In High Style : Supercross Back at Coliseum After Four Years and Rider Jeff Emig Is Jumping at Chance to Return

Legend has it that after rock 'n' roll promoter Mike Goodwin watched Belgium's Sylvain Geboers win an international motocross at Carlsbad in 1971, he sat down in a hotel dining room, picked up a cocktail napkin and drew a sketch of the Coliseum with a motocross course inside it.

The sketch became a reality in July 1972, when Goodwin promoted the first Superbowl of Motocross and 29,000 fans showed up to watch as Marty Tripes, a chubby 16-year-old from the San Diego area, rode into motorcycling history as the first winner of a stadium motocross.

The sport of Supercross had been born.

Saturday night in the Coliseum, after an absence of four years, Supercross will return to its roots for the opening event of the 15-race American Motorcyclist Assn. series. The second race also will be in the Coliseum, Jan. 18.

"It'll be great, going back to the peristyle jump," said Jeff Emig, the World Supercross Series champion from Riverside. "I always thought that was the most exciting jump on the entire circuit."

For the peristyle jump, riders race from the football field up the stands at the east end of the stadium and come out under the Olympic arches to leap more than 100 feet back to the floor of the Coliseum.

Although Jeremy McGrath made a shambles of last year's championship by winning 13 consecutive races and 14 of 15 overall, interest in this season has been heightened by the champion's stunning switch from Honda to Suzuki. All 43 of the Canyon Lake rider's Supercross victories have been on Hondas.

"It doesn't matter to me what type of bike he rides," said Emig, who won the only Supercross race McGrath lost last year. "I do my own thing. I've always raced tough with McGrath. I know he won all those Supercrosses, but there were a couple I should have won. And if some of those early races had gone my way, the momentum might have changed. I beat McGrath in the [national] 250 final at Steel City [in Delmont, Pa.], don't forget that.

"All I needed was a fourth-place finish in the final races but I went at it as if I had to win. I won both motos. At best, we were only five seconds apart. I got the jump on him both times.

"My Kawasaki proved fastest off the line. The race was won in the first 10 feet. The other 35 minutes were for the fans."

Emig, after dethroning McGrath in the 250 nationals, won the world championship in a seven-round series of races in Tokyo, Paris and Geneva. He won the opener at Tokyo and collected $25,000 for "my biggest purse ever." Although he did not win again, Emig had two second- and third-place finishes along with a fourth and a fifth to claim the crown McGrath had won in 1995.

"This championship may not mean as much to the fans in America, but it's important to me," Emig said. "I entered the series to win it all, and I rode seven hard races to do so."

McGrath won one of the Paris races but did not run the entire series because of injuries.

Emig, McGrath and Steve Lamson, national 125cc champion from Riverside, also teamed to return the Motocross des Nations world team title to the United States. It was Emig's third victory and his fifth consecutive year on the team. He also won in 1992 and 1993.

"The Motocross des Nations is a little like the Davis Cup," he said. "Some of the guys don't feel like riding, but I look at it as my patriotic duty. I don't plan on being in the armed forces, so it's important for me to represent my country on an international scale."

When Emig returned home, he didn't slow down. Two weeks ago, he won a motocross at Glen Helen Raceway, where a national 250cc event will be held May 11, and last Sunday he ran second to Lamson in a tuneup race at Goat Breker's Perris Raceway.

"I want to race every chance I get, and I want to win every race I run," he said. "Steve [Lamson] and I had a great race and I feel good heading for the Coliseum. Perris is a tight track, kind of like a Supercross track.

"The Coliseum has some special memories for me. I won the 125 East-West Shootout and 125 main event there in 1991. When you've won at a place, you always want to go back."

The Coliseum races will be the only Southern California Supercross events this year as both Anaheim Stadium and Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego are undergoing remodeling. Last year, 65,254 spectators, largest crowd of the season, attended the Anaheim race, which was the most successful in Supercross history.

About 30,000 are expected Saturday night, well below the Coliseum record of 74,065 in 1979.

Riders other than McGrath and Emig who could surprise include Greg Albertyn of Corona, a South African who won the world 250cc championship in 1993 and 1994 but has not had much luck since moving to the United States; Damon Huffman of Acton, a two-time Western Regional 125cc champion; Ryan Hughes of Escondido, winner of the "King of Bercy" title in a three-race series in Paris as part of the World Supercross Series; and Lamson, national 125cc champion the last two years.

The last time the Coliseum was used was 1992, when Honda's Jeff Stanton won, assuring him his third series championship. That same year, a youngster named McGrath won the 125cc race to clinch his second consecutive Western Regional championship.

The following year, McGrath moved up to the 250cc main-event class and won the AMA Supercross championship in his rookie year. In 1994 he won nine of 15 events, a stadium record until he won 14 last season.

For the first time in 25 years, someone other than Goodwin or the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group will be producing the Coliseum show. PACE Motor Sports, a longtime promoter of Supercross events in other stadiums, will produce the two Coliseum events as well as all others in the series, except for Daytona.

Track construction began Monday and is not expected to be completed until tonight. First, 533 truckloads of dirt were brought in. It will be molded into 8,000 cubic yards of racing surface with double and triple jumps, tight turns, sweeping berms and rows of closely spaced bumps called whoop-de-doos that are designed to shake the bike out of a rider's hands.

Motor Racing Notes

SPORTS CARS--Jack Long, who resigned last month as executive director of the Indy Racing League, has been named to the same position with the International Motor Sports Assn. IMSA also announced the purchase of two racetracks, Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway and Mosport Park, near Toronto.

MIDGETS--Jay Drake picked up $6,915 for winning the U.S. Auto Club's Western Regional championship, and Ricky Shelton collected $4,300 as the TQ champion from a point-fund payout of $60,660 at the awards banquet in Ventura. Named most improved were Jason Leffler, midgets, and West Evans, TQs. Scott Hansen, midgets, and Shaun Lee, TQs, were named rookies of the year.

Drake, Shelton, Leffler, P.J. Jones, Robby Flock, Ron Shuman, Billy Boat, Richard Griffin and Johnny Cofer will be in Tulsa, Okla., this weekend for the annual Chili Bowl indoor midget festival.

Award winners in USAC's Russell racing series included Ryan Arciero, grandson of longtime Indy car owner Frank Arciero, as rookie of the year, and Robin Yount, former Milwaukee Brewer shortstop-outfielder and future Baseball Hall of Famer, as most improved driver.

INDY CARS--Five Southern California race car builders of the roadster era--A.J. Watson, Quin Epperly, Frank Kurtis, Lujie Lusovsky and Eddie Kuzma--will be honored Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. An exhibition celebrating the era of the roadster and the Offenhauser engine will open.

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Race at a Glance

* What: AMA Supercross, Round 1 of a 15-race series.

* Where: Coliseum.

* When: Saturday. Gates open at 6 p.m.; opening ceremony, 7; first race, 7:30.

* Defending champion: Jeremy McGrath of Canyon Lake.

* Tickets: Sports Arena box office, Ticketmaster outlets. On race day, at Coliseum box office.

* Price: Adults: $30, $20 and $10. Children: $10.

COLISEUM SUPERCROSS WINNERS

1972: Marty Tripes, Yamaha

1973: Tripes, Honda

1974: Jaroslav Falta, C-Z

1975: Jim Ellis, Can-Am

1976: Ellis, Can-Am

1977: Jim Weinert, Kawasaki

1978: Mike Bell, Yamaha

1979: Mark Barnett, Suzuki

1980: Two races, both won by Broc Glover, Yamaha

1981: Barnett, Suzuki

1982: Bell, Yamaha

1985: David Bailey, Honda

1986: Rick Johnson, Honda

1987: Johnson, Honda

1988: Glover, Yamaha

1990: Damon Bradshaw, Yamaha

1991: Jean-Michel Bayle, Honda

1992: Jeff Stanton, Honda

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