ENSENADA, Mexico—Sal Fish, the iconic desert racing promoter who owned SCORE International for 38 years, has accepted an invitation from new owner Roger Norman to be the Grand Marshal for November’s 50th annual SCORE Baja 1000, the legendary Granddaddy of all Desert Races. Held annually in Baja California, Mexico, the 50th anniversary race will be held Nov. 14-18. It will be a peninsula run, starting in Ensenada and finishing in La Paz.
Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Famer Fish, who has earned more awards in his life than most racers have won races, was the face of SCORE from 1974 until he sold the company to Roger and Elise Norman on Dec. 20, 2012.
“Life brings surprises and if you would have told me five years ago that I would not be producing the 50th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000 I wouldn’t have believed you,” commented Fish, who will turn 78 on May 2. “But I also didn’t know that I would end up with serious health issues and major surgery so I am very grateful to be in a position right now to be able to be asked and to be able to accept the honor of being the Grand Marshal for the race that has meant so much to me and to so many people all over the world.”
“There is no one in the off-road world that we would have considered more worthy of being the Grand Marshall for the 50th than Sal Fish,” said Norman. “He brought so much to the sport from the rule book to the first television exposure to all the major sponsors and manufacturers that have used SCORE and the SCORE Baja 1000 as the proving grounds for so many different products.”
Still recovering from major open heart surgery last September, Fish continues to feel the passion for the sport that he has help to grow to the amazing level it has reached. And to think it might not have happened if the visionary and the gambler in him hadn’t come out.
A graduate from the University of San Francisco, Fish had risen to the top as the Publisher of Hot Rod Magazine when Mickey Thompson, who founded SCORE in 1973, recruited Fish to be the President of SCORE.
“I have never second-guessed my decision to leave Petersen Publishing and join SCORE, but there were some early moments before technology exploded that I did wonder what I was doing,” Fish added. “The logistics of SCORE races are like a conductor of a majestic symphony. I feel that I helped create the sandbox for extreme sports and helped the sport keep up with the technology and logistics involved in the development of desert racing as a unique major motorsport.”
“People ask what do I miss the most and I quickly answer the people. The racers, crews, government officials, the ejidos, all the wonderful people of Mexico and even the news media. But life changes, especially after nearly four decades and I am honored and humbled to be part of the SCORE Baja 1000 one more time, even if it is in a different role.”
The long path that took Fish to the top of the desert sport 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, waiting for an army induction that didn’t happen and not ready to start a career, 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 Co. That job 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.”
His humbling Baja experience behind him, Fish took the reins of SCORE four years later in 1974 and immediately began to make the organization and the sport more visible.
Fish broadened exposure of the legendary SCORE Baja 1000 until it became the premier desert race in the world, now covered by national and international television as well as journalists from a dozen countries.
Fish developed TV coverage of the SCORE Off-Road World Championships at the old Riverside International Speedway and created a number of highlights that made it a unique spectator event including creating the concept of “heavy metal” and “mini metal” divisions.
The marquee SCORE Trophy-Truck division, for unlimited production trucks with upwards of 850 horsepower, was another innovation when he introduced the division in 1994.
The rewards of the SCORE position were varied and multiple. Hanging in his Malibu home-office is the copy of a resolution introduced in the California State Assembly by Assemblyman Richard Katz of the 39th District. The assembly honored Fish for “contribution to the sport of international off-road racing” and commended him for “his exemplary record of public service.”
Another early decision that helped raise the stature of the sport came when SCORE joined with the late Walt Lott and Lott’s High Desert Racing Association (HDRA) to produce a combined championship series of races unparalleled in the world. 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.
Ever the visionary, Fish secured the Laughlin (Nevada) Tourism Council, in association with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority and Las Vegas Events, as the title sponsor of the SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge, held from 1995 through 2012. He also brought the LVCVA and LVE to SCORE for the annual SCORE Terrible’s Las Vegas Primm 300, which started in 1996 and ran through 2009.
Fish also produced the monumental once-in-lifetime SCORE Baja 2000 to help commemorate the advent of the new millennium in the year 2000, running the legendary race down the length of the Baja California peninsula in Mexico–from Ensenada to Cabo San Lucas.
In 2007, Fish produced the monumental 40th anniversary of the SCORE Baja 1000. Festivities began in Tijuana, the actual start was in Ensenada, Baja California, and it finished in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur.
Fish was also honored in December 2003, receiving the inaugural BFGoodrich Tires Motorsports Person of the Year award for his many contributions to the world of motorsports.
Fish also brought SCORE to the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Government in 2004 and 2005. SCORE provided significant logistical support for the DARPA Grand Challenge for autonomous robotic ground vehicles, a massive DARPA research project designed to assist the U.S. Military.
In 2005, Fish was the first recipient of a new Off-Road Lifetime Achievement award presented by Advanstar Communications at the Off-Road Impact Show in January.
In 2006, Fish was voted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame, headquartered in Reno, Nev., and in 2003 he was enshrined into the Baja Legacy Hall of Fame, located at Horsepower Ranch near Ensenada, Mexico.
In February of 2010, Fish was honored for the third consecutive year by the Mexican Federation of Motorsports. During an elaborate formal awards presentation in Mexico City, Fish received the prized Silver Helmet Award for the third time.
Fish was also honored with a special Community Achievement Award and Charter Life Membership in 2005 by the Laughlin, Nev., Chamber of Commerce.
Governments, Governors and Mayors from every area where SCORE has produced events have honored Fish with special commendations and keys to the city.
A feature-length documentary, directed by Dana Brown, called ‘Dust To Glory’, was produced in association with SCORE International. Released in April, 2005, it was a tribute to the legendary SCORE Baja 1000.
Sal Fish is one of four successful brothers. The others became an attorney, an executive with a large industrial firm and a sales representative for a large manufacturing company.
Sal Fish combined some of each of those family talents to build an unprecedented legacy as the premier race producer and sanctioning body in the history of desert racing.
The four-race 2017 SCORE World Desert Championship and for the second time all four are being held in Baja California, Mexico. Here is the 2017 SCORE World Desert Championship schedule:
· 31st SCORE San Felipe 250, March 30-April 2, San Felipe, Mexico
· 49th SCORE Baja 500, June 1-4, Ensenada Mexico
· Rosarito Beach 21st SCORE Desert Challenge, Sept. 14-17, Rosarito Beach, Mexico
· 50th SCORE Baja 1000, Nov.14-18, Ensenada, Mexico to La Paz, Mexico
CBS SPORTS NETWORK
For the last three years, all races in the four-race SCORE World Desert Championship, along with the special SEMA SCORE Baja 1000 Experience and qualifying for the SCORE Baja 1000 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway have aired in the USA and Canada on the CBS Sports Network. The spectacular shows have featured not only SCORE Trophy Truck coverage, but also top action and highlights from many other classes of trucks, cars, UTVs, motorcycles and quads.
Capping off the 2016 broadcast season, the SCORE Baja 1000 broadcast on CBS Sports Network aired as a full two-hour special for the second straight year.
CBS Sports Network is available across the country through local cable, video and telco providers and via satellite on DirecTV Channel 221 and Dish Network Channel 158. For more information, including a full programming schedule and how to get CBS Sports Network, go to www.cbssportsnetwork.com.
Official SCORE Sponsors: BFGoodrich Tires-Official Tire, Monster Energy-Official Energy Drink, Bud Light-Official Beer, King Shocks-Official Shock Absorber, Axial R/C-Official R/C Vehicle, CBS Sports Network-Official Television Partner, Wide Open Excursions-Official Arrive and Drive Company, Crystal Bay Casino-Official Casino.
SCORE Associate Sponsors: PCI Race Radios, 4 Wheel Parts, Coca Cola, The Satellite Phone Store, Satellite Del Norte, Instant Mexico Auto Insurance, CETTO Vineyards.
Additional SCORE Partners: Proturismo Ensenada, Baja California Secretary of Tourism, Baja California Sur State Government, Baja California Sur Secretary of Tourism, Mexicali Ayuntamiento, COTUCO Mexicali/San Felipe, Cruz Roja Mexicana, Corporate Helicopters, McKenzie’s Performance Products, Advanced Color Graphics.
Rosarito Beach SCORE Desert Challenge Special Partners: Ayuntamiento de Playas de Rosarito, Cotuco de Playas de Rosarito, Comite de Mercadatecnia Playas de Rosarito.
For more information regarding SCORE, visit the official website of the SCORE World Desert Championship at www.SCOREInternational.com.