke my leg in the accident, it gave me a chance to kind of back off, and I ended up walking away from the whole thing.
"For five years I never even saw a race. Then I sort of gradually got my interest back. I've kept in shape as a stunt man, and recently I've driven in new car commercials. I feel like I'm ready to come back."
Before Ferro walked away from racing he was one of the hottest drivers in off-road racing. He won the 1,000 twice, the Mint 400 twice, the Baja 500 four times and the SCORE 250 twice.
One of his big victories was the 1979 Mint 400, in which he teamed with Glen Harris, a teen-ager from Camarillo. Today he will be back co-driving with Harris in one of Harris' California Gold Mazda racing trucks.
"I can't wait to get the feel of Baja back again," the Sherman Oaks stuntman said. "Glenn will start, and I'll take over after about 200 miles. Then we'll switch again later."
For Valdez, 34, it will be his eighth attempt to win the 1,000, a race that ran through the streets of San Quintin, right in front of his home. San Quintin is about 150 miles south of Ensenada.
"I remember when they ran the first race in 1967 and no one knew what to expect," Valdez recalled. "In those days, when a car broke down it was usually discarded on the spot.
"One car broke down right in front of our house, and when no one came back to claim it, my uncle fixed it up and drove it for six years."
Valdez, who came to California 15 years ago and now lives in La Puente, believes that he may have a bit of an edge racing in Baja.
"I have a lot of friends and cousins and they all come to help me," Valdez said. "My father and my brothers help, too. My father is so proud when I win. I give my trophies to my dad and mom and they show them off in the living room."
Valdez, although looking for his first 1,000 victory, won in his class in the Mint 400 last May. He won the High Desert Racing Assn. championship in 1981 and the SCORE championship in 1984. This year he is leading in the combined SCORE/HDRA standings with two races remaining, today's 1,000 and the Barstow 250.
Today's race is actually 1,013 miles, nearly 200 miles longer than in past years.
"Baja is getting so crowded that the people who lay out the course have to go around some of the old roads and find new ones," Valdez said. "I hope we can finish in about 25 hours."
Valdez will have mechanic Joe Alvarado riding with him, but Willie plans on doing all the driving himself.
"I like to do the driving, no matter what's happening," he said. "If I'm running good after 600 miles or so, I want to keep it going. If the car's missing, or something feels strange, I have a feel of what it takes to keep it going, so I don't want to turn the wheel over to someone else."
MORE ON BAJA--Tracy Valenta, who has been one of off-road racing's most successful car owners, will retire as an owner after today's race to work with McKenzie's Parts and Accessories in North Hollywood. For his final race, Valenta will field an updated seven-year-old Funco buggy to be driven by Bud Feldkamp and Ron Gardner. Feldkamp will be seeking his sixth major overall Baja win.
INDY CARS--Bobby Rahal, winner of the Indianapolis 500 and five other races, and Michael Andretti, winner of the Long Beach Grand Prix and two other races, will run for the CART/PPG Indy Car championship Sunday at Tamiami Park in Miami. Rahal leads, 174 to 171, going into the year's final race.
STOCK CARS--For the first time since 1978, the NASCAR Winston Cup championship has been won before the final race at Riverside International Raceway. Dale Earnhardt clinched his second championship--worth about $750,000--by winning the Atlanta Journal 500 last Sunday. The season will close Nov. 16 with the Winston Western 500 at Riverside. . . . Bill Elliott will drive a Ford Thunderbird prepared by Ivan Baldwin in the Motorcraft/CarQuest 300 Saturday, Nov. 15, as a preliminary to Sunday's race at Riverside.
SPRINT CARS--Brad Noffsinger has clinched the California Racing Assn. championship but the battle for second place will continue Saturday night at Ascot Park between 1985 champion Eddie Wirth and Mike Sweeney, last year's runner-up. Noffsinger, 26, is the youngest champion since Jimmy Oskie won in 1969 at 24.
SPORTS CARS--BMW officials have announced that the company will not compete in next year's IMSA season. . . . Cameron Argetsinger, former executive director of the Sports Car Club of America, has been appointed commissioner of IMSA, succeeding John Bennet, who retired.
HONORS--Drag racing champion Shirley Muldowney was one of four athletes inducted Monday in the San Pedro Sportswalk Hall of Fame. . . . The American Motorcyclist Assn. pro athlete of the year will be revealed Friday at the annual AMA banquet on the Queen Mary in Long Beach.