In the 21 years that the U.S. speedway motorcycle championships have been held at the Orange County Fairgrounds, there have been runoffs, dramatic victories and controversial decisions determining the winners.
But Saturday night, the event took a strange turn even for this race when Steve Lucero clinched the title after 4 of 5 rounds with 12 points, then wept in the pit area after finishing last in his final heat race.
It was the first time a rider had clinched the title after 4 heat races.
A near-capacity crowd of 6,560 sat in stunned silence as Lucero, 24, of Riverside failed to make a decent start in his last heat and finished fourth in the 4-lap race behind Phil Collins, Sam Ermolenko and Alan Christian.
Afterward, Lucero hardly sounded like a national champion.
“I don’t feel like a champion right now,” Lucero said. “I’m upset with myself a little. It was pretty hard to concentrate on racing when I knew I had it won, but I didn’t want to finish like this.”
Collins, an English rider living in Newport Beach, was second with 11 points. Ermolenko of Cypress and Bart Bast of San Bernardino tied for third with 10 points. Ermolenko won a 4-lap runoff for third.