Round five of the MTEG Off Road Championship Gran Prix signaled the half way point to this years racing season. The event was held in Phoenix at the University of Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium.
Also happening on April 21 was SCORE’s 250 desert race causing this date to be remembered by many off road racers as the day of competition, confusion and traveling. This meant qualifying in Phoenix and returning to Baja and then traveling back to Phoenix, all within 72 hours. But hey, off road racers are tough and besides the thrill of two pay checks can stretch one to their limits.
Going into the Phoenix event Ivan Stewart led Walker Evans by only 28 points. However in the Manufacturers Cup tally Team Toyota had a convincing lead of 423 to Team Jeep’s 314. Walker Evans, team manager of Jeep, in an attempt to close this gap had hired former Mazda pilot Glenn Harris to drive the team’s second Jeep. Harris replaced Rob MacCachren in the stadium truck but MacCachren will remain as the team’s desert driver. After five completed races Ivan Stewart still leads the points battle with 296. Danny Thompson (257) won the Phoenix main event allowing him to edge Walker Evans (248) out of second place. And an outstanding performance from Toyota’s Jeff Huber put Toyota up 543 to Jeeps 387 in the Manufacturers Cup war. Toyota has also done their share to boost BF Goodrich’s points standings in the Tire Manufactures Cup tally.
Going into Phoenix the Super 1600 contest had a close battle for individual points between Bob Gordon 137 and last years overall winner Mitch Mustard (132). With a certain amount of luck Mitch Mustard was able to jump out front after Phoenix with 178 over Bob Gordon’s 158.
In the UltraStock class Larry Noel (208) has retained his edge over second place Jeff Elrod (190). With Noels victories he has pushed Volkswagen to 427 points in the UltraStock Manufacturers Cup challenge. Jeep trails with 278.
SuperLite action has Allen Yaros leading the points battle with 147 to Rory Holliday’s 139. Charles Shepherd is dominating the 4-Wheel ATV division with 222 points. His closest competition comes from Donny Banks with 184. Mike Graig has the edge over Jim Holley in the UltraCross class with 280 to 258 separating the two.
The football field of Sun Devil Stadium limited the actual race track size making it difficult to pass, but the MTEG organization still offered one sweeper which gave the drivers a two option corner to enhance passing. The layout consisted of entering the stadium from the north. Once flagged off they then went down a long straight before turning back left and then were slowed a bit by a small jump. After this a sharp left hander set the drivers up for a rough stutter section. The rough section brought them back to the north end of the field. A right hand switch back brought them mid field to where they turned left and had two options for the left hand sweeper. The sweeper’s outside option let them hang it all out over a smooth surface while the inside option had four small jumps to even out the shorter distance.
To get the evening started the Grand National Sport Trucks took the field for heat one. Setting on the pole was Toyota’s new team member Jeff Huber. Along side Huber was his old teammate Glenn Harris. Harris now in a Jeep was making his debut for that team. Second row consisted of Roger Mears Sr in his Nissan and Rod Millen (Ford). The third row pitted the number one and two points leaders together. Ivan Stewart (Toyota) sat inside with Walker Evans outside in his Jeep. By virtue of an inverted starting order Danny Thompson, the evening’s fastest qualifier, had his Chevrolet on the last row.
On the start Huber took the lead after Harris lost his challenge. Harris was then spun around in turn four by another ex-teammate Millen, and fell back to third. Stewart settled into fourth while Evans, Mears and Thompson trailed in that order.
By the third lap Huber had managed to use the open track to get some real estate between himself and second place Millen. Mears got the Nissan into trouble and rolled catching fire and caused the race to be stopped. During the confusion Millen pulled over with mechanical woes and fell from second to sixth. And Ivan was able to get into second before the yellow came out.
On the restart both the Toyotas were out front but Harris muscled his way into second for a few moments until Stewart returned the shoving match and retook second before the lap ended. Harris then fell to fifth and battled with Thompson.
When the white flag came out seven trucks were running but Evans, Mears and Millen were all limping around at a slow pace. The Toyotas were stretched out with Huber in the lead and teammate Stewart trailing. All the action was between Harris and Thompson as the two fought fiercely over third. When the checkered came out the Toyotas took the win but Harris earned third. Thompson was fourth and Rod Millen finished fifth.
The second race of the evening brought out the first UltraStock heat contenders. Once action began it was Larry Noel that grabbed the lead while Jeff Elrod pushed the Porsche of Brian Collins out of second place. Chris Neil, Paul Nissley and Jim Smith followed. By the third lap Noel had pulled a very comfortable lead over Elrod. Chris Neil however was still within striking distance of second place. With a good three way battle for fourth going on between Nissley, Collins and Smith.
Larry Noel was never headed and brought his VW around for the win. Jeff Elrod managed second and Chris Neil won out for third place. Paul Nissley took fourth.
Only five cars lined up for the second UltraStock heat. Brad Castle used his front row starting position to grab the early lead. Tim Lewis put his Porsche in second place with Tommy Croft hot on his tail. By the third lap Castle had decided he wanted the win and put some real estate between himself and the pack battling for second. Mike Leslie snuck up on Croft and took his third place position and while Croft was trying to shake off his disappointment he let Vince Tjelmeland around as well. Tjelmeland stalked Leslie for a couple of laps and put his Nissan into second place, but on the following lap Leslie retook the position.
At the end of the event it was Brad Castle running away with the heat. Mike Leslie earned himself second place and third went to Vine Tjelmeland.
Donny Banks grabbed the hole shot during the first heat of 4-Wheel ATVs and never looked back. Banks did receive a little pressure later on in the heat from Don Turk but Banks held on to win. Turk was second and points leader Charles Shepherd finished third out of 16 riders.
A total of 15 riders made up the second 4-Wheel ATV event. Off the line it was Derek Hamilton riding a Suzuki out first. Mike Olmstead brought his Honda up into contention but was not able to get around. Then on the third lap Donavon Holland brought his Honda through the pack to grab the lead from Hamilton. Instead of concentrating on regaining his lead Hamilton was busy fighting off Chris Couto the rest of the race.
Donavon Holland went on to take a comfortable win. The racing action was for second place as Chris Couto edged out early leader Derek Hamilton at the finish line for second place.
Twelve SuperLite’s took the track in the first SuperLite heat. On the pole was defending champ Rennie Awana. Awana, who has not won a main event this year, was able to get his Nature’s Recipe sponsored car off to a good start and grab the early lead. But before Awana could get settled into the position the young Duston Coonfield (17) drove his Briggsbuilt into the lead. Coonfield soon knew how it felt to be dominated as Greg George drove the Nature’s Recipe special into the lead. Once out front the experienced George went on to the checkered flag. Coonfield held onto second place and third was won by Rennie Awana.
In the second SuperLite heat Allen Yarros sat on the pole with Terry Peterson sharing the front row. On row two was Rory Holliday and Kevin Snoddy. Once underway Yaros, while leading, got sideways causing the front runners to bunch up in turn two. This allowed Chuck Parker to sneak by for the lead. However Yaros was able to free himself early from the trouble and took the inside option of the sweeper and exited in the lead.
For the next three laps the lead position was fought over by Yaros, Parker and Terry Peterson. Parker and Yaros got to close and tangled allowing Peterson to grab the lead. The two got going but then felt heat from fourth place Ron Pierce. Pierce caught the two off guard and took the second place spot near the end of the event. However Pierce suffered mechanical woes on the last corner and dropped out officially finishing in 10th place.
Terry Peterson was the winner. Allen Yaros captured second place and third went to Chuck Parker.
Super 1600 action began with 15 cars lining up. Frank Arciero Jr was on the pole with the defending champ Mitch Mustard. Marty Coyne was inside of row two and Greg George alongside him. The third row was Tommy Croft and Wes Elrod.
On the start Arciero grabbed the early lead while Coyne put his Chenowth in second until the switch back. Mitch Mustard ran up on Coyne’s tail slowing both of them down allowing traffic to get by. Going into lap two it was Arciero, Greg George, Coyne and Mustard.
On the third lap Arciero had pulled away and left the battling for second place. At this point it was between Marty Coyne and Mitch Mustard. Arciero seemed to be running away with the event until he came upon lapped traffic that had gotten sideways on the back straight and Mustard was able to sneak around for the lead.
Mitch Mustard finished the event weaving his way through the stalled cars around the track. Six cars were strewn around the course causing problems at every turn. Frank Arciero was able to get back up to speed and regain control of second place. Third went to Marty Coyne and fourth was Wes Elrod.
The second Super 1600 event was full of action and confusion. Danny Rice and Jimmy Nichols shared the front row while the second row consisted of Brad Castle and Jerry Whelchel.
Danny Rice jumped out front and Castle settled in behind him. Jerry Whelchel moved his Sage Council Chenowth inside for third but had to contend with Castle and Jimmy Nichols for the position. By the third lap Rice still had the lead but had a hard charging Brad Castle to contend with. Danny Rice fell out on lap four and Castle was to inherit the lead. Although enjoying the lead Castle could fill heat from second place Whelchel. Nichols was third and Billy Beck had fourth.
Jerry Whelchel tried to take the lead from Castle but found himself sideways on the track. Having trouble catching reverse Whelchel found himself in fourth place before getting going. It was this infraction that cost Castle the win and an eventual disqualification. Castle went on to be the apparent winner with Jimmy Nichols crossing over second and third was Billy Beck. However when the official results came out Brad Castle, who had been on probation, was ruled dropped three positions for intent ally running into Whelchel. Then later another result came out that Castle had been disqualified for the evening and would receive no points.
Therefore, the heat two winner was Jimmy Nichols in a Raceco. Second place went to Billy Beck. Early leader Jerry Whelchel was awarded third place honors and fourth went to Bob Gordon.
In the first UltraCross heat race 14 riders lined up to watch Chris Young get off the line first. Scott Myers settled into second place and the two Suzuki riders were having an interesting race. But while the two front runners were busy stealing the show Mike Graig came charging through the pack and began challenging for the lead on lap three. Once in the battle Graig pressured Young on several occasions, and appeared to be in control more than once, but when it was all over Young held on for the win. Mike Graig was a close second and third was won by Lowell Thomson.
UltraCross racing continued with heat two which had John Greenway take his Honda into the lead. Then after two laps of racing local boy Jimmy Button stole the lead. Button was not allowed an easy time of it as he was immediately challenged by Jim Holley. These two really put on a show for the remainder of the heat. At he end it was Holley buttoning up the local favorite’s bid for fame.
In the second Sport Truck heat Roger Mears sat on the pole with Glenn Harris alongside. Rod Millen, Walker Evans, Ivan Stewart, Jeff Huber and Danny Thompson lined up behind. When the event went green Harris jumped out front and put the hammer down to gain some breathing room. However while exiting the end zone sweeper the Jeep’s Goodyear’s got to much traction and Harris rolled causing a restart. Because Harris rolled the officials positioned him at the back of the pack, leaving Mears all alone on the front row.
Once underway Mears easily grabbed the lead but had Ivan Stewart move from row three into second place. But Stewart had Millen fighting him for position. During the first turn shuffle Millen over shot a jump and nose dived the Ford. Stewart, following Millen, was able to get the Toyota stopped but Millen’s Ford came down on the front of Stewarts hood. Meantime Danny Thompson had momentum going and rammed into the rear of Stewarts Toyota. Causing Stewart to lose his fiberglass bed. All three kept going and Stewart went to the inside of the option which proved to be a good move as he passed Millen and gained some room to boot.
On the following lap Mears pulled off and the two Toyotas took over. With Thompson, Millen, Harris, and Evans trailing.
Once the Toyotas were out front the race turned into a follow the leader event as every racer had at least 10 lengths between his closest competitor. Harris was running in fourth with a right front flat. This allowed Evans to get third place. Ivan Stewart began smoking badly and had to pull off. And then the Toyota spit out flames under the hood. Stewart was running with an in car camera which showed those in attendance what an onboard fire looked like — close up.
For the second time in the evening Jeff Huber took home 1st place honors. Danny Thompson had moved into second when Stewart dropped out and third went to Walker Evans. The other Jeep driven by Glenn Harris was fourth.
The UltraStocks were the first to compete in the evenings main events. A total of 10 cars lined up to battle. Mike Leslie and Jeff Elrod shared the front row while Chris Neil and Larry Noel made up row two.
On the start the usual elbowing was taking place when Mike Leslie was spun around sending him up on the barrier and closing the door to traffic. Causing a full restart.
After restarting Jeff Elrod took the lead again with Larry Noel in a very close second and then Noel grabbed the lead going into the right hand switch back. Larry Noel was assessed a penalty and had to stop in the penalty box and this gave Elrod the lead and Noel was sixth before getting going again.
On the fourth lap Elrod was running with five car lengths lead and a battle for second ragged between Neil and Tim Lewis. Larry Noel was determined and grabbed third just before the white flag. But Noel was to run out of time and had to settle for third place.
The event was won by Jeff Elrod and Christopher Neil was second. Tim Lewis managed fourth behind Noel.
Eighteen cars were entered in the SuperLite main event which would last seven laps. Greg George had the pole position with Terry Peterson alongside. Neither of these two have won a main event this year. This being Greg George’s first season and Peterson’s last win being the Rose Bowl in ’89. The second row had Duston Coonfield and Allen Yarros (who had just won the previous event in Houston) alongside.
On the start Greg George took the Nature’s Recipe Pet Food special way out front leaving the remaining 17 drivers to fight for the second spot. George seemed to be having a flawless race when on the fourth lap his Briggsbuilt failed leaving him in the middle of the track. Terry Peterson was running in second and inherited the lead. Allen Yarros was third and went to second. A battle for third raged between Rory Holliday and Holgeir Oksnevad. Holliday took third on the last lap but at the finish line it was Oksnevad that crossed first.
Terry Peterson enjoyed his first main event win of the season and second went to Allen Yaros. .
4-Wheel ATV action had 18 starters racing for seven laps. Charles Shepherd just came from Houston victorious and was able to get out as the early leader. Don Turk who is no stranger to the winners circle in this event was able to take second place and set his sights on Shepherd. However his sights were all he was able to put on Shepherd. Charles Shepherd went on for his second straight win. Don Truk was second and third went to Donavon Holland. Mark Ehrhardt managed fourth.
The Super 1600 main event was scheduled for 12 laps and had 18 cars entered. Last year’s number one plate holder Mitch Mustard sat on the pole with Jimmy Nichols alongside. Mustard had Frank Arciero lined up behind him. Arciero presently has the honor of being the all-time main event winner overall, which he earned during the opening round in Anaheim. Billy Beck and Marty Coyne shared row two, while Jerry Whelchel and Wes Elrod sat on row three. With the likes of these six racers eye balling turn one the crowd was assured of plenty of action.
Mitch Mustard used his inside line to gain the lead. Nichols fell in behind and Arciero was hot on Nichols tail. Then Nichols bobbled in a corner and Arciero politely drove past. While Nichols was regaining his composure he found himself also behind Coyne and Whelchel.
On lap four Mustard was running with a comfortable lead with Arciero also running comfortably. However a hard fought battle raged for third between Coyne and Whelchel. Jerry Whelchel went inside during the rough section and moved past Coyne for third place just at the half way point.
At the white flag Mustard had nearly a half lap lead on second place Butch Arciero. And that’s how they finished. Third place went to Jerry Whelchel and Wes Elrod was fourth ahead of Marty Coyne.
First off the line in the UltraCross main event was Brian Manley on his Kawasaki. Graig Davis lined up second and had a determined Mike Graig challenging him. Another rider that earns mention is Jim Holley. Holly had a mid-pack start and had shuffled into fifth. Manley was to remain in control most of the race. However Manley later on was receiving pressure from Mike Graig. As the two were in the rough section Manley lost grip of his handle bars and went down. Graig was so close, and in the air, he had no time to correct and when he landed his arm caught the handle bar of Manley’s rider less motorcycle. this brought Graig down and Jim Holly who was running a close third place drove around for the lead.
Jim Holly won the event with Brian Manley regaining control and finishing second. Third went to Chris Young.
The Grand National Sport Truck main event had seven trucks competing. Danny Thompson, who’s last main event win was in ’86 at the Pomona fairgrounds, sat on the pole and Jeff Huber, who had won both heats this evening, sat across from him. Second row was the current points leader Ivan Stewart on the inside and Walker Evans sat next to him. Harris was on the third row with Rod Millen. Mears sat on the fourth and last row.
The green flag came out and Thompson showed the Toyota of Huber who had the most horsepower. Huber slipped into second but then cut to close inside on the right hand switchback and put all four wheels up into the Arizona sky, causing a restart.
Jeff Huber was sent to the rear of the pack and this left Thompson all alone on the front row.
Danny Thompson had little trouble taking the lead on the restart and Ivan Stewart pushed inside to challenge for the lead. But Thompson flexed his muscle to keep his position. Stewart was pushed out of second by Rod Millen and this appeared to give Thompson a clear shot at the checkered. Walker Evans grabbed second during the confusion and Millen was third. Glenn Harris and Huber tangled for fourth with Roger Mears having no way around.
By lap four Danny Thompson was out front but had a hard charging Evans wanting his position. Millen was in third but down by 10 car lengths. Another 10 lengths back was Stewart. Then a battle for fifth between Huber and Mears. Harris was dragging up the rear.
At the half way point Evans had moved up and was all over Thompson. While these two argued Millen was able to sneak up into the battle. On the following lap Evans was able to out power Thompson on the back sweeper and took the lead. Shortly after Millen dropped out.
Walker Evans was able to quickly put a little breathing room between himself and Thompson. Stewart was way back in third and a raging battle was on between Mears and Huber.
Walker Evans stalled on the track and Thompson with only two laps to go took over the lead. And went on for the win. Walker Evans got the Jeep going again but wasn’t able to get back in the real action. Ivan Stewart ended up second. And where there is one Toyota another will soon follow, this time Jeff Huber was in it for third. Huber had fought so hard during the event the only body panel left was the hood. Roger Mears finished fourth and Walker Evans was fifth.