11 Questions with Judy Smith

One iconic person in desert racing every off-road racer has encountered is Judy Smith.  She patiently awaits every off-road racer at the finish line at most of the major desert races to get quotes for her stories. For as long as we can remember she writes great articles for Dusty Times. Today we got a chance to turn the table and ask Judy 11 Questions.

RDC: We see you at every finish line getting racers quotes. What exactly are those for?

Judy: I report on all the SCORE and BITD races (and occasionally others) for Dusty Times, the monthly publication that covers racing in the dirt, and has been in existence for 30 years. It was founded by the late Jean Calvin and is published by her husband, John Calvin. I’ve been writing for the DT since its inception. I try to put all those quotes into the race story. I believe, and so did Jean, that the little guy in the limited cars often have the best stories, and unfortunately, the glossy magazines, and even the internet types, often want to hear only from the winners and the fast classes, like Trophy Trucks and Class 1. There’s noting like what a Class 1600 team will go through to get to the finish of a race.

RDC: When were you exposed to off-road racing and who first introduced you?

Judy: A casual friend of mine was involved with the Saab team that raced in ’68 (& won by using a duplicate car), and he had a great time. But even before that, when my first husband was racing bikes in the desert, I’d met Bud and David Ekins (about 1951), and later had heard of their exploits in recording speed records from Tijuana to La Paz. Until about ’68 I had never been further than Ensenada – then discovered San Felipe in about ’69 & loved it. My first race was was in ’71 and I liked the prerunning as much as the racing.

RDC: Short course and Stadium racing. What’s your take on it?

Judy: I enjoy short course and stadium racing in small doses, but it doesn’t have the attraction for me that Baja (or desert) racing does. I admire the skill and determination it takes to do well in short course, but for me a large part of the attraction to desert/Baja racing is the fact of being alone with just yourself and the car against whatever comes up. There’s no little voice in your ear telling you how to avoid trouble, or solve problems.

RDC: There are a lot more off-road racing venues to chose from today. Sometimes 3+ in one weekend just in Southern California. How do you feel about that?

Judy: Not sure what “a lot more” means – more than when? I’d guess there are seven or eight in California, and I think that’s a good thing. We need entry level venues, with lower entry fees, and maybe even shorter events to give new racers a place to learn. I hate to see a 15 year old sent out into the vastness of Baja on a bike or in a small car, but if he’s had a year or two racing in a more controlled environment, like the old Fud events, or MORE, or SNORE, he’ll be able to do well.

Judy Smith and John Howard take the green flag in Loreto
Judy smith & John Howard of Dusty Times sends a shout out to the RDC world.

RDC: You made a racing comeback by racing with John in NORRA in a mean VW bug. Give us the most memorable moment from the last 3 NORRA races that you participated in. (I think its 3?)

Judy: Yes – we entered the last 3 NORRA events. And the most memorable moment was when we realized we’d reached the finish line at San Jose del Cabo this year. The first year we got only to San Felipe, and John’s back and the oil pump were not functioning properly. The second year, with my son, Amery, driving just past El Arco, we spit a spark plug out of the motor. This year we had no trouble, not even a flat.

RDC: Who is your current favorite active racer that you secretly cheer for? I know besides all journalistic etiquette you must have one.

Judy: I always cheer for Rob MacCachren. I first met him when he was about ten, started interviewing him when he was about 14 or 15 (and could barely reply to a question), and have always admired his skill, his modesty, good humor and patience. He’s a smart driver, besides being one who likes what he’s doing, and likes the places we do it in. He is a terrific spokesperson for our sport, and I often wish he had more opportunities to speak, now that he knows how.

RDC: Are you considering retiring anytime soon and if so what would you do with your spare time?

Judy: I am retired. In my spare time I go to off road races and then write stories about them.

RDC: Your name is lent to the prestigious SCORE “Journalist of the Year” award. What advice do you give any aspiring journalist?

Judy: I think aspiring journalists should understand what journalism is. It is not public relations or advertising. A journalist has an obligation to write only the truth, and to ascertain that he or she knows that what she’s writing is correct. That’s not always easy. And when journalists sink to the level of PR people, I am dismayed. We have a problem with some of our current “journalists” who don’t seem to understand the difference.

RDC: What other sports or motorsports do you follow or write about?

Judy: I don’t write about any other sports, and never watch stick and ball sports on TV, except for the Olympics. But I watch some NASCAR events (especially if some of our off-roaders are racing), watch the short course stuff, and Robby Gordon’s series when they’re on.

RDC: Whats your preferred location to follow an off-road race? Baja or Stateside?

Judy: Baja – I love Baja. I like races like the BITD Vegas to Reno also – the more stretched out the better.

RDC: What year was/is the best for Off-road racing and why?

Judy:. That’s hard to answer – maybe when Mickey stepped in, in ’73/74, and took over Baja racing, forming SCORE. At the time I wasn’t thrilled, but i believe that Mickey was a better promoter and “grew” the sport to a level that Ed Pearlman might not have managed. Pearlman did a great job, but wasn’t as equipped to deal with the conflicts between the Mexican factions that threatened to bring it all to an end. Being a natural born promoter, Mickey was able to sort it out.

  • R
  • June 26, 2013
Enjoyed the Judy Smith interview. You should do a feature on the car.
  • M
    martin fiolka
  • June 26, 2013
One of the highlights of this year's Mexican 1000 for me was not only seeing her and John finishing the rally in Cabo, but also in being able to honor their efforts on stage with one of our Azunia "Spirit of NORRA" awards. Well deserved, and she and John got a big round of applause that night as well...great moment.
  • B
    Bryan Hanson
  • June 26, 2013
Judy and John are amazing people. i hope when I am that age i have the passion like they do Great people....
Met her and her husband after Vegas to Reno back in like '08 (?) and she couldn't have been nicer. Was truly interested in our little 3100 team that was like the third to last to finish the event.
  • S
    Saul Zambrano
  • June 26, 2013
Finishing late at night/early morning I was always amazed to see Judy still interviewing late finishers. And if you missed her she would run into you the next day to follow up. Allways eager to report the smallest detail that made for a good story.
    I always look forward to seeing Judy and talking with her at the finish.
  • J
  • June 26, 2013
judy makes the offroad experience complete, she always gets the facts correct and makes you look and feel like a hero. thanks judy :)
  • R
    Roger Caddell
  • June 26, 2013
My favorite column Judy wrote was "The Losers" where she highlighted racers that did not win but had interesting and sometimes heroic stories about their efforts just to continue in the races and try to finish. Judy Smith, a true icon of the sport. Off road racing is much better because she is a part of it.
  • C
    Chris Raffo
  • June 27, 2013
Judy has been a gift to the sport. My first intro to her was back in her competitive driving days when she showed up at the Memorial Day 100 in Lake Geneva, WI in the 70's. Three Cheers for Judy and a couple for John for being a good sport.
  • D
    Dominy Smith Hogan
  • December 28, 2013
my mother is one of a kind. and noone will ever take her numerous firsts and accomplishments in the sport and industry away from her.