Motor Racing / Pat Ray : Speedway Motorcycles in Spotlight at Costa Mesa

Speedway motorcycle racing, a consistently popular weekly motor racing event in Southern California, kicks off its 21st season Friday night at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

The competition on the tiny (1/10-mile) track features the 500cc alcohol-burning motorcycles that can only turn left and have no brakes. The sport was popular before World War II in the Southland and since it was brought back in 1968 by promoter Harry Oxley of San Clemente, the Costa Mesa track has been the focal point of the sport.

This year will be no different as a strong field of riders headed by national champion Steve Lucero, track point leader Brad Oxley and the winningest rider in Speedway last year, Bobby Schwartz. All three are planning to compete in Southern California this season and will be joined by a trio of up-and-coming youngsters, Gary Hicks, Billy Hammil and Greg Hancock.

“It’s been a long time since our top stars, along with our best up-and-coming riders have elected to stay in America and not race in the British Speedway League,” Oxley said. “I believe that this will make for one of the best speedway seasons in years.”


As usual, the rider to beat Friday night is Schwartz. He is coming off his third straight victory in the Southern California Spring Classic. After finishing third in the main event on the quarter-mile track at Long Beach, Schwartz dominated when the program returned to Costa Mesa, winning four of his five heat races and taking an easy victory in the main event.

That victory, coming the first weekend of March, was his 97th since the start of the 1987 season. He is expected to go over the 100 mark early in 1989.

While Costa Mesa gets the jump, the rest of the Speedway racing sites in Southern California also will be starting. On Sunday afternoon, racing begins at Speedway USA track in Victorville. Ascot Park’s South Bay Speedway begins April 6, and Inland Speedway at Glen Helen Park in San Bernardino starts April 8.

MORE MOTORCYCLES--Jeff Ward of Mission Viejo, who missed the first six events with an ankle injury, and finally ended the Honda domination of Rick Johnson and Jeff Stanton at Tampa Stadium in Florida, will try to make it two straight for Kawasaki in Saturday night’s AMA Supercross Series race at Texas Stadium in Irving, Tex. Stanton, who had won the last three races, had his streak ended when his bike failed. Johnson, who won five in a row, has missed the last three races with a broken wrist. . . . The World Grand Prix racers will compete in South Australia in Round 2 of the championship April 8. Round three will be held at Laguna Seca April 14-16 with six Americans expected to compete. . . . The AMA Camel Pro series riders will compete on the one-mile Cal-Expo track in Sacramento April 8.


STOCK CARS--The 1989 NASCAR Southwest Tour for All-American Challenge cars, set back a week by rain last Saturday night at Saugus Speedway, will try again this Saturday night when more than 50 entries headed by form Tour champions Roman Calczynski of Sepulveda, Ron Esau of Lakeside and Mike Chase of Bakersfield will race in the Bud 100 at El Cajon Speedway in El Cajon. It will be the first time in the series’ four years that it did not open at Saugus. However, NASCAR officials and Saugus’ Ray Wilkings announced the rained-out event will be rescheduled for June 17. . . . Ventura Raceway’s 1989 racing season opens Friday night with mini-stock and the newly upgraded street stock machines competing on the quarter-mile oval. Last year’s champions, Rock Ake of Moorpark, Richard Webster of Camarillo and Dave Hume of Ventura, all will open defense of their 1988 championships. . . . Saugus Speedway also opens its regular season Saturday night with the Super Stocks and Hobby Stocks furnishing the action on both the oval and figure-8 courses. . . .Marcus Mallet will shoot for his third straight victory in Sunday night’s NASCAR Curb Motorsports pro stock victory. His top challengers include Frank Estrada, J.D. Wilson and Mike Kirby, the rising sprint car star who also competes in the stockers.

SPRINT CARS--The sprinters of the California Racing Assn., who suffered a rare rainout last Saturday night at Ascot Park, will try it again this Saturday night with veteran Eddie Wirth seeking his second straight Parnelli Jones/Firestone series victory at Ascot. Wirth drove his Jack Gardner Shrike to victory two weeks ago in the Ascot opener. Top challengers include Mike Kirby of Paramount, former champion Brad Noffsinger, John Redican, Jerry Meyer, Rip Williams, as well as Arizona’s Lealand McSpadden and defending CRA champion Ron Shuman. Kirby, 25, voted the most improved driver in CRA last year, led Wirth for 18 of the 30 laps and wound up second.

SPORTS CARS--Defending Camel GT driving champion Geoff Brabham and teammate Chip Robinson, the 1987 champion, will shoot for their third straight victory Sunday at Road Atlanta in Georgia in their Nissan GTP. The pair, along with Indy veteran Arie Luyendyk, are coming off a victory in the Sebring 12 Hours. They also have been named to drive one of three new Nissan R89Cs that will compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11.

NEWSWORTHY--P.J. Jones, the oldest son of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones, has been signed by P.I.G. Enterprises Racing to drive their second March Wildcat-Buick for the full 1989 American Racing Series. Jones, will have a little more track time at Long Beach than his rivals as he has been selected to compete along with his famous father in the Toyota Pro-Celebrity race Saturday before driving in the ARS race Sunday.