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END OF THE ROAD : Off-Road World Championships Are Riverside International Raceway’s Last Show

Times Staff Writer

When the curtain drops on the Stroh’s SCORE Off-Road World Championships and Riverside International Raceway this afternoon, it will close one of the most popular off-road racing programs ever.

The layout of the course, which combines the best of desert and stadium racing, was designed and built by Walker Evans, a 49-year-old Riverside resident who is the sport’s biggest winner.

“Mickey (Thompson) built the first one in 1973,” Evans said Friday during practice for the 16th and final race of the series. “The next year, however, I volunteered and built it for the second race.

“Funny thing is, that first one is almost identical to the way we will go in the last one. There have been a few minor changes, but mostly it is the original.”

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When asked whether he thought it would be possible to duplicate a course such as Riverside, Evans was not too confident.

“It’s possible, of course, but it is going to take a place with the elevation variations that we have here, and it is going have to be within 50 or 60 miles of Los Angeles,” he said. “You probably can get the fans to go once, but if they are not entertained as well as they were here, then you are in trouble.

“The thing that makes Riverside so unique is that it’s a near perfect mix of desert and stadium racing. On the stadium courses you’re lucky if the top speed is 50 m.p.h. Here, we will hit up to 90. It gives you room to stretch your legs.”

Evans will compete in both of today’s feature truck races. He will be in the Chevrolet Heavy Metal Challenge in his full-size Dodge Dakota and then will return in the Mini Metal Challenge in one of three Jeep Comanche mini-pickup trucks.

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His top rivals in the Heavy Metal race are Scoop Vessels in a Chevy, Robby Gordon in a Ford, Steve Kelley in another Chevy and four-wheel drivers Rod Hall in a Dodge and Jack Johnson in a Nissan.

In the mini metal chase, Evans will face the Toyotas of Ivan Stewart and Steve Millen, the Mazdas of Glenn Harris and Jeff Huber, the Nissans of Roger Mears and his son as well as his two Jeep teammates Al Arciero and Rob MacCacheren.

Racing today is a far cry from when Evans started in 1969, finishing third in the Baja 500 in a Jeep Scrambler. From 1970 through 1977, Walker won all but one Baja 500 he entered.

“Back then, it was a lot different from today,” Evans said as he looked over a vast array of transporters and support vehicles that he uses to haul the Dodge and the four Jeeps. He also has a crew of 10 full-time workers and another 15 who do it on race weekends just for the fun of it.

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“Back in 1970, I drove the truck I raced to the starting line. It had a lot of stock things on it. Today, we have vehicles to pre-run the course that are five times more sophisticated than the machine I won that race with,” Evans said.

“The old days were fun, and there wasn’t the pressure to win. When sponsors put up the kind of money they are these days, they expect performance. I’m lucky in that I have grown up with the sport and it doesn’t bother me as much as some of the new people. With the advent of stadium racing, a sponsor can say, ‘We’ve heard how fast you can go with our car, now prove it,’ and that is pressure.”

Practice today begins at 7 a.m. The opening ceremony is scheduled for 11:45 a.m. with the first race at noon.

Frank Arciero Jr. of Laguna Hills, who last year became the first person to win four races in the annual Stroh’s SCORE Off-Road World Championships, began Saturday where he left off, racing to an easy victory in his Stadium Class 1 buggy in the main event of the 16th and final running of the races at Riverside.

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Arciero took a big early lead and coasted to a 14-second victory over runner-up Wes Elrod of San Jose. Robby Gordon and his father, Bob Gordon, finished third and fourth, respectively.

At first, officials disqualified Elrod, Robby Gordon and fifth-place finisher Art Schmitt for course violations. However, after a review, the officials decided to let the original finish stand.

“It had to be the best start I’ve ever got here,” Arciero said. “For the first few laps I ran hard to make sure nobody was gaining on me. After that I just cooled it, trying to conserve the car.”

This year, Arciero will have only one more chance for a victory. He will compete in the Stadium 10 buggy class today after finishing third in his heat earlier Saturday.

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The Gordons took both heats for Class 10.

Other winners Saturday were Terry Fowler in motorcycles, Rodney Gentry in ATVs and Ultrastock driver Greg George of Cucamonga, who took the race for his class and several other desert car classes.


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