Scout Racing

International Scout Encyclopedia Excerpt
post by
Jim Allen
Media Name: 7-5.jpg

The Scout had a significant racing career that spanned decades. Off road racing was in its infancy when the Scout debuted but grew rapidly through the ‘60s and was a nationally recognized motorsport by the end of the decade. Not so coincidentally, that’s also when International began to take notice. 

In the last years of the ‘60s, off-road racing had grown to national prominence and 4x4 manufacturers were getting involved. Though there were, and still are, many types of racing for 4x4 vehicles, the spotlight was on desert style racing, where speed and rough terrain were combined into one event and that’s where we will focus here. NORRA (National Off Road Racing Association) was one of the first sanctioning bodies and organized the first big races in the Mexican Baja and Southern California deserts. On-the-spot coverage of the Baja 1000 by ABC’s popular Wide World of Sports in 1968 cemented that race as a cornerstone motorsports event.

When the first oil crunch hit in 1973, NORRA cancelled the race in Mexico to run an abbreviated race north of the border. A race of sorts ran in Mexico, hastily organized by the regional Mexican government. That didn’t go well, so they contacted the professionals at SCORE (Southern California Off Road Enterprises), a Mickey Thompson creation, about running the Baja 1000 race in the future. It was not run in ’74 but SCORE ran the ’75 race and ran it well. Under the guidance of Sal Fish, SCORE rapidly expanded, overwhelmed NORRA, which went dormant, and soon began sanctioning races all over the country to became a multi-million dollar organization that continues to this day. NORRA restarted in 2010 as a body that organizes desert races with vintage vehicles. 

Desert style endurance racing combines high speed runs over 100 mph with very slow, technical sections where achieving 5 mph is a struggle. There are many classes, more than 25 today, that run the gamut from almost bone stock to the wildest modified, motorcycles, 4x4s, cars, trucks and buggies. The classes have changed over the years since Scouts raced but during that time, they were most often seen in Class 3, which was the production 4x4 class that had limits on the extent of modifications.

The early ‘70s is when the beancounters at International were convinced to look at off road racing as a marketing tool. The story of how this came to be is a bit vague because the principals at IH who put it together are deceased and few records remain. We do know there were a couple of key players, Dick Bakkom, IH Light Truck Marketing Manager and Larry Ehlers, who was a Marketing Department Engineer at the start of the process but when the race program went into gear, he was given a new title and a second job as Special Equipment Marketing Manager. Bakkom and Ehlers are remembered as being the prime movers behind getting the Scout racing program going but they had a lot of enthusiastic help within the company and most of those names are lost to time.

We don’t have an exact timeline but the foundation was laid in 1972 when a desert racer named Jimmy Jones won his class at the NORRA Baja 1000 Race in a near-stock 4x2 ’72 Scout Cabtop. Jones had been the first to race a Scout in the Baja 1000 in 1969, placing 13th  in the 1969 NORRA Baja 1000 with a ‘69 800A. It gets hazy from here, but along the way someone at International started pushing the idea of sponsoring race teams. Most of the old IH hands we’ve interviewed think it was Larry Ehlers who started the ball rolling by informing the Marketing Department of the Baja class victory and the potential value in the publicity. By all reports, Bakkom then ran the idea upstairs but had an uphill battle getting the conservative, tight-fisted, ag-centric board at International to run with it. Ted Ornas got involved and staged the now famous “Walter Mitty Ornas” shot  in December of 1975 with the SSII mock-up. Legend has it this event finally pushed the unconvinced to approve the sponsorship program.

The rubber met the road 1976, when the first contracts were signed with proven racers to run Scouts starting in ’77. Reportedly, Jimmy Jones provided input on choosing the other three drivers (he was the shoe-in, of course). The sponsorship deal included Scouts supplied at $1, all the bills covered for racing, including parts and travel. The drivers got to keep any prize money. International got the marketing benefits and access to the drivers and vehicles for events, publicity and promotions, and the teams had to run as many races as possible. You can read more about the drivers below but besides Jimmy Jones, Frank Howarth, Sherman Balch and Jerry Boone were chosen. If they didn’t already have one, the drivers were connected to dealers near their home bases. Boone was part owner in Truck-n-Tractor, a Parker, Arizona IH dealer. Howarth was already building Jones’ Scout, and both were connected to Earley Truck Center, El Cajon, California. Balch was connected with Bayshore International Trucks in Hayward, California. Each of them had other sponsors as well

As a result of the race program, International garnered a lot of ink across many marketing spectrums. From our interviews of surviving people and in viewing remaining documents, the marketing department saw it as a successful venture. In a letter to Sherman Balch, Dick Bakkom said of the effect of the Scout racing program:

“Our awareness level with first time buyers was practically nil and the demographics of second time buyers was almost entirely commercial. After that initial first full year, our awareness level for first time buyers increased 27 percent and the majority of our buyers bought their Scout for personal transportation, which then represented approximately 85 percent of the sport utility market. During the last full year of racing support we received what we estimated to be between 2.5 and 3.5 million dollars worth of free media editorials, articles, photos, and mentions. This support cost us $150,000.”

If you have wondered why there is a full chapter devoted to the racing Scouts, this is why. The program brought the Scout Division into the mainstream and could have been part of the Scout’s salvation. With so many larger factors driving events, unfortunately, it was much too little.

The records we have seen do not indicate exactly when the plug was pulled on the race program. International continued to pay the bills into 1980 but none of the surviving principals remember exactly when they stopped, or when exactly they got the word it would be stopped. They all raced into 1980 under the IH flag, but the press coverage of the March, 1980, Mint 400 offers a notable clue. Only Howarth showed up and magazine coverage cited the impending sale of the Scout Division, and the ending of factory sponsorship, as the reason.

Sherman Balch raced a Scout on his own as late as the end of 1982 and was the last of the factory sponsored guys to do so. In the big races at least, Scout was mostly gone from the scene not long after that. The lack of sponsorship was part of that, as well as the Scout being out of production and no longer viable in a production class. In the hands of Dick Sasser, Jimmy Jones’ ’76 raced to 1997, where it was seen still plugging along in Class # at the Baja 1000. New technology would eventually have put any leaf-sprung, old-school 4x4 on the non-competitive list in Class 3 but Scout raced on more competitively in Class 4, a class with fewer limitations on the level of modifications needed to remain competitive.

To find out the rest of the Scout's incredible history check out the International Scout Encyclopedia by Jim Allen and John Glancy, available now!