For speedway motorcycle rider Bob Ott of Redondo Beach, the 1988 U.S. national championship has gone from a questionable commodity to a distinct possibility.
Ott, who was the runner-up to champion Brad Oxley last year after a strange run-off that neither rider finished--Oxley went the farthest--is hoping for a good performance tonight in the second of five qualifying programs that will determine the field for the showdown at Costa Mesa in October. Tonight's racing will be at Ascot Park's South Bay Speedway, Ott's home track.
A month ago, however, Ott was not even sure he would make the qualifying events. After a great start at Ascot, he cut his right Achilles tendon and broke some bones in his foot.
It took from April to mid-July for things to heal, but he came back and won his first two weekly scratch races at Ascot July 14 and 21, so things are looking up for the South Torrance High School product.
Under tonight's format, Ott, Oxley and Bobby Schwartz, the 1986 U.S. champion and the dominant figure at Ascot in Ott's absence, will be among 19 Southern California riders in a 24-rider field picked according to a point system based on weekly performances. The remaining five riders were picked from a similar list in Northern California.
After competition at Ascot and the Inland Motor Speedway in San Bernardino this week, the remaining qualifiers are scheduled to ride again Aug. 6 at Auburn, Calif., Aug. 13 at Speedway USA in Victorville and Sept. 16 at Costa Mesa.
The top 14 scorers in the qualifying events will join Sam Ermolenko and Robert Pfetzing, who earned their places in the World championship qualifier earlier this year, in the finals.
Tonight, each rider will compete in three heats. The top 16 move into the semifinals and the four semifinal winners will ride in the final. If a rider can sweep the program, he will earn 21 points.
The draw pits Ott against Schwartz in one heat and Oxley in another. In last week's regular competition, Ott won, with Schwartz second. Oxley failed to make the scratch final.
Other contenders tonight include Phil Collins of England, Steve Lucero of Riverside, Bart Bast of Auburn, Calif., Dub Ferrell of Whittier and Ed Castro of Ojai.
SUPER-MODIFIEDS--Mike Swanson of Kingsburg, Calif., and Ken Nichols of San Carlos, Calif., will continue their battle for the season lead when the United States Auto Club super-modifieds invade Saugus Speedway's one-third-mile paved oval Saturday night. Heading into Saturday night's 30-lap main event, Swanson holds a seven-point edge over Nichols, 156-149. However, the man both may have to beat is Billy Vukovich III of Coarsegold, Calif. Vukovich, this year's top rookie at the Indy 500, is coming off a win a Madera last Saturday night in the Spirit of Madera machine that carried him to 12 victories last year and the season title.
STOCK CARS--The longest pro stock race of the season, a 100-lap event, and the sixth annual "Cops and Robbers" charity demolition derby will highlight Saturday night's program at Ascot Park. Three drivers, point leader Ron Meyer of Garden Grove, runner-up Fred Estrada of Riverside and Marcus Mallot of Gardena, are expected to battle for the top spot in the pro stock event. Estrada, 27, a former champion at the defunct Corona Raceway, is coming off his first victory of the year.
After the pro stock race, 20 lawmen from various South Bay cities and a like number of Ascot regulars will clash in the annual event for the Lomita Kiwanis Club's young activities fund. In the five previous events, the cops have won twice and the so-called robbers have won three times.
Pro stock racers will return for another program topped by a 30-lap feature on Sunday evening. Sunday racing will also include bomber, Figure 8 and oval cars as well as hobby stocks.
Mark Norris of Ramona, who is batting 1.000 at Cajon Speedway in super stock competition, having won all five races the division has run at the one-third-mile paved oval, will try to make it six straight in Saturday night's 30-lap feature. Joining the super stocks on the program will be street, bomber and pony stocks. . . . Both the hobby and mini-stocks will be in action Friday night at Ventura Speedway. . . . Both the modified and sportsmen divisions have the week off at Saugus but street stocks and Figure 8s will race on the program headed by the USAC's super-modifieds.
SPRINT CARS--Leader Ron Shuman holds a 67-point advantage over Mike Sweeney, 2.379-2,312, as the Parnelli Jones Firestone/California Racing Assn. series moves to Shuman's home track, Manzanita Speedway, for races Friday and Saturday nights. Sweeney cut into Shuman's margin slightly last Saturday night at Ascot, taking advantage of another bad break for Lealand McSpadden, the other half of Arizona's 1-2 punch. McSpadden held a big lead over the field when a tangle with a car he was lapping damaged a wheel. Two caution flags bunched the field and Sweeney was able to pass McSpadden for his seventh win of the season. Shuman finished third. Sweeney's victory was the 129th lifetime win for car owner Alex Morales and puts him just two behind all-time leader Bruce Bromme.
Veteran driver Brad Doty is hospitalized in Dayton, Ohio, with severe spinal injuries suffered Saturday night in a crash at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Although Doty can move his arms, he is paralyzed from the chest down, his wife told World of Outlaws officials in Texas.
SPORTS CARS--Geoff Brabham, John Morton and the Nissan GTP car will try to stretch their winning streak to seven when they compete in the G.I. Joe Gran Prix at Portland International Raceway on Sunday. It will be the team's first start since the International Motor Sports Assn. changed the rules after their sixth win at Elkhart Lake, Wis. They will have to carry 50 more pounds of weight while their main competitors, the Porsches, will be able to weigh a little less.
Even so, Porsche driver Chip Robinson, who will be trying to give the team its fourth straight win at Portland, said that won't make much difference.
"It's doubtful if it's enough to overcome their superiority," Robinson said. "It is really difficult to know that you must have a perfect race, and they have to have all kinds of problems for you to have a chance, but that's the way it's been this year."
MIDGETS--The Sleepy Tripp-P.J. Jones battle flared again last Sunday night at Ascot Park, and it wasn't until Wednesday that United States Auto Club officials finally ruled that the finish on the race track would stand, giving Tripp the victory with Jones second and Darryl Haugh of Fresno third.
Tripp, forced to start 20th in the field of 22 in the 25-lap event because his car didn't meet the noise level restrictions in qualifying, made contact with Jones in the third turn of the final lap when he took the lead. Tripp and Jones have been after each other all season, with Jones being handed a 30-day suspension earlier in the year.
In announcing the decision Wednesday, Dick Hindman, the chief official of the USAC Western States series, said his group is still looking at tapes and penalties are a possibility.
Although the Western States series will continue at Ventura Raceway on Saturday night, the archrivals will not meet in this one since Tripp, along with Tommy White, Robby Flock, Haugh and several others will be in Erie, Colo., Friday and Saturday night before moving on to the midget nationals at Belleville, Kan., Aug. 4, 5 and 6. Tripp is the defending Belleville champion. Jones and the rest of the local drivers are expected to be at Ventura where the USAC three-quarter midgets will share the program.
SEAFEST--The Watercraft Grand Prix, a full day of jet ski racing, will be held at the Long Beach Marine Stadium starting at 10 a.m. Sunday. Racing will feature closed course, slalom and freestyle competition in all classes from beginners to pros.