The buzz created when a couple of guys named Ekins and Meyers did timed trials through Baja Mexican outback started something that would reverberate throughout all forms of racing. In 1968, 254 vehicles were entered in the Baja 1000. Drag racers, road racers, Indy racers, and nearly anyone with a desire to go fast found themselves at the starting line in November 1968. Most were equipped with specialized buggies or Stroppe-prepped Ford Broncos (which took first place more often than not through 1972). But there were other daring souls willing to put their driving skills to the test in less customized machines.
Jack Mendenhall is just such a person. Jack had already been successful on the salt, strip, and dirt oval. In 1968, he entered a 1958 Chevrolet Pickup, #212, dubbed Baja Piranha, in the Baja 1000. Jack's sponsor for this event, as with his Bonneville trials, was the ubiquitous Andersen's Pea Soup, a business neighbor in his hometown of Buellton, California. He partnered with body shop owner Bob Rowe as co-driver.
The truck's exterior looked remarkably stock with the exception of the rollbar and roof-mounted lights. The most notable off-road accessory was the aircraft-style high floatation tires.
Though Mendenhall had victories in previous endeavors, he didn't grab a record this time out. He didn't even finish within the 50-hour time limit. Still, putting a mostly stock 10-year-old 2WD pickup through a grueling off-road race takes more than a bucketful of grit and determination. Jack went on to compete in the 1000 with other vehicles, including James Garner's radical Olds. Our hats off to Jack.
Be sure to check out the forthcoming feature film, "Baja Social Club," for an excellent visual history of the early years of the Baja 1000 race.