No West Coast stock car driver has won a Winston Western 500 Grand National race since Ray Elder of Caruthers, Calif., in 1971, but that is what Hershel McGriff must do if he wants to win the NASCAR West championship.
The battle between Darrell Waltrip and Bill Elliott for the national championship may be the highlight of Sunday's $342,520 race at Riverside International Raceway, but among West Coast drivers, the battle between Jim Robinson, 39, and McGriff, 57, is just as much a showdown. Robinson, the North Hollywood veteran who has won the West title the last two seasons, has a 13-point edge going into the year's final race. Therefore, McGriff will need the 11-point bonus given to any West Coast driver who can win the 312-mile (500-kilometer) road race.
"It's a tough deal, and I hardly have a prayer," McGriff said. "I've got only one chance--win the race."
That is not quite as preposterous as it sounds. In his last two races at Riverside against the Southern drivers, McGriff has finished on the same lap as the leader. He was ninth last year and eighth in 1983.
"There's no strategy at Riverside but go fast after they drop the green flag," McGriff said. "If you don't stay with the pack, you're done. And if there isn't a yellow (caution flag), pretty soon they'll be pounding on your bumper. I figure I ought to get between Elliott and Waltrip and stay right there. That way, one will be pulling me and the other will be pushing me. I don't want to wish Jim Robinson any bad luck, but it all boils down to money."
Robinson took a shot at the Winston Cup competition two weeks ago in the Atlanta Journal but failed to qualify. Curiously, both Robinson and McGriff failed to finish the last Winston West race, Oct. 5 at Mesa Marin, when both were stopped by engine problems.
"I feel real good about Riverside because I feel we learned a lot about the new Oldsmobile at Atlanta, even though we didn't make the race," Robinson said. "I think we picked up a bunch of knowledge we can apply to Riverside. I'd like to qualify in the top six or seven and stay there all day. Our whole approach to Sunday's race is to win."
Robinson has 535 points and winnings of $32,985 to 522 and $36,370 for McGriff. Third, still with a mathematical chance of winning the championship, is Ruben Garcia of South El Monte with 513 points. In 11 races this season, McGriff has won three, Robinson and Garcia two each.
Glen Steurer of Simi Valley, who was the highest West Coast finisher in last June's Budweiser 400 at Riverside, has clinched Rookie of the Year honors with 495 points.
There will be 35 starters in Sunday's race. Qualifying for the first 25 positions is set for Friday. The remaining 10 berths will be filled Saturday.
Also scheduled Saturday is the Pep Boys 300 for Grand American cars. McGriff, the defending champion, and Steurer are expected to be the only drivers in both races. Other Grand American favorites entered include Duke Hoenshell, Jim Neal, Kevin Riniker, Randy Becker and Ron Esau.
INDY CARS--When Danny Sullivan received $110,000 for finishing fourth in the CART-PPG Indy Car World Series standings and another $57,634 for winning last Saturday's Beatrice Indy Challenge in Miami, it pushed his year's earning to $950,432, a record for Indy car racing. He broke Mario Andretti's 1984 mark of $931,929. National champion Al Unser won $804,451, Al Unser Jr. $719,322 and Bobby Rahal $577,391. . . . Somewhat overshadowed at Miami by the Unser vs. Unser battle for the championship was the excellent sixth-place finish by veteran Danny Ongais. It was his highest since the 1984 Michigan 200 in which he was third. . . . Marlboro, long a power in Formula One, announced its entry into Indy car racing as sponsor of two-time world champion Emerson Fittipaldi next year as part of the Pat Patrick racing team. Kevin Cogan will replace Fittipaldi in the 7-Eleven car, leaving Michael Andretti as the lone driver for the Compton-based Kraco team, but with a new crew chief, Barry Green, and a new engineer, Adrian Newey, who designed the 1985-86 March cars.
SPRINT CARS--With two races to go, Eddie Wirth holds a 42-point lead over Mike Sweeney, 1,828 to 1,786, in the Kraco-California Racing Assn. championship series. There are 120 points at stake in the remaining events--Kraco Hat Night Saturday night and the Don Peabody Memorial Nov. 23, both at Ascot Park.
MOTORCYCLES--Speedway riders will move from the smaller South Bay Stadium to the longer Ascot Park oval Friday night for Ascot's long-track speedway championship. Mike Faria of Colton and Steve Lucero of Riverside are favored.
MIDGET CARS--Mel Kenyon, who will drive at Ascot Park Thanksgiving night in the 45th Turkey Night Grand Prix, has clinched his seventh national championship in the United States Auto Club. The Lebanon, Ind., driver, who has won 105 USAC championship races in 25 seasons, won out after a season-long battle with three-time champion Rich Vogler, who will also be in Ascot's traditional season-ender. . . . Gary Schroeder of Burbank will be honored Dec. 7 at the Rio Hondo Country Club for winning his first National Midget Racing Assn. three-quarter racing championship. Gary is the son of Gordon Schroeder, long-time Indianapolis car owner and equipment manufacturer. Surprisingly, Schroeder won the NMRA title without winning a main event.
VINTAGE CARS--Former Formula One favorite Stirling Moss will drive a 1962 Lotus Dec. 1 in the Palm Springs Vintage Grand Prix over a 1.2 mile circuit in downtown Palm Springs. Also driving will be former world champion Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant and Ronnie Bucknum. . . . The Porsche Owners Club is having a time trial Saturday and Sunday at Willow Springs Raceway.
DRAG RACING--The final Volkswagen Challenge Cup of the season is Sunday at the L.A. County Raceway in Palmdale.