I started this season off by saying the 90’s appeared to be very promising for stadium racing. The first event drew over 65,000 fans as well as several new teams. Well I’m here to report that after all 10 Mickey Thompson Off Road Championship Gran Prix’s have been completed the future appears brighter yet.
For 1991 the series expects several new teams, including a new two-truck factory team. And don’t be surprised to see a couple of the one-vehicle teams introducing another truck for 91. In 1990 there were over 30 new entrants, with the biggest jump displayed in the already competitive Super 1600 class.
Sponsors Report, a publication that monitors all major forms of motor sports on television and evaluates the coverage given, stated the MTEG Off-Road Gran Prix series is again one of he best exposure mediums in motor sports. All 10 events are aired during prime time on ESPN, plus two repeats per event. And the shows are averaging 2 million viewers. Sounds like stadium racing is moving ahead.
The final event of the season was held at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on November 3 before a crowd of 36,684 new stadium racing fans. This marked two firsts for the MTEG series; a first for the series in being at the park and MTEGs first northern California event. Last year was to be the first event but it had to be canceled due to a devastating earthquake. But the only earth shaking this evening was the Chunk of Baja laid out on the stadium floor.
As the racers entered the arena three of the class championships had already been decided. After already winning four main events this season Ivan Stewart had but to show up for the event to become Champion of the Grand National Sport Trucks. Charles Shepherd had won three events already and earned enough points to be named Champion of the 4-Wheel ATV class. And Mike Graig, whose only win of the season came at Seattle, had rode consistent throughout the season for top honors in the UltraCross action.
However plenty of action was in the making as the UltraStock shootout boiled down to two Northern California driver’s Larry Noel and Jeff Elrod. Besides the first event of the season, these two had taken turns winning all the events. Going into the Candlestick event Noel led with 358 to Elrod’s 339. And as Elrod lined up against Noel he had the confidence of knowing he was tied with Frank Arciero, Jr for the most career wins in the MTEG series (14 wins), regardless of class.
The other title still to be resolved at Candlestick was the SuperLite battle waged between defending champ Rennie Awana and Rory Holladay. Holladay went into the final round leading with 242 to Awana’s 233. Holladay went into the event with 10 total main event wins to his credit.
As stated earlier, the Super 1600 class is always competitive so it is no surprise that any one of four drivers could use this event to earn themselves a title. Defending champ Mitch Mustard held the lead with a 15 point cushion over Frank Arciero, Jr. Mitch Mustard went into the event with three main event wins to his credit, while Arciero was tied for most career wins with Jeff Elrod. Bob Gordon is usually in the thick of the battle, and again had a good chance. Jerry Whelchel got off to a slow start this year but regained momentum with his automatic tranny equipped Chenowth.
After the qualifying times had been posted, it was Ivan Stewart turning fast time among the truck drivers. This not only let the other drivers know Stewart came loaded for bear, but it officially earned him enough points to run the number 1 plate in 1991. Stewart stated, “It feels very good and now I can relax and have fun. But for Toyota and myself, I still want to win tonight.”
The first event of the evening drew eight Sport Trucks to battle. Due to an inverted starting order Ivan Stewart sat on the back row with second fastest qualifier Roger Mears. Danny Thompson (third fastest) and Walker Evans shared the third row and row two consisted of Jeff Huber and Roger Mears, Jr. Last year’s champ Robby Gordon was able to take time from his busy IMSA road racing schedule and sat on the pole in the Venable Ford. Glenn Harris shared the front row.
At the start Gordon and Harris argued over first but Gordon was able to keep the inside line. But at the end of the lap a hard charging Walker Evans put his Jeep in the lead. Robby Gordon suffered power steering failure (lost the belt) and Evans’ teammate Glenn Harris settled into second. Team Jeep then took off and left the battle to be settled over third place. Ivan Stewart had Roger Mears crawling all over him in this battle but Mears was to settle for fourth when the checkered came out. Fifth went to Danny Thompson.
With only 12 points separating Thompson and Evans, Evans’ win put him in the lead for second place.
In the second heat Robby Gordon and Jeff Huber shared the front row. Roger Mears, Jr, Glenn Harris, Danny Thompson, Roger Mears, Walker Evans, and Ivan Stewart lined up behind. Once underway Robby Gordon managed to use the pole position to his advantage. Jeff Huber settled his Toyota into second until he rolled, landing on his wheels. This put Roger Mears Jr into second place. Followed by a determined Glenn Harris in a Jeep. Roger Mears had third but let Harris know he was in contention. While Harris and Mears provided the entertainment Gordon was able to keep his Ford together and pull out a comfortable lead.
Glenn Harris actually lost his second place position to Mears on the next to last lap. But Harris had the Jeep hooked up and was determined. On the last lap he found a hole around Mears. Mears showed some determination himself and became Harris’ shadow. In fact they were so close at the finish the two tangled and flipped crossing the finish line. Harris’ Teammate Walker Evans watched all the action from his fourth place position. And Ivan Stewart was fifth.
In the main event it was Ivan Stewart setting on the pole. Stewart had already gained the points to win the championship but wanted to win the main for himself and Toyota. The points battle was left to Walker Evans (sharing front row with Stewart), and Danny Thompson who sat back in the third row. Roger Mears lined up behind Stewart and Glenn Harris’ Jeep was positioned behind Evans. Robby Gordon sat across from Thompson on the third row. Jeff Huber’s Toyota was not in the competition as team manager Cal Wells decided “There’s no point, there’s nothing to be gained in trying to repair the truck after Jeff turned over in the second heat.” Instead the crew devoted their effort to Stewart’s Toyota.
When the final event of the season got underway Stewart took advantage of a hesitant Evans and grabbed the early lead off the line. Roger Mears pulled his Nissan into second place and young Mears closed in for third. Robby Gordon put the Ford in the heat of things and Harris was able to hold off Thompson. On the second lap Gordon came around the sweeper to hard and tipped the Ford up on its side causing a yellow.
Walker Evans had pulled off with mechanical woes and Robby Gordon was unable to return.
On the restart Stewart had Roger Mears to contend with. But before a real battle could get started Danny Thompson drove the Chevrolet up on the hydro barriers, and then drove off again. But during the wild ride he broke the steering and had to retire the Chevrolet. Glenn Harris was blamed for the incident and sent to the penalty box.
This left Stewart, Mears, Harris and the young Mears in the battle. Once underway Stewart hooked up the Toyota and put some breathing room between himself and Mears, and Harris who were fighting over second. No sooner had Harris passed Mears that he was again given a black flag, meaning another trip to the penalty box. No one seems to know what this flag was for, and Harris later said he received three black flags total in the event but was waved on the first time. But luckily for Harris, Mears had fallen back and Harris was able to get back into the action just in time to save his second spot. But second was all Harris could muster as Stewart was running a flawless race. However after the race Harris was said to have passed up tech inspection and was disqualified from the event. Harris claimed he was flagged on by one of the workers due to traffic congestion; but rules are rules so he was disqualified.
When Ivan Stewart crossed the finish line he wrote himself in the history books in several ways. The win was his fifth main event win for the season. More than any other person has done within a season. The win became Stewart’s 11th victory in the Grand National Sport Truck competition. And as stated earlier he had captured the individual points championship for the season.
Stewart also shared top honors with teammate Jeff Huber by winning for Toyota their eighth straight Manufacturers Cup. After the race Stewart was asked about his win and his outstanding season and he replied, “I love it. There is no other profession in the world I would rather be a part of.”
Although he was unable to complete the main event Walker Evans earned three more points than Danny Thompson for the season for second place. Stewart finished with 573 points with Evans and Thompson earning 476 and 473 respectively. Roger Mears was able to put a couple of wins together in 90 to earn the number four plate and Jeff Huber was fifth. Glenn Harris, who started the season out in a Mazda and then switched to Jeep, finished sixth. Roger Mears Jr was eighth and Rod Millen, Dan Esslinger, and Robby Gordon completed the top 10 points positions.
In the Tire Wars BF Goodrich was champion with Goodyear placing second. The title for Tire Manufacturer is based on points earned in the Sport Truck, Super 1600 and UltraStock classes. The points winner in the UltraStock division was Volkswagen with an outstanding 845 to Jeep’s 593. Honda dominated the 4-Wheel ATV class and Kawasaki was champion of the UltraCross field.
Super 1600 heat race one had nine cars on the field at Candlestick. Tommy Croft shared the front row with Kevin Smith. Points contender Frank Arciero, Jr sat inside row two with Greg George alongside. Danny Rice and Jimmy Nichols made up row three.
Tommy Croft jumped off the line and never looked back. Kevin Smith stayed within striking distance but had Frank Arciero all over his tail. The front three ran away from the field and kept most of the action among themselves. Then with two laps to go Arciero cut inside the right switch back and moved Smith into third place. Aricero’s problem was that Croft was no where nearby.
Tommy Croft crossed over for the checkered with Arciero a distant second. Kevin Smith held his third place and fourth went to Danny Rice. Fifth was Marty Coyne.
In the second group of Super 1600’s eight contenders lined up behind points contender Bob Gordon and Wes Elrod. Jerry Whelchel sat inside row two with defending champ, and current title contender, Mitch Mustard next to him. Former ATV rider Marty Hart was inside row three with Don Kolt alongside.
Off the line Wes Elrod grabbed the lead but before the lap ended Jerry Whelchel cut inside for the lead. Gordon settled into second with Don Kolt third. But before the lap ended Gordon and Elrod tangled and spun sideways causing a restart.
On the restart Mitch Mustard used the open real estate to his advantage. He was able to put several car lengths on Gordon. Gordon didn’t have much time to concentrate on Mustard as he was busy defending himself against third place Don Kolt. While these two were having their fun Jerry Whelchel snuck up and put it on both of them for second place. Then on lap three Larry Noel moved into third ahead of Kolt. Brian Collins was running fifth.
With Mitch Mustard running all alone he made it apparent why he wears the number 1 plate. And at the checkered he gained more valuable points towards wearing the plate again next year. Jerry Whelchel brought his Sage Council Chenowth across for second and third was Larry Noel. Don Kolt crossed over fourth and fifth was Brian Collins.
During the Super 1600 main event 17 cars prepared for the open wheel battle. On the pole was Jerry Whelchel alongside him was Frank Arciero, Jr. Row two consisted of Mitch Mustard and Tommy Croft. The third row had Kevin Smith and Larry Noel. With these six up front the other contenders could only hope for a mistake. And on the start they got their wish. Kevin Smith got sideways and Danny Rice flipped causing a restart. Whelchel had grabbed the lead with Arciero and Mustard trailing.
On the restart Arciero hooked up his Chenowth to grab the lead. However Whelchel and Mustard both were in hot pursuit. Tommy Croft had settled into fourth but was not content there. On the second lap he found a way around Mustard for third. So Mustard was now fourth and fifth was Larry Noel.
The leaders remained the same until the midway point and Whelchel who had been all over Arciero found his spot. Whelchel moved into the lead after the rough section and Arciero then had to contend with Mustard. Mustard played it safe until the last lap, and then stole second from Arciero, and Arciero had no time left to regain the position.
Jerry Whelchel won the last event of the year with Mitch Mustard taking second. And by taking second place Mustard earned enough points to capture the championship.
Third place went to Tommy Croft and Frank Arciero ended up fourth. Arciero was limping in with his left rear wheel assembly on fire. Bob Gordon managed fifth.
With Mitch Mustard totaling 337 points for the season he earned the title of champion. Frank Arciero will again run the number 2 plate. Third place for the season was Jerry Whelchel (296). Fourth went to Bob Gordon and fifth was Danny Rice.
Sixth place for the year was Marty Coyne and Greg George was listed seventh. Larry Noel earned eighth place with 185 points. Kevin Smith was ninth and Wes Elrod was 10th.
The first UltraStock event lined up for five laps and Brian Stewart (Ivan’s son) was setting on the pole. Alongside Stewart was Brian Collins. Tim Lewis sat behind Stewart and Lloyd Castle finished out row two. Castle had set fast time at Candlestick. Christopher Neil and Joe Anchondo were row three and Jim Smith was the only car on row four.
Brian Collins got off the line first with Stewart holding onto second. While the other drivers were sorting themselves out Christopher Neil drove up on the hydro barriers but was able to get back going again. Collins was out front all alone and lost steering in his Porsche. Stewart took over the lead. The lead changed again going into lap four. Lloyd Castle snuck inside the young Stewart and quickly put some breathing room between his Jeep and Stewart’s Toyota. Stewart was able to fend off the advances of Tim Lewis until the next to last lap. Lewis got by and was able to hold onto second behind Castle. Stewart took third and fourth went to Jim Smith. Christopher Neil came across fifth.
The second heat race took on a hometown flavor. Both the points contenders, Jeff Elrod (San Jose) and Larry Noel (Concord) sat side by side in row two — with only 19 points separating them. The front row was made up of Jack Millerd and Vince Tjelmeland. The third row had Dan Chittenden and Paul Nissley.
On the start both the front runners went through the left sweeper side-by-side. Tjelmeland drifted a little wide and Millerd took over. As they crossed over for lap two it was Millerd, Tjelmeland, Noel, Elrod, Nissley and Chittenden. During the third lap Noel made his move for second place, however Elrod shot through the confusion and took over the second place spot. Noel had to settle for third. The next couple laps was a fierce battle between the front three runners. Millerd was feeling the pressure of Elrod and Elrod was driven by Noel’s persistence.
Jack Millerd was able to fend off the last ditch efforts of Jeff Elrod. Larry Noel took third and kept the battle for points very much alive. Paul Nissley was fourth.
The main event was for all the marbles. Jeff Elrod failed to gain any points and still trailed Noel by 18 points. Elrod needed a win and needed lightening to strike Noel. Elrod had the advantage as he sat on the front row with Tim Lewis. Row two was the second heat winner Jack Millerd and across from him was Lloyd Castle. Brian Stewart was inside the third row while points leader Larry Noel was positioned next to him. A total of 12 cars lined up for the 7 lap main event.
When the checkered flag came out Jeff Elrod let his intentions known. He was after the win. Lloyd Castle settled into the second spot and Larry Noel moved ahead of Brian Stewart. Paul Nissley followed with Millerd, Neil, and Tjelmeland in close contention.
With each consecutive lap Elrod gained some valuable real estate and appeared headed for a win. However, the sky was clear for Noel and he too was running a consistent race. The front three stayed in that order throughout the race. The man on the move was Christopher Neil. He moved through the pack from his fifth row starting position into fourth place by the last lap.
When the Jenny Graig hold-out had sang, the championship had been decided. Not for the event winner Jeff Elrod, but for third place finisher Larry Noel. Jeff Elrod could not go away a loser; as his win made him the all time MTEG event winner. He now has 15 wins, more than any other series contestant.
Larry Noel won the championship with 392 points. All time event winner Jeff Elrod was a close second with 382. With 327 points Tim Lewis earned third overall and fourth for the year was Christopher Neil. Last year’s champ Lloyd Castle was fifth. Sixth place went to Vince Tjelmeland with Brian Collins, Doug Bath, Brad Castle, and Paul Nissley finishing out the top ten spots.
Greg George started the evening out by setting fast time during SuperLite qualifying. And before the evening was over he had won both the heat and main events.
Once the heat race was underway Rennie Awana used his pole position to capture the early lead. Awana was in need of points. Entering this event he was nine points behind Rory Holladay. After starting from the second row Greg George quickly moved his Nature’s Recipe Pet Food Briggsbuilt into the lead. And never looked back. Rennie Awana was able to hold onto second place until the next to last lap. That’s when Holladay was able to put the slip on him. And Lady Luck was not shinning on Awana as he quickly began falling to the rear of the pack.
Greg George remained in command of the event until the checkered. Holladay was caught snoozing by Tim Baker and Holladay crossed over third. Fourth went to Joe Pierce and fifth was Don Archibald. Rennie Awana crossed over 13th.
In the main event Joe Pierce and Rory Holladay shared the front row. Row two was Don Archibald and Greg George sat outside. Third row consisted of Mercedes Gonzales and Frank Chavez. From the word go Greg George took command of the event. This left the battle for second place. Holladay settled into the spot but before the lap was over he had to pull off with mechanical woes. Joe Pierce inherited the spot, but was passed a couple of laps later by Gonzales.
When the checkered flag came out it was Greg George winning and teammate Mercedes Gonzales crossed over second. However after the event Gonzales was disqualified for missing the tech inspection. So with Gonzales out Frank Chavez inherited the second place money. Third went to Rick Marshall and John Gersjes was fifth.
For the season championship Rory Holladay earned champion status by totaling 262 points. Rennie Awana earned 10 less points for second overall. Third place went to Greg George and Allen Yaros was fourth. Fifth for the year was Frank Chavez and Joe Pierce, Ed Moore, Oksnevad Holgier, Ron Pierce and Sean Finley rounded out the top ten spots.
In the first heat race a hefty crowd of 16 riders turned out. Off the line it was Greg Longle that took the lead, but he was to get hung up on a hydro barrier and give the lead to Donavon Holland. Holland appeared to be in control of the event and held the lead for four laps. That’s when “Mr. come through the pack” Charlie Shepherd took over. Shepherd had set fast time during qualifying and knew the fast way around Candlestick.
Once out front Shepherd was unstoppable and went on for the win. Second place went to the early leader Donavon Holland and Don Turk grabbed third. Doug Eichner was fourth and Chris Couto was fifth.
In the second heat race 15 riders lined up. Donnie Banks could not capitalize on his pole position and had to settle for second behind Derek Hamilton. Banks put a strong challenge in for the lead but Hamilton had the Suzuki on line. Just as things were heating up between Banks and Hamilton entered Mark Ehrhardt into the picture. He flew past Banks for second place.
At the checkered flag it was still Derek Hamilton in the lead and Mark Ehrhardt captured second over Donny Banks. Fourth was Niclas Granlund and Graig Teel was fifth.
In the main event Charles Shepherd had already been proclaimed champion but still lined up to attempt another class win. On the start Donavon Holland jumped out front but had Shepherd crawling all over him. Shepherd used the wear him down strategy and with only two laps to go found a way around Holland.
Charles Shepherd not only won the event but also became the only person to win six main events within a season. A new title for any MTEG class. Holland held onto second place and third went to Mark Ehrhardt. Fourth was Bryon Sundoval and Niclas Granlund managed fifth.
Charles Shepherd had 146 more points than his closest competitor to become champion. Donny Banks was second with 316 points. Third was Don Turk and fourth Mark Ehrhardt. Donavon Holland earned 177 points through the season for fifth.
In the first UltraCross heat race 18 riders lined up. Mike Graig, who already had enough points to be crowned champion, was not in the line up due to an injury. Tallon Vohland, aboard a Kawasaki, grabbed the early lead and never looked back. Ray Crumb had to settle for second place and third went to Kerry Mulligan. Fourth was Treavor Meagher and Pat Gomm was fifth.
The second heat race had 16 riders but Rodney Smith was the one that saw the checkered flag first. Smith took over the event on lap two from second place Scott Myers. Mike Young held onto third place and fourth was Randy Moody. Lowell Thomson crossed over fifth.
In the main event Larry Brooks took off and left the pack. He was never headed throughout the event for a wire to wire victory. Tallon Vohland managed second and third went to Steve Lamson. Fourth was Lowell Thomson and Mike Young trailed in fifth.
As stated Mike Graig had won the championship before the event began. So Lowell Thomson could only get the number two plate for his consistent year long ride. Third overall was Jim Holley and Jeremy McGrath was fourth ahead of Mike Young.
The ’91 series opens January 19 at Anaheim Stadium and will travel to five other states before returning to Candlestick Park in October.