Scott McKenzie has been involved in all forms of recreational four-wheeling since he bought his first vehicle, a 1946 CJ2A Jeep. His competitive life as a driver was marked early with a second place finish in the 1956 MG Club of America ‘English Off-Road Trials’ in his stock 1955 VW. This was an event against the clock in the hills above Encino, California, near Scott’s home in North Hollywood. Later he would win the 1960 MG Club of America event held in Vasquez Rocks, California not far from where he lives today.
With subsequent vehicles Scott fabricated, he won 108 events in Sand Drag Hill Climbs as a driver. His first event in off-road racing turned out to be his last event as a driver. Jim Cameret put on a race in the El Paso Mountains near Red Rock Canyon State Park in California. Scott finished 3rd overall in his Sandmaster buggy out of a field of over 300 entries who lined up in a mass start. McKenzie hated driving in the dust but loved the challenge so he retired from driving and concentrated on the design and construction of winning off-road race cars.
Some of Scott’s early innovations were the first rear-engine VW powered sand buggy, the first single-seat buggy VW powered buggy and the first implementation of turning brakes. Scott was also an engine builder, producing the first large displacement VW motors for performance use in the early 60’s.
The evolution from sand racing to desert racing was a natural one for McKenzie. In spite of his impressive career in the sand, off-road racing is where Scott set a standard that others can only aspire to. With the cars that Scott designed and built, first with his Sandmaster brand and later as McKenzie Automotive, his drivers dominated desert racing. Five consecutive overall Mint 400 victories, 9 time Baja overall champions and countless other wins in too many races to list.
The cars that Scott produced all had one thing that set them apart: reliability. His philosophy using only tried and true combinations was almost unstoppable and many others with cutting-edge approaches were left behind in the end. Having a good car is only one part of the equation and Scott had some of the best drivers on his teams to back up the technical work. Rick James, Bobby Ferro, Gene Hirst, Don Guth, Johnny Johnson, Rick & Roger Mears, Ivan Stewart, Malcolm Smith, Bud Feldkamp, and even Parnelli Jones all drove Scott’s cars to numerous victories. With drivers like these legends of the sport, desert and short-course races were constantly dominated by Scott’s entries.
With Scott’s successes in racing it was natural that people would seek out his experience and two successful businesses were the result: Sandmaster and McKenzie’s Automotive. Scott’s original partner was Charlie Lyon and then Don Arnet with Sandmaster. Scott started McKenzie’s Automotive and later, race team owner, Tracy Valenta became his partner.
To win it takes a team and Scott had some of the best. Brian Skipper (owner of Sway-A-Way), Judy Smith (respected off-road journalist), Steve Mudra (fabricator & ace mechanic), and Greg Lewin and Kirk Cartwright (founders of Off-Road Engineering), to name just a few. Scott worked with Gil George of Funco to develop the chassis and countless component suppliers to produce products that helped off-road racing prosper. Scott closed the race car fabrication part of his business in 1981 and concentrated on his parts business which had become a major player in off-road racing. In 1988 McKenzie decide to “retire” and sold the business to Jeff Quinn who continues to operate the business as McKenzie’s performance parts.
Scott has over 53 years of off-road participation having been successful throughout his career. He is generous to a fault, always helping but never needing help. He is an inspiration to all who know him, is honest and fair, meticulous and creative, a mentor to several generations of off-roaders whose innovations have been instrumental in bringing the sport to where it is today.
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