OFF-ROAD RACING : Thunder Trucks Get Slow Start in a Swamp

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If the Rams had seen their Anaheim Stadium field Saturday night, they would be even happier to go to St. Louis.

The once pristine green grass of the football field was covered with 700 truckloads--more than 25 million pounds--of dirt that had been molded into a network of hummocks, bumps, berms and tight turns designed to create an atmosphere of desert terrain for the opening event of the eight-race Mickey Thompson Stadium Off-Road Racing series.

Fear not, Angels fans, if you indeed have a season in the spring. The field was protected by 6,000 sheets of plastic-covered plywood. The dirt, originally taken from the site of the Brea Mall, had turned into mud from recent rain when the program started, and that made for a more exciting show of slip and slide for the 54,078 on hand.

The mud and goo made no difference to Rob MacCachren, a former parking lot attendant on Las Vegas' strip, who drove his big V-8 Rough Rider Ford to an easy victory in the feature Thunder Truck class. MacCachren started last in an inverted start and had the lead before the trucks completed the first lap.

"It definitely felt different--stranger and different," MacCachren, a veteran of seven seasons of driving smaller stadium pickup trucks, said after his first race in the new truck class. "These trucks have 750 horsepower, just like we run in Baja, and they're huge. They weigh 5,000 pounds, so it's quite a chore getting them around the stadium."

The Grand National pickups, which were the staple of stadium racing for the past 12 years, weighed 3,000 pounds and had between 275 and 325 horsepower.

Only six trucks were on hand for the Thunder Truck debut, but promoter Danny Thompson, son of the stadium racing founder, said he expected more for the next event, Feb. 25, at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

"The trucks in our event are the same as ones driven in desert racing, so a number of potential drivers passed on Anaheim to have their trucks ready for the Parker 400 (SCORE off-road desert race) on Saturday," Thompson said. "We should have a dozen or so by San Diego."

MacCachren, 29, who won SCORE's Trophy Truck series last year, will open defense of his championship at Parker, but not in the truck he drove at Anaheim.

"The one I drove tonight was brought in from back East where Scott Taylor drove it in the SODA series," MacCachren said. "I'll be back in my regular Ford desert truck for Parker."

In addition to eight stadium races, he will be in seven desert events and five or six NASCAR super truck races on asphalt.

Because of the small number of entries, the Thunder Truck portion of the program was limited to one eight-lap heat and a 20-lap main event. Only two drivers, MacCachren and Evan Evans, the paraplegic son of famed driver Walker Evans, had any experience in stadium racing before Saturday night. Because of Friday night's rain, qualifying was canceled.

Evans, who drives a Chevrolet truck fitted with special hand controls that he designed, finished second in both the heat and main event. Evans was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.

Kristy Shealy of Houston, a member of the U.S. women's motocross team, won the inaugural race of the stadium-cross series. The women will return to Anaheim Stadium next Saturday night as part of the Supercross program.

Jimmy Nichols of Alpine was an easy winner in the Super 1600 race for desert buggies. Jerry Welchel of Mission Viejo, the defending champion, blew the engine in his buggy in the first heat and did not start the main event.

Other winners included Jimmie Johnson of El Cajon in superlites, Niclaas Granlund of San Jose in ATV and Kyle Lewis of Rosamond in ultracross.

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