There are a few people that without them, off-road simply wouldn’t be what it is today. Ramon Castro “El Tomatón”, the name he’s mostly know by his friends in Baja is one of them. With a legendary racing career, outstanding work behind the scenes in SCORE and race promoter with the popular RECORD Off-Road Series, Ramon Castro is a true Legend in Baja and here we bring you a little bit of his story in our Who-The-Hell-Is series.
Tell us a little about your history prior Off-Road and how you got into it?
When I was a kid I remember going to this elementary school right here in front of us to watch the races. Back in those days the races started just a block away from here and I was always climbing the walls to get a better view of the race cars and racers. This was a long time ago, 1968 or 1970, but thats when I was bitten by the off-road bug. Childhood passed and I soon found myself racing mountain bikes, trying to fill up that void of “racing” passion, until a friend of mine invited me to race with his Class 11. I was working in a shop already so I knew my way around cars. We raced the San Felipe 250, this was in the early ‘80s and just the start of a successful career as a racer.
This was exactly our second question, how was your career as a racer?
Well after that first race I managed to build my own Class 11 and team up with Porfirio “El Indio” Gutierrez, another legendary Baja driver. We raced together for many years starting around ‘81, and by ‘82 we got a 2nd place in the Baja 1000 to La Paz. I remember it well but you can actually see this racing history in all the trophies and awards in my office and get a better understanding .
I remember when we started our team we had a lot of issues with our car. Mostly transmission problems when we raced our first Baja 1000 in ‘82. I was in charge of putting the car together and “El Indio” was in charge of paying the entry fee. So between us and a couple random guys we picked up for contingency row, we were a race team. In those times the start of the race was the same day as contingency so after we passed, a guy told us “Ok, get in line to start”. I didn’t even tell my family about the race! They kinda knew about it but didn’t believe that I would go thru with it, adventure was calling.
So here we go, 1000 miles with no plan, preparation or even prerun. During the race we were fighting for first place but had some problems with the alternator… generator actually because there were no alternators at the time! Somehow we still managed to finish in 2nd place. After crossing the finish line we realized we had no plans for what happens after the finish. I didn’t even know where we were! We didn’t have a place to stay that night but luckily a friend of ours invited us and our pit crew to stay at his place. We ended up driving the race car all the way back home. It was an amazing adventure and I was hooked.
Me and “El Indio” raced together for a few years but then went our separate ways as we both developed our own race teams. Even without him we still managed to get the ‘83, ‘86, ‘87, ‘88 and ‘89 Championships, and in ‘84 and ‘85 we got 2nd.
We raced in Colorado, Barstow, Reno, Las Vegas and got the chance to see the world. I thank God every day for this opportunity to race, as we were just young boys that had nothing. We used to drive our legal-street race car to all those places, race, and then come back again in the same car. We had to sleep under the car some nights and had minimal-to-no support for many years until the sponsors started to kick in.
We won everything! Parker, The Mint, San Felipe 250, the Baja 500, the peninsular 1000 to La Paz, and more and we even still hold the fastest time record of the Baja 1000 (to la Paz) in a Class 11, 27 hours. Next we made the jump to Class 7s and our story continued.
We will never get tired of these types of stories, what happened next in Class 7s?
It was ‘90 or ‘91 when we started in Class 7s. In that time we raced against the big boys of that era, The Simon’s with Ford, MacCachren with Jeep, Johnny Johnson, Willy Valdez and against some of the current Trophy Truck drivers racing today. We did good considering we had a much smaller program than the big guys but we started to fall behind because the factory support teams kept investing and evolving at a level that we simply couldn’t reach. Then I got married and we stopped racing. We had a really good run as racers, lot’s of history in this same shop we owned since we started in the ‘80s.
We continued racing but just as guests on other teams. For example, around ‘94 with Juan Carlos we won the San Felipe 250 in the Trophy Truck Class, first Mexican team to participate in that category and win the overall.
Actually Sal Fish’s idea of the Trophy Truck Class was after a talk I had with him. Back then we were helping SCORE International behind the scenes with the racing logistics. One time Sal and I were talking about the issue he had with the buggies always getting nerfed by the faster trucks, so Sal had to come up with something to fix the issue. I told him that maybe he needed to come up with a race for just factory teams. I guess Sal Fish talked to his pillow about the idea and couple of days later he came up with the idea of creating the Tecate Trophy Truck Class, investing a lot of publicity on it.
Amazing, so after working with SCORE, how did RECORD started?
We had been helping SCORE since the beginning. From the ‘80s to ‘94 we always supported Sal Fish, even my first race as promoter started because of an agreement between SCORE and the people of San Vicente. In that time when we as SCORE had to negotiate the agreement for land usage in San Vicente the local people accepted with the condition of doing a race just in San Vicente area, Sal Fish agreed and put me in charge of it. My crew and I were in charge of marking the racecourse, speaking with land owners, getting the permits from the government and doing mostly everything behind the scenes for the big races. “You do everything already for the Baja 500 and 1000, this would be easy for you” said Sal Fish as he put me in charge of the San Vicente race.
So from that commitment we made our first race under the “San Vicente Ferrer” name, we had like 25 entries, we had carne asada at the end of the race and had such a good time. This was around ‘89 and I had never had the idea to become a promoter, things just started turning out that way since we had a lot of experience helping SCORE. Our San Vicente Ferrer race started to grow and when we reached 60 entries we had no idea where to put them (laughs).
So we started new races in the Ojos Negros area under the same name of “San Vicente Ferrer” and then when we added a sponsor the race name was something like “Tecate San Vicente Ferrer Ojos Negros 200”. This caused a lot of confusion between the racers because they weren’t sure if the race was happening in San Vicente or Ojos Negros or even Tecate (laughs).
We had to come up with a different name. AMORE was an option (Love slang in Spanish) “Asociacion Mexicana de Off-Road” but it was too romantic (laughs. Then one morning on one of those 5am talk shows the name RECORD was mentioned. It doesn’t really mean anything, but we liked the way the name sounded in both English and Spanish. Later we came up with the meaning “Racing Ensenada Corporacion Off-Road del Desierto”.
We then started to get a lot of help and support from the different local media people that put us on the map. Of course we had our highs and lows. We would feel comfortable to take the next step for growth and then something would happen, the Covid situation is the perfect example.
What are your motivations for continuing to do this?
We do this because I know first hand what it is to go race and spend everything on the race car. The experience of sleeping under the car, or next to it, was why we tried to keep our costs as affordable as possible. We were really proud to see people racing with us for the first time, then growing into an all-star team. People like Tavo Vildósola, Ivan Ramirez or Elias Hanna are some of those people that we watched grow from the very beginning of their careers and we are really proud to be some sort of an Off-Road incubator.
We had cars heading to Dakar testing with us, great people and amazing technology. All of this pushes us to continue to do what we do. Sometimes we want to throw the towel but thank God there’s a lot of support from family and friends that keep us on track.
When you started what were the biggest challenges you had to face?
Since we started with “San Vicente Ferrer” everything was really easy to be honest. We had all the communication we needed with the land owners and permits and since most of the people borrowed the land to us without paying anything, we always tried to make donations to them to help them fix the street roads, finish public constructions etc.
Sometimes ideas don’t work like the time we made a short course track north of Ensenada. This was like 18 years ago, things just stopped working and we had to stop with the project. That track, if still alive today, would be one or maybe the best short course track due to the natural elevation changes it had.
What about today’s biggest challenges?
We still have a great relationship with most land owners for our races and it is more a friendship relationship. When they have issues, even non-racing related, we always try to help each other. Of course the expenses are rising every day, making a race cost more and more money. For example, it used to costs us 60k pesos to make the Ensenada-San Felipe 250. Right now if we are not careful this price gets as high as 800k pesos! There are little challenges in everything because some land owners let us use the land for free while some of them just ask for donations and then some of them charge us more than they charge to SCORE. So we win in some, lose in others.
We still have huge help from our volunteers too, some of them pay their own expenses, we help others. We added costs that are necessarily like medical insurance, it create critics but we have been here for 30 years and counting, not everyone can say that and fortunately there has been more good than bad.
Unfortunately the losses of people in off-road racing are inevitable but we still need to reduce the probabilities of this happening again, and that’s why we came up with insurances that increases the costs of racing but at the same time they keep us alive.
Why RECORD hasn’t created a longer race?
Our goal is to create race tracks that are the best for everyone. We could create a track that breaks everyone within the first 20 miles but that’s not our goal, we want every entry to finish the race. We had proposals from people of Baja Sur to team up and create longer races, like a 1000 miles race and we want to do it and we are working on it.
Of course all this comes down to costs. With our recovering entry fee it won’t reach the numbers to be able to do something huge but we are trying to get bigger sponsors to help us keep the low entry fees.
How is RECORD doing this 2020?
We had the opportunity to make one race this year and that’s something considering SCORE hasn’t been able to do so. We had conversations with SCORE all this year because they moved their dates to ours. We understood the issue and knew that a SCORE race is such an economic boost to the city so we helped them move our race dates. We keep close communications with them and the government to do what’s best for everybody and since the best thing is just to hold up the events we simply have to respect the rules.
We don’t want to push the government to allow the races, while at the same time we can’t enjoy our passion. We know the racers are desperate to get back into the action but part of the charm of this sport is that anybody can race, from really young to not-so-young so we don’t want to put at risk the health of anybody.
If you could make any race, any distance and location, what it would be?
I just like San Vicente too much, it’s where we started and it’s a party everytime we’re there. Right now we would like to make an Ensenada to Ensenada race, create a lot of promotion about it to have good numbers and leave a benefit to the city. I would like to see more new racers especially in the open categories. I would like to see more Class 10’s I love that category too.
So then what are your favorite races of RECORD and any other series?
My favorite race is Ensenada to San Felipe. We had record breaking entries there, almost 300, sometimes we have more entries than a SCORE race and outside of RECORD the Baja 1000 is simply unique.
What about drivers, did you have any favorites when you raced or today racing in RECORD?
Larry Ragland, Ivan Stewart, Rob Mac, Walker Evans, Bob Gordon, they are legends for a reason. In RECORD we have seen the beginning of outstanding careers like Tavo Vildósola for example, I love to be part of that.
Last question, what is Baja for you?
The challenge, before racing against other people you first need to challenge nature, doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor, when you’re stuck in that silt bed you need to overcome the challenge, digging with your nails if necessary. Here you are everything and nothing at the same time.
Nature itself is the best part too, the roads, the mountains, the beaches, one minute you’re in the most isolated spot in the desert then you hit the most beautiful beach you’ll ever see, then a forest, you fight in every terrain possible and that is priceless.
Something you’d like to add?
We need to be patient, this is a world-size problem and we need to be supportive so we can fix it as soon as possible. Let’s respect the recommendations from the people that understand the problem better than us the same way we tell the new racers to not go head into the desert without the proper safety preparations.
A year without racing is not the end of the world, let’s be safe and at the first opportunity you can be sure we will be back to racing!
So there you have it, we want to thank Ramon again for his great hospitality during this interview!
Who the Hell is…? is an editorial feature series where we recognize the business people of off-road who have helped shape the industry and culture. Entrepreneurs, crew chiefs, engineers, fabricators, event organizers, promoters, dreamers, etc. all play a part in the growth and maintenance of off-road racing culture.