Motor Racing : Thompson Controls Stadium Motocross

Stadium motocross, the highly successful motorcycling sport founded in 1972 by Mike Goodwin, has been taken over, in Southern California at least, by off-road racing entrepreneur Mickey Thompson.

Every year since 1975, Goodwin has promoted sellout motocross events to open the season at Anaheim Stadium. Last January, the attendance of 70,315 was the highest of the 14 events of the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s Supercross series.

Despite that record, when the 1988 stadium motocross season opens Saturday night at Anaheim, the promoter will be Thompson. There will be no AMA sanction as Goodwin retains that legal right.

Other than that, however, little will be changed.

Defending stadium and series champion Jeff Ward of Mission Viejo and Team Kawasaki, his No. 1 rival Rick Johnson of El Cajon and Team Honda and nearly every top rider from every top manufacturer will be there. They will all be there because Thompson has posted a $52,300 purse, largest ever for a stadium motocross.

As it has nearly every year since Tony DiStefano won the Anaheim inaugural in 1975, the crowd will hover around the 70,000 mark.

The first of four Coors Super Crown of Stadium Motocross events in Southern California this year, Saturday night's show will be Thompson's first in the strictly motocross sense. A longtime off-road racing promoter, Thompson has included an off-brand competition called Ultracross in some of his Gran Prix programs.

Ultracross features an inverted start, in which the fastest qualifiers start from the rear and earn bonus money each time they pass a rider ahead of them. It is possible to start well back and finish second or third and collect more money than the winner, if he goes wire to wire.

In Supercross, all riders in the main event start in a straight line and race for the first turn in a cavalry charge.

Spectators will have an opportunity to choose for themselves Saturday night. The main event for 250cc riders will be Supercross, but the 125cc support class will ride Ultracross-style.

The factories, and most top riders, prefer the traditional style in which the object is to get rider and bike to the front as quickly as possible and stay there. Surprisingly, one of the most supportive riders for Ultracross is Johnson, the national outdoor 250cc and 500cc champion. But that is because Johnson enjoys the challenge of coming from behind and is perhaps the finest rider in the world at doing it.

Last year, in the Superbowl of Motocross in the Coliseum, Johnson got caught in tight quarters on the first turn and was in last place before he could start reeling in the field and eventually win. Last September, in the opening round of the World Series of Motocross in Holland, he pulled the same stunt, starting last and catching front-runner Eric Geboers, the world 250cc champion, to win.

Johnson has a bad memory of last year's Anaheim race in which he fell and was knocked unconscious while his rival, Ward, went on to win.

Other Super Crown events will be held at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, the Coliseum and Rose Bowl.

Thompson gained control of the stadium motocross competition when he was granted exclusive rights at Anaheim Stadium and the Coliseum to promote motor sports events. Goodwin sued to block Thompson, but the injunction was denied Jan. 7 by an Orange County Superior Court judge.

DAYTONA--The major league racing season opens this weekend with the 24-hour sports car race at Daytona International Raceway in Florida. The Holbert Racing team of International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GT champion Chip Robinson, Al Holbert and Derek Bell will try to make it three straight in a Porsche 962, but will face a field of 240 drivers in 80 cars. The No. 1 challenge is expected from Tom Walkinshaw's Jaguar team in its U.S. debut after winning the world sports car championship last year. Among the drivers on the three-car team are Danny Sullivan, Eddie Cheever and Raul Boesel. Another formidable Porsche entry includes A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr. and Elliott Forbes-Robinson. When the race ends at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the winning car will still be in Daytona Beach but will have traveled far enough to reach Seattle.

MOTOCROSS--The final round of the CMC/Dodge Truck Golden State Nationals, as far as the professionals are concerned, will be Sunday at Sunrise Cycle Park in Adelanto. Ron Lechien of El Cajon has a nine-point lead over Kawasaki teammate Jeff Ward although Honda's Rick Johnson has won the last two races, including last Sunday at Carlsbad Raceway. Although the pro season will end, sportsman riders will continue through Feb. 21 when the series ends at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino.

OFF-ROAD RACING--The SCORE International/High Desert Racing Assn. will open its 1988 season Saturday with the 15th running of the Parker 400 along the California-Arizona border near Parker, Ariz. The race also starts the fourth year of the SCORE/HDRA combined points series, which has been one of the most progressive moves in the sport's history. Rich Minga, 26, of Lemon Grove, Calif., last year's overall champion in a Yokohama team Chenowth, is switching to a Porsche 911. Rob MacCachren of Las Vegas, who was named off-road driver of the year in another Chenowth, is also making a move. MacCachren will be in a Dodge truck as a teammate of Walker Evans.

NEWSWORTHY--Chris Agajanian of Ascot Park has been named race organizer of the year by the United States Auto Club and will be honored at the club's annual banquet Friday night in Indianapolis . . . Malcolm Smith of Riverside finished fourth driving a Range Rover in the 22-day Paris-to-Dakar rally across the Sahara desert. Rovers finished second through fifth, but could not beat the Peugeot 205 of Finnish rally drivers Juha Kankkunen and Juha Piironen. However, most observers believe the real winner was Ari Vatanan, who led all the way in his Peugeot 405 until the car was stolen from him in Mali and held for ransom in a garbage dump. When Vatanan recovered the car and showed up at the starting line, he was informed that he was too late and was disqualified--only two days from the finish.

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