It all started with a hat.
You could hear the roar of that small block Chevy from my house, and it would trigger an all out rush of pedal power, bolting for the fence that separated the boys from Steve Andrews daughter Susan. While Susan and her neighbor Lisa were pretty “Groovy” It was the cars that Steve worked on that really excited the boyhood bikers. BAJA, The word conjured images of men conquering unbelievable obstacles and overcoming adversity beyond imagine. It was the Wild West in an era of Urban Cowboys.
Hemet; Venable, Shoppe, Hall, and countless pioneers of the Baja Peninsula made Hemet, California home, but in Menifee miles away we had Steve Andrews and Jack McGrath to fill our heads with visions of speed and risk of life. Get it done, build it strong and make it last. That’s the Inland Empire way of life. It was a bunch of farmers with a taste for driving cars fast. The iconic Howards Cams was literally located in a Barn in Menifee. His Grandson Travis was one of my best friends, but we were oblivious to the pedigree. Short of Travis crashing a Jeep into a ditch when he was around 12, we never paid much attention to thinking what we had might be special. We rode our motorcycles down the streets, and into the hills, stole our parent’s trucks, and practiced stunts that would make the Jackass stars blush.
It was one such afternoon; I was peering thru the chain link fence at a Green 4 door Bel Air wagon with its engine racing as they perfected the tune that I was invited inside the fence. Susan convinced her father we were harmless and he welcomed us into the den of all things manly. To a 12-year-old boy, a car with stickers plastered all down its sideboards is a racecar. I knew one thing in that moment, I wanted to strap my body on this rocket and hurl myself into the wilds of Baja.
The hat said it all. WINNER.
It was greasy, with fingerprints all over the brim; you could tell it was special. The kind of hat you don’t sit on, the type of hat that has the scent of victory, success, blood, and dust embedded into its core. The sweat stain ran around its circumference and highlighted the large WINNER tag that was overcome only by a brand that I would carry with me my entire life. BFGoodrich Tires. Being a 12 year old Smart ass, it was only appropriate the few words I might gain the strength to spit out would be associated with the hat, ”How do I get one of those hats?” The men circling the car generally ignored the kid in the Iron Maiden T-Shirt, Vans slip on’s and OP Shorts. “Hey Mister, can I have one of those hats?” The only words I remember from that day were a simple response. “ No, you can’t have one of these hats, you have to earn one.”
It was that moment that helped shape my entire life. A single day that boils down to about 25 words of interaction and a whole host of sensory over load. Subliminal marketing at its best; summed up with this simple message, “I am cool, you can’t buy cool, good luck being cool.” Well maybe that and “Stay away from my daughter!”
Needless to say, I have been chasing that hat for 30 years now, from Southern California, to The Colorado River, To Las Vegas, and even the Baja Peninsula. I have come close many times, but second place does not earn a WINNERS hat from BFGoodrich Tires. I have thought about that Class 6 SCORE Baja champion many times as well. The late nights in a cold barn building a Jeepspeed, writing rulebooks, and marking courses for the King of the Hammers. I think about that hat even now as my Son and I talk tales of our next Baja adventure and make plan for the 50th Baja 1000. The only sure thing is that we know what brand of tires we will be driving on.