Bobby Schwartz, a Los Angeles beach boy whose dad called him Boogaloo, spent eight years in England, fine-tuning his speedway motorcycling career against the best riders in the world before coming home last year to win the United States Speedway championship.
Now, at 30, he'd like to go back to Europe to show his old friends and foes how well he looks with the No. 1 plate on his bike.
Toward that end, Schwartz will ride Saturday night in the Nissan American final at Long Beach Veterans Stadium in the first round of the World tournament. Five of the 20 riders will advance to the next runoff, July 5 at Bradford, England. After that, there are the Intercontinental final, July 26 at Vogens, Denmark, and the World final at Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sept. 5-6.
Only twice since the American final was first held in 1978 have non-British League riders from Southern California made it to the World final--Kelly Moran in 1982 and Sam Ermolenko in 1985. Schwartz hopes to become the third.
Five Southern Californians returned this week from British League competition to ride in Saturday night's test.
The favorites are brothers Kelly and Shawn Moran of Huntington Beach, both former national champions, and teammates on the league-leading Sheffield team. Shawn is defending champion. The others are Ermolenko of Corona, Lance King of Fountain Valley and Rick Miller of Reseda.
"The way myself and Mike Faria have been riding, I think we have a good chance of being in the top five," Schwartz said Wednesday during a break from training near his recently purchased home in Costa Mesa. "I know my style better suits smaller tracks like the ones we ride here, but I've ridden enough on the larger tracks to do just as well."
Since winning the U.S. title last October, Schwartz has dominated competition at Costa Mesa, Ascot Park, San Bernardino and Victorville, the small tracks that make up the Southern California circuit. He has won 23 of 35 scratch main events and been second in six others.
The local tracks average only about 200 yards, however, and the Long Beach track, conforming to international specifications, is 400 yards.
"All my best equipment from England is here, and I adapt well from one size track to another, so I see no problems with not having raced on the big tracks all year," Schwartz said.
If the Boogaloo Kid has a secret weapon, it could be his favorite Weslake engine, a 500cc power plant that he used when he scored 11 of a possible 12 points in the World Team Cup last year and the one he rode to win the Spring Classic at Long Beach in March.
Ermolenko also used that engine--he borrowed it from Schwartz--in 1985 when he tied for first in the World final and finished third in the runoff.
"Most of the guys from England will be using the newest hot engine, a GM from Italy, but I've had good luck with my old one, and it's still strong," Schwartz said. "Speedway is all confidence, concentration and preparation, and I'm plenty confident with the old engine and it's well prepared. The concentration comes Saturday."
Schwartz will ride only tonight at Ascot to get ready for Saturday night's program, in which each rider will race in five heats, facing every other rider once.
"I've got some mending to do after taking a couple of spills last week," Schwartz said. "I tangled with Faria last Saturday night at Victorville and hurt my chest, and I crashed last week at Costa Mesa and hurt my ribs. Both hurt now, but all that will be forgotten when it's time to ride. I won't even notice it."
Schwartz decided to remain home after winning last year's nationals because he wanted to re-establish his roots in Southern California, where he plans to live when his racing days are over.
"I was second in the nationals in both '84 and '85 and it meant an awful lot to me to win last year and be No. 1. I wanted to stay and ride here as the champion. I'd been in England so long I felt like I was losing touch with Southern California."
Schwartz went to Fremont High in Los Angeles but began his riding career in Santa Barbara, where his father lived after his parents separated.
"My dad kept me a little Kawasaki 90 to ride, and I'd take the Greyhound bus every weekend from L.A. to Santa Barbara to see him," Schwartz said.
"My dad died a few years ago but he really helped me when I needed it. He's the one that gave me the name Boogaloo when I was real little.
"At first I rode mostly motocross, until one day I met Sonny Nutter (a former speedway rider), and he told me that I ought to try speedway.
"I was 17 when my dad bought me a speedway bike and I rode my first race at Irwindale. That was 1974 and I've been at it ever since. In '78, I won the American final at Santa Ana and got myself a trip to England for the Overseas final. I didn't do so well there but I hooked on with the Cradley Heath team and practically lived in England for the next eight years."
Schwartz still owns a 200-year-old cottage in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, that he hopes to visit next month when Saturday night's top five compete in the Overseas final at Bradford.
"My place is only about two hours' ride from Bradford," he said. "I'd like to get back there, but only for a visit. I had a good financial offer recently from the Wolverhampton team to ride in England, but I rejected it. I like summer living here too much to go back.
"The way I look at it, if I'm one of the five, it'll give me a great excuse to get back there, but if I don't qualify it won't be the big deal it used to be. I'll just start getting ready for next Wednesday's race in San Bernardino."
Although Schwartz has never made it to the World final, he has had remarkable success in other speedway championships. He won the World best pairs twice, in Poland in 1981 with Bruce Penhall and in Australia in 1982 with Dennis Sigalos. In 1982, he also rode on the winning World Cup team at White City Stadium in London.
"Speedway has been good to me," he said. "I've made a lot of money, I've traveled all over the world and I've had a lot of fun doing it. What more can I ask?"
MORE SPEEDWAY BIKES--Racing as usual, with several British League riders competing while here for Saturday night's American finals, will continue tonight at Ascot Park, Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa and next Wednesday night at the Inland Speedway in San Bernardino. Speedway USA, the Victorville track that runs Saturday nights, will be closed this week because of the conflict. Racing will resume there a week from Saturday night. . . . Brothers Shawn and Kelly Moran won their World best pairs semifinal round last week in Norden, West Germany, and will ride for the World championship June 28 in Czechoslovakia. The Morans also advanced in the World long-track tournament when Kelly finished third and Shawn fourth in the opening round last Sunday in Germany. Lance King failed to qualify for the next event.
SPRINT CARS--California Racing Assn. drivers will return to Ascot Park Saturday night for the first of three Budweiser American Sprint Car series races, but they're probably thankful that Lealand McSpadden, the Tempe Tornado from Arizona, is not coming with them. McSpadden, who races primarily in Northern California, has won five CRA main events--more than any other driver--even though he does not race at Ascot, the CRA's home track. He won No. 5 last weekend at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. . . . Supremacy at Ascot has developed into a youth-vs.-age battle: Mike Sweeney, 30, and Brad Noffsinger, 26, against an over-40 group that includes John Redican, Walt Kennedy, Bubby Jones and Eddie Wirth.
STOCK CARS--Standings leader Ron Hornaday Jr. and three-time champion Ken Sapper will resume their rivalry for the Saugus Speedway modified championship Saturday night in a 40-lap main event. Also scheduled are sportsman and mini-stock features. . . . A chain race on the Figure 8 course will spice Sunday night's action at Ascot Park, where six main events will crowd the schedule. Former Figure 8 champion Tony Zaffino and Arlan DeJongh will attempt to break their tie for this year's lead. . . . The 18th annual Budweiser 400 for Winston Cup cars June 21 at Riverside International Raceway, will be augmented on the previous day by the Von's 200 for Grand American Southwest tour cars.
OTHER EVENTS--The SoCal Econo Dragster Assn. will run a drag race Sunday at Riverside International Raceway. . . . The United States Auto Club's Western States midget series will be at Santa Maria Raceway on Saturday night. . . . Student engineers at Cal Poly Pomona will give driving demonstrations today in their Formula SAE car, which finished second in a national design contest. Demonstrations will begin at 11 a.m. at parking lot F-10 on the Pomona campus.