Motor Racing : Truck Racing Makes Debut in Southland

Race trucks, motor racing’s newest competitive vehicles, will make their Southern California debut this weekend at Riverside International Raceway as part of a six-event racing package staged by the Sports Car Club of America

Although many of the competitors and most of the manufacturers are based in Southern California, the fast-growing SCCA series never came closer than Sears Point Raceway, north of San Francisco, in its first two seasons.

“Race trucks are like NASCAR sedans were in their early days, when the public related directly to the models on the race track,” said Spencer Low of Arcadia, owner of last year’s winning Nissan. “Pickups are the major item in the United States car market, and the owners seem to identify the same way with the race trucks as the stock car fans did. This has rubbed off on the manufacturers, who are giving full support to most teams.”


Five makes are among the top seven leaders after two races.

Bobby Archer, who won in a Jeep Comanche two weeks ago in Dallas, is tied at 31 points with Mike Rutherford, who drives a Mitsubishi Mighty Max. Rutherford won the series opener at Sears Point.

Next comes John Norris of Culver City, in another Mitsubishi, with 28 points, followed by Steve Saleen of Brea, in a Ford Ranger, 21; Tommy Archer, Bobby’s brother, in a Jeep, and Ray Kong of San Jose, who switched in midseason from Mitsubishi to one of Low’s Nissans, 20 each; and Scott Sharp in a Dodge Ram 50, with 17.

The series is open to all 1987 and 1988 mini-trucks with standard cabs, short wheelbases, 4-cylinder engines, 5-speed transmissions and 2-wheel drive.

Max Jones, the 1987 champion from Long Beach, is running with Tom Kendall in a Chevy Beretta in an International Motor Sports Assn. series and is not defending his championship. Low replaced him with Jeff Krosnoff of Flintridge-La Canada.

The Archers finished second and third behind Jones last year and by so doing won the manufacturers’ championship for Jeep.

“We want both the championships this year,” Bobby Archer said. “Teamwork is what is going to win and the Archer brothers know more about teamwork than anyone else in the series.”

The Coors Racetruck Challenge will be 20 laps on Riverside’s 2.5-mile course on Sunday.

Five other events will also be held. Practice and qualifying Saturday will be followed by an American City Racing League Sports 2,000 race of 25 laps (100 kilometers). On Sunday, preceding the race trucks, there will be 15-lap main events for Sports Renault and NASPORT cars and 25-lappers for the Russell Pro Series and the Western Formula Atlantic series.

Race trucks have added a new dimension to the art of racing--bump drafting.

That is not to be confused with stock car drafting, where a trailing car can pick up a draft and slingshot past the leading car.

Bump drafting is coming up behind another truck and whamming it in the rear--deliberately. Such an act could be cause for disqualification in some forms of racing, but in race trucks, the guy doing the bumping is more often than not the teammate of the guy getting bumped.

Low explains the technique:

“It all started accidentally last year in Portland, which has a long straightaway and a tight chicane where you try to keep as close as possible to the truck ahead of you. The racing is so tight that guys got bumped now and then.

“When we started checking lap times, we couldn’t figure out why one was quicker than the others until someone said, ‘Hey, that was the lap where I got bumped,’ so we went out and tried a few laps and found that both trucks in a bumping situation had lap times between a second and a second and a half faster than when running alone.

“At first, the officials frowned on it, but we convinced them that it was for our benefit. Now it’s getting really wild. It’s kind of like dancing, you’ve got to both be in the right rhythm for it to work. If you’re not in rhythm, you can end up knocking your teammate sideways.

“The hits are real. We use radios to alert the front driver when to expect it, or sometimes during a race we’ll wave the guy behind to make a hit. Sometimes it’s not a teammate, but it’s some guy who wants to hook up and help catch the leader.

“You’ve got to close within about 20 feet of the truck in front of you before you can begin to work together,” Low continued. “As soon as you begin to feel the effect of the draft, the guy in the trailing truck stands on the throttle and goes full blast into the rear of the truck ahead. The harder the hit, the faster you both go. At Brainerd (Minn.) last year, the fastest lap without bumping as 118 m.p.h. With bumping, it was 123.”

Teams and drivers have had to make some concessions to the bumping, however. Drivers have beefed up their neck braces to guard against whiplash. And more bumpers had to be ordered.

RUSSELL SERIES--Norm Breedlove, whose father Craig once held the world land-speed record, will bring a 20-point lead into Sunday’s Russell Pro race, third of a 10-race series for the Mazda Cup championship. Breedlove, 25, of Tustin, finished second to former snowmobile champion Jim Noble of Idaho Falls, Ida., in the series opener at Phoenix and then won the second race at Firebird Raceway. He has 55 points to 35 for Noble.

MIDGETS--The United States Auto Club will present a doubleheader Sunday night at Ascot Park, featuring full midgets and TQs in the Western States series.

STOCK CARS--Modifieds and sportsman cars will race Saturday night at Saugus Speedway, with a train race as an added attraction. . . . Winston Cup driver Davey Allison, who sat on the pole for the Winston 500 at Talladega May 1, will try his hand at short-tracking Saturday night when he drives in a Southwest Tour event at Madera Speedway. . . . Stockers will also race Friday night at Ventura Raceway and Saturday night at Cajon Speedway and Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino.

MOTOCROSS--The Continental Motosport Club’s Dodge Trucks Spring Classic will resume Sunday at a new facility in Butterfield Park, near Temecula. The track is not open for pleasure or weekday events, but the CMC will present four races there this year. . . . The weekly CMC Friday night program at Ascot Park is also scheduled.

MOTORCYCLES--Willow Springs Raceway will hold a Formula USA championship race Sunday. . . . Actor Billy Gray, a TV favorite as a teen-ager years ago on “Father Knows Best,” recently turned 50 but he is still racing on the scratch level at local speedway tracks and will be at Ascot Park tonight, Costa Mesa Friday night and Speedway USA in Victorville Sunday night.

OTHERS--Thrill jumper Earnie Adams of Shelbyville, Tenn., will attempt to break Evel Knievel’s Ascot record of jumping over 16 cars on a motorcycle during the Outlaw Mud Bog competition Saturday night at Ascot Park. Adams will attempt to clear 18 cars. . . . Top alcohol funny cars and injected funny cars will race Saturday night at the Los Angeles County Raceway in Palmdale. . . . The California Kart Racing Assn. will return to Adams track in Riverside for pro-am racing this weekend.

NEWSWORTHY--Darwin Doll, president and general manager of Sears Point Raceway, has resigned to accept a similar position with a new super speedway being planned for Albuquerque, N. M. The new tri-oval and road racing facility will be built on a 525-acre site 10 miles north of Albuquerque and is expected to be open in 1990.