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This Indy Car Test Came at Right Time

Indy car racer Hiro Matsushita can thank his car owner, Dick Simon, for missing the earthquake that shook his hometown of Kobe, Japan, 10 days ago.

Matsushita, who lives in San Clemente, was in Japan on a business trip, but left the day before the earthquake to test his Lola-Ford Indy car with Simon in Phoenix.

“My family in Kobe was extremely lucky,” Matsushita said. “No one was physically injured. My parents were terrified during the earthquake itself, but were unharmed. Most of my family’s properties are structurally OK, although we did lose several artifacts.

“The manager of my Japanese racing operations lost his home, but he and his wife escaped before the building collapsed.

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“My family is trying its best to provide help for the citizens of Kobe wherever possible. The struggle for survival remains for many families. Many people have suffered tremendously, and the human losses are staggering. Many whose homes are still standing are without water, gas or electricity.

“I was very fortunate to have left Japan the previous day.”

Matsushita tested with Simon teammates Elieo Salazar and Dean Hall at both Phoenix International Raceway’s oval and Firebird Raceway’s road course for the coming Indy car season.

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The Jeremy McGrath Show comes to Anaheim Stadium on Saturday night with the 23-year-old Honda rider from Murrieta expected to continue his dominance in the Supercross series.

McGrath won the first two races of the season, at Orlando, Fla., and the Minneapolis Metrodome. He has won the last two Supercross season championships--in 1993 becoming the only rookie rider to win the 250cc main event class. And he has won the last two years at Anaheim Stadium.

To make McGrath’s record even more remarkable, he has won four consecutive American Motorcyclist Assn. Supercross championships, having won the 125cc class in 1991 and 1992.

These successes have put him in line for lifetime records at an age when most riders are still looking for their first victories.

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McGrath has 21 victories in a little over two seasons, only seven fewer than Rick Johnson’s record of 28. It isn’t unreasonable to think that McGrath will break it this year. Last year, he won nine of the 15 events after winning a record 10 his rookie year.

A third championship in a row would equal the record of Bob Hannah, who won in 1977-78-79. Jeff Stanton, who retired last year, also won three, but not consecutively.

A victory Saturday night would also make McGrath the first three-time Anaheim winner. Five riders--Damon Bradshaw, David Bailey, Kent Howerton, Johnson and McGrath--have won twice.

During the off-season, he won the world Supercross championship in a series of races in Europe and Japan.

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“I just keep trying to win,” he says when asked about his meteoric career. “If you win races, the championship will come with it.”

Kawasaki riders Mike LaRocco and Mike Kiedrowski figure to be McGrath’s main challengers. LaRocco, of South Bend, Ind., won the national 250cc outdoor championship last year and finished second to McGrath in Supercross. During the world series, La Rocco upset McGrath to win the Bercy Supercross in Paris, most prestigious of European stadium races.

Kiedrowski, who lives in Acton, is a four-time outdoor national champion coming off a serious hand injury that hampered him last season.

Greg Albertyn, a three-time world champion from South Africa, is a tentative starter. The Suzuki rider, who moved to Corona to train with former world champion Roger DeCoster, suffered a shoulder separation during his stadium debut at Orlando and missed the Minneapolis race. He resumed training this week and hopes to be ready for Anaheim.

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Motor Racing Notes

DRAG RACING--The National Hot Rod Assn. will hold its fifth annual Budweiser Warm-Up this weekend at Bakersfield Raceway. Drivers of top fuel and funny cars will test Friday and Saturday, followed by side-by-side races Sunday as final preparation for the season-opening Chief Winternationals next week at the Pomona Raceway. Kenny Bernstein set track records of 4.80 seconds and 300 m.p.h. last year, but both are expected to fall Sunday.

INDY CARS--Al Unser Jr. received the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy as the driver getting the most votes in American Auto Writers and Broadcasters Assn. balloting for the 1994 All-American racing team. Unser, whose father won the inaugural Titus award in 1970, also won in 1990.

OFF ROAD--SCORE International will kick off its season with the Parker 400, featuring the Tecate Trophy truck race, Saturday near the Blue Water Marina in Parker, Ariz. Twenty trucks, headed by defending series champion Rob MacCachren in a Ford, will race 197 miles starting at 7:30 a.m. All other SCORE classes will start at 10 a.m. from the same site and will race 397 miles. Paul Simon is defending champion in the truck race. Entries include Ivan Stewart, Walker Evans, Robby Gordon and 67-year-old Danny Letner, a former West Coast NASCAR stock car champion.

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