Mazda steam-rolled the Grand National competition

Stadium off-road racing celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with nearly 44,000 in attendance. Mickey Thompson introduced stadium racing to the Coliseum after conceiving the idea while racing the Baja 1000. Thompson felt there should be a place where spectators could sit and enjoy the tremendous competition taking place in the desert. The more he thought about the concept the more he realized it would not be an easy undertaking — 600 truckloads (36 million pounds) of clay is required to build the course, which measures six-tenths of a mile. This didn’t detour the late Thompson, and now the eight-race series is put on throughout the US and shown on cable television’s ESPN.

There have been many changes since the inaugural event, but the same basic track design Thompson scratched out on the ground with a twig is still being used. The biggest change was made last year when a double Peristyle jump was incorporated. The Peristyle jumps to send the vehicles up some 90 feet to the top of the Peristyle and back down to field level, which is the equivalent of a seven-story drop. One of the greatest changes from 10 years ago is the advanced technology of vehicles. Unlimited Single Seaters were replaced as the main attraction with today’s Grand National Sport Trucks with reputed price tags of $150,000 to 200,000.

Many new faces have shown up over the years to conquer the Coliseum event but they have found many experienced veterans just as eager for a win. Among the veterans who competed in the original event were Roger Mears who finished second to his brother Rick in the buggy class, and other notables such as Ivan Stewart, Glenn Harris, Greg George, Walker Evans, Bob Gordon, and Danny Thompson.

Rod Millen didn’t have his Mazda Sport Truck at the inaugural event but he certainly stood out at this event by setting the fastest qualifying time and later backing it up with the main event win. Team Mazda has captured five of the six Grand National Sport Truck main events this season, but due to the method of scoring this impressive tally only has Mazda leading the Manufacturers Cup Challenge by mere points over Team Toyota. Glenn Harris has won three of the five main events this year. Team Toyota’s owner Cal Wells has enjoyed five consecutive championships and said the Manufacturers’ Cup is extremely important to his team. “We’ve had to fight before, but never quite like this,” added Wells.

In the overall battle for Individual Drivers Championship Ivan Stewart now leads with 274 points with his Toyota teammate Steve Millen second at 271. Rod Millen (Mazda) sat out the Houston race but has gathered 264 points with his teammates Jeff Huber (243) and Glenn Harris (231) trailing.

In the Unlimited Super 1600 class defending champ Frank (Butch) Arciero Jr. is on a roll again this year. Butch has won three main events this season and set fast time at the Coliseum, however when the checkered flag flew over this main event Butch found himself in fifth place. Robby Gordon used his second-fastest qualifying time to jump out front and steal the win.

Individual points battles exist in all six classes with the closest points spread (179 to 178) going into the Coliseum event being between Brad Castle and the defending champion Arciero.

Heat races
The Grand National Sport Trucks got things rolling with a seven-lap heat race. Thirteen trucks lined up to battle but it was Jeff Huber and Ivan Stewart that set the mood for the evening. The two staged a race-long duel with Stewart working hard to find a way around Huber. Huber had put his pole position to good use right from the start. Another hard-fought battle was for third place between Danny Thompson, Al Arciero, Steve Millen, and Rod Millen. Roger Mears debuted a new Nissan but suffered fuel injection problems at the starting line.
When the dust settled it was Jeff Huber holding Ivan Stewart off for the win. In second place Stewart had Danny Thompson trailing in third. The fourth place turned into a family feud with the Millen brothers, with Steve winning out over Rod.

Next on the agenda was the Stadium Super Lites. Twelve drivers in all showed up to watch as Rennie Awana jumped out the early leader. Awana’s lead was short-lived as Ron Pierce bumped his way into the lead. Awana recovered quickly enough to keep second place but had Jim Norberg challenging. Norberg dropped out on lap four and the tag team of Bill Goshen and Roland Smith closed in to fight. Smith made his move for a second but found himself setting on his top. Goshen thought he had plenty of breathing room but John Gersjes snuck up from the pack and took third place at the checkered.

Ron Pierce won the heat with Rennie Awana second. Gerjes stole third and Bill Goshen had to settle for fourth. Richard Obialero took fifth.

From the start of the second Super Lite heat race, things looked easy for Rory Holliday. He jumped from his second-row starting position to grab the lead but as things progressed he spent the entire race fighting off Russ East. Holliday managed to hold East off for the win with John Hasshaw taking third. Fourth place went to Chuck Parker and fifth was John Shultz.

Seventeen riders came out to compete in the first 4-Wheel ATV heat race. The five-lap event was stopped on the third lap as the Suzuki’s of Jimmy Daniels and Steve Berg collided at the top of the Peristyle. Both riders lost control and tumbled down the huge jump. Both were reported to be all right but Berg had to be carried from the track with back and neck injuries.

On the single-file restart, it was Rob Baker out front but the restart gave Marty Hart time to figure out just when and where he would attack Baker. Hart got by and left the barn door open as Donnie Banks and Rick Ruppert found their way through. At the finish line, it was Marty Hart followed by Banks, Ruppert, Baker, and Mike Hurdle.

In the second 4-Wheel ATV heat 17 more riders came out and were determined not to be upstaged by the first heat riders. A five-way battle was going on for the lead when Toby Ashley rode his Kawasaki up on the back of the Andrew Buck. This pushed the Honda rider off and caused his Honda to lock up two other riders.
Once the crash, boom, and banging were over Derek Hamilton was out front in the lead. Hamilton held this spot for the win with second place going to Mark Ehrnhart. Third place Rick Marshall showed fourth place Don Turk the shortest way around the Coliseum while Charles Shepherd settled for fifth.

When the first UltraStocks came out to wage war Tim Maples sat on the front row with Vince Tjelmeland. Greg George and Jeff Elrod sat in the second row. Greg George made his move off the start line but couldn’t decide which option to take in turn one and ended up fourth. Some shuffling took place after turn one and Greg George slipped into second. On the following lap, Greg George made a move during turn one on Maples. George was not able to capitalize and then as the front four exited the Peristyle it was Vince Tjelmeland in second. Greg was not the only one having troubles, as Jeff Elrod came over the front jump he lost a front wheel and took a nose dive.

Vince Tjelmeland caught Maples napping going into the last switch-back and nosed his way into the lead. Maples recovered but had to fight off Greg George all the way. George took third and fourth and went to Neil Christopher. As the final results came out the Rough Driving Committee penalized Tjelmeland one position so the win went to Tim Maples.

A total of 14 riders lined up in the first UltraCross heat race. Going into the second lap the fast qualifiers that had been started in the rear of the pack had worked their way into third and fourth positions. Before the third lap was over Tyson Vohland was challenging for the lead. On the following lap, the race became a family affair as Tallon Vohland appeared in third. Jeff Mabery lost his lead to Tyson Vohland and very soon after the younger Vohland demoted Mabery to third. The two brothers went on to stage a near photo-finish with Tyson winning out over Tallon. Jeff Mabery held onto third with fourth earned by A.J. Whiting. Fifth went to Brian Sweaney.

In the second UltraCross event it only took two laps before Mike Kiercrowki brought his Kawasaki from the back of the pack to take the lead. Kiercrowki took the lead by outjumping Craig Davis’ Yamaha in the backstretch. Scott Tyler made a similar move but found himself airborne without a motorcycle to land on.
Mike Kiercrowki was never challenged after taking the lead. Second place went to Gordon Ward, who treated the crowd to an onboard view of the race with a helmet-mounted camera. Third place was Craig Davis and fourth went to Terry Fowler. Paul Vlach took fifth out of the 14 finishers.

In heat one of the Unlimited Super 1600 line up, it was Jimmy Nichols and Mitch Mustard setting on row one. The other 14 drivers didn’t have a chance when Nichols took off. Frank Arciero Jr. came from his second-row starting position to grab second and Bob Gordon settled into third.

As the cars entered the Peristyle Nichols got hung up and stopped traffic causing a multiple-car pile-up. Arciero took over the lead with Nichols settling for second. Mitch Mustard and Larry Noel slipped through the traffic jam and settled in behind the leaders.

On the fourth lap, Frank Arciero had stretched his lead over second-place Nichols with third-place Bob Gordon an equal distance behind. Nichols lost his second place when the left front wheel broke loose on his Raceco. To the crowd’s pleasure, he was able to hold Gordon and Mitch Mustard off for half a lap.

Nichols became the crowd favorite while plowing through the race course on three wheels. Most didn’t even notice as one car blew an engine and sent a cloud of smoke billowing above the arena, or notice as the Orange car flipped over the hydro barriers and began driving on the infield. Nichols would not give up and found the going to be quicker when the wheel finally fell off. The track officials worried Nichols might plow through the protective plywood and eat up the turf below and black-flagged him.

Frank Arciero went on for the win and Mitch Mustard found a hole and slipped by Bob Gordon for a second. Fourth went to Larry Noel and fifth was Pancho Weaver.

A total of 15 Unlimited Super 1600 cars lined up for the second heat race. Marty Coyne and Jerry Whelchel shared front-row honors with Tommy Croft and Danny Rice setting behind them.

Jerry Whelchel and Coyne fought over the inside line going into turn one and Coyne were able to keep the position. Robbie Gordon managed to put his brightly painted car into second with Whelchel holding onto third. Ron Carter got hung upside down in the Peristyle and stopped action for a moment as the cars played dog pile on him.

The leaders missed the pile-up and were running with no traffic. Robbie Gordon could taste the lead and glued himself to Coyne’s nurf bar hoping for a slight error on Coyne’s part. Coyne held the inside line at every corner hoping to keep Gordon at bay so the persistent Gordon began moving all over the track looking for a way around. Whelchel kept back a close third hoping the two leaders would tangle so he could make a move. Going into lap 4 they had caught up with traffic making it difficult for Coyne.

Gordon wasn’t going to let traffic get between him and Coyne so he married the two buggies together. He followed as Coyne methodically picked their way through traffic. Going into the Peristyle Whelchel caught Robbie Gordon paying too much attention to Coyne and slipped inside for second place.

Coming around for the white flag the three leaders were at one time three abreast in the left-hand sweeper. Once again traffic was held up Coyne. Whelchel was able to nudge his way inside Coyne on the last turn. Coyne then got sideways and Robbie Gordon was right there to take second place.

Marty Coyne had to settle for third and fourth went to Danny Rice. Lloyd Castle took fifth.

The second heat for the Grand National Sport Trucks was dominated by Team Toyota. Steve Millen sat on the pole with Danny Thompson lining up next to him. Ivan Stewart sat behind his teammate with Jeff Huber next to him.

On the start, Steve Millen just blew Thompson’s doors off with teammate Stewart taking second and Jeff Huber grabbed the third place spot. Rod Millen grabbed fourth and Thompson fell to fifth. On the next lap, Steve Millen was holding the pedal down in an attempt to put space between himself and the crowd but teammate Ivan Stewart had different ideas as he pressed into a very close second spot. Rod Millen was a distant third.

On the following lap the two Toyotas were battling with the only other exciting thing happening being Dave Ashley rolled over going into turn one.

By the third lap the front three leaders managed to put some breathing room between themselves and the pack. Third place Rod Millen was able to pull the Mazda within striking distance of Stewart while Stewart had his sights on Steve Millen.

Next lap Rod Millen pulled alongside Stewart by taking the second option of turn one but Stewart managed to hold him off. Steve Millen went a little wide on the sweeper and Stewart managed to pull alongside but Stewart could not capitalize. Rod Millen pulled his Mazda alongside to see if Stewart left his back door open but Stewart quickly shut the door.

When the white flag came out Dave Ashley had stalled in the second option of turn one and momentarily held the two Toys up, but by the time Millen got his Mazda around the corner, he was still in third. Rod’s trouble had just begun, as he was coming off the Peristyle jump the Mazda suffered a steering linkage failure and ended up in the hay bales. This put Team Toyota all alone for a one-two win. Jeff Huber inherited the third and the fourth went to Danny Thompson. Fifth was Glenn Harris.

Main events
John Gersjes was the first leader in the Stadium Super Lite main event but dropped out on the second lap. John Hasshaw took over with all the intentions of winning the main, however midway Russ East held the pedal down and took his lead. East managed to hold the position for the win with second place going to Rennie Awana. Rory Holliday captured third ahead of Joe Price. Fifth went to Frank Chavez.

A total of 24 4-Wheel ATV’s lined up for the main event. As had happened earlier this crowd was running all over themselves. A huge pile-up occurred in the Peristyle and then as the pack came around a four-quad pile-up happened as they crossed the jump past the s/f line. Donnie Banks was able to escape the free-for-all to steal the show. Banks had to stay on his toes as second-place Marty Hart remained a short distance behind. As the white flag came out Banks found Hart breathing down his neck, but when the fat lady had sung, it was Marty Hart that heard the blues.

Donnie Banks took the win with Hart closing in as they crossed the checkered flag. Third place went to Rick Ruppert while Mark Ehrnhart took fourth and fifth was Don Turk.

Only eight UltraStocks came out to battle for main event honors. The race began with a lot of shuffling but ended up with everyone playing follow the leader. Jeff Elrod made his move right from the start. He managed to squeeze Christopher Neil into the water barriers going into turn one to take the lead. Second place was taken by Tim Maples and Ken Kazarian grabbed third. On the following lap Greg George had managed to steal the lead with Tim Maples behind him and just ahead of Kazarian. Maples fumbled for low gear, in turn, one and Kazarian was eager to take second. Maples found his gear to retain third with Vince Tjelmeland running a close fourth.

From here on out things got quiet. Greg George put a lot of real estate between himself and Ken Kazarian. Third place ended up being Tim Maples and fourth was Jeff Elrod. Bill Silberman took fifth.

The Super 1600 main event saw Marty Coyne on the pole with Robbie Gordon setting next to him. Mitch Mustard and Jerry Whelchel shared row two with the defending champ Frank Arciero finishing out the top three rows.

Main event Super 1600 action began with Coyne holding on the gas and taking the lead, but when he had trouble getting into the right gear Robbie Gordon took over. Coyne had Bob Gordon on his tail with Jerry Whelchel holding onto fourth. The leader, Robbie Gordon, had the camera in his car and wanted to show the crowd a clean race course and just ran away from Coyne.

On the third lap, a traffic jam in the Peristyle caused the yellow flag to come out and stop the race until a dozen cars could be freed. This worked to Robbie Gordon’s disadvantage as Coyne was now right on his tail. On the restart Robbie knew he had some real estate to make — so he took off. As they came out of the Peristyle Gordon and already put 10 car lengths between himself and Coyne. Marty Coyne didn’t have it so easy, but those that tried to get around even had it harder. Coyne had Whelchel playing tag with him until Whelchel made his move over the s/f line and ended up putting his Chenowth on its side and standing it straight up before landing — headed the wrong way. As the front wheel hit the ground Whelchel had it in gear and was trying to get back in the race. He got going in 9th place but apparently was a little disoriented as he ended up going over the water barriers half a lap later. Bob Gordon made a move on Coyne heading up the Peristyle jump and ended up in the seats.

The young but hot Robbie Gordon took the win easily with Coyne coming across a distant second and Larry Noel was third. Jimmy Nichols managed fourth over David Bonner.

The UltraCross main ended up as a repeat of the first heat race. The Vohland brothers, both starting at the back of the pack due to their fast qualifying time, passed the entire field and took the win. Tyson Vohland showed little brother Tallon the way around the track and the two finished in that order. Third went to A.J. Whiting with fourth place Brian Pryor crossing over before Terry Fowler.

In the Grand National main event 10 trucks came out but Danny Thompson lost his ignition while waiting for the green flag, and was pulled from the track. Walker Evans and Glenn Harris shared the front row. Danny’s spot was left vacant so Jeff Huber sat on the second row alone. Ivan Stewart and Steve Millen shared the next row, and Rod Millen and Al Arciero were next. The back row was Dan Esslinger and Rob MacCachren.

The drag race into turn one was won by Walker Evans but he then flipped going over the second jump which caused Jeff Huber to get on his top. With the race track blocked the race was stopped and Evans and Huber were righted. Huber was able to breathe life back into the Mazda and return to the restart. Evan’s Jeep was damaged heavily and retired.

On the restart, it was Glenn Harris out front and teammate Jeff Huber was placed on the second row since he didn’t cause the original accident. Both Toyotas made up the third row. As the green flag came out on the restart for 11 laps of main event action it was Harris that pulled out with Steve Millen and Jeff Huber battling for second. Huber won the argument while Rod Millen slipped in behind Stewart.

As they crossed the s/f line to begin the second lap things looked good for team Mazda, but moments later Harris slammed into the Peristyle and created a traffic jam which gave the lead to the Jeep of Al Arciero. Rod Millen was able to take second with third taken by Dan Esslinger.

The two front runners were all alone with Rod Millen taking over the lead by leaving the gas on and slipping inside of Arciero. The two swapped some sheet metal before Arciero had to relinquish his position.

Al Arciero was not through as he challenged on the sweeper before ending the lap, however, Arciero was having braking problems and Huber was able to get some breathing room.

As the leaders came around again Huber had put some distance between himself and Arciero. Third place was the other jeep of Rob MacCachren with Ivan Stewart closing in.

On the following lap the race appeared to belong to Rod Millen as he had put 10 car lengths between himself and Arciero. The distant battle for third went on between MacCachren and Ivan Stewart.

Only four trucks were running as Rod Millen brought the number 21 Mazda across the finish line a full straightaway ahead of Al Arciero. The battle for third continued right up to the end with MacCachren holding on and Stewart having to settle for fourth.

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