During the month of February San Diego’s Jack Murphy stadium hosted three Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group events. The Off-Road Championship Gran Prix highlighted this motorsports extravaganza on Saturday February 24 before an ecstatic crowd of 43,162 off-road fans. Earlier in the month the stadium hosted the MTEG SuperCross series, and on the following day an amateur motorcross event allowed would be pro motorcyclist the feel of stadium racing. All in all, San Diego off-road racing fans were supremely treated during this, the shortest month of the year.
This the second Off-Road Championship Gran Prix event of a 10 race series offered something old, and plenty of new to the series. There is nothing new about Walker Evans winning main events even if he is the oldest of the Grand National competitors. One of the new faces into the UltraStock winner’s circle was Joey Moore. Moore won heat one driving a Corvette, which is a first for any MTEG event. Another new face, this time in the SuperLite main event winners circle, was that of Holgeir Oksnevad from Durand, Illinois.
The track itself also was new this year. Once flagged off from the grid, the racers had to drag race down a straight section containing two small jumps before a left hand sweeper took them across the start/finish line jump. From there another left hand sweeper entered a short shoot before the two option turn. The first option was smoother but the exit put them on the outside line where they intersected with those that had opted for the outside option. The outside option racers, at the intersection, were now inside and set up for the upcoming right hand turn. A short mogul section shook things up a bit before a hard left hand switchback sent them down the back straight and over the high speed jump. Once they landed it was time to set up for a high speed left hand sweeper that took them back across their starting grid. Team Toyota’s Jeff Huber commenting on the track before the race said, “Everything is perfect. This track is bigger than Anaheim so there’s room for passing. It’s one of the better layouts I’ve raced on.” Nissan’s Roger Mears Sir said, “The track is really fast and wide, which should allow for some pretty exciting racing. All of us are close in qualifying times, so it’s going to be a fast race — and that’s my style.”
Mears’ statement about close qualifying times brought to light that only 2.274 seconds separated the qualifying times of Rob MacCachren (37.5760) and the tenth place qualifying time of 39.85 by Dan Esslinger. The two Jeeps had the fastest times with .088 seconds separating the two.
The fastest of all the four wheel vehicles was the Super 1600 car of hometown Marty Coyne. Coyne made his first lap of qualifying in 35.7440 seconds. Only a mere .006 seconds elapsed between Coyne and second place qualifier Jerry Whelchel (35.7500).
To get the evening kicked off a last chance Super 1600 qualifier decided which two qualifiers would transfer into the night’s racing action. All toll seven cars were eligible but only five lined up. The four lap event got underway with Don Kolt jumping out from his pole position. Johnny Kaiser settled into second but was busy fighting off Brian Collins. Kolt was able to use the empty track to his advantage and won the event. Brian Collins got around Kaiser at the finish line to also transfer.
The first Grand National Sport Truck heat race had Dan Esslinger (Ford) on the pole and next to him was Roger Mears Jr (Nissan). Glenn Harris (Mazda) was in the third spot with Danny Thompson (Chevrolet) next to him. The third row consisted of Huber (Toyota) and Roger Mears (Nissan). Rod Millen (Ford) shared the next row with Anaheim event winner Ivan Stewart (Toyota). With the inverted starting order the fast guys (Team Jeep) were on the last row. Rob MacCachren, fastest qualifier with a 37.5760 time, and his teammate Walker Evans, second fastest with a 37.6648 time, shared the last row.
On the start Esslinger put the power to the ground and pulled out the early leader with Mears Jr second until the Iceman, Danny Thompson, took the option and ended up in second. Before the lap ended Esslinger clipped the hydro barrier and Danny Thompson inherited the lead. Roger Mears Jr was able to hold second but found his Dad in a very close third place. Evans had fourth.
Next lap and Roger Mears Jr and the other Nissan of Roger closed in on Thompson. Thompson had the two Nissans within a truck length from him but Rod Millen had stalled the ford and caused everyone to go through only the outside option. After the double jump section MacCachren made contact with Roger Mears Sr and ended up on his side. He was up righted and continued in last place but had caused a yellow condition.
On the restart Mears Jr bicycled his Nissan trying to take the inside option and Evans took over second. Thompson then had Evans on his bumper for the last lap, Jeff Huber third and Mears fourth. Evans was able to get within striking distance and made a last ditch effort but Thompson took the win by a half a car length. Third went to Jeff Huber and fourth was Roger Mears Jr.
In the first UltraStock heat race Brian Collins sat out front with Tim Lewis. Joey Moore and Larry Noel (fastest qualifier) were on the second row and row three consisted of Kent Castle and Doug Bath. Paul Nissley sat alone in row four.
Once underway Collins drifted over and caused Lewis to falter. Moore grabbed second and Lewis was able to hold onto third. Castle settled into fourth with Nissley grabbing the fifth spot.
The front runners quickly spaced themselves and the race was for fourth place between last year’s champ Kent Castle and Noel. The Corvette of Moore took over the lead after the double jump section exiting the two lane option. On the following lap Castle was able to take second place in the same spot Moore had stole the lead. But Castle had his Cherokee closely shadowed by the Porsche of Collins.
When the five lap event ended it was Joey Moore that made history by being driving the first Corvette to win at stadium racing. The win was also Moores first ever MTEG win. Second place was earned by Kent Castle and Brian Collins captured third. Fourth place was Larry Noel.
The second heat race consisted of seven cars and Bill Bryant sat on the pole. Next to him was Vincent Tjelmeland. On the second row it was Jeff Elrod and Brad Castle. Terry Anderson lined up alongside Chris Neil and Lloyd Castle brought up the rear.
When the green flag came out Tjelmeland grabbed the lead and quickly put a couple of lengths between himself and the younger Castle. Christopher Neil grabbed the third spot. Bryant got sideways in the rough section and fell back to fourth. Tjelmaland held the inside line and picked his way around the track flawlessly. Brad Castle trailed by five car lengths causing the real battle for third between Elrod and Neil to be the focal point. The field spread out by the midway point except Tjelmaland found Brad Castle hot on his tail as the white flag came out.
Vincent Tjelmeland kept his General Tire Nissan out front to take the win with Brad Castle earning second. Third place went to Jeff Elrod and fourth was Christopher Neil.
Heat race one of the 4-Wheel ATVs had 16 riders entered. Marty Hart is the winningest rider currently competing in the ATV class but Hart was involved with a three bike pile up in turn one and did not restart. Sean Stubbs grabbed the early lead but lost it to eventual winner Charles Shepherd. Andrew Buck also found room to pass Stubbs and took second place. Stubbs held onto third and fourth went to Mark Ehrhardt.
In the second ATV heat race the race belonged to Don Turk. Turk jumped out front and headed to the checkered flag. Donny Banks, who is no stranger to the winners circle, took second. Third place was Gary Denton and Joel Bontoux finished fourth.
In the first SuperLite heat race Edward Moore stole the lead from pole setter Tim Baker. All 14 cars were able to make a clean start. By the second lap Baker found himself in third place as Frank Chavez was on the move. Holgeir Oksnevad then entered the picture and stole Bakers position. Chavez got a little to ambitious and found himself having to drive through the penalty box and this lost him two positions. Worst off was that the leaders were able to pull a considerable distance lead. Greg Trachy lost his left front wheel but continued for another half a lap until plowing his nose in after a jump. Must have been the night of lost tires, because just before the checkered John Gersjes lost his left rear but continued on for third.
Edward Moore enjoyed a wire to wire victory and second place went to Holgeir Oksnevad. Terry Peterson brought his Briggsbuilt around for fourth.
In the second heat for SuperLites Gilbert Valdez used his pole position to take the lead. The other front row setter Joe Price was caught off guard and the second row setter Rennie Awana took second. A little elbowing went on back in the pack but it ended up to be a clean start.
Quickly the event turned into a three car race for second between Ron Pierce, Awana and Rory Holliday. Pierce settled the argument and went to work on Valdez. Valdez kissed the wall around the sweeper and lost his momentum. This allowed Pierce to take over and before the lap ended Valdez fell into third as Awana exerted a little muscle getting around. When the checkered flag came out they remained in that order and fourth was earned by Chuck Parker.
In the first Super 1600 heat there were 14 drivers entered. On the pole was last year’s champ Mitch Mustard but Tommy Croft was able to take the early lead. Shortly after Croft had some problems in the switch back and was spun around by the pack. Frank Arciero took the lead with Doug Ingles second and then Marty Coyne, Brad Castle and Mustard. Croft and Doug Davenport battled for second around the front sweeper and Croft ended up in the hydro barrier. By the third lap Mustard had managed to get back up to speed and was challenging for second place. While everyone was arguing over second place Arciero put the pedal down and went on to steal the show. Ingles had Castle and Mustard all over him and when he landed over the s/f line on lap six he and Castle tangled and Mustard took over the second place spot. Then on the following lap Castle had to pull off with steering problems.
At the checkered flag it was Frank Arciero Jr the winner and Mitch Mustard finished second. Third went to Doug Ingles and Billy Beck took fourth.
Another 14 Super 1600 drivers came out to battle in the second heat. On the pole was Larry Noel and Greg George. The second row consisted of *bob Gordon and Jerry Whelchel. With this four out front the crowd knew that some heated racing would occur when the green flag came out.
On the start Noel got a little anxious and jumped out early but George was able to slingshot past. Then in turn one Whelchel moved into the picture but got up on his top. This put George out front and Gordon trailed with Noel leading Danny Rice.
Greg George excited the crowd and gave Gordon hope around the back sweeper when he got his Chenowth up on two wheels but he got all four planted in time to keep the lead. Gordon was not through and pressured George at every corner. George lost the lead, on the last lap, when he was caught in traffic and a stalled car blocked his line. Bob Gordon was a polite racer and instead of stopping and holding up more traffic he drove around and went on for the win. Danny Rice also followed Gordon around and took home second place honors. Greg George managed to salvage third. Larry Noel was fourth.
When the UltraCross 250 Pro Motorcycle riders came out for heat one the field consisted of 15 riders. Mike Young stole the lead on lap three from Ryan Carlisle. Young had to earn the win by fighting off a hard charging Jeremy McGrath all through the race. McGrath finished second and third went to the early leader Carlisle. Fourth place went to Larry Brooks.
Mike Graig brought home the gold for Kawasaki in the second UltraCross heat race. Graig lost the lead to Jim Holly a couple of times but was able to get in front when it counted most. Third place went to Ryan Hughes and fourth was Ray Crumb.
Heat two of the Grand National Sport Truck events had Dan Esslinger on the pole with Glenn Harris. Row two was made up of the Mears Gang in their Nissans. Row three was Rod Millen and Rob MacCachren.
On the start Esslinger pulled out the lead and Harris opted for the outside option and was able to hold second. Then at the switchback Roger Mears Jr moved inside for second then Millen entered the picture and took over third.
Millen was running in second place when the Ford went south. Esslinger was all alone out front and had the front straight length lead over Mears Jr. Ivan Stewart was third and his teammate Jeff Huber settled into fourth.
At the half way point the battle was in second place as the younger Mears had Stewart knocking on his tail at every corner. But then Stewart took the outside option and moved into second place. Mears then had Danny Thompson to contend with. Stewart closed in on Esslinger just before the white flag and tried the outside option again, but Esslinger was able to hold on for the win.
The heat win was a first for Dan Esslinger. Second place went to Ivan Stewart and Danny Thompson managed to pull off third. Fourth went to the hard working Roger Mears Jr.
The main events got underway with the UltraStocks. The event consisted of 13 drivers and three of them belonged to the Castle family. Kent Castle shot off the starting line to grab the lead and left his father, Lloyd, behind. Lloyd had lost a rear tire in turn one and Larry Noel got hung up behind the crippled Toyota. The traffic jam caused Tim Lewis to roll. The action wasn’t over in turn one.
As the pack came around for the second lap Kent Castle was the leader Jeff Elrod was close behind in second and third was Vince Tjelmeland. But then Chris Neil T-boned the Corvette of Joey Moore and it rolled over. The Corvette caught fire causing a yellow.
On the restart Kent Castle held onto the lead until Elrod pulled out around on the back straight. Suddenly Kent Castle found Tjelmeland challenging. Then Kent Castle suffered the lose of his left front wheel and Tjelmeland took over second. Castle was able to keep going with the wheel dangling.
After all the action ended it was Jeff Elrod that managed the win and Vincent Tjelmeland was second. The elder of the Castle family, Lloyd, survived the tire mayhem and took home third place honors. Kent Castle was able to limp across fourth.
A total of 18 riders grouped up to run in the 4-Wheel ATV main. Donny Banks used his experience to pace himself until the third lap when he took the lead. From then on he had a clear shot at the checkered as a battle for second place kept the next three riders very busy. Gary Denton solved the argument over second and third place went to Charles Shepherd. Joel Bontoux was fourth.
The SuperLite main event had 18 cars competing for seven laps. At the start Rennie Awana slid his Briggsbuilt sideways after his first option and fell off the pace, allowing Holgeir Oksnevad to take over. Ron Pierce and John Gersjes both got around as well.
Oksnevad used the empty track to pull away and second place Gersjes was comfortable with his five car lead over Edward Moore. Moore inherited the third spot when the defending champ Awana dropped out on the back straight.
The leaders remained separated and stayed out of trouble. when the checkered flag came out Holgeir Oksnevad won his first MTEG main event. John Gersjes remained in second and third went to Edward Moore. Rory Holliday took fourth.
The track was full with 19 Super 1600 cars in the main event. On the pole sat Greg George and Doug Ingles was beside him. Danny Rice and Mitch Mustard shared the second row and row three was made up of Bob Gordon and Frank Arciero Jr.
On the start Greg George jumped out the early leader and Bob Gordon trailed with a smoking engine. This appeared to be in Bob’s advantage as Larry Noel behind him was blinded. With Gordon down on power, Danny Rice jumped into second and Arciero followed.
Once the leaders came up on traffic George, the leader, was held up and Arciero was able to close in to pursue the battle. Arciero glued his nose to the tail of George and waited for a hesitation on George’s part, then on the switchback George got hung up on the hydro barrier but Arciero was so close he too got held up and George was able to keep his lead to the checkered flag. Frank Arciero was a very close second place and third went to Bob Gordon. Doug Ingles held on for fourth.
In the main event for the Pro motorcycle UltraCross racers there was a lead change at nearly every corner. While Ryan Hughes and Jeremy McGrath traded the lead another battle for third developed between Mike Graig and Larry Brooks. Then with two laps to go McGrath pulled out a comfortable lead and left the others to battle for second. Ryan Hughes grabbed second and third was Mike Graig. Micky Dymond finished fourth.
On the pole of the Grand National Sport Truck main event was the Jeep of Walker Evans and beside him was the Toyota of Ivan Stewart. Second row consisted of Danny Thompson and Jeff Huber. Roger Mears Jr shared the third row with Dan Esslinger. Ron MacCachren was inside of the fourth row and Roger Mears Sr was outside. Rod Millen was inside the last row and Glenn Harris had his General Tire Mazda outside.
As the green flag came out on this 12 lap event it was Walker Evans taking the early lead and Stewart decided the outside option was the ticket but he stumbled and had to fight to keep second. Then at the switchback the other Jeep took second place and Ivan held onto third, with Jeff Huber and Danny Thompson fighting for fourth.
Team Jeep enjoyed three laps of domination but then MacCachren’s mount went up in a puff of smoke. Stewart was second and Thompson third then Huber.
Danny Thompson and Huber got into a shoving match and the two got hung up in the switch back, and didn’t get apart until all the field had passed. Now it was Evans, Stewart, Mears Jr, Esslinger, Mears, Harris, Thompson and Huber as Millen rolled after getting going again.
Some interesting strategy occurred after the midway point. Evans was sandwiched between the two Toyotas. Huber about to be lapped and Stewart closing in for the lead. Huber didn’t pull off and let Evans have it but he did however obey the flagman’s pull over flag by taking the outside option.
Walker Evans took home the victory for Jeep and Ivan Stewart held onto second place. Third went to Roger Mears Jr and Dan Esslinger was fourth. Fifth went to Roger Mears Sr.