In the excitement over Geoff Brabham’s winning 9 of 11 Camel GTP races in the International Motor Sports Assn. series, another remarkable achievement by young Tom Kendall of La Canada-Flintridge has been somewhat overshadowed.
Kendall, who celebrated his 22nd birthday last Monday, won his third consecutive GTU championship and its $35,000 bonus while driving a Chevrolet Beretta. He won 5 of 10 races this season and clinched the title last month at Columbus, Ohio.
Only two other drivers in IMSA have ever won three consecutive championships--the late Peter Gregg in GTP, 1973-75, and Jim Downing in Camel Lights, 1985-87.
Sunday, in the 45-minute GTU race during the Camel Grand Prix of Southern California at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, Kendall will attempt to bring Chevy the manufacturers’ championship over Mazda--the team he drove for in 1986 and 1987.
“We’d like to finish the season with a flourish, a 1-2-3 finish for Beretta with me, Max Jones and my brother Bart,” Kendall said between classes at UCLA, where he is a senior. “We did it in the last race at Columbus, but Bart was driving a Pontiac there.”
This will be older brother Bart’s first ride in a Beretta after competing twice this year in Mazdas and twice in Pontiacs.
“When Bart gets in a car, he has to look down at the steering wheel to know what car he’s driving,” Tom said with a laugh.
Kendall’s successes--he also won a Firestone Firehawk endurance series in 1986 while driving a Nissan with Jones--has made him one of the hottest properties in racing.
“I’ve had offers for next year from everything from GTU to GTP to Trans-Am to NASCAR and even Indy cars,” he said. “My long-range goal is Indy cars but I have no time frame. My main concern next year is to make sure I’m with a good team where I’ll have a chance to win another championship. I’d also like to stick with Chevrolet, especially with the way they’re doing in Indy cars.
“I still have some classes to take at UCLA before I graduate, so I’m not going to pull up stakes and move to Indianapolis or something like that. I’d rather be where I can win some races, rather than take too large a jump.”
If Kendall has a problem, it may be more with his size than his talent. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 175 pounds.
“Right now my height is about on the border line for an Indy car,” he said.
When Kendall and the Beretta started the IMSA season, they were something of an unknown commodity. Kendall had switched from two winning seasons with Mazda and the Beretta was being introduced as a racing companion to a new limited edition street model converted by C&C; Inc., the car’s sponsor, in New Castle, Del.
“I would say that winning that first race in Miami, right out the box, was my greatest achievement this year,” Kendall said. “There was a lot of pressure, the introduction of the car and all that. All the Chevy people and the sponsor people were there, so when I qualified on the pole and won the race, it was a very satisfying moment.”
He also won the Norelco Cup as the race’s outstanding driver.
“The other big day came at Watkins Glen (N.Y.), where I arrived 8 points ahead of Amos Johnson with 3 races to go and came out 28 points ahead with 2 races left,” Kendall said. “I didn’t really win the championship until Columbus, but the win at Watkins Glen was the big one.”
At Del Mar, where the race is held on a 1.6-mile temporary course through the fairgrounds parking lot, Kendall will be racing on his hometown course for Kendall.
“Del Mar has always been like a second home for me,” he said. “I’ve been going down there with my family for 15 years or so in the summer and I’ve always loved it, so you can imagine how I felt when they put a race track where I can do what I like to do the most in a place that I like the most.”
RIVERSIDE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY--Whoa! The old track’s not dead yet. Much of the facility has been razed, but not all of it. The Skip Barber Racing School will begin operations there Nov. 11, using the lower part of the track from Turn 9 up through the esses. Nine weekends of racing for Formula Fords are scheduled, starting in February, using Riverside and Willow Springs, according to Barber.
DRAG RACING--With only two events remaining on the National Hot Rod Assn. schedule, both top fuel and funny car championships remain at stake. Former champion Joe Amato holds a 1,328-point lead over Darrell Gwynn, with Eddie Hill third in top fuel. Much closer is the funny car series where 3-time defending champion Kenny Bernstein is only 82 points ahead of Mark Oswald with more than 2,000 points available at the two remaining events. Bob Glidden clinched his ninth Pro Stock championship last week at Houston. Remaining are the Fallnationals this weekend at Firebird Raceway in Chandler, Ariz., and the Winston World Finals, Oct. 27-30, at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona.
STOCK CARS--Two nights of racing remain at Ventura Raceway this season, Friday night and Oct. 28.
SPRINT CARS--A new sanctioning body for sprint cars, the United Sprint Assn., will make its debut this weekend with the Western World championships at Manzanita Speedway in Phoenix. It is the first of a 4-race series with a $100,000 payoff. Steve Kinser, World of Outlaws champion, and Ron Shuman, California Racing Assn. leader, head the field for the Saturday night main event.
MOTORCYCLES--Champions of the American Motorcyclist Assn. will be honored Nov. 5 at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Among them will be Steve Lucero of Riverside, speedway; Scott Parker of Swartz Creek, Mich., Grand National dirt track; and Bubba Shobert of Lubbock, Tex., Camel Pro Series (combined dirt track and road racing) and Superbike.
The Continental Motorcycle Club’s Dodge Truck Trans-Cal motocross series will conclude Sunday at Carlsbad Raceway. The race was originally scheduled for Butterfield Park in Temecula, but was switched to the Carlsbad facility. CMC riders will also compete Friday night at Ascot Park.
FORMULA ONE--Although Detroit Grand Prix officials announced last June that the 1989 race would be held on Belle Isle in the Detroit river, it will be run again through the streets of downtown, as in past years. The city council rejected the move. The race, the only one in the United States, will be run June 18.
INDY CARS--Danny Sullivan earned $559,660 for winning last Sunday’s 300-kilometer race at Laguna Seca. The champion’s share of the CART/PPG World Series is $500,000 and the race purse paid the Penske team driver another $59,660.
JET SKIS--The seventh annual World Jet Ski Finals will be held this weekend at Lake Havasu City, Ariz., with 27 titles at stake from professional to novice classes. Jeff Jacobs, 17, of El Cajon, will be going for his second pro division championship in Sunday’s competition. Jacobs’ mother, Karen, 39, is the second-ranked women’s pro racer. World jet ski jumping competition is also scheduled Sunday, featuring record holder David Gordon of Wayland, Mass., who has cleared 91 feet.