Escalating costs in Indy car racing have all but forced the small-time operator out of the game. Running the Championship Auto Racing Teams, Inc., season has become a multimillion-dollar business and only a few can afford the tab.
Everyone talks about reducing costs, but like the national budget, the tab keeps going up.
To help fill the void for drivers and teams that can't meet the financial demands of exotic turbocharged engines, veteran driver Bill Tempero is introducing a new series this week that he calls the American Stock-Block Indy-Car Championship.
The first of 10 races in the Valvoline-Machinist Gold Cup series will be held Sunday at Willow Springs International Raceway, located off the Antelope Valley Freeway, west of Rosamond, about 90 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Tempero, 44, a former Indy car and Can-Am driver from Fort Collins, Colo., tried to buoy the dying Can-Am series last year with something he called the CAT Thunder Car Championship for old Can-Am cars. Tempero won four of the six races and the championship, but resigned as chairman of the board to start his stock-block Indy car program.
"Bill's got the soundest thing going in low-budget racing right now," said Bobby Unser, whose son Robby will drive in the AIS series. "Racing's just too expensive for a young fellow to find out how good he is, or to show prospective sponsors how good he is. This might be the answer for guys who don't have three or four million bucks to get training for Indy."
Robby Unser will be in a Lola-Chevy. Robby and his father, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, will also compete in a special match race in a pair of Toyota Celicas.
Tempero, who will be the favorite in the two-race main event in an '86 Lola-Chevrolet, expects about 15 entries for the series inaugural on Willow Springs' 9-turn, 2.5-mile road course. The race will be run in two 60-mile heats with the winner determined by aggregate points.
"We'll have 20 or more cars once the series gets going," Tempero said. "But a lot of guys couldn't get ready in time. Some of them are waiting to see how the series goes, but I don't have any worries about it. After all, the ARS (American Racing Series) only had seven cars for its first race."
The American Racing Series is CART's development series for Indy car hopefuls.
Cars in AIS are powered by non-turbocharged American stock block V-8 engines.
Jerry Karl, a veteran of six Indy 500s, is returning to action for the first time since 1984 with a pair of Marches that he has fitted with Chevrolet engines.
"I've got Indy car experience and stock-block experience," Karl said. "I ran stock blocks four times at Indianapolis. The first year I went there, in 1972, I drove Bunky Knudsen's car, which Smokey Yunick wrenched. It was a twin-turbocharged Chevy.
"I ran my own team in 1980 and 1981 and ran strong. At Mexico City we ran up front all day with a stock block until it broke with eight laps to go."
Buddy Lazier, 20-year-old son of former Indy driver Bob Lazier, is entered in another March. The Vail (Colo.), driver won the CAT race at Willow Springs last year and finished fourth in the points.
"I just hope to match what dad did at Daytona," young Lazier said. Bob Lazier, with co-driver Amos Johnson, won the Camel GTU class of the International Motor Sports Assn. 24 Hours of Daytona in February.
Young Lazier splits his time between a racing career and downhill skiing. He is a member of the United States junior Olympic team.
Other AIS races will be held at Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis, Denver, Owego, N.Y.; LaCrosse, Wis.; and in Canada at Calgary and Vancouver. The season finale will be at Willow Springs on Oct. 9.
Also on Sunday's program will be two Formula USA motorcycle road races, one for unlimiteds and one for lightweights, and two enduro class kart races.
"We want to demonstrate the different kinds of racing that Willow Springs Raceway offers," said Bill Huth, owner-manager of the facility. "The Indy car race seemed the logical time to do it."
Practice and qualifying will be held Saturday, with the first race Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
OFF-ROAD RACING--The Mint 400, often called the roughest, dirtiest and most frustrating off-road race in the world, may be going soft. Race director Walt Lott predicts that this year's 21st annual race may be the smoothest and fastest yet. The race will start at 7 a.m. Saturday at Jean, Nev., 30 miles from Las Vegas, instead of at Sloan. This move will eliminate most of the silty sections that bogged down vehicles and made visibility almost nil in the past. Other than the start, the 100-mile loop will remain much as it was last year when Steve Sourapas, a La Jolla beer distributor, won the overall championship in a single-seater. Sourapas will defend his title with Dave Richardson, a San Diego fire department engineer, in a two-seat Volkswagen-powered Raceco. . . . Twenty-thousand youngsters from 83 area school districts will be entertained by drivers of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix series Friday, May 6, as part of a "Just Say No to Drugs" rally in the Rose Bowl. The off-roaders will race the next night in Round 5 of the 9-race series.
SPRINT CARS--After a race in Phoenix where Lealand McSpadden scored his first win of the season, the Parnelli Jones Firestone/California Racing Assn. series will return to Ascot Park Saturday night for a 30-lap main event. When point leader Mike Sweeney was eliminated in a first-lap accident, Ron Shuman took advantage of the situation with a second-place finish that moved him past Sweeney, 673 to 664, going into Saturday night.
MOTORCYCLES--Two straight rainouts have left speedway riders frustrated at Ascot Park, but they'll try again tonight at South Bay Stadium. England's Phil Collins remains the only rider to win at South Bay Stadium this year. . . . Former national speedway champion Alan Christian, 32, is in his 18th season of racing but still will be one of the favorites Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. . . . Reigning U.S. speedway champion Brad Oxley will be at Speedway USA in Victorville Sunday afternoon.
MIDGETS--Turkey Night Grand Prix champion Ron Shuman will make his first start in a midget Sunday night at Ascot Park since winning the Thanksgiving event on the same track last November. Shuman will face defending champion Sleepy Tripp and up-and-coming P. J. Jones, son of Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones in the United States Auto Club's Western States Series. . . . Tripp and Jones will also be at Ventura Raceway Saturday night for a USAC race. Three-quarter midgets will be on both cards.
STOCK CARS--The NASCAR Southwest Tour will be at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino Saturday night for the President's Cup 100. Roman Calczynski, with two wins in the previous four races, leads defending champion Mike Chase, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Ray Hopper Jr. in a tight battle for points. . . . NASCAR modifieds will race Saturday night at Saugus Speedway along with hobby stocks, Figure 8s and a destruction derby. . . . Cajon Speedway sportsman drivers will try again Saturday night after being rained out last week. . . . Glen Steurer of Simi Valley picked up $10,000 for finishing fifth last Sunday in the Winston West race at Sears Point. It made Steurer winner of the Winston International Challenge, a 2-race series in which he finished fourth in the opener in Melbourne, Australia.
POWERBOATS--The Southern California Speedboat Club will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year with American Power Boat Assn. national championship circle boat racing this weekend at Castaic Lake. Classes range from inboard sprint boats to blown-fuel flat bottoms capable of speeds in excess of 140 m.p.h. In the K-boat feature, national champion Mike Neutz of Portland will be challenged by Lee Daniels, the jet boat high-point winner from Huntington Beach.
SPORTS CARS--The hold on victory lane in International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GTP races held so long by Porsche 962s seems to have been broken this year by the Nissan ZX Turbo driven by Geoff Brabham and John Morton. In three races, the Nissan has won two and sat on the pole for all three. When Brabham and Morton won the Grand Prix of Palm Beach last Sunday it was the first time since 1984 that anything other than a Porsche had won two straight races.
MOTOCROSS--Teen-ager Jeff Matiasevich of La Habra Heights won the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s western regional 125cc supercross championship, beating out Mike Kiedrowski of Canyon Country, 82-75. . . . The Continental Motosport Club's Dodge Trucks Spring Classic series will continue Friday night at Ascot Park and Sunday afternoon at Barona Oaks in Ramona.
DRAG RACING--The Kamino Nationals, featuring El Camino vehicles, will be held Sunday at the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale. Bracket racing is scheduled Saturday night on the same strip.
NECROLOGY--Bobby Lippen, 24, daughter of Ascot Park stock car coordinator Jim Lippen and herself a former stock car race driver, was killed in a street accident last Sunday in Riverside. Services will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Gamby's Mortuary, 25001 Narbonne Ave., Lomita.