Motor Racing / Shav Glick : Thompson’s Successor Planning Some Changes

When the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group opens its eighth season Saturday night at Anaheim Stadium with an off-road Gran Prix, the signature will be more that of its current president, Bill Marcel, than of its late founder, Mickey Thompson.

The 1988 season was 2 races old when Thompson and his wife, Trudy, were gunned down, assassin-style, in front of their Bradbury mansion in the early morning of March 16. Marcel, who was being groomed by Thompson to take over direction of the organization, was thrust into the position prematurely.

This year, it is Marcel’s show.

“This will be more a year of refinement and enhancement than change,” Marcel said as crews were hauling more than 750 loads of dirt into Anaheim Stadium to create an off-road track on top of the baseball and football field. “Mickey loved change, and I’m sure if he were alive we’d have some new wrinkles. He thrived on innovative ideas, but often he didn’t allow much time to implement them.


There will be some changes, however.

The track will be wider and faster, the off-road season has been expanded from 8 to 10 races, and there have been significant driver changes.

“Last year we had the Thunder Drags scheduled and built the off-road track to accommodate the parallel lanes,” Marcel said. “This year, with no drag races, we have a fresh approach with better turns, more jumps, only one 180-degree corner and more opportunities to pass. It should be much more enjoyable for drivers and spectators alike.”

The Thunder Drags threw a pall over last year’s opening event when an out-of-control dragster careened into the crowd during a demonstration at an earlier event and injured a dozen spectators and one worker. The incident caused the K&K; Insurance Co. to cancel its liability policy and the event was called off.

“We still think stadium drag racing is a viable idea and we may try it again later in the season,” Marcel said. “The insurance company has given its approval after seeing our safety devices in operation.”

Those safety devices were not completely installed for the demonstration drive last year.

One driver shift--Super 1600 champion Robby Gordon will replace sport truck champion Steve Millen on the Toyota team--means that the two most prestigious individual championships will be undefended.

After Millen had won the stadium truck title last year for the second time and had helped Toyota win its sixth consecutive manufacturers’ championship, he decided to switch to pavement racing and joined the Nissan team for this season’s International Motor Sports Assn. Camel GTO series.

When team manager Cal Wells tabbed Gordon, 20, of Orange, as Millen’s replacement, he told the youngster that he could not double up in Super 1600 competition, instructing him to concentrate on helping Toyota retain its manufacturers’ title.

Ivan (Ironman) Stewart, 42, of Lakeside, who won the individual truck title in 1983 and 1984, and Frank (Butch) Arciero Jr., 42, of Laguna Hills, will also be in Toyota trucks Saturday night.

Arciero may be the heir apparent to Gordon’s Super 1600 title. He won the buggy championship in 1987 and finished second to Gordon after a tight race last season. Arciero will drive a truck in only selected events, so will be free to race his Super 1600 for the full series. His main competition may be his brother, Al, who left the Jeep truck team to concentrate on Super 1600.

Another major change in the truck lineup involves Mazda, with only team leader Glenn Harris returning. There was a 3-truck team last year of Harris, Rod Millen and Jeff Huber.

Shortly after the conclusion of the 1988 season, Harris announced that he was withdrawing the Mazda team from stadium racing. He felt the team was treated unjustly last year when a severe weight penalty was imposed on his trucks midway through the season, and that it seemed unfair that Mazda could win 5 of 8 races--Harris won 3, Rod Millen 2--and still lose the manufacturers championship.

“After studying the 1989 rules we decided to reevaluate our plans and return to the series but with only one truck,” Harris said.

The other truck teams include veteran Walker Evans of Riverside and desert driver Rob MacCachren, who is replacing Al Arciero, in Jeeps; Danny Thompson, Mickey’s son, in a Chevrolet; Dan Esslinger and David Ashley in Fords and Roger Mears in the lone Nissan.

SPRINT CARS--Kathy Simpson, a car owner from Chatsworth, received the Roger Newell Award for “dedication to sprint car racing” at the annual California Racing Assn. banquet where Ron Shuman and Ed Ulayte were honored as driver and car owner champions. Other awards: most improved--Mike Kirby, Paramount; rookie of year--Jeff Bagley, San Clemente; mechanic of year--Sal Acosta, Bellflower; hard-luck award--Elgin Freeman, Bullhead City, Ariz.; sportsman of year--Glenn Howard, Bellflower; Aggie Award--Shuman, Mesa, Ariz.

INDY CARS--Car owner Vince Granatelli has decided to run his Buick-powered Lola for the entire Championship Auto Racing Team season, rather than just the Indianapolis 500 and selected other races. Tom Sneva will be the driver. The season will open April 9 at Phoenix, where Sneva has won 4 times.

DRAG RACING--Kim LaHaie, named National Hot Rod Assn. crew chief of the year in 1987 after her father Dick had won the NHRA top-fuel championship, has ended a short retirement and will rejoin the Miller High Life team in time for the season-opening Winternationals, Feb. 2-5, at the Pomona Fairgrounds. Kim, 28, announced her retirement after the final race last year, saying she wanted time to explore other opportunities, but changed her mind.