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MOTOR RACING / BRIAN MURPHY : Firsich Sets His Hook for a Double Championship at Ventura

Jim Firsich of Port Hueneme, perched atop the Street Stock oval and figure-eight points standings at Ventura Raceway, has an idea of where he wants to be next year--and it’s more peaceful than the raucous world of auto racing.

Not that Firsich, 49, disdains the dirt oval at Ventura. He likes it. He loves his fans--and his sponsors, too.

It’s just that there comes a time when quieter--and wetter--pastures call.

“I want the oval championship,” Firsich said. “Then I’m gonna quit racing and get me a boat. It’s time for mom and I to go fishing.”

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From the looks of it, Firsich and “mom"--his wife, Barbara--are well on the way to hanging up that “Gone Fishing” sign on the ’69 Chevelle that Firsich races on Friday nights. In the oval points standings, Firsich’s total of 910 is well ahead of second-place contestant Don Keeter’s 790. And in the figure-eight standings, Firsich (720 points) has slipped past second-place driver Tom Stephens (710) to take the lead heading into last Friday night’s races. Such a double-double is rare at Ventura.

“That’s what I heard,” said the affable Firsich. “I’m having a real good year. I owe it to mostly my sponsors. And my pit crew has worked really hard with me. The car’s been working up, and I’ve been learning the track better.

“I’m just playing it cool. You can’t be overanxious. Things have just worked out. I’ve missed a lot of wrecks this year.”

Just like that, Firsich is turning heads on the quarter-mile dirt oval. Even more intriguing is the fact that 1990 marks just his third year of racing.

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“I haven’t raced before that,” Firsich said with characteristic simplicity. “I used to help John Kirby of Ventura Oldsmobile, just do his mechanical work. But I got bored with just sitting in the pit.”

So, behind the wheel went Firsich. Now he’s ahead of the pack--and not just in his driving. A crowd favorite, Firsich seems to have won over a legion of young followers who come out to watch him race. The kids call him “Choo-Choo,” in honor of his impression of a train.

“The biggest thing is my fans,” Firsich said. “I love racing, but I love my fans more. They call me ‘Choo-Choo Jim.’ I do it just like (country-western singer) Boxcar Willie--but better.”

The same can be said of his driving this year. He does it just like his competition--but better.

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Beginner’s luck: For only the second time in five weeks, Saturday night did not see a first-time winner in the Sportsman division at Saugus Speedway.

But that’s only because there was no racing on Saturday. The program was canceled because of rain.

The point, however, is that new faces have been turning up in the winner’s circle each week at Saugus. On May 12, John Cran of Reseda won his first Sportsman main event. He duplicated the win on May 19, then gave way to first-time winner Gary Sigman of Carson on May 26. Last Saturday, so as not to break tradition, Larry Woodside of Saugus took his first Sportsman main event.

Buoyed by this news, drivers who have yet to win that elusive first title will strap on their helmets Friday for the return of the Sportsman event. Stay tuned.

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Audience delight: As is becoming the norm, the quarter-mile dirt oval at Ventura Raceway was dug up Saturday night and reshaped for the return of the Class 10 Desert Buggies, the high-flying, crowd-pleasing automobiles that complement a night of motocross.

Saturday night’s races marked the fourth time that the buggies raced at Ventura, and fans couldn’t be happier about it.

“Those things hop and fly,” Ventura Raceway spokesman Cliff Morgan said. “We barrel-rolled a couple of them. The crowd loved it and everybody was safe.”

According to Morgan, the dirt is dug up and made into a track with major double and triple jumps that the buggies share with the motocross riders. The motocross event draws around 140 riders, while the buggies have 10 to 12 drivers on an average night.

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The buggies contain 1600cc VW engines on off-road chassis. Some--though heavier and equipped with double and triple shock absorbers--can seat two, although Morgan points out that, for insurance reasons, the raceway allows just a driver.

Ron Carter has won two of the desert buggy races thus far in their inaugural season.

Supercross locals: After Round 15 of 18 in the American Motorcyclist Assn. Camel Supercross Series last Saturday at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., three local riders were in the top 20 in points standings.

Mike Kiedrowski of Canyon Country, who finished sixth in last Saturday’s 250cc feature race, is sixth overall, just three points behind fifth-place driver Jeff Ward of San Juan Capistrano and 40 points behind leader Jeff Matasevich of La Habra Heights.

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Other local leaders include Johnny O’Mara of Simi Valley, in 12th place with 148 points, and Erik Kahoe of Saugus, 18th with 42 points.

Points update: A year after winning his first auto racing title, Will Harper of Tarzana is ably defending his Sportsman championship. With 178 points, he is 44 ahead of Keith Spangler of Northridge. In third is former champion Dave Phipps of Simi Valley with 130 points.

In a close Street Stock division, defending champ Steve Nickolai of Simi Valley also is back on top with 86 points. Dave Blankenship of Reseda is second with 79 points while Thad Friday is third with 77.

In the Hobby Stock division, James Kusch of Sepulveda (113 points) holds a 15-point lead over Neil Conrad of Arcadia. James Gunnarson of Reseda is third with 97.

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