Toyota wins Championship at the final wire

Las Vegas, Nevada is a city known throughout the world for its gambling and none stop entertainment. The city made a seemingly appropriate setting to stage the final Mickey Thompson Off-Road Championship Gran Prix of 1988. Just like the fortune seekers that journey to this desert oasis, off-road racing’s top short-course racers gathered to try their luck for the gold.
This final event of the eight-race series would determine the champions. The series began back in January and battles have been fought and won all across America. But Las Vegas would be the deciding point for six individual champions and seven manufacturer’s cups. The individuals would earn the honor of running a simple number one on their vehicle, while the manufacturers will flaunt their wins throughout the year in advertisements. However, like so many before them, there was a long line of contestants that left “The city that never sleeps” with red eyes and hopefully a fleeting moment of glory to lick their battle wounds with.
Those that did compete in this year’s series had the comfort of knowing they fought a good battle. Going into the final round — no one was so far ahead of their competition that this event could not have changed their destiny.
Racing can be compared to a game of cards, in that, the players have to play what they are dealt. This is never more prevalent than in the Grand National Sport Truck event. At the beginning of the year, it appeared that Team Mazda could do no wrong. They had won five of the seven main events and led the Manufacturer’s points race going into this round. But on the other hand Team Toyota, with one main event win and a year of consistent top-five finishes, trailed Mazda by a mere 22 points. With the points so close a true battle of champions appeared to be in the making. As the evening progressed, Team Toyota’s Steve Millen came across the finish line first and moved Toyota closer to the title. In the second heat, it was Mazda’s turn as Jeff Huber got hooked up for the win. But then the cards fell short for Team Mazda.
In the main event of the evening Team Mazda saw all the aces dealt to Toyota. Due to a confusing inverted starting order, Team Toyota shared both the front-row starting positions while Mazda was spread out through the pack.
When the race started Ivan Stewart took advantage of his inside pole position and jumped out front. For a fleeting moment, it appeared there would be the showdown that everyone wanted to see as Jeff Huber slipped in front of Steve Millen’s Toyota for a second. The other Mazda’s had maneuvered through the pack and were in the battle. Suddenly just as the action heated up, Walker Evans (starting from the second row) got up on his top. Due to the new yellow flag rule, and the fact one lap had not been completed, the race was stopped and a re-start ordered.
On the re-start, Stewart again used the pole position to take command of the race. However this time around, Stewart’s teammate, Steve Millen grabbed second and Danny Thompson coming from the third row slipped in behind Steve Millen. The first Mazda was Jeff Huber, then Glenn Harris. It was apparent as the field rounded for the second lap that there would not be the showdown between Toyota and Mazda that many had hoped for. Ivan Stewart used the clear track to his best advantage and lead the field, lap after lap, to win Toyota’s sixth consecutive Manufacturer’s Cup title. Mazda trailed Toyota’s 761 to 742.
The win also gave Toyota’s Steve Millen enough points to take the Grand National Sport Truck Individual Championship. Millen also announced that he would be leaving off-road racing this year in favor of an IMSA GTO road course ride with Nissan. Ivan Stewart’s win added to his points standing and gave him the number two plate for next year. Mazda’s Rod Millen ended the year in third, with teammates Jeff Huber and Glenn Harris trailing.
Although the main event was disappointing (as far as action goes) the preceding races provided those in attendance with some thrilling competition.
The closest thing to a Mazda-Toyota match-up came in the first heat. Steve Millen sat on the pole with Glenn Harris lined up alongside him. The other Mazda’s shared row two with the third row shared by Walker Evans and fast time setter Roger Mears. Ivan Stewart shared the next row with the Jeep driven by Al Arciero.
Millen used the inside spot to pull out front of the pack. Harris got wide on the second turn and Jeff Huber pulled in behind Steve Millen. Walker Evans pulled alongside Harris creating a shoving match. Harris held on until the end of the back straight and Evans landed on the rear of Harris. Evans was then able to take advantage of the startled Harris. Back in the shuffle, Frank Arciero and Rod Millen had got up on their sides and the race went yellow.
When they got to racing again Evans managed to slip inside of Huber for second and set his sights on Steve Millen. However time would run out on Evans’ attempt, and he had to settle for second best. Glenn Harris captured third while Ivan Stewart took fourth. Roger Mears finished fifth while Jeff Huber limped an ailing Mazda across sixth.
In the second Sport Truck heat, Jeff Huber sat on the pole with fast-time setter Roger Mears setting beside him. The second row was Ivan Stewart and Glenn Harris. Walker Evans and Steve Millen made up row three. On the start, Huber went wide in turn one and shut the door on Mears. Mears challenged Huber in the sweeper but Huber managed to hold on. Ivan Stewart slipped by Mears on the third lap in the rough stuff, and Walker Evans put his Jeep in fourth behind Mears. Stewart closed in to challenge Huber in the rough section but Huber held his ground. Stewart was busy looking for a way around Huber and didn’t notice a hard-charging Walker Evans on lap seven. Evans stole second and was able to hold on until the checkered.
Jeff Huber’s win kept Mazda’s hopes alive but with the two Toyotas finishing 3rd and 4th Team Toyota managed to close the gap in the manufacturer’s cup points race.
The evening got off to a slow start as Robbie Gordon, in the Super 1600 Trophy Dash, jumped off the front row and quickly put five car lengths between himself and the other front row setter Danny Rice. Third was last year’s number 1 plate holder Frank Arciero Jr. and Brad Castle slipped in behind him. Billy Beck settled into fifth and Bob Gordon brought up the rear. When the checkered came out they were still in that order.
The Stadium Super Lites came out with only nine starters. Terry Peterson jumped out front on the start and quickly pulled 10 car lengths over the crowd. Rene Awana didn’t have it quite so comfortable as last year’s number one, Ron Pierce, closed in at every corner. Pierce had to settle for a close third as Terry Peterson managed to win his first Super Lite event.
A total of 10 cars lined up for the second Super Lite heat. Things began happening in this heat right from the start. Rory Holliday tried to go inside at the start but found himself in fifth as he tagged the water barrier. Allan Yaros and Chuck Parker were side-by-side when they came across to start the second lap. Parker managed to take the lead but Yaros let him know he wasn’t out of the running.
Yaros took over at the halfway point and Parker fell back allowing Russ East to pressure him. Yaros held on for the win but Parker let Russ East put him in third. Jim Cook managed fourth and fifth was Johnny Custom.
In the first 4-wheel ATV heat Kenneth Delk jumped out front and held on for the win. Don Turk earned a second the hard way by battling off Brad Johnson. Jeff Watts got fourth and fifth was Hohn Neary.
In the second 4-Wheel ATV heat it appeared as if home-town boys Rick Ruppert and Rick Marshall had the race sewed up until lap five when a very determined Sean Finley moved ahead of both. Ruppert had to settle for second and Marshall fell prey to Donnie Banks before it was over.
In the first UltraStock heat Tim Maples jumped out front with Jeff Elrod second, and Greg George held onto third even after hitting the hydro barrier on the straight. On the following lap, Lloyd Castle managed to slip past George. Elrod lost power in the rough section and Maples managed to pull some breathing room over Castle.
Maples lost power on the backstretch causing Castle to ram him when landing off the jump. Castle took over and never looked back. Second went to Greg George while last year’s number 1, Ken Kazarian, finished third ahead of Vincent Tjelmeland. Chris Neil took fifth.
In the first UltraCross event the action wick was turned up as Scott Tyler and Jim “Hollywood” Holly diced for the lead. Right on their tail were Denny Stephenson and Jeremy McGrath. Holly got his front wheel crossed up and tasted the dirt on the third lap and Stephenson took the lead. Tyler then got too comfortable in second place and let the Vohland brothers, Tyson and Tallon, get by on the sixth lap.
At the finish, it was Denny Stephenson winning with Tyson leading Tallon Vohland across. Fourth went to Scott Tyler and Jeremy McGrath finished fifth.
As the first Unlimited Super 1600s took the field 13 starters came out. Jimmy Nichols and Billy Beck shared the front row. On the second row were Robby Gordon and Tommy Croft.
As the green flag came out Jimmy Nichols elbowed his way past Castle for the lead. Robbie Gordon momentarily slipped into third but Beck came in hard and took third. The first lap was stopped when Larry Noel rolled.
On the re-start, Nichols kept his lead until lap four when Robby Gordon got by. Also on the fourth lap was a re-start due to Brad Castle getting on his top. After the first re-start Castle was picking off the competition one-by-one to get up in third place. Castle had the adrenalin moving and rolled over onto Nichols and let Robbie Gordon take the lead. Castle was later ruled back five positions for jumping the yellow flag.
From this point on The Unstoppable Robby Gordon went on for the win and added valuable points toward the Super 1600 title. Second place went to Billy Beck and third was Tommy Croft. Fourth was Jimmy Nichols and Mitch Mustard managed fifth.
In the second Super 1600 heat 12 starters lined up with Frank Arciero Jr on the pole. Kent Castle shared the front row and when the green flew, Castle took the lead, and Bob Gordon, coming from the second row, slipped inside of turn one and momentarily went into second. However, Gordon’s teammate, Frank Arciero, Jr., quickly put his number 1 driving ability to good use and regained the second spot.
Kent Castle took advantage of the clear track and began pulling a good lead over Arciero and Bob Gordon. Jerry Whelchel followed in fourth and Marty Coyne was fifth. On the fourth lap Castle quit in the backstretch and The Goodrich team of Frank (Butch) Arciero and Bob Gordon began battling for the lead. Danny Rice had been working and managed to take the third spot. Butch pulled a comfortable lead over his teammate before the white came out. In the meantime, Jerry Whelchel consistently closed in on Danny Rice, who was running in third. Whelchel however, was caught paying too much attention to Rice and allowed Marty Coyne to take his fourth spot.
Frank Arciero Jr. went on to win the heat with teammate Bob Gordon a distant second. Arciero’s winning the event canceled Robbie Gordon’s earlier win so the two were still only a hand full of points apart, meaning the main event would determine their fate. Third went to Danny Rice and fourth Marty Coyne. Jerry Whelchel salvaged fifth.
MAIN EVENTS: The Stadium Super Lites was the first main event race. Chuck Parker took advantage of his front-row position to grab the early lead. Before the lap ended Russ East took over momentarily until Ron Pierce maneuvered his way into the lead. Richard Obialero caused a yellow flag after he got hung up in the rough. On the re-start, Parker pulled a quick comfortable lead over Jim Cook and Terry Peterson managed third. Early leader Chuck Parker flipped on the back stretch but continued to finish in eighth.
Ron Pierce went on for his second main event win, Terry Peterson took second, and third went to Rennie Awana. Jim Cook was fourth ahead of Allan Yaros. Russ East coasted to a seventh-place finish but had earned enough points to win the Super Lite title.
A total of 24 4-Wheel ATVs battled in the main event. Donnie Banks jumped off the front row to grab the early lead with Rick Ruppert trailing in second. After three laps Banks slipped into fourth place and the defending champion Don Turk, after moving through the pack, took over.
Went it was over Don Turk had won the main event but Donnie Banks (finished seventh) had won the title of champion for the year. Second place event finisher was Kenneth Delk and third place went to Sean Finley. Fourth place was Brand Johnson and fifth went to Rick Ruppert.
In the UltraStock main Greg George took the inside option of turn one and managed to settle behind early leader Vince Tjelmeland, but before the lap ended George went outside of Tjelmeland. Tjelmeland suffered suspension problems and on the following lap was passed by Lloyd Castle and Ken Kazarian.
Greg George got up on two wheels in the sweeper and Castle was able to close in and heat up the battle. Lloyd Castle with two laps to go turned the wick up on George and played who’s got the biggest johnnies to take the lead. Greg George got anxious and got his Mazda up on two wheels in turn one and allowed Castle to get a full straight lead. George then found himself busy fighting off Kazarian.
When it was over, Lloyd Castle had won with Greg George taking second. Third place went to Ken Kazarian and Chris Neil took fourth. Fifth was Tim Maples. Jeff Elrod finished in 10th place but managed to earn himself the number one plate for next year.
In the Super 1600 main Jerry Whelchel sat on the pole with Danny Rice. The second row was Bob Gordon and Billy Beck. It was Rice that took the lead with Bob Gordon second then Tommy Croft.
Danny Rice enjoyed an open track and quickly put several lengths on the pack. Bob Gordon, running second had Coyne challenging and Frank Arciero was ahead of points leader Robbie Gordon. Arciero trailed the young Gordon by a few points and knew he had to stay in front.
As the front runners caught up with traffic Rice took his time and carefully picked his way through the field to win the main event. Bob Gordon finished second and Tommy Croft held onto third. Frank Arciero finished fourth and Mitch Mustard was fifth. Robby Gordon finished behind his closest points runner (Frank Arciero) but managed to salvage the championship. Frank Arciero trailed by 9 points.
The UltraCross motorcycle main provided the crowd with some exciting entertainment. Terry Fowler started back in the pack but managed to outjump the competition and land in first place before the first lap was over. Fowler was not alone though as Denny Stephenson and Tallon Vohland were close by. Two laps later Fowler lost the lead as Denny Stephenson out-jumped him on the double. Fowler was startled and Tallon Vohland got around, but before the lap was over Tallon Vohland fell. Two laps later Jim Holly took second from Fowler by gritting his teeth harder in the rough. With two laps remaining Tallon Vohland reappeared as a front-runner. When the checkered came out it was Denny Stephenson that managed to keep the other 14 riders at bay. Second went to Jim Holly and Holly also earned the championship title. Third place event finisher went to a very hard-charging Tallon Vohland. Tallon’s brother, Tyson had also fallen during the race and remounted and charged through the pack to earn fourth. Early leader Terry Fowler was fifth.

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