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MOTOR RACING OFF-ROAD AT PASADENA : Millen Rocks and Rolls to Victory in Rose Bowl

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former world rally champion Rod Millen survived one of the roughest evenings in stadium racing history to win the Grand National sports truck race from the pole Saturday night in the Rose Bowl.

Millen, in a Toyota, fought off Walker Evans’ Dodge and Rob MacCachren’s Ford to win the feature event of the third round of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix championship series.

A crowd of 32,923 witnessed the rough-and-tumble racing in chilly weather.

Millen, who left his native New Zealand to try American racing several years ago, earned the pole by setting the fast time in qualifying and finishing fifth and fourth in the two eight-lap heats.

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“I’ve never been in an off-road race that seemed so long,” Millen, who turned 40 Saturday, said. “There wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver a truck out there. Sometimes you just felt handcuffed.”

Millen became the third winner in as many races, and Toyota, the perennial manufacturers’ champion, scored its first victory. Roger Mears, who won the opening race in Anaheim, finished eighth. Evans, the San Diego winner, was second.

MacCachren finished third, equaling his career best. Ivan Stewart, last year’s series and Rose Bowl champion, was fourth and Glenn Harris, in another Dodge, fifth, followed by Roger Mears Jr.

Stewart moved into the series lead with 160 points to 152 for Evans and 141 for Millen.

An extremely rough and tight course was difficult for the big trucks to negotiate without getting upside down. The first heat needed four restarts and the second two before they could complete eight laps.

A series of moguls right off the starting line made the 3,000-pound pickups bounce around as if they were on pogo sticks.

“This was easily the roughest race I’ve ever run,” Stewart said. “I was like a mine field out there. You just had to pick your way through it.”

Danny Thompson agreed: “I can’t remember ever being in a rougher race than that first heat. I just got broadsided flat out.”

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Harris and Evans gave Dodge a one-two finish in the first heat. Roger Mears Jr., who failed to finish the first eight-lapper when his engine expired while he was leading, held off Thompson and Evans to go wire-to-wire in the second heat.

Millen and Thompson rolled their trucks in separate accidents on the first lap of the second heat, but on the second try the field put on one of the most exiting races of the season. Thompson and Evans swapped second and third spots several times before Thompson won coming off the final turn.

Marty Coyne of Lemon Grove won the Super 1600 buggy race, with Mitch Mustard of Arvata, Colo., second. Other race winners included Sean Finley of Anaheim in Super Lites, Charles Shepherd of Bakersfield in all-terrain vehicles, Lary Noel of Antioch in UltraStock and Larry Brooks of El Cajon in the 250cc UltraCross motorcycle race.


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