While most of his competitors are preparing to run in two or three racing series this year, defending champion Jeff Huber will concentrate solely on repeating as winner of the Grand National Sport Truck division of Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Gran Prix schedule.
The season will open Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium, the first of eight stadium events.
"I'm going to be doing strictly stadium races this year," Huber said from his Mazda team's headquarters on the slopes of Mt. San Jacinto, just outside Banning. "I want to be the second driver to repeat (as individual championship) and I think Mazda is about ready to take the manufacturers' title away from Toyota."
Toyota, led by two-time champion Ivan Stewart and 1986 winner Steve Millen, has won all five manufacturers' titles since the series originated in 1983.
"We learned a lot last year and from what we learned, we'll be a lot tougher," Huber said. Last year, Huber and Glenn Harris, the owner of the California Racing Gold team, finished 1-2 in points, but under a complicated scoring system lost the team championship to Toyota.
The Mazda team will have a new truck, featuring a unique front end, which Harris will drive for the first time at Anaheim. Huber, who hopes to have a similar truck by midseason, will move into Harris' old truck, and a third driver, Rod Millen, will take Huber's 1987 mount.
"The truck Rod will drive is the finest that California Gold has ever turned out," Harris said. "It's the same one that I won the (closed course) world championship with in 1986, and I turned it over to Jeff and he won the stadium series. Now it's Millen's turn. It's been a great performer, but the facts of racing are that you've got to keep improving, keep changing with the times."
Although Huber will stick to stadium racing, Harris plans to compete in desert races with Phil Blurton's team in a two-seat buggy and in the Sports Car Club of America's sports truck series with his own Mazda. Millen will also drive in Sports Car Club of America rallies.
"Our top priority, though, will be the stadium racing," Harris said.
Roger Mears, who drove a Nissan to the championship in 1985, is leaving the Electromotive team after two rather poor seasons to campaign a truck from his own shops in Bakersfield.
"In the first race, I'll be in the truck I won with in '85, updated of course," Mears said. "But we're building a new truck and it should be ready by the third race (March 12 at the Houston Astrodome). We're building a new desert truck, too, and we're out to win both series. We came close last year and we intend to turn it around this year."
Mears won 3 of 7 races in the desert, but the champion was Manny Esquerra in a Ford, who won five, including the prestigious Mint 400.
"We were with Electromotive in 1985 when we won the stadium series, but then it was their only effort," Mears said. "The last couple of seasons, most of their time was spent on the Nissan GTP car and we suffered. We never were competitive except for the night we won at the Rose Bowl and I still don't know what happened in that race. We just hit things on the nose."
Walker Evans, probably the greatest desert truck racer in history, is switching from a Dodge to a Jeep in hopes of finally harnessing his talent inside the tiny confines of a stadium.
"It's not really as much a change as it sounds," Evans said. "People forget that Chrysler bought out Jeep so we're still on the same team. I'll be driving my Dodge in the desert races, like I've been doing the last 11 years. This is the start of my third year in stadium events and it takes two or three years to get an act together, to know what you're up against."
Al Arciero, who won the unlimited super 1600 class in his own buggy last year, will be Evans' Jeep teammate in the stadium races.
David Ashley, who campaigned a Jeep last year for Dick Landfield's factory team and won in the Coliseum, has switched to Ford--as has Landfield. Danny Thompson, Mickey's son and winner of the Riverside closed-course championship last year, will be in a Chevrolet.
MOTOCROSS--Carlsbad Raceway, where the United States 500cc Grand Prix was held for 14 years, will be the site of Sunday's Golden State Nationals featuring national champions Rick Johnson and Jeff Ward. Johnson won the USGP there in 1986, the last year it was held on the San Diego County circuit. It will be the third race of the Continental Motosport Club's series, since last week's event at Hollister was canceled because of rain. Racing will start at 9:30 a.m. with competition in 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and ATV-4 professional classes. . . . Three-time world 500cc champion Andre Malherbe of Belgium suffered spinal injuries while racing across the Sahara during the Paris-to-Dakar rally and is paralyzed from the neck down. According to Cycle News, Malherbe was headed toward the town of Tamanrasset when he came over a rise, hit a ditch, and tumbled end over end. His Yamaha motorcycle apparently hit him and broke a vertebra in his neck.
ROAD RACING--A new series that will match sports cars with NASCAR-type stock cars, called the Toyota GT Superproduction Grand Prix, will make its debut this weekend on the nine-turn Willow Springs Raceway course. The seven-race series is for "any car that looks like a production car," said Bill Huth, the track owner and promoter. There is no limit on engine size, tire size or car weight. Willow Springs is located seven miles west of California 14, the Antelope Freeway, on Rosamond Ave. . . . Former Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, 54, will drive a Mazda RX-7 in the GTO division of the 24 Hours of Daytona with his son, P. J., John Morton and Dan Binks. The race is scheduled Jan. 30-31. . . . Five Southern California drivers were among a list of 18 named by SportsCar magazine as the Sports Car Club of America's top new racing talent. They include Brian Ongais, 26, Long Beach; Mark Gundy, 35, San Diego; Tom Nields, 23, Chatsworth; Lance Stewart, 30, Redondo Beach; and Donna Sue Gaylord, 30, Costa Mesa.
MIDGETS--Rusty Rasmussen, seriously injured in a flip at Ascot last Nov. 8, told listeners at the United States Auto Club's Jolly Rancher Western States awards banquet that he expects to be ready for the start of the 1988 campaign with a new car. Rasmussen received a hard-luck award in addition to runner-up money of $3,600 as both driver and car owner for finishing behind Ron (Sleepy) Tripp. Tripp, who missed the banquet because he is racing in New Zealand, won $2,500, with a similar amount going to his car owners, George and Gary Zarounian.
NEWSWORTHY--Teo Fabi of Italy, former Indianapolis record holder and rookie of the year, will return to Indy car racing this season as the driver of the Quaker State Porsche in the 15-race CART series. Fabi, 32, has competed on the Formula One circuit the past three years. . . . No. 38, used on the late Jim Fitzgerald's Nissans in Trans-Am competition, has been retired by the SCCA, which also announced that its annual rookie-of-the-year award will be named in his honor. Fitzgerald was killed during the Trans-Am season finale last year in St. Petersburg, Fla. . . . The Mexican Grand Prix has been reinstated to the Formula One schedule for June 6. Cancellation of the race had been announced last month because of poor economic conditions in Mexico, but the government has since pledged financial backing to the organizing committee.
NECROLOGY--Burton Albrecht, 80, a nationally ranked motorcycle racer in the 1930s and '40s, died recently in Gold Hill, Ore., of emphysema and cancer. Albrecht, who set a world record in 1931 of 36 seconds for a circular mile while riding an Indian Scout on the Ascot dirt track in Los Angeles, lived in El Monte and Monterey Park before moving to Oregon. He was a contemporary of Jack and Cordy Milne, Pete Coleman and Ed Kretz Sr., and was 56 when he rode in his last major race at Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1962.