In the world of personal watercraft racing, also known as jet skiing, Tera Crismon won so often against women that she wanted a new challenge. So she decided to race the best males, among them world champions Victor Sheldon and Jeff Jacobs, in the highly competitive Pro Ski class.
"It's the biggest thrill I've had in racing, better even than winning my four world championships," the 5-foot, 100-pound Crismon said. "It has taken me to a new level. I couldn't be happier than when I mix it up with a bunch of guys."
Crismon, 24, will be racing twice Sunday when the International Jet Sports Boating Assn. conducts its California Nationals in the surf off San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura. She will be riding a Yamaha in the women's Pro-Am Ski class, in which she has swept all four events this season, and also in the men's Pro Ski event, where she stands fourth in a field of 20 riders.
"It's two different worlds," she said. "The men ride faster equipment. The women hit about 50 mph on limited watercraft, the men more than 60 on full-blown modified watercraft, but the biggest difference is in the acceleration. It's kind of like going from a Cadillac to a race car.
"But it's not so much a physical sport as it is mental. The biggest thing is riding skill, not brute strength."
When she's lined up for the start with 19 male riders, Tera looks like someone's kid sister who got in by mistake.
Crismon, who won her first world title as Tera Laho, a high school girl from Lake Havasu, Ariz., in 1994, is known as the Tera-rizer on the IJSBA circuit, because of her success in women's events. She has won four of the last five world championships before her hometown friends at Lake Havasu and has also won three of the last four national competitions.
"I didn't know what to expect [racing against men] at first, but now that I've done pretty well, I'd like to finish in the top three," she said. "That would really be cool. I'm racing against guys who have been my idols for years, but when I get out on the water I forget all about that. I'm all about racing."
In the first four men's Pro Ski finals, she finished third at Titusville, Fla.; fourth at Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; sixth at Galveston, Texas, after running as high as second midway through the race, and sixth again last Sunday at Coronado. She trails only Kawasaki's undefeated Sheldon, former world champion Chris Fischetti and seven-time champion Jacobs, who is also the current champion.
She is undefeated in the women's Pro-Am Ski class. At Fort Lauderdale, she lapped the field.
The Ventura event is the fifth of eight on the 17th annual IJSBA Big Red Jet Tour, but the last in California. The Skat-Trak world finals, not part of the tour, will be run Oct. 11-18 at Lake Havasu Lake.
"I've had good luck racing on smooth water, but I like the surf better," she said. "The waves are more challenging--it's more like a motocross, bouncing up and down as well as making sharp turns. Actually, racing a single-seat watercraft is a lot like riding a motorcycle in a Supercross. We're banging on each other all the way."
Crismon's Yamaha Super Jets are maintained and prepared by her husband, Darin, a former endurance racer.
"He does everything," she said. "He's the mechanic, crew chief, travel coordinator, everything I need. I ride for Mission Yamaha in Laguna Niguel, but he takes care of my equipment."
Admission is free to the two-day event, with experts racing Saturday at 1:50 p.m. and professionals Sunday at 1 p.m. Competition in the 12 classes at Ventura will be shown July 11 at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
Jeremy Mayfield has yet to win his first Winston Cup race, yet after 12 races he and his Ford Taurus are atop the standings with a shot at the $2-million end-of-season bonus.
"[Standings leader has] been my goal since I started driving, long before I even started driving NASCAR," said Mayfield, who turned 29 on May 27. "We're here to win races and we're here to win championships. That doesn't mean that we've already dusted a place off in the shop for the cup. It just means that we are focused on our goals and leading the points is one of those goals."
Sunday, the Winston Cup chase will be at Michigan Speedway, a two-mile oval similar to California Speedway, where Mayfield finished a strong second last month to Mark Martin.
"We're still thinking 'win,' " he said. "This team has been so close this season and we really want a win bad. Nothing will protect a points lead better than winning the race. But it's more than that. I can't think of a team out here any hungrier than we are right now."
Mayfield has 1,868 points, followed by Rusty Wallace, his Penske teammate, with 1,843; defending champion Jeff Gordon, 1,822, and Martin and Dale Jarrett with 1,815 each.
Martin is the man to beat, however. He not only won at California, Michigan's sister track, but also won impressively last August at Michigan when he led 102 laps.
"We can use the same set-up in the car that we used at California, Las Vegas and Texas, where we won," Martin said. "We have found a set-up for this type of track that no one else has figured out yet. At least, I hope they haven't figured it out."
Martin also will be favored in Saturday's IROC race. He clinched his third championship at Michigan last year. This year, however, the Michigan race is the third of the season, with the finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Brickyard 400 weekend.
In a move designed to shake seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt out of the doldrums, car owner Richard Childress is switching crew chiefs. Larry McReynolds, who masterminded Earnhardt's Daytona 500 win, is moving to Mike Skinner's car, with Skinner's former mechanic, Kevin Hamlin, taking over Earnhardt's No. 3 Chevrolet.
"It's my hope that this will be a step in the right direction in getting both Dale and Mike into the winner's circle," Childress said.
Since joining Earnhardt at the start of the 1997 season, McReynolds has only the one win at Daytona, while Skinner and Hamlin are winless in two seasons together.
At first glance, there seemed nothing unusual about the Baja 500. Ivan Stewart won a 10th overall four-wheel championship in his one-of-a-kind Toyota pickup. Motorcycles continued to be fastest as Johnny Campbell and Bruce Ogilvile finished about 40 minutes faster on their Honda than Stewart. Only 98 of 221 starters finished the race, made more difficult by recent El Nino storms.
However, a worse storm was developing in Baja California, where Sal Fish and his SCORE people have raced for 30 years. In five incidents, competitors were held up by armed robbers during practice. Randy Ross, 39, of Seal Beach, was wounded in his leg when a bandit's bullet ricocheted off the steering wheel of his Baja Bug during a robbery near Mike's Sky Ranch, a popular spot for Baja racers.
"It's certainly something to be concerned about," said Fish, who said he had conferred with Hector Teran, governor of Baja California, and Juan Tintos Funcke, secretary of tourism. "There have been incidents in that same area where the locals have been terrorized too. We plan to give that area a wide berth in November for the [Baja] 1000.
"Competitors are naturally concerned, but the federal police assured us that there will be adequate protection for the races. The problem is in pre-running, where individuals are down there running by themselves. We need to be more careful about being down there alone. There is more safety in numbers."
Sleepy Tripp, who recently won his 100th U.S. Auto Club western regional midget race at Ventura, will try for another milestone Saturday night on the same track. The 44-year-old veteran will seek his 250th victory in all types of midget racing.
Jeremy McGrath, coming off an impressive Supercross championship and leading in the national 250cc outdoors series, will miss the next six weeks of racing while his broken wrist heals. McGrath apparently broke it at the Pontiac Supercross last April but thought it was only a sprain and continued to race until he aggravated the injury in another fall. The nationals will be at Budds Creek, Md., on Sunday.