The season finale for Mickey Thompson’s Off-Road Championship Grand Prix was held at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA on November 2. It was here that 35,116 fans seen history in the making. It couldn’t have gone down better if the event were written by a daytime soap opera writer. The Grand National Sport Truck Manufacturers Cup challenge came down to the final moments of the final event. And once the suspension was over stadium racing had a new king on the throne.
Team Dodge, made up of Walker Evans and Glenn Harris, accumulated the points necessary to topple the Toyota kingdom. Toyota has owned the Manufacturers Cup since its inception in 1983 and were vying for their ninth straight championship.
You did not have to be a stadium racing fan to feel the tension in the air at Oakland Coliseum before the race. Three individual championships, and the coveted manufacturers championships, as well as top tire manufacturers honors were to be decided here at Oakland. Walker Evans had already earned enough points to be the individual Grand National Sport Truck champion for 1992. Greg George had earned the SuperLite honors, and Mike Craig, aboard a Kawasaki, had earned the number one plate in the UltraCross class. But with the tire and manufacturers cups very much alive a lot was riding on the participants performance at Oakland.
From the driver comments the track seemed to be of their liking. A horsepower track. The basic track configuration was U-shaped, and offered more than one place to pass. A short rough section was laid out just before turn one. Then a left sent the drivers over a good size jump. When they landed, an immediate left hander sent them over two successive jumps. A right hand turn introduced yet another rough section. Another right turn offered two options. Both options were equipped with rhythm bumps. The two option line, during practice, proved to be advantageous to the outside line, so before racing got underway the track crew made some adjustment. After the two options, both racers met at a tight left hand turn that sent them left into a dog leg and down a back straight with two jumps. The last left hand turn offered a full throttle shot at the finish line jump.
Going into the first event of the evening Team Dodge enjoyed a 12 point lead over Toyota. Toyota had whittled the margin from 19 by earning seven points for qualifying first and second fastest. This dramatic battle was the closest points spread in series history, only equaling the margin that separated Toyota and Mazda back in 1988. With so much at stake, MTEG officials called a special meeting to inform the Grand National drivers that each race would be closely reviewed by the Rough Driving Committee (RDC). And given notice that a decision may be made after the event to penalize a driver for undue roughness during the event.
Once racing got underway, the Nissan of Roger Mears, Jr. was positioned on the pole and Walker Evans sat outside. Glenn Harris was inside row two in his Dodge with the Ford of Rob MacCachern outside. Roger Mears’ Nissan was inside row three and Mears had the event’s second fastest qualifier, Ivan Stewart, outside. Fast qualifier Rod Millen shared row four with Ken Hodgdon. Willie Valdez and Joey Moore finished out the starting grid. Missing from the line up was Danny Thompson’s Chevrolet. Thompson had bruised his tail bone during practice a week earlier and was unable to compete.
In turn one the Nissan got up on two wheels and leaned against Evans, but Evans was able to hold on and took the early lead. Harris was arguing with MacCachren for second and Stewart had slipped into third ahead of Millen. Roger Mears Jr almost rolled again in turn two.
During lap three Stewart was able to get in front of Harris, and MacCachren was applying pressure to Harris in the last turn.
At the half way point Evans had about three truck lengths lead while
Stewart and MacCachren battled hard for second. Then during the battle Stewart began to smoke and had to pull over with a failed transmission (later reported to be a loose transmission supply line).
Evans used the breathing space between himself and MacCachren to finish comfortably in first. Roger Mears brought his Nissan in third and Rod Millen crossed over in front of Glenn Harris.
With only two races to go Dodge lead the manufacturers points with 768 while Toyota trailed 743. Nissan set in third with 621.
The second heat of the evening were the UltraStocks. No inversions are used for this class so fast qualifier Larry Noel sat on the pole. Noel shared the front row with Brian Collins. Christopher Neil and Jeff Elrod made up row two. The third row was Jim Smith and Tim Lewis. Tommy Croft sat on the back row. Croft was leading in the points battle and had a lot of machinery to pass to secure the championship.
Noel drifted over on the start, trying to squeeze out Collins, but Collins stood his ground. Back in the battle Tim Lewis got hung on the barriers.
Once out front Noel ran away and left the battle between Collins and Neil. These two tangled several times before Neil was able to get some breathing room, but then here came Croft. John Gerjes got sideways in the final turn before the white flag and caused the pack to get strung out.
Larry Noel took the victory but had his rival Tommy Croft in second. Third went to Christopher Neil and Brian Stewart crossed over fourth ahead of Tim Lewis. The win allowed Noel to gain considerable ground on Tommy Croft. Because of the straight up starting order no passing points were awarded. Noel will now go into the main event with 368 to Croft’s 379 points.
The third event involved 12 4-Wheel ATVs. The current points leader Mark Ehrhardt was in the line up hoping to increase his margin.
On the start it was Derek Hamilton aboard a Suzuki that grabbed the lead. Nicolas Granlund settled into second but had Erik Cobb in close pursuit. Cobb must have paid to much attention to Granlund and Ehrhardt slipped by. Ehrhardt then pressured Granlund. But Ehrhardt ran out of time as Hamilton crossed over in first with Granlund second. Erik Cobb finished fourth and Keith DiBrino was fifth.
The second 4-Wheel ATV heat had 11 riders, and all were on Hondas. Current class champion Charlie Shepherd stole the show early. Shepherd appeared to have the victory in hand until the sixth lap. But as luck would have it, mechanical woes sent Shepherd back to the pits on the hook. Shepherd had came into the race 34 points down so this DNF didn’t help his attempt to repeat his championship status. Second place Doug Eichner moved his Honda into the winners circle after Shepherd dropped out. Greg Stuart was to take second place, while Craig Teel was third. Fourth went to Lars Burnside, Jr. and J. Bryan Sandoval came in fifth.
In SuperLite action a total of 11 cars lined up. Among them was Greg George, who had already clinched this class championship. When the racing action began the young Jimmie Johnson grabbed the lead. His teammate, Greg George slipped into second and Marty Hart trailed. Sean Finley positioned himself between Hart and Mercedes Gonzales. Before the first lap ended Greg George was glad he had the championship sewn up because he didn’t have a front wheel to continue the race.
Johnson was able to put some real estate between himself and Hart. But an intense battle for second raged between Hart and Finley. Another close battle was taking place for third between Gonzales, Rennie Awana, Terry Peterson and Joe Price. The battle for second had cooled by the fourth lap. But then heated up on the fifth lap when Finley snuck up before the two lane option and passed Hart. But Finley didn’t have the power going into the back section and Hart came off the jump in second place.
At the finish line it was Jimmie Johnson all alone headed for the winners circle. Second went to Marty Hart, and third was Sean Finely. Mercedes Gonzales took fourth while Rennie Awana crossed over fifth.
One event that was intended as intermission entertainment is the Pee Wee motorcycle racers. This is a group of four to seven year olds that are proving to be the future of off-road racing. Once underway the leader took a good spill, the crowd immediately grew tense until, the rider jumped up and ran back to his cycle in true championship form. This event is not for points so the names of the racers are not reported, but each deserved the tremendous applause they received. When the little fellows (and misses) were interviewed everyone was astounded when one of these miniature racers was quick to thank all his sponsors.
The first set of Super 1600 drivers came out totaling only seven cars. Among the group was fast qualifier Jerry Whelchel who sat on the pole. Whelchel shared the front row with the B F Goodrich sponsored Chenowth of Frank Arciero Jr outside. Arciero came into the event the currents points leader. His closest competition, Mitch Mustard, was in the other heat race so the two wouldn’t meet until the main event. Kevin Smith was inside row two and had Danny Rice alongside. Then it was Larry Noel, Cory Witherill and Wes Elrod rounding out the field.
As the green flag came out Whelchel had trouble, and got sprung sideways, dropping him back to fifth. Arciero took over with Smith, Noel, Elrod and Whelchel trailing. On the start Rice and Witherhill had tangled in turn one and Witherhill suffered a broken left front wheel.
Frank Arciero had three or four lengths between himself and Smith, so the next battle was for third between Whelchel and Noel. But once Whelchel got in third place he quickly put several lengths between himself and Noel. The front two hadn’t lost, or gained, ground but Whelchel was inching his way toward a battle for second. However the white flag came out to signify to Whelchel that third was about all he could do. Suddenly, out of nowhere Smith took the outside option and muscled his way into the lead, robbing Arciero of the victory. Kevin Smith drives a Mirage chassis in this class that is dominated by Chenowth.
Super 1600 heat two also had seven cars. Current champ, and closest contender to Arciero, Mitch Mustard sat on the pole with Marty Hart alongside. Bill Goshen and Gary Gal made up the second row. Then Jimmy Nichols, Marty Coyne and Aaron Hawley. Coyne had led the points battle early on in the season but was now in third.
Mustard had little trouble powering off into the lead but Nichols closed in for second place. Hart grabbed third and fourth was Coyne. Mustard had pulled about six car lengths ahead of Nichols and Hart closed and temporally took second on the third lap, but Nichols was able to get his position back. While Nichols and Hart fought it out Coyne laid back in fourth place waiting for the two to make a mistake. On the fifth lap Hart found his spot at the last turn and pulled into second place, and Coyne began challenging Nichols. While all the attention was on the battle for second and third Mustard was taking the scenic route around the track for a comfortable win.
Second place went to Marty Hart. Third was Jimmy Nichols and Marty Coyne was fourth ahead of Gary Gall.
With Ivan Stewart dropping out of the first heat race, Team Dodge entered the second heat with more confidence. Roger Mears, Jr sat on the pole with Dodge’s Glenn Harris lined up outside of row one. Ivan had repaired the transmission and sat inside row two with his worst nightmare, Walker Evans, alongside. Rob MacCachren and Roger Mears made up row three. Toyota’s Rod Millen and Joey Moore were next with Willie Valdez and Ken Hodgdon making up the 10 truck field.
Once underway Harris appeared to take the lead, but Stewart was hungry and held on the gas to grab the lead; but no sooner than he had taken over and Stewart rolled entering the inside lane of the two option section. Stewart landed upright but on top of the barriers and had to be pushed off, causing a restart.
On the restart Roger Mears, Jr was on the pole and Harris was alongside. Stewart was moved to the back of the pack. Evans sat outside the empty spot left vacant by Stewart. But before the flag could come out it was noticed that Valdez had a flat. For safety reason Stewart was moved ahead of Valdez for the restart.
When they came around for the lap MacCachren was in the lead followed by Millen and the younger Mears. But Millen and Mears, Jr tangled and Mears was left stranded in the middle of the track, so again the race was stopped.
On the second restart it was MacCachren, Millen, Roger Mears, and Walker Evans making up the top four spots. Ivan Stewart was behind Evans, then Harris.
Rob MacCachren held onto the lead. Rod Millen and Roger Mears led Stewart through on the start. Stewart and Mears leaned on each other for nearly half a lap and then as Stewart came around Moore sat in the track, but Stewart was able to get by. Evans leaned on Mears to regain his position. Rod Millen had worked up a challenge with MacCachren but spun out and allowed his teammate Stewart to get second. Millen regained control of his Toyota for third then it was close with Evans, Mears and Harris exchanging places. While all the confusion was going on Stewart shot past for the lead. This meant Stewart had gone from last to first in half the race.
The battle for second became intense with Millen crawling all over MacCachren. Stewart enjoyed a couple of lengths lead but almost got up on two wheels, allowing MacCachren to come alongside for a good battle.
With two laps to go Ken Hodgdon had stalled in the middle of the two option entrance. This caused a lot of confusion, but added to the excitement as each lap the front runners had to maneuver around the stalled Chevrolet.
Ivan Stewart was able to take the win with Rod Millen getting second after the Rough Driving Committee ruling against MacCachren when Millen spun out. Rob MacCachren was listed third ahead of Walker Evans, Roger Mears, and Glenn Harris. With Toyota coming back in this second heat race it meant the battle would go down to the main event as both teams now had 786 points. Yes, a tie. A do or die main event to come.
The first heat UltraCross pro motorcycle riders came onto the field totaling 20 riders. When the green flag came out the current champ Mike Craig put his Kawasaki out front. Pat Gomm slipped his Honda into second and Jim Holley (Yamaha) was third ahead of Shawn Wayne on a Suzuki. The order didn’t change until nearing the end of the heat when Gomm dropped his Yamaha allowing Holley to take over the second place spot. Mike Craig, who had already earned enough points to carry the number one plate again next year, won the event. Jim Holley was second with third going to Shawn Wayne. Treavor Meaghor edged out Duane Benner for fourth.
There were 19 riders in the second round of UltraCross action. Kyle Lewis wasn’t wasting any time as he grabbed the early lead and put some space between himself and Lowell Thomson. Lewis was able to hold on for a wire-to-wire victory and Thomson held second. third went to Scott Myers and fourth was Ray Crumb. Chad Pederson was fifth.
The UltraStock main event lined up with a do or die situation for Larry Noel. He trailed Tommy Croft by 11 points for the championship. And besides Croft Noel had to contend with nine other drivers, but after the race was over one of the other drivers proved to be an asset to Noel.
Brain Stewart was the early leader in his Toyota. Christopher Neil was in second and Tim Lewis grabbed third. Croft held the fourth spot with Noel trailing. Noel was able to get ahead of Croft on the second lap. Then as Croft put on a hard charge to regain ground he tangled with Brian Collins. As Croft pulled alongside Collins cut over into Croft’s Jeep and Croft ended up going over the barriers and landing on his top — out of contention.
The race was stopped and the restart line up had Stewart first, then Neil, Lewis, Noel, Collins, Jim Smith, Paul Nissley, Jeff Elrod, John Gerjes and Joe Anchondo. A dejected Croft walked to the pits. On the restart Stewart and Neil used each other a punching cushions with Neil ending up the leader. Jim Smith got sideways on the last turn and was helped around by Collins clipping his front fender. Brian Stewart retook the lead coming out of the back two lane option but had Neil come alongside for the battle that had the tow leaning on each other around turn one, where Stewart won the shoving match for the lead. Collins was able to grab second place with Noel trailing.
Brian Collins held the gas on during the rough section going into turn one and stole the lead from Stewart. Stewart then got it back going into the two lane option. Collins came up at the end of the back straight to challenge, but Stewart took over again. Collins on the last lap clipped the hydro barrier and broke a tie rod giving him the effect of an out of control shopping cart. Collins was bouncing from barrier to barrier as shear determination drove him to the checkered before a appreciative crowd.
Larry Noel won the championship but came in second in the main to Brain Stewart. This win was Stewarts first UltraStock main event win. Third went to Christopher Neil and fourth was Paul Nissley. Joe Anchondo was fifth.
In the 4-wheel ATV main 18 riders lined up. Mark Ehrhardt came off the green flag to grab the lead and never looked back until he reached the checkered flag and a season championship. The battle for first heated up by the fourth lap, Ehrhardt was in control but Derek Hamilton had closed in to within “don’t make a mistake” distance of Ehrhardt. However Ehrhardt could feel the pressure and made the extra effort to pull away again. Then the battle was for second between Hamilton and Niclas Granlund. The two were on the last lap and coming over the back jump when Granlund came off the jump sideways and flipped.
Mark Ehrhardt brightened up his championship by winning the main in convincing fashion. Derek Hamilton was second and third went to Doug Eichner. Erik Cobb took fourth and Lars Burnside, Jr brought home fifth place money.
The SuperLite championship had already been decided by Greg George but plenty of racing action took place in the main event. A total of 15 cars lined up but Terry Peterson lost power and had to be pushed off before the race got underway.
On the start Mercedes Gonzales got hung up in turn two with Rory Holliday. Sean Finley took over the race with Marty Hart dogging him. Hart suffered mechanically and DNF’d. This brought the early heat winner Jimmie Johnson up into second place. But Johnson was on a roll and rolled right on into the lead. Finley was setting in second but felt Awana’s presence. However Awana may not have been trying to get by Finley as much as he was trying to get his teammate, Greg George, off his tail. This battle for third went on for three laps until George found a clean place to get by.
Once in front George found some clean ground ahead and was able to close in on Finley. Finley took one leg of the option and George the other and when they exited it was George in second place. Finley was not through, he kept the pressure on George at every turn. And while these two battled, Johnson was moving ahead headed for the checked.
Greg George was able to hold onto second place, while Sean Finley had to settle for third. Fourth was Rennie Awana and fifth went to John Sarna.
The final Super 1600 main event for the ’91 season only had 14 cars. Frank Arciero, Jr and Mitch Mustard had a points championship to decide so the crowd had their eyes on these two. But Marty Hart decided early that he wanted the event win and used his pole position to grab the early lead. Arciero slipped in behind Hart, and Mustard came from the second row to sneak inside for the lead. But Hart retook the lead in lap two, turn two. Hart no sooner got the lead and Mustard retook the lead. But Hart thought that what goes around comes around, and he drove around for the lead again at the start finish line. But then here came Mustard in lap three, turn two, Mustard took over again and this time put a car length between himself and Hart. But (you guessed it) on the following lap a lapped car held up Mustard and Hart again took over. But this time Hart left the door open for Arciero, who had been trailing the action biding his time.
So once things slowed down a bit, Marty Hart had the lead with the two points contenders, Arciero and Mustard, trailing in second and third. Jerry Whelchel had been moving up and was in a close fourth.
The front four all had a couple of lengths between themselves at the half way mark. Things appeared calm until lapped traffic slowed up the front runners on the next to last lap. That is when Mustard appeared to come out of nowhere and was able to get around Arciero, but had no time to catch Hart.
Marty hart won the hard fought battle. Mitch Mustard was ahead of his rival Frank Arciero, Jr, but when the championship points were tallied it was Arciero that won the number one plate, by two points. Jerry Whelchel held onto fourth and Jimmy Nichols was fifth.
The motorcycle main event had 20 riders but the event belonged to Kyle Lewis. Lewis rode the Yamaha to victory but had either Scott Myers or Lowell Thomson pressuring throughout the race. But at the checkered it was Mike Craig that crossed over second with Myers third, and Thomson fourth. Randy Moody was fifth.
The final show down. Dodge led on points going into the second heat, but Toyota came back to tie up the manufacturer’s points battle in the second heat. So this last race of the year would determine the championship. And Toyota enjoyed the better starting position.
Rod Millen sat on the pole with Rob MacCachren sharing the front spot. Roger Mears was on row two with the other Toyota outside. Walker Evans was third in line inside, with teammate Glenn Harris outside. Roger Mears, Jr shared the line up with Joey Moore and Ken Hodgdon sat next to Willie Valdez.
Millen grabbed the lead after battling with MacCachren. Stewart was third and then Evans. Harris trailed his teammate but both the Dodge’s had to get ahead of the Toyota’s to win.
MacCachren tagged the wall before the start finish line after an encounter with Stewart. Stewart moved into second place and Evans slipped into third. Rod Millen enjoyed a clean track and put some distance on the pack.
All appeared dim for Team dodge by the fifth lap. Rod Millen had a good lead. Ivan Stewart was in second and the Dodge’s were back in fourth and fifth. But then Millen pulled his Toyota to the side of the track. A timing belt had let go in the new motor and gave the championship to Dodge.
Stewart took over the lead, but could only hope that his teammate could get going again. MacCachren had his troubles with Evans. Evans was dogging him at every corner and finally got by. MacCachren then returned the favor and pressured Evans at every corner, and even got by momentarily. But Evans seen the Toyota alongside the track and was pumped. He kept the Dodge wound up and crossed over in second place. However after the race, the rough driving committee ruled against Stewart and dropped him one position. This gave Dodge the main event win also. Stewart was officially second place and Rob MacCachren was third. After Glenn Harris seen Millen setting alongside the track he knew that just finishing got Dodge the championship, so fourth place probably seemed like the main event win to him. Roger Mears finished fifth.
Dodge won the season points battle and became the first team to lift the coveted Manufacturers Cup from Toyota.
Team Dodge will be back next year with new Dodge V6 all aluminum engines.
Look for ex-Supercrosser Rick Johnson to be driving a Nelson & Nelson built Chevrolet next year. Danny Thompson will also be back in his Chevrolet.
Team Ford is building another truck. Several stadium drivers have tested for the position but team owner Jim Venable would not disclose who would be driving the truck.