Round seven of the 1991 Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Grand Prix was held July 20 at the LA Coliseum before 47,000 die-hard race fans. Ivan Stewart was able to win his first main event for the season, but Stewart couldn’t keep Team Dodge, and Walker Evans, from retaining the manufacturer and individual points lead. However, due to a controversial ruling by MTEG, Team Toyota will have a distinct advantage over Dodge for the remaining three races.
The Coliseum track is the longest and fastest of the 10 race series. The track is nearly a half mile in length and carries its own distention of being the “Granddaddy” of stadium racing events. It was at the Coliseum back in 1979 that the late Mickey Thompson introduced this form of racing.
This event differed from any other event, in that, it was probably the longest event ever. Qualifying for the Grand National trucks were held on Friday, along with a press conference. Many truck driver’s thought this was a good idea because they would get another chance at qualifying (on Saturday) should foul weather prevent the time trails, as they had in Dallas this year. All other classes qualified on Saturday morning. As with most events the Sport Trucks started things off around 7:30 Saturday evening. There were a couple of intermissions to allow the race fan time to get up and stretch their legs. But as it turned out the main event wasn’t over until nearly 1 am. This meant the event lasted three days; with qualifying for the trucks on Friday. Qualifying and racing beginning on Saturday, and the main event technically held on Sunday. A long weekend for most.
A quick description of this “Chunk of Baja” race course is; the start finish line was positioned at what would be the 50 yard line of the stadium. The event mainly had the racers running in a counter-clockwise direction but the track offered a couple of right handers. Turn one had two options for the pack to follow. This meant a sharp left then a quick right to set the racers up for the peristyle. A small jump in the middle of the hill climb meant the driver had to set the vehicle up before flying up into one of two arches under the peristyle. Once through the peristyle a left hand turn opened into a short straight before another left brought them back through the arches. The inside lane was obliviously the shortest but was handicapped with the sharpest turns. When entering the arena again is where the fans enjoy driver-after-driver leaping their vehicle off the 70 foot drop. Those on the inside lane had to make a sharp right and then left before intersecting back with the outside lane. The outside lane drivers came off the hill to a right left combination, but their right hand turn was banked offering them a bit of momentum advantage at the upcoming intersection. The back straight is complimented with a rhythm section consisting of uneven small double jumps. This part of the course demanded the most concentration. At the end of the rough section was a left hand sweeper, however to keep the racer’s attention a small double jump was positioned midway through the turn. A left hand turn brought the action back in front of the grandstands and a short straight picked up the pace before going over a good size jump at the finish line.
During practice on Friday a rock came through the windshield of Rod Millen’s Toyota and broke his little finger. After arguing with the doctors he convinced them he needed a minimum cast, but he still was unable to bend his wrist. And with a new six cylinder in his truck (he had previously been running with a 4 cylinder) one would think Millen to be at a disadvantage but when the checkered came out on the first Sport Truck heat race it was Rod Millen in the winners circle.
Millen began the heat on the pole, after qualifying 12th with his broken hand. Scott Douglas shared the front view in the line up, while row two had Roger Mears and Glenn Harris. Row three was Dan Esslinger and Roger Mears Jr.
On the start Millen jumped out front but had to squeeze Douglas out at the intersection on the back straight. Douglas was not giving up and was able to get his Jeep into the lead before the lap ended. But Millen came around the last turn sweeper and took back the lead. Harris settled into third and fourth was Roger Mears.
Glenn Harris took the inside line on the following lap and captured the second spot, however the racing action was stopped due to Douglas getting upside down in the peristyle.
On the restart Millen took the outside option and got a hand up on the competition as Mears Sr got sideways, holding up traffic. Roger Mears was unable to get back into the action because a rock came up and broke his engine management system. On the following lap Harris decided to take the outside option with Millen and when they came around for the midway flag Harris was still four lengths behind Millen.
Then on the following lap Harris was able to close the action some and a good battle for third was between Mears Jr and Rob MacCachren, and Evans set in a close fifth place,
Millen didn’t seem to let his broken hand bother him as he kept the gas on lap after lap. But Harris was determined and was able to close in on the white lap, but not enough to make a serious attempt. Harris said before the race he would run a conservative race due to a one-race probation stemming from an incident during the Dallas event. Third across the line was MacCachren, but when the results came out he was moved down two places by the Rough Driving Committee. On the last lap Stewart and Evans battled for fourth. But before the last lap ended Evans stuck it into the wall giving fourth to his rival.
Ultrastock racing was next. The field was headed by Jeff Elrod and Jim Smith. On the start Elrod took the outside option and cut off Lloyd Castle but when they exited the first turn Elrod had gotten sideways and Castle was able to take the lead. This put the action back in second place where Smith and Brian Collins fought.
Things remained somewhat calm through the first half Castle had a comfortable lead of 10 car lengths and Collins enjoyed just as much comfort over third place Don Kolt. Kolt although had Brain Stewart in hot pursuit and John Gersjes had closed in for the battle as well. Stewart came over the front jump and when he landed his Toyota body came off in what appeared one piece.
Lloyd Castle went on to lead the field of eight cars to the checkered. Collins was second and third was Don Kolt. The naked Toyota driven by Brian Stewart was fourth.
The second Ultrastock heat race had had the second fastest qualifier, Christopher Neil, on the pole. Larry Noel sat across. Tommy Croft sat inside row two and Tim Lewis rounded out the front four.
Neil got loose in turn one and Noel was able to get a couple of lengths lead. Croft grabbed third and Lewis headed Joe Anchondo. That is until the beginning of the second lap when Anchondo came over the front jump and the car sheared to the left and went up, and got hung up on, the hydro barrier.
Noel had pulled a very comfortable lead by the midway flag. Croft had the pedal down in second place and was pulling away from Neil but had some serious real estate to make up if he was to catch Noel. But Noel held on for the win. Croft, Neil, Lewis, Cameron Steele and Paul Nissley followed.
In the 4-Wheel ATV heat 16 riders came out to battle. Mark Ehrhardt put his Honda out front early and never looked back until he crossed the finish line. But back in second place Niclas Granland was in the company of a hard charging Charles Shepherd. Granlund held the second spot throughout the race but Shepherd was determined it wasn’t over until the checkered flag was waved. Shepherd made several attempts throughout the race but it was the last effort at the finish line that inched Granlund out of second. Fourth was Doug Eichner and fifth was Erik Cobb.
The second 4-Wheel ATV heat reminded me a line in an old song; “Second verse, same as the first” but in this heat the names had changed. Derek Hamilton took off early and ran away from second place Donavon Holland. But Holland was being stalked by Greg Stuart. The race remained in this order until the checkered. Hamilton won and then like the race before the third place rider, Stuart, just nipped Holland for the position. Fourth was Mike Olmsted and fifth was Tony Fox.
Heat one of the Superlite’s had Ron Schartau’s Weekend Warrior Briggsbuilt on the pole. Across from him was the veteran Terry Peterson, also in a Briggsbuilt. Row two had the young Jimmie Johnson alongside Greg George.
Ron Schartau grabbed the lead and still had it as they came round for lap two, but he had Johnson, George and Peterson all in striking distance. Schartau caught the hydro barrier going into the second lap and Johnson grabbed the lead.
Johnson appeared to be a seasoned pro as he held Greg George at bay. Until George was able to out power Johnson down the front straight on the fifth lap. This broke Johnson’s concentration and when they came out of the peristyle his other teammate Rennie Awana had taken over the second spot. Johnson found himself fighting for third with Peterson. Joe Price had moved into fourth ahead of Don Archibald.
Before the race was over Johnson suffered mechanical woes and retired. Greg George won the event with his teammate Rennie Awana making it one-two for Nature’s Recipe. Terry Peterson won third and fourth was Joe Price ahead of Mark Thiel.
In the second Superlite heat Rory Holladay sat in front of the pack alone as Tim Baker had lost a front wheel on the parade lap. Mercedes Gonzales and Marty Hart shared row two. A total of 10 cars started the race.
On the start Holladay appeared to have the lead coming out of the peristyle but at the intersection Hart was leading the field. After two laps Hart still had the lead over Holladay. Mercedes Gonzales was third and John Sarna trailed Gonzales. Sarna though had plenty of company as Rod Emory, Dustin Coonfield, Roger Rudisill and Robert Borella were all vying for fourth place.
Lap after lap Hart felt the pressure of Holladay but was able to hold the lead. On the last lap the two had began lapping slower traffic and Hart’s lead was in jeopardy until he drove his Triple E up on the berm, around the lapper, to hold onto the lead. That is until the last corner and Holladay used his championship form to power through on the inside and take the win at the checkered. Mercedes Gonzales held onto third and fourth was Dustin Coonfield ahead of Roger Rudisill.
The Super 1600 heats were next. Heat one pole setter was Jerry Whelchel with Marty Hart alongside. Marty Coyne and Mitch Mustard made up row two while Aaron Haley and Jimmy Nichols sat in row three.
Whelchel and Hart came out of the intersection side by side. Hart had the momentum coming from the fast outside lane and Whelchel had to then battle with Mustard for second place.
Hart was able to put a couple of lengths between himself and the battle raging in second place. Whelchel felt the heat of Mustard at every turn until Whelchel dropped out.
While battling for the lead Mustard tried to go inside of Hart on the back sweeper but when they came off the small double jump they tangled and Mustard was at rest on Hart’s front wheels. The race was not stopped so Marty Coyne, who had been running in third, was able to drive around for a comfortable win. Coyne said he had missed a gear or two, and saw Hart and Mustard in their heated battle and hoped they would make a mistake, and when they did he was there for the win.
Aaron Hawley finished in second place and third went to Troy Herbst. Bill Goshen was fourth and Dan Bently finished fifth. Mitch Mustard was dropped into seventh place by the rough driving committee.
Super 1600 heat two lined up with Bob Gordon was on the pole. Danny Rice sat alongside Gordon. The second row had Larry Noel and Frank Arciero Jr. On the start Rice got a little more traction than did Gordon and pulled into the lead. Danny Rice had no room for error though as Gordon shadowed his every move. While Gordon pressured Rice Frank Arciero stayed within striking distance in third place.
Gordon was able to find a gap between the fence and Rice’s Chenowth and grabbed the lead with two laps to go. When Rice had trouble in the back rough section Arciero moved into second. Then as these teammates often do, they put on an exciting race as Arciero pressured Gordon all the way to the checkered flag. Arciero was able to grab the lime-light momentarily on the last lap. But Gordon gritted his teeth and was able to nose back into the lead. Danny Rice held onto third place and fourth was Kevin Smith and Gary Gall finished fifth.
A total of 13 Grand National Sport Trucks came out for the second heat race. As with any stadium event the start is very important so Scott Douglas and Roger Mears appeared to have the best shot from their front row starting position. Row two had Dan Esslinger and Greg George. Row three was made up of Rod Millen (heat one winner) and Walker Evans, the current points leader.
Roger Mears Sr took the outside option when the green flag flew and was able to take the lead. Greg George pulled his Chevy into second, with Douglas, Evans, Esslinger, Millen, Mears Jr, Danny Thompson, Glenn Harris, Rob MacCachren, Ivan Stewart, Ken Hodgdon and Wille Valdez trailing.
Roger Mears had trouble in practice with his steering and suspension and couldn’t make it work right then, but, during this heat he was holding off Greg George with what appeared to be the greatest of ease. As Greg George pressured Mears Sr, the front two trucks put several lengths between themselves and third place Evans by the half way point. This made all the action for fourth place, as six cars were knocking on each others bumpers. However, Mears went on for a comfortable win. Greg George brought the Chevy around second and Evans brought the Dodge home third. Rob MacCachren was fourth and Ivan Stewart finished fifth.
A total of 20 riders came out for the first Ultracross Pro Motorcycle heat. But it was Team Kawasaki that dominated the event. Leading the way for Team Green was Mike Graig. Second place was won by privateer Scott Myers and Larry Brooks brought his green machine across in third. Chad Peterson was fourth overall and first Yamaha around the track. Ryan Carlisle brought Team Green home in fifth place.
A second set of motorcycles followed for heat two of the Ultracross action. This time Yamaha was the proud manufacturer as Kyle Lewis rode his Yamaha across first and was followed by Jim Holley. Honda rider Randy Moody won third place honors and fourth went to Ray Crumb aboard a Kawasaki. Shawn Wynne was fifth on a Suzuki.
The first of the main events were the UltraStocks. This event had 15 cars line up with Tommy Croft on the pole. Alongside Croft was Brain Collins. Current champ Larry Noel sat inside of row two and Lloyd Castle was alongside.
Once the racing started Croft took the early lead with Larry Noel in hot pursuit. Brian Collins jumped ahead of Brian Stewart, Chris Neil, Tim Lewis and Jim Smith.
By the third lap Croft had a good lead over the pack and Collins was still second with Stewart trailing. Stewart had all the pressure as Neil, Lewis and Noel were all battling for his position.
Halfway and the race belonged to Croft with Noel, now running in second, three car lengths behind. The third place battle was still between four cars. Noel applied pressure on the next lap and Croft was hampered by slower traffic. Croft went to the inside and Noel the outside. When they came out of the percentile the two traded some fender paint and Noel took over the lead.
Once out front Noel kept his VW out of traffic and crossed over first. After leading most of the event Tommy Croft brought his Jeep across in second ahead of Tim Lewis. Lewis was closely followed by Christopher Neil and Jeff Elrod.
A total of 18 riders came out for the 4-Wheel ATV main event but only 14 got to start, as the starting gate malfunctioned causing a restart. On the restart Charles Shepherd got his Honda off first and was able to hold onto for the victory. Derek Hamilton put his Suzuki in second place and fought off Mark Ehrhardt until the sixth lap and Ehrhardt held onto finish second. Hamilton managed to salvage third place and Donavon Holland brought his Honda in for a fourth ahead of Niclas Granlund.
Superlite main event action had 16 cars lined up behind Marty Hart and Rennie Awana. Rory Holladay and Greg George sat on the second row and row three was made up of Terry Peterson and Mercedes Gonzales.
Once the racing action began Hart went to the inside and stalled, giving the race lead to Awana with Greg George breathing down his neck. But Awana was not able to hold off his Nature’s Recipe teammate off going into lap two. This made the front three positions all Nature’s Recipe cars, with George in the lead Awana second and Gonzales third.
By the third lap the front three had pulled away from the pack. The heated battle was fourth between Don Archibald, Rod Emory, Sean Finley and Ron Schartau.
At the finish line Greg George chalked up another win, making this win his fifth SuperLite main event victory for the season. Sean Finley won at Pasadena and Rory Holladay won Seattle. Rennie Awana brought his car in for second and Mercedes Gonzales became the highest placed female finisher in any Mickey Thompson main event when she brought her Briggsbuilt Nature’s Recipe across for third. All three of the front cars were sponsored by Nature’s Recipe.
The fourth place battle was hard fought throughout the event. Sean Finley came out on top of the argument with Don Archibald finishing in fifth.
With 18 cars lined up for the Super 1600 main event the crowd was assured plenty of action. But with Frank Arciero Jr (currently second place in all-time Super 1600 main event wins) setting on the pole the other 17 drivers knew they had their work cut out for them. Aaron Hawley shared the front row while row two consisted of Bob Gordon and Marty Coyne.
On the start, Troy Herbst (third row starter) got sideways in turn one and held up half the pack. Meanwhile Arciero had grabbed the lead with teammates Marty Coyne and Bob Gordon settling in behind. This lucky break for Arciero was all he needed to take his BF Goodrich Chenowth home for the win. This was Arciero’s first main event win this year he had scored a couple of seconds and a third, but put it together here at LA for a clean win.
Arciero wasn’t alone throughout the race. Second place finisher Marty Coyne was within striking distance throughout the race as was the other Goodrich driver Bob Gordon.
B F Goodrich scored big in this event as the first five finishers were all shod with Goodrich tires. Third place went to Bob Gordon and the current champion, Mitch Mustard, drove home in fourth. Fifth place went to Marty Hart.
A total of 20 riders came out for the 250 Pro Motorcycle (UltraCross) event. Kyle Lewis didn’t get the start he wanted but by the fourth lap he took the lead from Kerry Mulligan at the end of the rough section on the back straight. The rider doing the most work in the event was Jim Holley. He was started back in the pack and by the fourth lap had picked his way through the crowd to fourth.
With Lewis out front the battle was for third place. Holley was not content with being behind Chris Young and found a way around on the fifth lap. But Holley had Mike Craig in the second spot with the gas on. So when the checkered flag came out Holley had to settle for third. Chris Young finished fourth and fifth went to Chad Pederson.
It was well after midnight before the Grand National Sport Truck main event got underway. Thirteen trucks came out. Rob MacCachren, who had won the last two main events, sat on the pole. Next to him was Ivan Stewart, who came into this event winless for the year. The second row had Walker Evans, the current points leader, and Danny Thompson. Row three was made up of Greg George and Glenn Harris.
Once the flagman got things started Ivan Stewart grabbed the lead. Rob MacCachren slipped into second with Thompson, Evans, Harris, and George trailing. On the third lap Greg George tried to go inside Roger Mears Jr and the two got tangled up, looking like a couple of junk yard dogs scrapping over a bone. The Nissan flipped up on its side but came back down on the Chevy, but once Mears came off the Chevy both were able to get back into the racing action.
Rob MacCachren glued his front bumper to Stewart and was able to pull the Ford alongside in a few corners, but Stewart was able to hold him off for six laps when suddenly MacCachren pulled off the track. Also within striking distance was Danny Thompson, but Thompson wasn’t able to mount a serious attack. Walker Evans trailed Thompson.
Just when everything began looking good for Stewart, Roger Mears Jr rolled his Nissan on the back rough section and Rod Millen got caught up in the confusion and lost a u-joint on the back section. Mears was able to get the Nissan started but Millen had to be towed causing a restart.
On the restart Ivan Stewart held the lead but had Danny Thompson in hot pursuit. Roger Mears was able to get in front of Harris by going the inside option. But before the action could get really heated up Dan Esslinger landed nose down in front of the press booth and flipped the Ford causing a yellow.
With only three laps to go Stewart again held his lead on the restart. Danny Thompson kept the Chevy in second. Roger Mears Sr went inside on the restart and came out of the peristyle ahead of Walker Evans. The two battled for the third spot down the back straight but Evans held steady.
Once the racers settled back into the groove Ivan Stewart pulled several lengths ahead of Thompson, with Evans a short way back in third. But Evans had Roger Mears Sr challenging, however when the checkered flag came out third belonged to Evans. Fifth went to Glenn Harris.