Round three of the MTEG Off-Road Championship was held in a chilly Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA April 23 before 32,924 warm-hearted race fans. Although the weather dipped below normal Southern California temperatures the evening’s racing agenda provided plenty of hot racing action for those in attendance.
Rod Millen, who is no newcomer to stadium racing, but a newcomer to Team Toyota, won the 12-lap feature. With Toyota winning the Rose Bowl event there have been three different makes of vehicles in the winners circle this year. Roger Mears, Nissan, won the opening round in Anaheim and Walker Evans drove his Dodge to victory at San Diego.
With three of the scheduled 10 events in the history books this might be a good time to catch up on the points standings.
Millen was placed on the pole for the Rose Bowl main event and used the inside line to his advantage. Millen entered the event positioned in fourth place of the driver’s overall points standings and this event moved him to third. Millen’s teammate Ivan Stewart is now leading the series with 160 points. Walker Evans, Dodge, is in second with 152, then Millen 145, and Roger Mears, Nissan, is fourth with 128.
In the battle for top manufacturer Toyota now leads Dodge 320 to 272 points. Nissan holds onto third place with 205. Fourth, and first American manufacturer, is Ford with Chevrolet and Jeep trailing.
Marty Coyne recorded his first series victory at the Rose Bowl and moved himself into the Super 1600 points lead. Coyne moved out of a tie with Frank Arciero, Jr at this event. And now Arciero trails Coyne 97 to 120. Jerry Whelchel moved from fourth in the series to third. Last year’s champion Mitch Mustard gained some momentum at this event and moved into fourth from seventh. And Danny Rice dropped from third overall to fifth.
In the points battle for Super 1600 tire manufacturer B F Goodrich leads the four contesting manufacturers with 299 points. Yokohama is second with Goodyear third and Bridgestone fourth.
In the UltraStock standings Tommy Croft still holds the lead with 144 points to Larry Noel’s 120. Brain Stewart still holds the third place position with 82 points accumulated. Moving from seventh to fourth after the Rose Bowl event was John Gersjes (74). And Chris Neil moved up from eighth place into fifth with 68 points.
The UltraStock class has both vehicle manufacturer and tire points wars waging. In the vehicle manufacturer battle Jeep leads with 225 points while Volkswagen has 177. Nissan is third with 157 and Toyota is nearby with 151. Porsche, Mirage and Mazda trail.
In the tire manufacturer competition Goodyear has the lead with 253 points and B F Goodrich is in second with 213 points. Yokohama is third and Bridgestone is fourth.
In the SuperLite battle Greg George dropped into the second place spot (120) behind Sean Finley (146). Rennie Awana moved up to third place with 90 points. Frank Chavez and Rory Holladay share the fourth position with both holding 75 points.
Mike Craig took over the UltraCross Pro Motorcycle points lead with 153 points accumulated. Jim Holley went into the event leading the series but now trails with 134. Larry Brooks held his third place position with 112 points.
Team Kawasaki now leads the manufacturer series with 290 points. Yamaha has 267 points in second place and third place Suzuki has 107.
Charles Shepherd came into this third round leading the 4-Wheel ATV series and still leads with 138 points. Mark Ehrhardt held onto his second place spot with 115 points. Donavon Holland moved up into third place with 83 points earned.
After three events are in the books Team Honda leads the 4-Wheel ATV manufacturers points challenge. In second place is Team ATK and Suzuki is third.
The Rose Bowl track was laid out with most turns going counter-clockwise as usual. The vehicles were lined up prepared to make a left hand turn into turn one. This section leading into turn two was best described as rougher than a cob. It caught more than one driver trying to cover the rough terrain to fast. Turn two was a sharp left (approximately 110 degrees) causing the vehicles to nearly stop to maneuver around it. A short chute led to turn three where a right hand turn introduced yet another rough section. This section proved to be a good passing point for those with the proper suspension set up. A 180 right hander brought the racers over a rhythm section which had three jumps on the outside part of the lane and only two jumps on the inside. Now racing action was again turned back 180 degrees with a left hand turn that opened a two option lane around the back part of the track. The inside lane, even though rougher, proved to be faster and was chosen by most of the event leaders. But both options had two left hand 90 degree turns to get the racers headed back to the s/f line. But as they exited the two lane option both lanes were sent over a large jump. Then it was drag race back to turn one.
Action at the Rose Bowl got underway with the first Grand National heat race. A grand total of 13 trucks were lined up. Scott Douglas sat on the pole with Roger Mears Jr sharing the front row. Row two had Greg George setting in the Chevrolet of Larry Raglund. Raglund had cracked his right shoulder at the San Diego event so George was making his debut in Grand National racing. Before the event George said “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me. Some people use off-road racing to launch into other forms of motorsports. Not me! The MTEG truck class is the end-all-be-all to me.” And at this writing Greg George is tied with Frank Arciero as second in all-time victories in MTEG stadium racing events. They each have 14 main event wins in three separate classes. So maybe Danny Thompson couldn’t have found a more suitable replacement for Ragland.
Glenn Harris sat across from Greg George in his Dodge. The third row consisted of Roger Mears Sr and Danny Thompson. Rod Millen sat in his Toyota at the back of the pack due to the inverted starting order. Millen had sat fast time during qualifying.
Scott Douglas kept his Jeep on line and led the pack around turn one with the younger Mears in second then Harris, George, and Ivan Stewart.
Scott Douglas was able to hold the pack at bay until the beginning of lap three. That’s when Roger Mears Jr drove his Nissan into the lead. Glenn Harris also found a line around Douglas then Rob MacCachren, Walker Evans and Rod Millen had moved up into fifth.
Mears’ lead was short lived as he pulled to the side of the track with flames coming from the Nissan. But before racing action could get really wound up Ken Hodgdon rolled his Chevrolet causing the first of four restarts.
On the restart only 10 trucks remained as Willie Valdez, Scott Douglas and Roger Mears Jr were unable to continue. Glenn Harris was at the head of the pack with MacCachren in second and Evans third. Greg George was in fourth place.
Harris went wide over the smooth section and held onto the lead through the second turn. However, Dan Esslinger got on his side in turn two and caused another restart.
Harris this time cut back into the rough and shut the door on MacCachren but before the lap was over MacCachren tried to squeeze Harris out in turn one and the two banged into one another with MacCachren loosing the battle and rolling. Causing yet another restart.
On the third restart Harris and Evans shared the first and second positions. Rod Millen had made his way through the pack into third. Ivan Stewart was fourth. So Team Dodge and Toyota were pitted to battle for the lead. On the restart Greg George cut the switchback to hard and flipped the Chevrolet causing yet another restart.
Once the racing got underway for the final time Harris was able to get a clean start. But Evans had trouble with Stewart until the two Toyotas held each other up arguing over third spot. This gave the two Dodges some breathing room and they had a good race between the two of them for the checkered. Glenn Harris was able to fend off his teammate for the win. Walker Evans made it one-two for Dodge and then Ivan Stewart crossed over third. And at the checkered Rob MacCachren had gotten by Millen.
The first UltraStock heat had eight cars lined up. Jack Millerd, Jeep, sat on the pole with Tim Lewis, Porsche, sharing the front row. Once the battle began Millerd was able to fend off Lewis for the first lap. Then on the second lap Millerd and Tommy Croft, Jeep, fought over the lead and this allowed Lewis to take over the race in turn three.
Jack Millerd then saw a hard charging Croft get by in the rhythm section before the two option lane. Millerd’s trouble was not over as John Gersjes also got by leaving the early leader in fourth place.
Time Lewis went on to the checkered flag with Tommy Croft (the classes fastest qualifier) taking second place. Third was John Gersjes and Jack Millerd edged out Jim Smith.
Heat two of the UltraStock event had Brian Stewart setting on the pole. Jeff Elrod shared the front row and Lloyd Castle and Larry Noel shared row two.
The seven cars got off to a smooth start with Stewart taking the lead. Lloyd Castle slipped in behind the young Stewart and stalked his every move. Castle pressured Stewart on lap three but had no where to go as Paul Nissley had rolled and the inside option was closed off. But on the next lap Castle edged his way into the lead and while Stewart was licking his wounds he saw Larry Noel shoot through the field in the rough section and grab the second spot. Stewart again on the following lap allowed Chris Neil to get by placing the early leader in fourth place.
At the checkered flag it was Lloyd Castle, Larry Noel, Christopher Neil, and Brian Stewart.
AS the first group of 4-Wheel ATV riders came to the field 16 riders lined up. The young Donavon Holland took off from the green flag and began pulling distance between himself and Mark Ehrhardt. It took Ehrhardt the full race before he could close in for an attempt on Holland. During the final turn of the event he was able to pull his Honda within striking distance but time ran out for Ehrhardt. Third went to John Lukos, fourth was Donny Banks and fifth was Derek Hamilton.
The second 4-Wheel ATV heat had 15 riders vying for the win. But Charles Shepherd took off from the starting line and took control of the race. His closest competition was Gary Denton. Denton dogged Shepherd throughout the race but could not get around. He opted for the outside lane on the final lap and found himself finishing a distant second to Shepherd. Third went to Doug Eichner and fourth was Niclas Granlund. All four were mounted on Hondas.
The racing agenda then brought out the SuperLite contenders. Among the field was a rookie driver, Jimmie Johnson, only 15 years old but ready for racing. Starting at the front of the pack gave Johnson the advantage and he used it wisely. Johnson held onto the lead until his Nature’s Recipe teammate Rennie Awana used his years of experience, on the third lap, to find an opening for the lead. Then on the following lap the young Johnson was challenged by Frank Chavez. But Johnson had learned from his previous experience with Awana and held Chavez off.
At the finish it was Rennie Awana winning and the first time out racer Jimmie Johnson held tough for second. Frank Chavez took third ahead of a determined Joe Price. Gilbert Valdez was fifth out of the ten contenders.
When the next set of SuperLites came out there were nine cars. Rory Holladay sat on the pole with Terry Peterson alongside. Sean Finley was inside row two and had Greg George beside him.
When the flag came out Finley tucked inside and grabbed the lead and used the clear real estate to pull a two car lead over Peterson. Then George closed in with Tim Baker leading Mercedes Gonzales. George took over the second spot coming into the third lap but before the lap ended Peterson retook the position. However George was able to retake the position at the s/f line, but then his left rear wheel came off the car and he had to retire.
It was Greg George’s teammate Mercedes Gonzales that put on the hardest drive. She had started at the back of the pack and had steadily moved up and was able to grab second place when Peterson got lose in the rough section, on the final lap. She didn’t have enough time to catch Finley and had to settle for second. Terry Peterson took third and fourth was Rod Emory.
Super 1600 heat one had Danny Rice on the pole and Frank Arciero, Jr lined up alongside. Mitch Mustard and Jerry Whelchel made up row two.
Once action began Rice held off the turn one heat but then found the oven to hot in the short rough section. He got his car sideways and there was Mustard eager to take over the lead. Marty Hart settled into third. Cory Witherill was out of the race and straddling the hydro barrier.
Mitch Mustard pulled the front straight distance over second place Hart. Hart had no opportunity to relax as Kevin Smith and Whelchel were both within striking distance. But when it was over Mitch Mustard had held off the other 10 drivers. Kevin Smith kept Marty Hart at bay and fourth went to Jerry Whelchel.
The second Super 1600 heat line up was headed by Ed Herbst and Larry Noel sat alongside. Bob Gordon and Marty Coyne shared row two. Noel stalled in turn one and Jimmy Nichols ran up over him blocking the turn causing a restart.
Ed Herbst took the lead on the restart but in the rough section Noel held the pedal down and came across for lap two in the lead. Noel was really concentrating and quickly put several lengths between himself and the pack. Ed Herbst had his share of troubles and allowed Bob Gordon and Jimmy Nichols to get around. By the fifth lap Gordon was able to challenge Noel. But Gordon went up and hit the hydro barrier smartly and was unable to continue.
Larry Noel held onto the lead and Marty Coyne managed second ahead of Jimmy Nichols. The early leader, Ed Herbst finished fourth ahead of his brother Troy.
Grand National Sport Truck second heat race had Roger Mears, Jr on the front row alone as Scott Douglas didn’t make the line up. Team Chevrolet consisting of Greg George and Danny Thompson made up row two. And the third row was Roger Mears and Dan Esslinger.
The younger Mears took the Nissan to the inside and only had the track to contend with. But back in the pack Rod Millen rolled his Toyota in turn two and entering the switch back Danny Thompson put his Chevrolet on its top. Both racers caused a restart, but Rod Millen was set to the rear for being the first to cause the restart.
Once action got underway again Roger Mears Jr pulled out front but Greg George went for it but the rough terrain wouldn’t allow enough traction and George saw his boss Danny Thompson move into second place. Greg George settled into third and Roger Mears, Glenn Harris, and Rod Millen argued over fourth.
Roger Mears Jr had a decent lead but had very hard charging Danny Thompson in second. Roger Mears Sr pulled up into the front action but fell back allowing Thompson enough breathing room to pressure the younger Mears. Around the half way mark Walker Evans closed in on Roger Mears Sr. Thompson tried for the lead in the short rough section and got up on two wheels but was able to regain his second spot. But the lap before the white flag came out Thompson found Evans getting by him, but in turn two Thompson was able to take back second.
Roger Mears Jr will likely always have a fond memory of the Rose Bowl. This event was his first Grand National heat race win. Danny Thompson was able to hold off Evans for second place and fourth went to Rod Millen. Glenn Harris brought his Dodge Dakota across fifth.
The Ultra/cross heat race had 18 riders on the track. Ryan Carlisle couldn’t care if there had been a hundred. He was able to bring home top honors for Team Green. Carlisle lead his teammate Phil Lawrence across the line making it one-two for Kawasaki. The first Suzuki and third place finisher was Russ Wageman. Andy Grider finished fourth and fifth went to Shawn Wynne.
The next motorcycle heat race drew 17 contestants. Mike Graig turned out to be no match for the other 16 riders as he showed them his championship riding style and came home first. Jim Holley was a close second and third place went to Tommy Clowers. Lowell Thomson finished fourth ahead of Jeff Fine.
The main events got underway with the UltraStocks. The main event looked good for Tim Lewis as he sat on the pole with 13 other cars behind him. Lloyd Castle shared the front row in the Mike Leslie Racing Jeep. Row two had Tommy Croft inside and Larry Noel sat outside.
From inside the second row Tommy Croft read the green flag just right and cut inside taking the lead before the pack entered turn two. Lewis was able to hold second and John Gersjes maneuvered through traffic to grab third.
By the second lap things looked good for Croft but Noel had put Lewis in third place. John Gersjes still had fourth.
As the race progressed Croft received pressure at every corner from last year’s champ Larry Noel. However Croft seemed to have more power down the straights. Lewis had fallen to a distant third place.
Larry Noel flexed his muscle down the short rough section and took the lead on the last lap. After leading the entire race Tommy Croft had to settle for second place. Time Lewis held onto his third place spot and fourth went to Christopher Neil. John Gersjes was fifth.
The 4-Wheel ATV main event belonged to Honda. Out of the 18 starters 13 of the bikes were Honda. So it is not surprising that when the checkered flag came out it was Honda taking 0ne-two-three. Charles Shepherd was the first across the finish line and Donavon Holland was second with Gary Denton third. Fourth place went to John Lukos aboard an ATK. Fifth went to Doug Eichner on a Honda.
The SuperLite main was a first for Mercedes Gonzales, the only lady competing at the Rose Bowl, she captured her first pole position for a main event. But she found that chivalry was dead once the flag dropped. She was able to get the hole shot but before the first lap ended Sean Finley had put a move on her. Rennie Awana was now in third place behind Gonzales and Frank Chavez was fourth.
Going into the third lap Mercedes Gonzales made her move over the s/f line and pulled alongside for the lead. But as fate will have it her left rear wheel let go. Finley then found Terry Peterson in hot pursuit and third place was Chavez then Awana. And all were within striking distance.
The white flag signaled good times for Sean Finley has he was well ahead of the battle for second. Finley crossed over in comfort and didn’t see the raging battle for second between Chavez and Peterson. Chavez nosed Peterson at the finish line by inches. Rennie Awana held fourth place and fifth went to Rory Holladay. The first two cars were Triple E while Briggsbuilt vehicles finished out the top five.
The Super 1600 main line up began with Marty Hart on the pole and Kevin Smith was alongside. Then Larry Noel, Mitch Mustard, Marty Hart, and Jimmy Nichols along with a full field totaling 18 cars prepared for the featured open wheel main event.
Once the green flag came out Coyne went for the lead with Smith, Noel and Mustard in hot pursuit. Six cars piled on themselves in turn two and all but Hart and Ed Herbst were able to get going again.
Coyne was able to really gain some distance over second place Noel when Smith blew his engine and closed the door to the inside option.
At the half way point Mustard was second but had his sights set on the leader Marty Coyne. At the white flag, Coyne had two lapped cars between himself and Mustard and Mustard was within a respectable striking distance. Mustard was able to get around the slower cars but the race ended before he could muster enough power to challenge Coyne. Jerry Whelchel managed to capture third place and Frank Arciero pulled through the pack for fourth. Larry Noel was fifth.
The motorcycle main event was won by Larry Brooks while heat-winner Mike Graig had to settle for second place. Lowell Thomson took home third place money and fourth was Chad Pederson. Jim Holley was fifth.
The Sport Truck main event belonged to Rod Millen. He began the race day by setting fast qualifying time and now sat on the pole. His teammate Ivan Stewart sat alongside. Walker Evans and Rob MacCachren shared row tow. Glenn Harris and Danny Thompson made up row three while Roger Mears, Jr and Dan Esslinger were in row four. Roger Mears, Sr Greg George, and Hen Hodgdon finished out the 11 truck field.
Rod Millen cut inside on the start and Stewart got sideways on turn two and fell back to fourth place. Walker Evans grabbed the second place spot then MacCachren, Stewart, Mears, Jr and Sr the Greg George. Millen quickly pulled several lengths over the pack giving the hot seat to Evans who had MacCachren knocking on his bumper. On the fourth lap Evans was able to pull up behind Millen to look for a way around but he still had MacCachren distracting him so Millen got away.
Evans got so close to Millen at the half way point his hood got crinkled and was flying up. Third place MacCachren has dropped back while Evans applied pressure to Millen. With two laps to go Evans had dropped back a couple of lengths and this allowed MacCachren to get back into the battle.
Walker Evans was able to make the race exciting but it was Rod Millen, in his Toyota, that came across first. Rob MacCachren was third and Ivan Stewart beat Glenn Harris across.