Mickey Thompson’s Off-Road Championship Grand Prix stadium series got underway January 18 at Anaheim Stadium under a full moon that brought with it a night full of mishap and excitement for the 60,105 fans in attendance.
In the past fans have referred to this event as a “Destruct-O-Derby” and if the season continues like the Anaheim event it may well be a fitting name. Especially in the Sport Truck division where roll-over after roll-over plagued both the heat races and main event. It appeared that after a couple of months lay off the drivers forgot how to drive (other than drive over each other).
The new year brought about several changes in the line up. Most notable of the changes occurred in the Grand National Sport Truck division. Defending champion Walker Evans will be defending the title with a new teammate. In a surprise announcement just before the Anaheim event Dodge announced that Glenn Harris, who shared in the Manufacturer’s Cup victory last year, had been replaced. Brian Stewart, the son of Grand National driver Ivan Stewart (Toyota) is now driving the other Dodge Dakota. Brian Stewart has teamed previously with Evans in desert events. He cut his stadium teeth last year while driving a Toyota in the UltraStock class where he won the season finale at Oakland. Dodge’s new addition sets up some story book rivalries as Toyota will be trying to get back the title they held for eight years. With Dodge verses Toyota, an American and Japanese battle is in the making. Also a family feud is in order as a father and son battle will erupt between Brian and Ivan Stewart. Dodge also debuted a new V6 engine this year.
Former Supercross champion, Rick Johnson, was to make his debut at Anaheim in a Chevrolet backed truck. However the Nelson Racing prepared Chevrolet wasn’t finished in time for the event. And Jerry Whelchel had entered an independent Chevrolet but didn’t make the first heat with it.
Also returning for ’92 was Danny Thompson in another Chevrolet, but Thompson and Johnson are from different teams. Thompson manages his own team while Johnson will be driving for Keith and Jon Nelson out of Hemet, Ca. backed
Ford added another truck to the super truck war with veteran Greg George teaming with Rob MacCachren in Venable Racing prepared Ford Rangers. Greg George raced last year in Danny Thompson’s other Chevrolet and also won the SuperLite title. And he also is campaigning his Nature’s Recipe SuperLite this year. George is the all-time leader in main event wins, with 18 spread among three classes.
Several changes occurred in the other classes this year as well. Last year’s UltraStock champ Larry Noel is driving a Mike Leslie Jeep Cherokee. And the number two plate holder Tommy Croft is also driving for Jeep. Jimmy Smith parked his Jeep this year and debuted a new Ford Explorer.
A new track was designed for this opening round. However it lacked in some areas. The starting line was positioned around turn one, actually near turn two. And the finish line was back up the track. (?)
The first turn was a left hand sweeper that offered a smooth outside line and rough inside line. It was here that the starting line was positioned. The problem was the cars were started just as they entered the turn, which was a rough section. Then over a double jump section. A sharp switch back brought the action back down the field. And this corner proved to be a real bottle neck for all the classes. If they made the 180 degree turn a short section had a small jump to confuse things before a large jump. As the vehicle landed a rough section filled the right hand turn. Then another right took the pack over a barrier high jump. Things got confusing at the end of this short section. A two option lane gave the drivers a decision, and most chose the inside line. Both options had a sharp left hand turn that brought the action down to low gear. And this corner saw its share of traffic problems during the race as well. From here a left hand sweeper brought the action around to the large jump designated the finish line.
The Grand National Sport Trucks started the season off with Brain Stewart on the pole alongside Danny Thompson. Roger Mears and Ivan Stewart shared row two. Rod Millen was the fast qualifier for the event and he shared the third row with second fastest Rob MacCachren.
Shortly after the green flag came out a traffic jamb in the switch back had Roger Mears Jr setting over the barrier and facing on coming traffic causing a restart.
On the restart Thompson was pushed over in the switch back and ended up on Brian Stewart’s Dodge so another restart occurred.
A very beat up Danny Thompson was set back on the pole. The Rough Driving Committee RDC ruled that Brian Stewart caused the incident so he was set to the back of the pack.
On the next restart Thompson braked hard entering the turn. Roger Mears Jr ran up and over Thompson, and got sideways, but the race was able to keep going with Thompson in the lead. At the beginning of lap two Roger Mears grabbed the lead on the left hand sweeper. Ivan Stewart had slipped through the mayhem to challenge Thompson for second. On lap three Rob MacCachren rolled his Ford then Danny Thompson also rolled in the same corner, causing yet another restart.
On the restart it was Roger Mears in the lead with Ivan Stewart second then the other Toyota of Rod Millen. Danny Thompson had his Chevrolet in front of the Dodge driven by Walker Evans. During the early lap shuffle, Rod Millen was able to slip inside for the lead while Roger Mears and Ivan Stewart fought for second. And Walker Evans had moved up to challenge for third. But then Wille Valdez rolled causing another restart.
On the restart Millen held a clean lead while the battle raged for second between Roger Mears and Ivan Stewart. Then Walker Evans moved into the battle and muscled his way around Stewart. But then Stewart came back to regain his spot, but then Evans grabbed third again, all within a quarter of one lap. While they battled Thompson came up and was able to flex his muscle too.
As the white flag came out it was Rod Millen in the lead and a three way battle for second. Roger Mears had second for most the lap until Ivan Stewart was able to out power the Nissan in the straight just before the two option lane. This left Mears in third and Walker Evans had to settle for fourth. Danny Thompson held onto fifth.
Next up was the first UltraStock heat. A total of six cars were all that lined up. Jimmy Smith brought his new Explorer out to the front with John Gersjes sharing the front row. Brain Collins and Jack Mallerd made up[ the second row. Row three was Paul Nissley and Tommy Croft.
While leading into the second lap Smith flipped the Explorer over but landed on his wheels and took up the battle in fourth. John Gersjes was able to grab the lead and was closely followed by Collins, Millerd and then Smith.
Once out front the race belonged to Gersjes. He kept the power on the Nissan and was able to win his first career stadium victory. Brain Collins kept his Porsche together for second place. Jack Millered was running in third when he rolled on the last lap, at the same turn that Smith had rolled in earlier, and did the same thing. Rolled, landed on all four and kept going. But he lost third to Tommy Croft and had to settle for fourth. Jimmy Smith brought the Explorer in fifth.
The second UltraStock heat had yet another six contestants. Christopher Neil sat on the pole and shared the unobstructed view with Tim Lewis. Jeff Elrod and Larry Noel made up the second row. Joe Anchondo and Don Kolt rounded out the field.
On the start Neal was able to get a good lead while everyone fell back battling for second. The other five drivers seemed to be at the same place at the same time, and were all over one another. Jeff Elrod appeared to have the second spot with this year’s Champ Larry Noel very close by, but in a heated debate with Don Kolt. But after the first couple laps the pack spread out and the action died down.
Things perked up on the last lap as Elrod tried to pass Kolt and the two stalled. Tim Lewis, with no rear tire, was able to motor around the two for third place. Christopher Neal became another first time heat winner. Larry Noel had to settle for second. Don Kolt was able to follow Lewis in for fourth and Elrod had to settle for fifth.
Sixteen 4-Wheel ATVs lined up in heat one. Graig Teel jumped out the early leader and was able to hold the position for two laps. But then Greg Stuart took over rode his Honda on for the win. On the following lap Teel saw Charles Shepherd and Donavon Holland go by. But Shepherd suffered mechanical woes and dropped out. Holland was able to keep the second place spot and third was Graig Teel and Charles Shepherd was able to get the JP going again for fourth. Brain Leath was fifth.
There were 15 riders out for the second 4-Wheel ATV event. Derek Hamilton didn’t get to see much of the other 14 as he took off from the green flag and was never challenged. Mark Ehrhardt, current champion, held on to his JP for second. Third went to Gary Denton and Mike Olmsted was fourth while Roger Helsley was fifth.
Stadium racing is getting to be a real family affair. The first SuperLite heat debuted Clint Mears, son of former off-road champ and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears, and 15 year old Casey Mears, son of Roger Mears.
When they lined up Marty Hart had the pole with Jimmie Johnson, last year’s Rookie of the Year, and fastest qualifier for this event.
When the race got underway Johnson got caught in traffic and Hart was able to grab the lead. However Hart had veteran Terry Peterson in hot pursuit. Third was Don Archibald and the Douglas Goodenough. A close battle between first and second continued throughout the race until the next to last lap and Peterson was able to find his opening. Once Peterson got around he was able to put about five car lengths between himself and Hart. Third was taken by Jimmie Johnson and Don Archibald was fourth. Clint Mears came in fifth. Cousin Casey had flipped, but finished in eighth.
Another set of nine cars lined up for the second SuperLite heat. Rennie Awana shared the front row with Mercedes Gonzales. Joe Price and last year’s champ Greg George made up the second row. Allen Yarros and Rick Marshall were the third row.
On the start Awana jumped out early with Greg George in hot pursuit. Chuck Parker managed third followed by Marshall. Awana shrugged off some speed in a turn and Greg George was able to close in. But as George made his move, he lost his right rear wheel and had to watch the remainder of the race from turn four.
With Awana out front little position changes occurred until Allen Yarros was able to grab the second spot on the last lap. This put Chuck Parker third and fourth was Rick Marshall. John Sarna managed fifth.
A celebrity race took place with six Chenowth Mini Mags furnished by Mike Thompson of Chenowth. Thompson apparently had some minor fixing to do after the race as three of the cars were rolled by the second turn. But it gave the crowd something to compare what they might do, with no experience, as opposed to the racers performing.
Mitch Mustard was the fastest qualifier of the Super 1600s and shared the front row with the current number one plate holder Frank Arciero Jr. Bob Gordon and Jimmy Nichols made up row two and Gary Gall and Don Kolt were row three of the first Super 1600 heat race.
Once action began Mustard took over and was helped out as Troy Herbst, Zack McKinley and Jimmy May got hung in the first switch back. Arciero was able to grab second with Nichols and Gall trailing.
Mitch Mustard only had three car lengths between himself and defending champ, Frank Arciero. Then about the same distance was between Arciero and Bob Gordon. Only seven cars were running by the half way point. And as the race continued the distance between all the racers grew.
Mitch Mustard started the new year off right by winning the first heat. Frank Arciero let Mustard know that ’92 would be another competitive year. Third went to Bob Gordon and Gary Gall was fourth ahead of Bob Goshen. Then first three drivers all race on B F Goodrich tires. Goodrich won the class Manufacturers Cup last year.
Another set of 11 cars lined up for the second Super 1600 heat. Jerry Whelchel had qualified second fastest and sat on the pole. Alongside Whelchel was Marty Coyne (fourth fastest). The second row had Aaron Hawley and Marty Hart. Kevin Smith and Dwight Lundell made up the third row.
When the racing got underway Whelchel was quick to grab the lead from his pole position. Second was Coyne with Hawley third. Kevin Smith grabbed the fourth spot and fifth was Hart.
Early on Coyne closed in on Whelchel. When Whelchel came off one of the big jumps his rear suspension gave way and blew both rear tires. Marty Hart and Kevin Smith battled for second with Hart controlling the argument. Then the pressure moved back between Smith and Hawley. Hawley moved into the third spot when Smith blew his left rear tire.
When the checkered came out it was Marty Hart taking the win and Marty Coyne trailing. Third was Aaron Hawley and fourth went to Cory Witherill. Troy Herbst was fifth.
The second Grand National heat started out like most heat races, but once the race was over the action really began; and may have set the standard for the season. It appears that ’92 may be the year of “anything goes”.
The front row starting position is very important in stadium racing. But due to Jerry Whelchel, Roger Mears, JR and Greg George not making the line up the front row inside spot was vacant. So Brain Stewart sat alone on the front row. And his teammate Walker Evans, inside row two, had a clear shot at the inside corner. Danny Thompson sat outside of Evans. The third row consisted of rod Millen and the Ford of Rob MacCachren.
Once racing got underway Brain Stewart appeared to grab the lead but teammate Evans slipped around the outside of turn four to take over. Meanwhile the crowd pushed Brian Stewart out of second when they entered the two lane option. Ivan Stewart managed to grab the second spot while MacCachren settled into third and Roger Mears was a close fourth.
Ivan Stewart was able to bring the Toyota within striking distance early on but Evans had the fast line well covered. Rob MacCachren was a close third after a couple of laps and Rod Millen had moved into fourth.
Stewart was able to pull into striking distance and excite the crowd on a couple of corners, about midway of the event. But MacCachren entered the picture briefly and began pressuring Stewart. But then MacCachren lost a steering component and DNF. This put the Toyota of Rod Millen in third.
With just two laps to go the Evans-Stewart, Dodge-Toyota, battle raged. The two were full throttle with Stewart closing in but finding no way around. But they had ran this way nearly the whole race and Evans had him covered. Then on the last lap, at the next to last corner, which was a tight left hander, Stewart nosed in on the corner of Evans’ Dodge and spun him around. So before Evans could back up and close the door, Rod Millen drove the other Toyota around from third place to grab the win.
Call it team tactics or just over zealous driving, the RDC have a standing rule that catching someone’s corner, and spinning them out, is punishable by losing a position. It may also be time to add to the ruling that a teammate cannot benefit from such an action. Otherwise the sport may get ranked up there with Roller Derby.
After the event is when things got out of hand. Evans felt he had the race won, and was soaring with emotion after the race. So, as the trucks were exiting the stadium he rammed the corner of Ivan Stewart’s Toyota. Only a superficial wound, maybe a rear panel was damaged, but the RDC decided to fine Evans $500 and set him back two positions for unsportsman like conduct. It didn’t stop there either. It appears that Evans’ chief mechanic verbally let Ivan know what he thought about the incident (sort of got in his face); so he was fined $250 and his track access pass evoked for the evening.
When all the rulings were assessed Rod Millen was still the winner. Brian Stewart was second and Ivan Stewart was third. Walker Evans was put down to fourth and Danny Thompson was fifth.
In the UltraCross Pro 250 motorcycle first hear race Mike Craig battled with Ray McIntosh for the first lap but, once out front Craig pulled a comfortable lead and ran away with the event. Once the door was open McIntosh allowed Jim Holley, Andy Grider and Lowell Thompson to get by. Things remained unchanged until the final lap when Thompson took over second and Jim Holley moved into third. Shawn Wynne and Pat Gomm rounded out the top five.
In the second heat race a three bike pile up in turn one left John Roberg, Dan Fresh and Scott Myers out of the race. Larry Brooks grabbed the lead with Brain Walters in second. Scott Myers was third.
On the fourth lap Myers was able to take second but later while he and Walters argued over the position Kyle Lewis slipped by. Gene Naumec also made his way around the two leaving Myers in fourth and Walters finished fifth.
Some of the best racing action of the evening occurred during the Pee Wee 50cc motorcycle action. The two lap event came down to the finish line however, the crowd didn’t care who won, they just enjoyed the action. There were two girls listed in the 13 entrants, Jillian Bennett and Lindsey Tilton. All the contestants ranged from four to seven years old. Ryan Millen (Rod Millen’s son) also competed with Nate Rapier, Cale Wallace, Joey Christy, Davey Freeman, Ricky Oliver, Tyson Talkington, Bryan Mathews, Christopher Worley, Bobby Langin Jr and James Baker.
The main events got underway with the UltraStocks. John Gersjes, heat one winner, sat on the pole with heat two winner, Christopher Neil, alongside. Brian Collins and Larry Noel made up the second row. Tommy Croft sat inside of two and Tim Lewis was to his right.
They got off to a clean start. Gersjes grabbed the early lead with Neil second and Croft a close third. On the second lap Noel sp[un and dropped from fourth to eighth. With only two laps to go the action intensified. Neil, Lewis and Jack Millerd got hung up and Larry Noel snuck inside for third. Croft closed in on Gersjes and was able to pull alongside. Gersjes got held up by Joe Anchondo then it was a side by side battle for the white flag. When Gersjes came off the big jump he lost his right front wheel and it was clear sailing for Croft to the finish line. you might remember that Croft was edged out of the championship by Larry Noel at the final event last year.
Larry Noel took second place and third went to Brian Collins. Forth was Jack Millerd and Christopher Neil was able to hold onto fifth.
The 4 Wheel ATV main event had a full field of 18 riders. Action got off to a good start as a battle for first brewed between Gary Denton and Mark Ehrhardt. Once they got their momentum going the two pulled away from the pack. Ehrhardt closed in after the two option lane on each lap but Denton held this line until three laps to go. Ehrhardt decided his plan wasn’t working and changed strategy, and pulled up to challenge at the switch back, but again Denton refused to give up his position. Until the last lap, and Ehrhardt was able to gain the inside line leading into the last turn and took the win.
Charles Shepherd had worked his way through the pack to finish third and Donavon Holland was fourth ahead of Erik Cobb.
SuperLite main event had Chuck Parker setting on the pole with Jimmie Johnson. But once the racing action got underway it was Jimmie Johnson dominating the event. Johnson put his Briggsbuilt out front and was able to keep second place Terry Peterson a comfortable distance away. Rennie Awana managed third and fourth was Rick Marshall. Allen Yaros was fifth.
Super 1600 main event line up had Marty Hart on the front inside row. Alongside was Frank Arciero Jr. Marty Coyne and Mitch Mustard shared the second row of the 18 car field.
Frank Arciero took his Arciero Winery Chenowth wide on turn two in an attempt on the lead, but had to settle for the second spot. Hart had the lead and quickly shut the door on Arciero. Third place was Aaron Hawley and Mitch Mustard trailed in fourth. Dwight Lundell grabbed fifth.
On the third lap Arciero challenged Hart but appeared to miss a gear and Hart was able to gain about five car lengths. Back in the pack action was intense as cars were running over the top of the other. And all the vehicles were still running so even the last place battle was good entertainment for the race fans.
As the leaders began lapping slower traffic Hart tangled with a lapper and Arciero moved in for the kill. But Hart was able to shake the situation and held onto the lead. After a car had been setting for two laps on his side a yellow came out to clear him from the corner. So a restart was in order.
The restart changed the line up. After the traffic cleared Marty Hart had lost the lead to Aaron Hawley and Mitch Mustard had moved up to challenge Hawley. Then on the last lap Mustard took over the event and Hawley had to settle for second. Jimmy Nichols shook the traffic jam and drove home third. Fourth was early leader Marty Hart and Dwight Lundell came home fifth.
The UltraCross main event saw Brain Roth the early leader. Roth held on for three laps. When he dropped from the action Kyle Lewis took over and Gene Naumac slipped into second. Mike Craig was third. But Craig was able to study Naumac’s line and moved around on the following lap.
Kyle Lewis won the main event. But as they often say in racing “if” there had been another lap Mike Craig may have won. Gene Naumac took third and fourth was Larry Brooks and Lowell Thomson was fifth.
The Grand National main event had all 11 trucks lined up. Both the Toyotas set on the front row. Danny Thompson was inside of row two with Walker Evans outside. Brain Stewart was inside of three and Rob MacCachren was outside.
Danny Thompson got his Chevrolet up on its side in the second turn and Brian Stewart shot up on top of the Chevrolet. Causing the first of several restarts. On the restart everyone was able to get back into their original lineup. A clean start put Rod Millen out front with teammate Ivan Stewart in second, then Mears, Evans, MacCachren, Roger Mears and Thompson. Thompson and Greg George tangled in lap two and spun Thompson around.
Rod Millen was in the lead and Ivan Stewart was second but had Roger Mears all over his tail. So Stewart took the outside option in hopes of putting some breathing room between himself and the hard charging Mears. But before Stewart’s attempt made a difference out came the yellow as Greg George got upside down.
Rod Millen’s right rear tire was flat for the single file restart. Ivan Stewart was second and Walker Evans was positioned third in front of Roger Mears.
Danny Thompson rolled on the restart, at the right hand switch back, causing yet another restart. During the start Walker Evans got caught behind Ivan Stewart who appeared to be in a nose dive. When Evans’ dodge tagged the Toyota’s rear bumper Stewart rolled and they were sent back around for another restart. Evans was sent to the rear of the pack.
On yet another restart Rob MacCachren showed his muscle to Ivan Stewart and when the battle was over Stewart was on his side. But was righted and able to get back into the action, in last place. On the next to last lap, MacCachren was diverted by traffic to the outside option and rolled. This gave Roger Mears Jr second. MacCachren was righted and restarted in the same order, a lap down, behind Millen who was leading. But on the last lap MacCachren caught his right front tire and spun out
During the last lap it was noted the Rod Millen was driving on two rear flats. Millen didn’t let the flat bother him, he just feathered the gas around the corners in hopes of keeping the tires on the rim, and gassed it on the straights. The strategy worked and he came across with a clean sweep for the night; both heats and the main event. Second was Roger Mears Jr. Walker Evans brought his Dodge across for third and fourth was the other Dodge of Brian Stewart. Ivan Stewart brought his battered Toyota over for fifth.