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Cook Is Perfect in American Final : He Scores 15 Points and Wins All Five Races at Long Beach

Times Staff Writer

Only six years ago, speedway motorcyclist John Cook of Roseville had reached a dead end in his attempt to launch a racing career in the British Speedway League.

Cook had failed to reach the five-point minimum average for foreign riders in his rookie season at Hull. He had been denied a work permit to compete in the league after averaging only 3.65 points (out of a possible 12) in each meeting.

But three-time world champion Barry Briggs convinced British racing promoters that Cook deserved another chance after he won the U.S. Long Track championship at Ascot Park during the off-season.

Given a reprieve, Cook, 23, has developed into one of the top riders overseas and showed Saturday night that he’s equally good at home by winning the Nissan American Final in front of 11,500 fans at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.

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Cook won all five of his heat races to finish with 15 points and became the fourth consecutive rider to win the event with a perfect score. Dennis Sigalos won with 15 points in 1982 and 1983, and Bobby Schwartz turned the trick last year.

Sam Ermolenko, the leading points rider in Southern California this year, finished second with 13 points and Shawn Moran was third with 12 points. Four riders--Schwartz, Rick Miller, Lance King and Kelly Moran--tied for fourth with 11 points.

The 16 riders were competing for five berths in the next qualifying round July 14 at Bradford, England, meaning that a four-lap runoff was necessary to select the final two riders.

King, who finished third in the world championship last year, won the runoff with Miller gaining the second spot. Schwartz was third and Moran had to settle for fourth after crashing on the second lap.

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The runoff was the most exciting race on a night that quickly turned cool when fog started to roll in. King, a 21-year-old from Fountain Valley, earned the pole position following a draw and quickly gained the lead. The real battle was for second as Miller and Moran dueled handlebar to handlebar on the sweeping turns before Moran lost control on Turn 3 and fell.

Miller held off Schwartz for second place and was the fifth and final rider to advance. U.S. riders were given an extra spot in the Overseas Final this year and Miller had an inclination that the added berth belonged to him.

“That fifth spot is mine,” Miller said three days earlier. “This is my third qualifier, and I’ve never been more ready.”

Cook was the only rider who managed to win all three of his races in the first half of the program. He upset Shawn Moran in his second heat race and then defeated his older brother, Kelly, in his third ride.

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Kelly had his share of problems and failed to win a race in his opening three heats, but came on strong with two victories to earn a spot in the runoff. He was third behind King and Miller in his first ride, moved from last to finish second in his second ride and then finished second to Cook in his third ride.

Miller was the biggest surprise in the first half, tying with Ermolenko with eight points. He had been regulated to a reserve rider position with his British Speedway League team, Coventry, after experiencing equipment problems, but had found the winning formula in the past two weeks.

“I feel I’m peaking at just the right time,” he said at a practice session on Wednesday. He won two consecutive heats after a second-place finish to King in his opening heat.

Missing among the top five riders at intermission were Kelly Moran and Schwartz and the two riders ultimately missed their ticket to ride in England. Schwartz started well with a win and a second-place finish, but had to settle for third in his next race and was tied with Kelly Moran with six points at halftime.

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Mike Faria was the hard-luck rider of the meeting. He appeared to be on his way to an easy victory in his third ride, but dropped out of the race on the second lap when he suffered engine problems. He crashed hard into the chain-link fence on his fourth ride and did not return for the restart.

King recorded the fastest heat time of the night, racing four laps on the 440-yard track in 1:12.19.


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