The month of February is of special interest to stadium racing fans in San Diego because two exciting events are held inside the Jack Murphy Memorial Stadium. The Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Gran Prix caps off the month that began two weeks earlier with Supercross racing. Because many professional off-road racers are from this area both events have a strong hometown setting. Each event drew approximately 35,000 energized fans. This article deals with the Gran Prix but the Supercross event had to be mentioned because it helped to set the pace for February.
This event was round two of the Mickey Thompson Off Road Championship Gran Prix. And in what has become a trademark for the event a free Motorsports Exposition provided plenty of entertainment for the various racing fans in attendance. Remote Control (RC) cars, of all makes and models, began around noon warming up the competitive nature of the early arriving race fans. A live band set the tempo for the evening by varying the types of music so there was something for everyone. Many of the tire companies and aftermarket suppliers pitched a tent on the stadium grounds to offer their wares and pass out posters. The usual t-shirt vendors and aftermarket apparel suppliers offered fans souvenirs of the event. And for that up close contact with the competitors the traditional autograph party before the race gives everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with the competitors and the track.
After the opening event held in Anaheim Roger Mears Sr came into the San Diego event as points leader of the Gran National class. Defending champ Mitch Mustard only has one point lead over Marty Coyne in the Super 1600 class. Tommy Croft is leading the UltraStock class and Charles Shepherd is in control of the 4-Wheel ATV class. Greg George has his Nature’s Recipe Briggsbuilt in control of the SuperLite field while Larry Brooks has a four point lead in the UltraCross cycle class.
A quick description of the Gran Prix track might help you understand some of the action. The starting line was positioned on the first base line of the baseball diamond. Once underway a left hand turn preceded a section offering the racers two choices. He could either take the inside lane, which was longer but smoother, or, opt for the shorter outside lane that was rougher. Whether the driver chose inside, or out, each had to enter the section with a sharp left turn then a quick right turn into a short straight. Next, a right hander sent them through a rhythm section. The next right turn took both lines through a rough whoopee section before a sharp left hand switchback. A lot of action took place at this intersection. From here three small jumps introduced a short rough section, and then a sweeping left hand turn brought the racers into the back stretch that had two evenly spaced jumps (which served to break up any chance of them getting comfortable). Another left sweeper brought the racers around to the start line. The UltraCross and 4-Wheel ATV classes rode what would be considered a backwards and abbreviated course.
Grand National Sport Trucks on an average can run $200,000 apiece, so understandably, the field has experienced a slow growth. But at this San Diego event the evening’s first heat race produced the largest field ever (13 trucks) of Grand National Sport Trucks. Roger Mears Jr, Nissan, and Glenn Harris, Dodge, shared the front row. The second row consisted of Larry Ragland, Chevrolet, and the other Dodge driven by team owner Walker Evans. Danny Thompson, Chevrolet, sat behind his teammate and shared the row with Roger Mears, Nissan. Team Toyota made up the next row with Ivan Stewart inside and Rod Millen outside. Being from near-by Alpine Ivan Stewart had stated that he really wanted to win before his home town crowd, and had qualified his new V6 powered Toyota as second fastest. Due to the inverted starting order Rob MacCachren, Ford, who had qualified fastest, sat inside of row five. Willie Valdez returned to stadium racing driving a Ford. New to the sport and making his first Grand National run was Scott Douglas in a Jeep. Another newcomer to the sport, Ken Hodgdon, brought out his sharp green Chevrolet and also made his debut. Dan Esslinger brought out his new Ford to make the field have three Fords. There was also three Chevrolet, two Toyota, two Dodge, two Nissan’s and one Jeep representing their respective manufacturers.
When the racing got underway Harris went outside but the younger Mears was able to pull a truck length lead. Mears then stalled for a second and Harris took over with teammate Evans, running the outside option, running neck-to-neck with Roger Mears, Jr. Evans and Mears Jr tangled for a moment on the back switchback but both were able to keep their positions. After the first lap confusion Rod Millen got hung up and sat on the barrier. And Millen sat there until the sixth lap before getting going again.
Walker Evans found a way around Mears and the two Dodge trucks were comfortable in first and second. Before Mears could mount an attack on Evans Ivan Stewart showed up to battle for third. Once the dust settled the battle was won by Stewart and this put all the heat on Larry Ragland as Mears Sr, MacCachren and Mears Jr all fought for fourth. Danny Thompson sat still on the front straight after the second lap.
The two Dodges were bumper to bumper in a heated battle against one another while Stewart, in third place, was a full straight behind. And that’s how they ended the heat – Harris leading Evans. Fourth place was won by Roger Mears Sr and fast qualifier Rob MacCachren took fifth.
Only seven UltraStocks came out for the first heat race. On the pole sat Tommy Croft, a local favorite. Next to him was Larry Noel. John Gesjes, sat in row two behind Croft. Gersjes moved up from SuperLites to the UltraStock class this year driving the Nissan previously piloted by Vince Tjelmeland.
On the start Croft used his pole position to go inside and grab the lead. John Gersjes grabbed the second spot and Larry Noel pushed ahead of Brian Stewart. Once out front Croft showed his hometown fans the art of race car driving and took off and left the other six drivers to argue over second place. In second place was Noel but he had Gersjes in hot pursuit. Brain Stewart also showed the hometown fans he was going for it, but he found too much traction in the Toyota and ended up putting it on its side. He was righted and able to get back into the action but was a lap down.
Tommy Croft held onto his comfortable lead to take the checkered. Second place was Larry Noel and John Gersjes was third. Tim Lewis finished fourth.
The second UltraStock heat race followed with Lloyd Castle on the pole with Brian Collins sharing the front row. Jack Millard was second behind Castle and Christopher Neil was outside. Third row was Jim Smith inside and Jeff Elrod out. Joe Anchondo made up row four.
When the green came out Castle got the jump and went wide off the line to cut off Collins. Castle then took the inside line and appeared to be headed for a win until Collins came around the left hand sweeper going into the back straight and used Castle’s Jeep as a berm. The two came down the back straight swapping paint, and over the first jump Castle got his right rear tire torn off by the guard rail. Collins took over the lead and took off. Chris Neil sat on the track in the middle of the first-turn outside option making it a single lane race track until course workers pushed him up further on the track.
A rough driving ruling was made on Collins and Castle’s encounter, stating that Collins’ victory stood but he was to start at the back of the field in the main event as a penalty for taking Castle out of the race, so Collins was declared the winner. Jack Millard brought his Jeep over second and the battle for third kept the crowd entertained as Jeff Elrod stole third place on the last lap.
Heat one of the 4-heel ATV class had 15 bikes competing. Current points leader Charles Shepherd used his front row starting position to his advantage and to a wire-to-wire victory. The victory added 20 points to Shepherd’s tally, but his closest competitor for the year was second place Mark Ehnhardt who earned 16 points. Greg Stuart crossed over third and fourth was Gary Denton. Fifth place was John Lukos.
Another set of 15 riders came out for heat two of the 4-Wheel ATV event. And this time Donavon Holland jumped off the line and never looked back. Holland was not alone. He lead a four bike Honda train. Doug Eichner crossed over second and third place went to Mike Olmsted. Donny Banks was fourth. Kenneth Delk rode his ATK to fifth place and sixth through eighth places were all aboard Hondas.
Heat one of SuperLite racing had 11 cars entered. Rennie Awana used his pole spot to grab the lead but had to contend with a long time rival, Frank Chavez, breathing down his neck. On the second lap Chavez took over and Awana had Greg George (fastest qualifier) pressing for second place. George tried the outside line but when the two lines came back together it was still Chavez in the lead and Awana second. But going into the third lap Awana went a little wide to cut back on the first option and George stuck his front wheel in for the position.
When the white flag came out George was pressuring for the lead. On the back rough section he went inside and stole the lead and Chavez got sideways trying to defend his position and ended up in fifth place.
Greg George added the victory to his fast qualifying honors and second place went to early event leader Rennie Awana. Third was won by Marty Hart and fourth was Terry Peterson.
Heat two of SuperLite racing had yet another group of 11 cars. Mercedes Gonzales sat on the pole with Joe Price. Row two was Sean Finley (second in points after Anaheim) and last year’s champ Rory Holliday. Holliday was debuting a new car for this event.
When the green flag came out the lady of stadium racing hesitated for one valuable second and found herself battling for the lead with Finley and Price. Before the lap was over Finley edged out front and so did Price.
Douglas Goodenough provided the excitement on the second lap by flipping his car. He later was able to get it going and finished ninth. Further down the track Rory Holliday had lost traction and spun sideways while battling for third. But Holliday was able to regain control and settled into fifth.
Sean Finley won the event and Joe Price was second. Mercedes Gonzales was third ahead of Gilbert Valdez.
There were 11 cars lined up for the first Super 1600 event. But with Larry Noel setting on the pole and Frank Arciero getting a bad start, the race was over once it got started. The first two laps had the pack tight enough for some action but little occurred. Then by the third lap it was follow the leader as Noel cruised to victory. Frank Arciero crossed over second and third went to Marty Coyne. During qualifying Coyne had set fastest lap of not only the Super 1600’s but of all the trucks and buggies. Fourth place was Baja Bob Gordon and Eric Arras was fifth.
The second Super 1600 heat had 10 cars. Jimmy Nichols and Kevin Smith shared the front row and row two was made up of Danny Rice and Jerry Whelchel. During qualifying the drivers are given two laps to qualify. The best lap is the official time. The officials inadvertently gave Whelchel a third lap and he made the best of it. Whelchel had turned the fastest lap of the day but the lap was not counted and Marty Coyne enjoyed the official fast lap honor. In the meantime Whelchel had turned fast enough official time to be second in qualifying.
Jimmy Nichols read the starters moves and jumped out front off the line. Nichols took the inside option and lead the pack back across the field. Danny Rice settled into second and Jerry Whelchel was in hot pursuit. Gary Gall lined up behind Whelchel and then Bill Goshen. Last year’s champ, and the current points leader, Mitch Mustard sat stalled in the middle of the track – where he remained throughout the race.
On the third lap Nichols had pulled a couple of lengths lead over Rice. Due to the outside option it appeared Whelchel was a short distance behind in third, but when he entered the back straight he was second.
Whelchel had his momentum going and tried to grit his teeth over the rough stuff with the intention of cutting back inside of Nichols. But Nichols was able to swing the tail of his Chenowth around and block his move. But on the next lap Nichols’ car apparently slipped out of gear for just a second and there was Whelchel ready to take over the lead. Whelchel doesn’t have to worry about slipping gears as his Chenowth is the only one in the field equipped with an automatic transaxle. The transaxle concept is credited to Fred Kaiser. Westminister, CA., with the torque converter built by Rusty’s Converter Shop in Chino,CA and the unit was assembled by Mogi.
Jerry Whelchel went on to bring the Sage Council Racing Team the event honors. Jimmy Nichols, one of the home town favorites, came across second and third went to Danny Rice. Fourth was Kevin Smith and Gary Gall crossed over fifth.
The second Grand National heat race lined up with Danny Thompson on the pole and Roger Mears Jr alongside. Walker Evans and Larry Ragland made up row tow. When the green flag came out Danny Thompson felt his heart beat when Roger Mears pulled alongside going into turn one but Thompson was able to hold on to the lead. The younger Mears had second but also had Rod Millen’s Toyota on his tail. Walker Evans, Larry Ragland and Glenn Harris followed. Before the first lap was over Walker Evans applied pressure to Ragland and he got his Heartbeat Chevrolet up on its side and caused a restart.
Thompson was lined up at the head of the pack with Roger Mears Jr second then Millen, Evans, Harris, Stewart and Roger Mears. On the re-start Thompson went inside and Millen took the outside line and when Millen came out in the back stretch the two were side by side. During the battle down the back straight Ivan moved his Toyota into third.
Millen pulled alongside Thompson on the next lap at the start line but had to back out. Then Stewart and Millen began to battle one another. Both of the Toyotas chose the outside rough line and were able to close in on Thompson and double up on him. Thompson held them off until back at the front straight where Millen took the lead. And then Stewart brought his Toyota alongside to battle and Thompson and Ivan got sideways giving Millen a comfortable lead.
Rod Millen went on for the win with his teammate Ivan Stewart second. Walker Evans finished third. Before the white flag came out Harris was spun sideways while running in fourth. Roger Mears Sr finished fourth. Rob MacCachren finished fifth. Roger Mears Jr rolled and Danny Thompson was shoved into the barriers and spent the remainder of the race setting with his nose in a barrier.
A total of 18 riders came out for the first UltraCross event. Rich Truchinski got a good start but didn’t read the temporary course markings in turn one and got headed in the wrong direction. By the time he got turned around he was in last place. Larry Brooks then put his Kawasaki in the lead and didn’t look back. His teammate Tommy Clowers followed in close pursuit. These two local favorites gave the fans something to gleam about as they crossed over in first and second place. Third went to Brian Roth and Chad Pederson brought his Yamaha home fourth. Fifth went to Russ Wageman.
In the second UltraCross heat 19 riders lined up but Mike Craig decided he wasn’t going to let his hometown crowd down and pulled his Kawasaki way out front. Lowell Thomson managed second but the real battle occurred for third place between Kyle Lewis, Jim Holley and Bader Manneh. When they crossed the checkered though they were in that order.
After a brief intermission highlighted by an Ugly Truck contest the UltraStock main event got underway. This class too has gained some new competition and the field totaled 14 cars. On the pole sat former SuperLite driver John Gersjes and Jack Millerd. Row two was last year’s champ Larry Noel and former motorcross star Tommy Croft. The third row consisted of Jim Smith and Tim Lewis.
On the start Gersjes had little trouble getting out front but later on the third lap he got his Nissan sideways in turn two and fell back to third. Larry Noel was waiting in second place and drove into the lead. Tommy Croft also found the door open and moved into second.
A good battle for fourth was between Brian Stewart, Millerd and Lewis. Then on the last turn of the race Millerd drove into third place when Gersjes and Stewart tangled. Stewart had caught Gersjes left rear fender and spun him around backwards, but his car was in front of Stewart’s allowing Millerd to pass. Stewart got going and crossed over fourth. Lloyd Castle came over fifth and John Gersjes got his Nissan in reverse and crossed over seventh (backwards).
In the 4-Wheel ATV main event 18 riders came out. Mark Ehrhardt, from near by Hemet, CA, took the lead at the green flag and led a parade around the circuit for the entire race. Doug Eichner grabbed second place but fell during the last lap and Charles Shepherd crossed over for the second place honor. Third went to Greg Stuart and Donavon Holland was fourth ahead of Donny Banks. The top ten finishers were all aboard Hondas.
The SuperLite main had 18 drivers. Greg George had won his heat race and now sat on the pole with Sean Finley, the other heat race winner. Off the line Finley pulled out the leader but Greg George dove inside on turn two and came out of the back stretch the leader. Finley then had Rennie Awana, Joe Price and Mercedes Gonzales to contend with.
The front two by lap three had pulled a good lead over the pack who were battling for third place. With each lap Finley was able to gain inches on Greg George and was challenging for the lead before the midway point. Sean Finley could pull his front wheel up alongside on the back switchback but George was able to hold onto the win.
Sean Finley came into this second round trailing George by nine points and by finishing second remained in second place. Third was earned by Rennie Awana with Joe Price crossing over ahead of Mercedes Gonzales.
The Super 1600 main had Larry Noel and Jerry Whelchel sharing the front row. And 16 other cars lined up behind them.
On the start Noel went inside and Whelchel took the outside line but when Whelchel came around the cut off point he took over the lead. Noel then inherited Frank Arciero breathing down his neck. Marty Coyne trailed Arciero and Jimmy Nichols rounded out the top five.
Whelchel had his Sage Council Chenowth hooked up and gone. The battle was for second place with Noel being pressured by Arciero and Coyne within striking distance. When lapped traffic slowed Noel up Arciero was able to grab the second spot and just before the midway flag came out Coyne took over third.
Jerry Whelchel didn’t let traffic bother his drive to victory. He appeared to drive anywhere on the track he wanted. Frank Arciero crossed over second and third was earned by Marty Coyne. Fourth place went to Danny Rice and Kevin Smith was fifth.
A total of 20 riders came out for the UltraCross main event. Mike Graig, the defending class champ, dropped his motorcycle on the fourth lap. He was relinquished to seventh place before getting back in the saddle. He worked his way back into fourth before getting tangled up in a three bike pile up. But when he dropped the bike the first time Bader Manneh, Santee, CA, was able to pick up the hoe town banner and lead the remaining distance for victory. Jim Holley came across second and third went to Chad Pederson. Darrin Hoeft was fourth ahead of Ryan Carlisle. Mike Graig finished seventh.
When the Grand National main event lined up only 12 trucks came out. It was reported that Glenn Harris could not get his Dodge Dakota to fire. Although he had not won an event this evening Ivan Stewart lined up on the pole after earning more points in both heats and during qualifying.
Ivan bicycled in turn one and Walker Evans took over but when the racers entered the back straight it was Evans’ former teammate Rob MacCachren taking the lead in his Ford. On the second lap Roger Mears Jr got a heavy foot going over the back straight jump and landed on his side and trapping Rod Millen’s Toyota underneath causing a restart.
Roger Mears Jr was out for the evening but Millen was able to get started and get back into the action. Rob MacCachren was lined up in front of the remaining 10 trucks. Walker Evans was second and Ivan Stewart was third ahead of Scott Douglas.
Everyone held their position during the restart. However Scott Douglas ended his first Grand National event with broken front wheel. The front three bunched up and Millen managed to settle into fourth a short distance away.
At the half way point the front two of MacCachren and Evans pulled several lengths over the Toyotas. Stewart apparently having handling problems in the new Toyota. Evans pressured his former teammate at least once on every lap. With three laps to go Ivan had regained control of the Toyota and pulled back into the picture.
Evans noticed MacCachren having some handling problems due to a flat front tire and went inside with two laps to go for the lead. Stewart was on the outside line and both he and Evans came down the back straight in a heated battle. But during the last few turns Evans had pulled a couple of lengths over Stewart and again foiled Stewart’s attempt at wining before a hometown crowd.
This win made it two in a row for Walker Evans here at San Diego. Ivan Stewart finished second while Rod Millen finished third. The early event leader Rob MacCachren finished in fourth and Roger Mears Sr was fifth.
After two events of the 10 scheduled were completed Roger Mears and Ivan Stewart are tied in the points battle for Grand National Sport Trucks. Tommy Croft leads Larry Noel 101 to 74 in the UltraStock class. Frank Arciero, Jr and Marty Coyne are tied with 7 points each in the Super 1600 battle. Charles Shepherd is leading the 4-Wheel ATV class and Jim Holley is leading the UltraCross Pro Motorcycle division. Greg George has 111 points to Sean Finley’s 94 in the SuperLite action.