The San Francisco event held at Candlestick Park on October
17 marked the end of yet another year of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Gran Prix series. Rod Millen became the new
number one plate holder in the Grand National Sport Truck class
before the event even started and Team Toyota regained the
Manufacturer’s Cup after it’s brief stay at Dodge. Tommy Croft
drove his Jeep to a championship victory in the UltraStock
division and Jeep ran away with their class Manufacturer’s Cup.
In a down to the wire decision, Jerry Whelchel drove into the
championship circle in the Super 1600 division. With four main
events for the year (including Candlestick) Jimmie Johnson earned
the number one plate in his SuperLite division. Repeat champions
Mark Ehrnardt and Mike Craig won in their respective Skat(c)Trak
ATV and UltraCross divisions.
Although Toyota dominated this year’s Grand National racing
Rick Johnson served notice that he and his Nelson and Nelson
Chevrolet will be a serious threat for 1993. Johnson drove the
Chevrolet to two astonishing main event wins for the year. He won
one of the heat races at Candlestick but engine woes put him in a
battle for third in the main event. Johnson stated before the
race that Chevrolet was influenced enough with his rookie year
that he will return in 1993 with a second truck. The driver of
which is still undecided.
As we stated in an earlier issue the new Nye Frank Super
1600 car built for Jerry Whelchel appeared to be very impressive
right out of the crate. Whelchel started the year in an old
Chenowth and finished poorly in the first event then new car woes
meant a disappointing second event. But once he got the bugs out
of the new car he then either won or finished in the top three in
every event thereafter. If this car sounds like the winning
ticket you can forget about having one made. Whelchel said that
Nye Frank has no intention of putting the car into production.
In the SuperLite class the young Jimmie Johnson won four of
the eight race series events. Johnson’s other second place
finishes in all but the Seattle event had earned him the
championship before the Candlestick event. But Johnson didn’t let
his early victory slow him down, he came to Candlestick and won
the main event too. Rumor has it that Johnson, not related to
Rick, is one of the drivers being considered for the second
Chevrolet next year.
The Candlestick race track was tight and fast. As the track
was built around the football playing field it appeared there
were few places to pass, but throughout the event the drivers
demonstrated their ability to pull around in some of the most
unusual places. To acquaint you with the action the start/finish
line was set on about the 40 yard line of Candlestick Park’s
football field. A fast left hand sweeper transported the action
around what would be home base of the baseball field. Just before
first base, a small jump broke up the turn. At first base a left
hand turn greeted the racers into a rhythm section. At the end of
the rhythm section, just past second base, a right hand switch
back turned the action back across right field. Two uneven jumps
shook things up before a left hand switch back. The action was
now against the stadium wall where the track continued around the
outfield headed back to end the lap. During this long left
sweeper a couple of jumps were intended to keep their speed in
check but this area seen some serious horsepower. Just before the
last left heading to the start/finish line the track funneled
into a very tight, single lane left turn. But the faster drivers
managed to power drift through it with a lot of style. And as
usual a jump was included at the finish line.
Racing got underway with the first Grand National heat race.
Rod Millen had set fast time with his new arch rival Rick Johnson
second fastest. With the inverted start the fast guys were placed
back in the pack and Jimmy Nichols sat on the pole. Once green,
Roger Mears Jr. slipped inside before the rhythm section and got
the Nissan Hooked up. But the pack caught up with him in the
first switch back and Brain Stewart upended Mears Jr causing a
On the restart Walker Evans was spun around. This held him
and Rick Johnson up for a moment allowing the pack to get away
from them. Mears Jr had the lead with fourth fastest qualifier
Ivan Stewart on his tail. Roger Mears Sr was third and Rod Millen
held fourth. On the third lap Millen took the lead by slipping
inside of Mears Jr just before entering the fourth lap.
Once out front Stewart was able to create some breathing
room and Mears Jr had some also. But a heated battle was raging
for third with Mears Sr, Millen and Rob MacCachren. MacCachren
and Millen were able to provide the show when Mears Sr spun and
tagged the hydro barrier. MacCachren took third place on the
left hand switch-back but Millen found his way around before the
race was over.
Ivan Stewart pulled into the winners circle with plenty of
breathing room between himself and Roger Mears Jr. Third place
Rod Millen had Rob MacCachren close by and Walker Evans crossed
UltraStock heat one had 11 cars. However teammates Tommy
Croft and Larry Noel were mainly worried about each other as only
a few points separated them for the championship. On the start
Noel pushed his Jeep up front but Chris Neil and he collided in
the switch back. Noel ended up on his roof with the Pathfinder on
top of it. Both were righted and able to restart.
On the restart Tim Lewis jumped out with a comfortable lead
as a traffic jam happened behind him. Larry Noel found himself
behind Brian Collins and Tommy Croft was behind Noel. Before the
race ended Noel managed to take the second spot and Croft had to
settle for fourth. The second place finish added fuel to the
points fire as Noel gained four points on the leader Croft.
A total of 18 riders came out for the first Skat Trak ATV
heat. Once the green came out Charles Shepherd drove to the
checkered flag. Shepherd had to earn his victory though as Greg
Stuart pulled alongside on a couple of occasions. However, the
1990 points champ Charles Shepherd managed the win with Stuart
second. Third place was Donavon Holland and Gary Denton crossed
over fourth. Denton came into the event trailing Mark Ehrhardt
for the season. Fifth went to Roger Helsley.
Fifteen riders came out for the six lap Skat Trak ATV second
heat. Mark Ehrhardt showed his championship style by taking
command of the heat early. However Doug Eichner made him earn the
win by pressuring for the lead throughout the event. Local rider
Niclas Granlund crossed over third. Fourth was Chris Berger and
fifth was Jason Sutter.
This year marked a new era for the Mears Gang as CJ Mears
and cousin Clint Mears entered the SuperLite wars. In the first
heat race CJ Mears used his pole starting position to his
advantage and pulled out the early leader. Behind him was the
newly crowned class champ Jimmie Johnson. Having grown up around
serious racers the young Mears was not intimidated and held off
Johnson for three laps. Johnson’s lead was short lived as he made
a rare mistake and spun out giving the lead and eventual win to
Mears. Jimmie Johnson was able to regain control of the
Briggsbuilt Natures Recipe machine and finished second. Third
went to Rick Marshall and fourth was Johnson’s teammate Mercedes
Gonzales. Stacy Fay rounded out the top five.
Round two of the SuperLites had nine cars competing. At
first it appeared that Greg George was headed for an easy win but
he got a rear wheel hung on the hydro-barrier and Terry Peterson
moved into the lead. However George was not through and was able
to regain control of second place and by the third lap George
moved inside Peterson on the outfield sweeper for the lead.
Peterson managed second while third place went to Erik Cobb.
Keith Ehlers maneuvered around Rennie Awana before the checkered.
As stated earlier Candlestick Park was fast and the speed
carried on even with the usually slow Pee Wee exhibition. Many of
the young riders ranging from four to eight years were air bound
over the jumps and showed confidence around the fast corners.
Those competition were Robert Harold, Tyson Talkington, Bobby
Morello, Nick Alvarez, Casey Russell, Mathew Clark, Matt Smith,
Jillian Bennett, Ryan Millen, Daniel Taft and Davey Freeman.
The closest points battle for the season was between the top
four Super 1600 drivers. Marty Hart came to Candlestick with 228
points. Jerry Whelchel had earned 222 and Frank Arciero Jr held
219. Mitch Mustard was also within striking distance with 218
points. Whelchel was able to close up on Hart with the four
points earned setting fast time but Hart had the second fastest.
Even so all four were still in contention and all knew they had
three events to finish before anyone wear the crown.
Heat one had 10 cars entered. At the green Frank Arciero
took the early lead. Jerry Whelchel was second and had to study
Arciero for a couple of laps before finding a way around. Once
around, Whelchel was then able to pull a ten car lead. Whelchel
was able to hold on for the win and pull 15 points ahead of Hart,
who was racing in the next heat. Frank Arciero managed second and
his 17 points meant that he too was still a serious threat. Jimmy
Nichols brought his Chenowth across third and fourth went to Bob
Gordon, with Eric Arras trailing.
The second Super 1600 heat followed with nine cars entered
in an eight lap race. Marty Hart and Mitch Mustard sat alongside
one another in the second row. Gary Gall sat on the pole, and
when the green came out Gall couldn’t care less that a points
battle raged behind him. Gall was able to win the event but
towards the end Mustard pulled up to make him earn the win. Marty
Hart finished second and earned 17 points but still found himself
trailing Whelchel going into the main event.
The second Grand National heat race turned out to be a wild
event. Jimmy Nichols was positioned on the pole again and
alongside Nichols was the independent Ford of Gary Denton. Roger
Mears Sr and Rob MacCachren made up the second row. And when the
green came out it was Roger Mears that lead the pack through the
switch backs. Another charger was Rick Johnson who had moved from
a next to last starting position into fourth place. But Johnson
found Nichols sideways in the left switch back and Johnson had no
where to go. Johnson smacked the Ford, spinning it around and
then Johnson’s Chevrolet came to rest on top of the barrier. This
caused a restart and Walker Evans was sent to the back of the
pack for causing Nichols to get sideways.
On the restart Mears held his lead with Johnson tucking up
in second and MacCachren in a badly beat up Ford was in third.
But before things could get heated up Nichols rolled the Ford
again in the right switch back. Causing another yellow.
With racing action restarted Mears quickly pulled out with
Johnson taking the brunt of traffic crawling all over him in the
first switch back. Rod Millen got sideways but was able to get
going. A four car battle for fourth place had developed but
everything appeared to be sorted out. Then while leading the
event Roger Mears took the finish line jump wrong, landed on his
nose and did a violent flip. The Nissan caught fire but was put
out quickly. Mears however had his bell rung pretty good and it
took a few minutes before the medics could get him out of the
upside down Nissan. Mears was okay but did not return for the
With Roger Mears out this gave the lead to Rick Johnson. On
the restart Johnson took off and was able to hold a five truck
length lead over Ivan Stewart. Third place went to Rob MacCachren and Rod Millen was fourth. Walker Evans managed fifth.
In the UltraCross first heat race early leader Ryan Carlisle
went over the handle bars of the Kawasaki and Scott Myers took
over the lead. But points leader Mike Craig came charging through
the pack to take over the lead on the second lap. Larry Brooks
followed Craig’s lead and moved into the second spot. Time ran
out on Brooks’ attempt and he had to settle for second. Scott
Myers managed third and fourth went to Ryan Carlisle. Chris
Ridgeway was fifth in this class of 11 riders.
Another 11 riders came out for the second UltraCross event.
This time Shaun Wooten put his Suzuki out front early. Back in
the pack Kyle Lewis had some trouble while running third and
dropped the Yamaha. This mishap was to Team Kawasaki’s points
advantage as Ray Crumb was able to move into the second spot.
Crumb wasn’t content with the second spot and stole the lead on
the final corner of the race. Shaun Wooten finished second and
third went to Lance Small (Yamaha). Fourth was another Yamaha of
Lowell Thomson, and fifth was Shaun Kalos.
When the UltraStock main event lined up it was points leader
Tommy Croft and teammate Larry Noel that were sharing the front
row. On the start the two Jeeps ran away from third place Jim
Smith. Smith had Tim Lewis in hot pursuit. Brain Collins came
charging through and hit Kent Castle rolling him over about mid
way. Then Castle and Jeff Elrod tangled to the point the Rough
Driving Committee decided to drop Castle to last position.
Meanwhile Croft was running along with only a loose hood as his
biggest threat to the championship. Larry Noel got crossed up in
a corner on the last lap and Jim Smith was able to finish second.
Chris Neil managed third and fourth went to Jack Millerd. Tim
Lewis managed fifth.
A total of 18 starters came out for the seven lap Skat Trak
ATV main event. Win loose or draw Mark Eharhardt had already
earned the points championship so when Niclas Granlund took off
the early leader Eharhardt wasn’t too worried. Granlund was able
to hold the lead for three laps before Greg Stuart came up to
worry Granlund. Stuart was able to pour the throttle to the Honda
and take the lead from Granlund. Once out front it was as if the
fat lady had sang; Greg Stuart won the main but Mark Ehrhardt won
the repeat number one plate. Second for the night went to early
leader Nicklas Granlund and Donovan Holland, Doug Eichner and
Charles Shepherd trailed.
The UltraLite main event was seven laps and had 16 cars
entered. On the pole was heat winners CJ Mears and Greg George.
On the start George grabbed the lead and his teammate Jimmie
Johnson sandwiched the young Mears between the two. It took
Johnson a couple of laps before settling in behind teammate
George. The two then quickly distanced themselves from Mears.
This follow the leader strategy went on until Johnson found an
opening on the next to last lap. This win gave Jimmie Johnson his
fourth win of the season and the championship. Greg George
managed second but was vying for his 20th career victory (in
three different classes). CJ Mears had a good night with his
third place finish. Fourth was Stacy Fay and Rick Marshall was
Coming into the Super 1600 main event the stage was set for
what could be a dramatic ending to the year long war. Only a hand
full of points separated the front two drivers and any one of
four could conceivably win the championship. Things appeared good
for Jerry Whelchel, but as with any 1600 event anything could
happen. He came into the main as points leader, but still had
three other drivers that could possibly take it. And two of the
three cars were lined behind him. Whelchel sat on the pole next
to Gary Gall, but had his closest points rival Frank Arciero
setting inside the second row. And Mitch Mustard was outside of
Arciero. Marty Hart had the points advantage coming into the
event but was lined up back in the pack.
It must have been the “buts or what if” that spurred
Whelchel off the line; and eventually ruined the dramatic show
down. Once racing got underway he pulled a couple of car lengths
on Arciero, who had moved Gall into the third spot. And once out
front it was a matter of negotiating lapped traffic before
Whelchel won the event and the championship.
Frank Arciero Jr came across second and third went to Mitch
Mustard. Gary Gall was fourth place and Jimmy Nichols was fifth.
And Marty Hart was sixth.
In the UltraCross main event there were 20 starters but the
real points battle was between Kyle Lewis and Mike Craig. Lewis
put a serious threat together early on by taking the lead.
However he had trouble holding onto the Yamaha over one of the
jumps and ended up with the Yamaha riding him to the ground.
Lewis was able to remount but found himself in 10th place.
Shaun Kalos had no problems with his Yamaha and rode the
track for a victory. Kalos was followed by Tony Amaradio and
Larry Brooks. Mike Craig finished fourth in the main but earned
enough points for the championship. However, Graig had stated
earlier that he was racing in Europe next year and could not race
the 1993 MTEG series.
When the final Grand National Sport Truck main event came
out it was Team Toyota sharing the front row. Ivan Stewart sat
inside of Rod Millen. Rick Johnson was inside of row two and Rob
MacCachren was outside. Roger Mears and Brain Stewart didn’t
make the starting line.
Once the green flag came out the front four driver’s right
foot must have grown a couple of sizes. All the power available
was powering the front four around like a locomotive. Ivan
Stewart had his Toyota out front. Rod Millen trailed with Rick
Johnson and Rob MacCachren all four within a sneeze of each
other. The pace continued this way for four laps. Then Johnson
appeared to be falling off the pace. Apparently the new engine
installed between races lacked the power of the previous power
plant. But MacCachren wasn’t slacking off any and this kept both
of Johnson’s hands full. Meanwhile Millen was also closing in on
his teammate. But then Roger Mears Jr rolled and a yellow came
out to slow down the action.
On the restart the savvy Stewart jumped out early and left
the battle between his teammate Millen and Johnson. Rob MacCachren now had Walker Evans pressuring him as well. Ivan Stewart had nothing but clear track ahead of him and the checkered flag. The Candlestick event was Stewart’s second win of the season. Rod Millen had already sewn up the championship and was able to hold onto second. Third place was Rick Johnson and Rob MacCachren was able to hold off Walker Evans.