February in San Diego is an off-roaders dream. Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group brings both the Off-Road Championship Gran Prix and SuperCross events to town. Not only does the two events spark competitive interest but serves as homecoming for many of stadium racing’s top participants. To add to this hometown gathering, this Gran Prix event is where former Supercross Champion Rick Johnson made his four-wheeled off-road debut.
A total of 14 area riders and drivers competed in the Gran Prix. Historically few of the local drivers had won at this event. But this Feb 22 brought about change as four of the six main events were won by area contestants. And all this in front of the largest crowd (43,374) to ever attend the event.
Most notable of the winners was Ivan Stewart in the Grand National Sport Truck division. Stewart had been second three different times here at San Diego but the win eluded him until Saturday night. Had it not been for a yellow causing a restart, and a daring pass, Stewart appeared doomed to second again. Excitement abounded also in the UltraCross event as the lead changed several times throughout the ? lap main (between San Diegans Mike Craig and Larry Brooks).
After two of a nine race series Toyota’s Rod Millen leads teammate Ivan Stewart in the drivers series 119 to 97. Rob MacCachren has his Ford dialed in this year and is in third place with 81 points. Roger Mears has a new truck this year and is currently a close fourth with 80. Last year’s champion Walker Evans is in fifth with 74. Toyota has totaled a 77 point advantage over Nissan in the Manufacturers Cup Challenge (226 to 149). Dodge trails in third with 141. Ford is fourth with 126 then Chevrolet with 89.
Tommy Croft currently has first place in the UltraStock war. Brain Collins is second. Mitch Mustard has earned 81 points to control the Super 1600 division with a close battle for second between Frank Arciero, Jr (62) and Marty Hart (60). Mark Ehrhardt accumulated 99 points to lead the Skat Trak ATV’s. Donavon Holland is in second with 64 points. In the SuperLite class last year’s Rookie of the Year Jimmie Johnson is leading with 87 points. Marty Hart is a close second with 82 points. The 250cc Pro Motorcycle class is being controlled by Mike Craig with Larry Brooks and Kyle Lewis trailing.
The preceding Supercross event was held two weeks earlier than the Grand Prix. Local riders didn’t fair so well at that event. San Diego’s Michael Graig was the local favorite but finished ninth in this event totally dominated by Damon Bradshaw. Mike Kiedrowski grabbed the hole shot in the feature but saw Bradshaw fly by on the fourth lap, of the 20 lap event. Once out front Bradshaw put a third of a track distance between himself and eventual second place finisher Jean-Michel Bayle. Jeremy McGrath brought home top honors in the 125cc event.
The Gran Prix track filled the stadium floor producing one of the more demanding, and fastest courses of the stadium series. Before the race Super 1600 fast qualifier Jerry Whelchel said, “What’s good about this track is they have two lanes right off the start. Everybody seems to like the first option but my fastest time was in the second lane.” The starting line was close to the two option lane so the inside starting grid could easily cut back inside while the outside drivers had either option. This design seemed to work good in preventing first corner piles up that plagued the season opener in Anaheim. Both lanes of the option offered rough and staggered terrain to test the driver and machines agility. The two lane option intersection as usual offered a chance to pass. Once the action came together a short rough section jostled things up before a sharp left hander brought the action back across the field. At he end of the straight was a left hand power sweeper that saw some passing during the event. The final left hand turn was sharper than the previous sweeper and required braking before coming back down the front stretch.
As usual the Grand National Sport Trucks got the action started. And the first heat had plenty of action. On the start Brain Stewart used his pole position to put the Dodge Dakota in the lead. Third fastest qualifier Rob MacCachren settled into second place. Roger Mears had some trouble in the rhythm section and got his Nissan sideways, causing a restart.
On the restart it was the Dodge of Brian Stewart on the pole with Greg George on the outside. Danny Thompson and Walker Evans were the closest competitors. Brian Stewart had little trouble holding onto first and Thompson settled into the second spot with MacCachren coming off the third row to grab third. Greg George had fourth until apparent mechanical troubles slowed him down.
The battle for second raged between Thompson, MacCachren and Ivan Stewart. Stewart took the inside line and moved into second on the third lap, but Thompson and MacCachren both came around to push him back into fifth. Then Ivan Stewart got sideways on the switchback and ended up on the barriers causing a restart. It appeared MacCachren took over the lead with Thompson second but MacCachren was attributed as the cause of Stewart ending up on the barrier so he was placed to the back of the pack.
Once restarted Brain Stewart lead with Danny Thompson second and Rod Millen third. But on the following lap Brain Stewart took the inside lane and Rod Millen the outside. And when they came together at the intersection Millen appeared to take over. But back in the pack Martie Moore got upside down causing yet another restart.
Again Brain Stewart took the inside of the two lane option and Millen took the outside and came alongside for the lead at the intersection. Millen wasn’t able to get by but kept constant pressure on the young Stewart throughout the lap. Back in the pack Ivan Stewart was on the move. The elder Stewart and Danny Thompson fought for third. On the following lap Ivan Stewart took third.
As they came around the back sweeper Millen, on the inside, leaned on Brian Stewart and took over. Once the young Stewart was off the momentum his dad took over the second spot. And MacCachren pulled the Ford around for third. Brain Stewart trailed with Danny Thompson, Walker Evans, and Roger Mears in hot pursuit.
On the last lap Ivan Stewart took the lead from his teammate, Millen. Then on the final turn of the event Millen came inside of Stewart and smacked the Toyota hard enough to roll Stewart over. Millen was able to cross over in first place. Followed by MacCachren, Thompson, and Roger Mears, Jr. Walker Evans came charging into the final corner and rolled the Dodge at the same corner where Ivan Stewart had.
The Rough Driving Committee (RDC) thought Millen’s last turn action was offensive and disallowed his victory. As a result Millen was also moved to last place and positioned in last place, of the second heat and, main event starting grids. Add to that, probation and no points for the first heat!
This put Rod MacCachren in first. An astonishing feat considering he had been moved to the back of the pack just a few laps earlier. Danny Thompson got second place honors and third went to Roger Mears Jr. Roger Mears crossed over fourth and Brian Stewart was fifth. Ivan Stewart was able to get going but crossed over next to last ahead of Greg George. However the RDC also moved Walker Evans back two places, dropping him to 11th due to his encounter with Greg George.
UltraStock heat one went uncontested with Larry Noel jumping out front and never looking back. Christopher Neil got up on two wheels on the outside lane, but was able to regain his composer and pull up to battle Noel. Smith was third until lap three and fell back to fifth.
Christopher Neil couldn’t find an open door around Noel and had to settle for second. Third went to Brain Collins and Jim Smith, although rolled, finished fourth.
The second heat UltraStock heat race went to Jeep as well. Heat one winner, Larry Noel’s teammate, Tommy Croft, put the pedal down on the Jeep and went all the way to the checkered. Second place was Jack Millerd, also in a Jeep. Don Kolt took third and Time Lewis crossed over ahead of Joe Anchondo.
The first Skat Trak ATV heat race win went to Greg Stuart aboard a Honda. Stuart started in third and moved to second on the second lap. On the following lap he pulled ahead of Mark Ehrhardt and held on for the win. Ehrhardt was second and third went to Derek Hamilton. Graig Teel finished fourth and Erik Cobb was fifth.
Gary Denton gave Donavon Holland a hard time throughout the second Skat Trak ATV heat but a hard time was all he could get by with. Holland held the front spot from the first lap on through to the checkered. Third went to Doug Eichner and Charles Shepherd was fourth. Fifth went to Niclas Granlund.
In the firs heat of SuperLites Marty Hart had little trouble dominating the ten car field. Hart took off and put his Triple E in front and let Joe Price fight it out with Rennie Awana for second place. Awana ended up third. In only his second race the 15 year old son of Roger Mears, Casey Mears, brought his Triple E across fourth. Fifth went to Rick Marshall.
The out come of heat one for Super 1600’s look good for BF Goodrich. The tire manufacturer had nine of the 12 entrees riding on Goodrich rubber. Baja Bob Gordon sat inside on the pole with Frank Arciero, Jr alongside. Mitch Mustard and fast qualifier Jerry Whelchel sat outside in his new car. Bill Goshen and Aaron Hawley made up row three.
When the action got underway Gordon took the inside line and when they intersected after the option it was still Gordon in the lead and Arciero settled into second with Mustard, Whelchel, and Goshen trailing.
Gordon still had the lead on the third lap but Mustard had taken second and Whelchel moved into third. Mustard was pressuring Gordon on the fourth lap but Gordon held fast to the inside lane. Whelchel moved into the battle and closed in on the two front leaders. Just as a good three way battle erupted Whelchel appeared to suffer new car blues and dropped back to fourth with sparks flying from the new Nye Frank special. After the race it was reported the battery cable had come off at the starter and was grounding against the frame.
On the last lap Gordon stalled at the same turn where Whelchel set. This gave the race to Mitch Mustard. Frank Arciero came home second and third went to Bill Goshen. Tim Herbst was fourth and fifth went to Greg Foster.
Eleven cars came out for the second Super 1600 heat. B F Goodrich were represented here too but a strong assortment of Yokohama and Bridgestone tires were present in this heat. Gary Gall sat on the inside front row and alongside was Jimmy Nichols. Row two had Kevin Smith and Marty Hart.
Gary Gall held onto the lead off the start while Hart moved into second. Nichols had the third spot with Kevin Smith breathing down his neck. On the following lap Gall went wide, closing off Hart, and Nichols pulled his car up to contest the lead. Gall was able to regain the position but Nichols had taken second place. Hart sat in third.
The race was stopped when Marty Coyne got on his side. Once racing got going again Nichols tried to take the lead on the first corner restart and he and Gall tangled. But Gall held on and Nichols found himself in third until near the end of the lap when he high sided and ended up last.
On the next leap Hart found the outside option quicker and took the lead from Gall. Then Gall had trouble with his Castrol GTX teammate Kevin Smith but was able to hold him off. Ed Herbst came home fourth and Wes Banks finished fifth.
Sport trucks came out next for their second heat race. A total of twelve trucks lined up. Up front was two of the newest drivers to the class, Greg George in his Ford and alongside was Brain Stewart. Defending champ Walker Evans sat inside row two and Roger Mears Jr had his Nissan outside. Ivan Stewart and Danny Thompson made up the next row.
Greg George opted for the inside option and Brain Stewart took the outside lane on the start, but when they came back to the switchback it was Evans in second. Then on the following lap Greg George still had the lead with Evans second and Roger Mears had moved into third ahead of Brain Stewart.
A lot of passing occurred on the third lap but the front four remained the same when they entered the fourth lap. Walker Evans had closed in on George and Roger Mears was pressuring Evans. The front three were engaged in a strong battle. Body parts were bent at every corner and just the intense pressure of the battle meant something, or someone, had to give. After a couple of heated laps Mears muscled his way around Evans at the start line and then when George went wide at the first option Mears jumped in the lead. Just then newcomer Rick Johnson got his ill handling Chevrolet up on his side in the inside option causing a yellow. Greg George headed back to the pits.
The field was sent back to the last lap order with Evans in the lead. Roger Mears was second and Rob MacCachren, Brian Stewart, Steve Millen, Danny Thompson, Roger Mears Jr, Ivan Stewart, Martie Moore and Rick Johnson were single file for the restart.
On the restart, Evans shot off like a bullet and grabbed a two truck lead by the switchback. Rob MacCachren grabbed hold of Evans’ coat tail and Roger Mears was third. Rod Millen managed fourth ahead of Danny Thompson.
Just before the last turn MacCachren came inside Evans and grabbed the lead when headed into the last lap. Roger Mears pressured Evans then both Toyotas.
Rob MacCachren won the first heat by default, but won this heat with shear horsepower and handling. Walker Evans came across for second place points and Roger Mears was a close third. Ivan Stewart worked through his earlier troubles (spun out mid way) to capture fourth. Fifth went to Rod Millen.
The first Pro 250cc motorcycle event belonged to Mike Graig. Riding in front of his hometown crowd, Graig mounted his Kawasaki and shot off. But Graig had another local rider, Larry Brooks in hot pursuit. However when the checkered flag came out the race belonged to Craig. Brooks was second and third went to Gene Naumec. Fourth was Shawn Wynne and Tommy Clowers finished fifth out of 18 riders.
Heat two of the Pro 250cc Motorcycles had 17 riders. If the race was awarded to the most laps lead Ryan Carlisle wouldn’t have finished second. But Kyle Lewis rode his Yamaha up on Carlisle and stuffed him just after the half way mark. Third went to Lowell Thomson and Lance Smail was fourth. Russ Wageman finished fifth.
Main event action began with the UltraStocks. Jack Millerd had his Jeep up front with an unobstructed view of the track. Alongside was the Nissan Pathfinder of Christopher Neil. Local resident Tommy Croft sat inside of row two with this year champ Larry Noel outside. Row three had Brian Collins inside and Don Kolt outside. Jim Smith, Tim Lewis and Joe Anchondo rounded out the field.
Once the green flag came out Tommy Croft grabbed the second spot by the switchback. Jack Millerd had held the lead and third place was Neil, then Noel, Collins, and Smith. On the following lap Croft came off the s/f jump and got crossed up but held the Cherokee in line. Tommy Croft was making most of the moves. On the third lap he went to the outside and tried to grab the lead but couldn’t get it. Then at the switchback he moved past for the lead. Christopher Neil held third until the following lap and fell out of the action.
Once out front Croft quickly pulled a couple of lengths lead. And left the battle for second between Millerd and Collins. Then on the next lap Brian Collins grabbed the second spot at the left hand turn going into the first option.
As the white flag came out Croft held a five car lead over Collins. The only close battle was in third place where Millerd was holding off Noel. At the checkered it was Tommy Croft first. Brian Collins second and third went to Jack Millerd. Fourth was Larry Noel and fifth was Tim Lewis.
In the Skat Trak ATV main event Doug Eichner jumped out the early leader with Derek Hamilton in hot pursuit. Defending champ Mark Ehrhardt settled into third, but only for two laps then found a way around Hamilton. Then on the seventh lap Ehrhardt also moved past Eichner and held on for the win. Doug Eichner was able to keep second place but Hamilton fell to fourth as Graig Teel came across third. Fifth went to Donavon Holland.
SuperLite racing brought out 18 cars for the main event. Jimmie Johnson wanted to win in front of his hometown crowd and appeared to have a good chance from his pole starting position. Joe Price shared the front row with Johnson. The second row had Rennie Awana and Marty Hart.
Jimmie Johnson had little trouble taking the lead but found a hard charging Marty Hart on his tail. Driving in his first race was third place Bradley Wilmert. Wilmert is a mechanic for the Nature’s Recipe team and when Mercedes Gonzales couldn’t make the event he filled in.
A hard fought battle had Hart pulling alongside Johnson and exchanging the lead momentarily. But Hart was able to get by at the left corner of the first option. Rennie Awana moved past Wilmert and held his third spot hoping the front runners would tangle.
When the action had ended it was Marty Hart winning before his hometown crowd. Jimmie Johnson had to settle for second and third went to Rennie Awana. In his first race ever Bradley Wilmert came across fourth (wonder if Mercedes can turn a wrench). Fifth was Joe Price.
Gary Gall sat on the pole of the Super 1600 with Frank Arciero, Jr alongside. When the action started Gall grabbed the lead with Arciero in second. Marty Hart took the third spot and Mitch Mustard trailed in fourth.
On the next lap Arciero pulled in the lead with Gall, Mustard, and Hart following. Bill Goshen was a close fifth. And Goshen had the company of Ed Herbst, Don Kolt and Troy Herbst.
By midway Gordon had pulled a five car lead over Mustard and third place Gall was behind Mustard a good safe distance. But the fourth, fifth and sixth place cars were within striking distance of Gall. Arciero then found Mustard on his tail on the next lap as lapped traffic held Arciero up. This put new vigor in the battle as Mustard tried the outside option but found Tim Herbst stalled in the rhythm section; which dropped him way back out of the contention.
With three cars stalled and an overturned car on the track a yellow came out to clear the mess.
Traffic had just saved Arciero and then on the following lap, traffic caused the restart and gave Mitch Mustard another chance. Mustard got a little out of shape in the rough stuff and Arciero held on to see the white flag first. With one lap to go Mustard found the added energy to close in on the leader. He closed in after the two lane option but during the battle down the back straight he lost power and had to pull off. Frank Arciero went over the finish line uncontested. Bill Goshen had moved through traffic to capture second and Gary Gall crossed over third. Fourth place was earned by Ed Herbst and his brother Troy crossed over in fifth.
In the Pro 250cc Motorcycle event Larry Brooks and Mike Graig put on a hell of good show for the hometown fans that had come to see them duel. The two later said they were battling over bragging rights and when it came down to the finish Larry Brooks did more than brag. However Mike Craig deserves a lot of credit in pushing Brooks to the limits. Both of the riders are from nearby El Cajon and wanted to give the fans their moneys worth.
Third place went to Tommy Clowers and Kyle Lewis was fourth ahead of Gene Naumec.
Truck main had Rob MacCachren on the pole and Roger Mears sat in his Nissan on the outside. Row two was made up of Ivan Stewart inside and Danny Thompson was outside. The third row was the current champion, Walker Evans, inside with Rod Millen outside. Roger Mears, Jr had his Nissan inside of four and Brian Stewart was outside. Greg George had his Ford inside row five and Willie Valdez sat outside. The last row consisted of the new proud father Rick Johnson and outside was Martie Moore.
Once the green flag flew MacCachren had Ivan Stewart all over his tail and Mears had to settle for third place. Walker Evans grabbed fourth.
Rob MacCachren came around for the third lap with two truck lengths between himself and Ivan Stewart. But before the lap ended Stewart had closed up to scratching distance.
Lap four and Stewart moved inside and traded some fender paint with the Ford but MacCachren held ground. MacCachren again saw Stewart move inside of turn one and two but again held him off. During this lap MacCachren got up on two wheels in the rough and Stewart as able to close up and challenge but still MacCachren held on. In turn two Stewart nosed the Toy up under the Ford but MacCachren was able to foresee the action and braked enough to prevent losing his position.
During the fifth lap the line up had MacCachren in the lead with Stewart in hot pursuit. Third was Roger Mears and he was making life uneasy for second place Stewart. Walker Evans was next with Rod Millen challenging. The leaders were coming up on traffic but the lapped traffic didn’t seem to bother MacCachren, as he threaded the needle one after another, and Stewart wanting a win before his home town crowd also managed to drive around the traffic.
Just as thing looked promising for MacCachren Roger Mears Jr lost his steering and rolled at the s/f line with just two laps to go. The Nissan lay on its side with flames shooting from the engine compartment so a yellow flag came out. Once the fire was out, the Nissan was righted and Roger Mears, Jr tried to get back in the action but found he had to be towed off.
The restart had MacCachren up front with Ivan Stewart second. Roger Mears, Sr set in third place and Walker Evans was fourth ahead of the Toyota of Rod Millen. Danny Thompson, then Rick Johnson, Brian Stewart, Willie Valdez and Martie Moore.
Ivan Stewart chose the outside option on the restart and when they came out of the two lane option he had the advantage over MacCachren. The close quarters action forced MacCachren over the barrier and headed into traffic. MacCachren couldn’t get turned around until eighth place. Once Stewart was out front Mears quickly closed in, but only had one lap to go. Then Stewart bicycled for a moment but was able to hold. But Mears had closed up. But he ran out of time.
Ivan Stewart won his first hometown main event. Some wondered if the RDC would rule against his incident with MacCachren but the video proved it a clean pass so Stewart was able to enjoy his hometown victory. Roger Mears finished second in his new Nissan. Third went to Rod Millen and Walker Evans finished fourth. Rob MacCachren was able to pass a few trucks for fifth place.