After Conquering Europe, Hamill Returns


Billy Hamill rose to the top in the rough and tumble speedway leagues of Europe, clawing his way past some of the best motorcycle racers in the world.

He has ridden in front of thousands of screaming, blood-thirsty fans, who march into venues such as Wroclaw in Poland and Vojens in Denmark, emitting the passions and energy usually reserved for a raucous European soccer match.

Hamill, 28, has built a 10-year career racing overseas, where he won the 1996 World Individual Championship, is a three-time Grand Prix Champion and four-time World Team Cup Champion. He has won so many races in Europe that he keeps a separate room at his headquarters in England just to house his most-prized awards.


So you’d think a trip to the Costa Mesa Fairgrounds for tonight’s Coors Light Spring Classic would be a great chance to celebrate a homecoming, right?

Perhaps, but Hamill will have other things on his mind as he inches his 5-7, 107-pound frame onto his brakeless, alcohol burning, hand-built machine. A married father of two, Hamill hasn’t raced since fracturing a vertebrae in his back last September during a Grand Prix event in Poland.

The injury happened during a first-turn brush with another rider and sent Hamill feet first into the wall. “It felt like I had jumped off a building,” he said.

He spent a few days in the hospital and nearly a week in a hard plaster body cast. Nearly six months to the day, he has been given the OK by doctors to resume racing.

“It was obviously a major injury and nearly career threatening,” said Hamill, who flew in from England this week. “[Tonight’s competition] could be mentally challenging. It’s kind of unchartered territory for me, but I’m approaching it with an open mind.”

Racing in Costa Mesa already provides a unique challenge for Hamill, who grew up in Monrovia.


“I’m racing on quarter-mile tracks all year [in Europe] and then I’ve got to jump on a track that’s less than one-eighth of a mile,” he said. “I don’t have much practice on a track of that size.”

He is also aware of the home-track advantage enjoyed by many of the Costa Mesa veterans--such as three-time U.S. National Champion Mike Faria of Reno, who turned 42 last Sunday but can still spin his back wheel with the best of them.

There’s also 42-year-old Costa Mesa resident Bobby Schwartz, a U.S. National Champion in 1986 and ‘89, who felt the pulse of European racing as the U.S. World Team Cup captain from 1983-87. Two other household names in Costa Mesa speedway, San Juan Capistrano’s Brad Oxley and Brea’s Shawn McConnell, will each turn 40 this year.

“They’ve got a wealth of experience,” Hamill said. “I’m sure if I could race here week in and week out, it would be easier to compete with them. I’m still convinced I can go to Costa Mesa and win though. If they threw a bunch of [extra] dirt on the track, I could probably spin laps around them.”

Hamill grew up watching some of the guys he will be racing against tonight. The son of a thoroughbred jockey, Hamill preferred BMX racing until a neighbor got him interested in speedway and he began racing when he was 12. His neighbor, Carlos Cordona, still helps in the pits when Hamill is in town.

“I love coming out here, it’s my old stomping grounds,” Hamill said. “It’s a good opportunity for my family and friends to come out and see what used to happen every week. It’s also good to see the same faces in the crowd as when I raced here.”


Hamill said because of the conflict with his European schedule, this will most likely be his only appearance in the United States until this fall at the U.S. Nationals in Costa Mesa.

“I’m looking forward to getting that first race under my belt,” Hamill said. “I’ll take it easy in the first couple of heats and then hopefully do my damage in the main event.”


Speedway Racing

* What: Coors Light Spring Classic

* When: 7:30 tonight

* Where: Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa

* Basics: Former World Champion Billy Hamill of Monrovia and 1998 U.S. National Champion Bart Bast of Auburn, Calif., lead an all-star field in a winner-takes-all championship motorcycle race format. Event serves as a prelude to the 31st season of Speedway racing, which begins April 10 and runs most Saturday nights through Oct. 2. The U.S. National Championship is Oct. 2

* Tickets: $9 adults, $6 juniors (13-17) and seniors (60 and older); $3 children (6-12); free for children 5 and younger. Available at gate. Parking and programs are free.

* Information: (949) 492-9933