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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sacks took Class 5 - Baja 1000 2006


Sacks wins first place in his class in Baja 1000

It was the middle of the night and headlights glared off dust and fog on a southbound dirt road in the Baja peninsula. His team was in third place when Canyon Lake resident Chuck Sacks got behind the wheel of a Class 5 VW Baja Bug over 370 miles north of La Paz, Mexico, and headed for the finish line of the 2006 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000.
He was among over 431 entries from 38 U.S. States and 11 countries competing in 27 Pro and six Sportsman classes for cars, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs in what is known among off-road racing enthusiasts as the “big daddy” of races. And he wanted to win!
For more than two hours Chuck and his navigator drove through the pitch blackness, sometimes so blinded by fog and dust they relied entirely on their GPS system to guide the way. They experienced minor mechanical problems that were quickly repaired by chase crew mechanics; and along the way they passed up the No. 2 and No. 1 cars.
Dawn broke over the dusty Baja desert and 60 miles from the finish line they knew they were in first place. Word quickly reached Chuck’s wife, Debra, who was at home in Canyon Lake, spreading the news to all their friends by e-mail. After traveling over the top of La Paz Mini Summit, Chuck ended his bone-jarring drive at the finish line on the outskirts of La Paz, where the locals gathered for a giant all-day fiesta.
His team finished first in its class, and even more significantly to Chuck, 29th of all the 4-wheel entries. In a race where only 54 percent (234 vehicles) were able to reach the end of the grueling 1,047.8 miles course, it was a major accomplishment.
The next day, SCORE held an awards ceremony on the beach in La Paz, where Chuck, the other two drivers, Chris Bowman of Upland and Jerry Longo of LaVerne, along with their navigators and chase crewmembers were feted for their No. 1 finish. The top finishers in every class, as well as the top finisher overall also received awards.
Five months earlier, Chuck’s story was a little different. While competing in the Baja 500 in June in his personal car, a SCORE Lite Class 12, his car blew an engine and he was unable to finish. It put him out of the SCORE series points competition so he wasn’t planning to participate in the Baja 1000.
Earlier this fall, however, Chris Bowman invited him to drive for his team and Chuck jumped at the opportunity. This was his fourth time to compete in the Baja 1000. Based on his occupation as the owner of California Skier (the Mastercraft dealership located on Collier Ave. in Lake Elsinore), it would seem more likely to find Chuck competing in water ski tournaments – and he used to.
But for the past six years he has been racing off-road after hooking up with Brent and Brian Parkhouse of Long Beach. And desert dust, rather than lake water, now runs through his veins.
A week before the race was held on November 15 to 18, Chuck, his navigator, and a chase team traveled to the Baja peninsula as “pre-runners” for the final one third of the course. They carefully mapped the terrain on their GPS, taking special note of features that would affect their course. In the 100-mile stretch, they mapped 77 places where they would cross running water, standing water and washouts – the result of a storm that washed across Baja a few days earlier. According to Chuck, pre-running was a crucial but fun aspect of participating in the race.
A SCORE website points out that in the 39-year history of the Baja 1000, this was the 32nd time the race started in Ensenada and the 17th time it has finished in La Paz. It has started three times in Mexicali, twice in Tijuana, and once each in Santo Tomas and Ojos Negro. It finished in Cabo San Lucas in 2000. Mexicans love the race and close down the town wherever it ends for a giant fiesta. It’s a fitting finish for the off-road warriors.