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Clark Gable’s Son Blazing His Own Trail Off-Road

Clark Gable was the bigger-than-life prototype of the rugged individual when he was a motion picture icon more than four decades ago.

John Clark Gable, his son, hopes some of that rugged demeanor will carry over this week--not on the silver screen but on the rough and dusty trails that make up the Baja 500 off-road race. He and another son-of-a-famous-personality, Dodd Darin, son of singer Bobby Darin and actress Sandra Dee, will drive a Ford-150 Trophy Truck in the feature class of the 31st Tecate SCORE race Saturday in Baja California.

It is no coincidence, says John Clark, that his favorite movie involving his father is “To Please a Lady,” in which Clark Gable played a race car driver.

“My father died [in 1960] four months before I was born,” said John Clark, 39, “but I think my father’s love of auto racing, which I learned about from my mother, has been a special bond with his memory. My mom [the former Kay Spreckels] tried to discourage me from racing but I just knew it was in my blood. She even hid all my dad’s racing memorabilia from me.”

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A yellow racing helmet belonging to the late Ayrton Senna is the centerpiece on the living room mantle of Gable’s ranch-style home in Malibu.

“Did you ever see him race?” John asks a guest, his eyes gleaming as he recalls his own memories of the great Brazilian Formula One driver. “He was the greatest, the absolute greatest.”

On either side of the helmet are trophies from Gable’s past successes, first place in the CRC Hare and Hound Christmas Grand Prix motorcycle race, second place in the Tecate Baja 1000 in 1992, and an assortment of lesser prizes.

“I drove the 1000 solo in a Ford Ranger,” he says proudly. “All 22 1/2 hours.”

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His garage is a collection of racing equipment, mostly motorcycles that he and his 11-year-old son, Clark, ride in District 37 desert races as members of the famous Viewfinders MC.

“I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was seven when my godmother, Winnie Lee, bought me a Honda 50 mini trail bike, much against my mother’s wishes. She told me that my dad used to ride his Triumph in the dirt back before there was such a thing as a dirt bike. I used to ride all over my family’s ranch in Encino.”

The 22-acre ranch became John’s personal practice track. When he was 11, he had an offer from Yamaha to ride factory mini-bikes, but his mother turned it down. Later, he raced motocross until he was into his 20s, when he switched to race trucks.

“I’ll never forget, when I was 23, I rode in my first truck race, the 1983 Barstow Classic and when I lined up, I looked at the truck next to me and it was Parnelli Jones. That was very exciting, to say the least.”

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Gable was SCORE rookie of the year in 1984.

When Gable was in kindergarten, his best friend was Dodd Darin, and they have remained close through the years.

“My mother used to get real upset when I spent all my time hanging out with John because she knew I’d be riding one of his bikes most of the time,” Darin said, “but she always knew where to find me because I was usually over at the Gable ranch.”

Darin, 38, has raced Formula Fords and other open-wheel cars, but has never driven in a desert off-road race.

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“When John started planning to drive the Baja race this year, he asked me if I’d like to go along and do a little driving,” said Darin. “I’d never done anything like that, but I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We’ve been testing in Baja and pre-running on dirt bikes. I’m looking forward to the experience.”

Darin’s father died in 1973 after an illustrious singing career. Dodd was 12.

“It’s ironic,” Darin said. “My father was a huge Clark Gable fan but never had the chance to work with him. Now, I get to co-star with a Gable.”

Darin plans a return to open-wheel racing next year and is trying to talk Gable into joining him.

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“We are both going to driving school and we have a bet that whoever is quickest on the last day gets his four days of school paid for,” said Darin.

“Make that a year of racing,” Gable challenged.

The trophy truck was built by Curt LeDuc, a longtime Baja and off-road racing veteran, in his shop in Beaumont.

“Curt builds the best, it’s a state-of-the-art truck,” said Gable. “It will look distinctive too. My wife, Lexe, designed the paint job in keeping with our sponsor, ArtoftheStars.com.”

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ArtoftheStars.com is an on-line gallery that features art work done by and of celebrities. Among them are ceramics created by Gable and his Gablex Potteries.

“John should do well in the race,” said LeDuc, whose regular crew will tend to Gable’s truck while LeDuc co-drives in the mini-truck class. “The truck will get up to 115 mph and that’s all you need on the roads in Baja. Speed is not as important as handling.

“John has been racing in the desert for the past 10 years and that will help him. He knows how to read the desert now better than he did when he raced trucks years ago, and this will be the best equipment he’s ever had. I’d say his chances of getting a top-three finish are pretty good.”

Trophy truck favorites include Larry Ragland, Ricky Johnson and series points leader Tim Herbst, who will be attempting to win his third consecutive race in his Terrible Herbst Motorsports Ford F-150.

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The bone-jarring 440-mile race, which should take a little more than nine hours, will start at 7 a.m. in Ensenada.

SPONSOR CHANGE

The Roush Racing Ford driven by Mark Martin on the Winston Cup circuit will no longer have Valvoline as a primary sponsor after the 2000 season.

While ending a 12-year relationship with Martin and Roush racing, Steven A. Kirchner, Valvoline’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said he was confident the Lexington-based company will continue as a “major sponsor” in Winston Cup.

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Martin, 40, is third in the driver standings entering Sunday’s MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover, Del., with 1,695 points, 81 behind leader Bobby Labonte and 27 behind Ward Burton.

“The structure as presented to us by Roush racing to continue our relationship did not allow for Valvoline to meet its marketing objectives,” said Kirchner.

CHANGE OF LUCK

Before last Sunday, defending CART champion Juan Montoya wasn’t having a bad racing season, only an unlucky one.

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Through the first five races of the year, Montoya led more laps than anyone, but his best finish was a fourth and he was running at the end in only two of those events because of mechanical and tire problems and accidents.

Montoya’s luck, however, changed with a one-race detour from CART Colombia to the rival Indy Racing League as the 24-year-old Colombian dominated the field in winning the Indianapolis 500. He led 167 of the 200 laps and never came close to trouble.

The previous day, Montoya finished fourth in the race in Nazareth, Pa., where he had to overcome an early accident.

“The car has been really fast this year . . . but sometimes luck is not on your side,” Montoya said.

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Montoya, going into Sunday’s Miller High Life 225 at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis., is 10th in the CART season standings, trailing leader Paul Tracy in points, 59-22.

IN PERSPECTIVE

John Force of Yorba Linda will to try to set the NHRA all-time record for victories Sunday in the Prestone Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill. Force, a funny car driver, equaled the record of 85 victories by Bob Glidden, a pro stock driver, last Sunday in the Castrol Nationals at Ennis, Tex.

If he wins, however, Force said the record-setting celebration will be subdued.

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“It’ll be kind of hard to jump up and down and claim victory because, bottom line, [I] never raced against Bob Glidden,” Force said. “Heck, I probably couldn’t even drive a pro stock car, pulling all those levers.”

SHORT LAPS

NASCAR racing at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday night will include late model twin 30s, super stocks and Grand American modifieds. There will also be a race for the high-winged, open-wheel formula Mazdas . . . The SCRA sprint car series resumes Saturday night at Perris Auto Speedway. . . . For the record: Scott Sharp was identified in Sunday’s editions as a former CART champion. He is a former IRL champion.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

This Week’s Races

WINSTON CUP, MBNA Platinum 400

* When: Today, first-round qualifying, 12:30 p.m.; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 8:30 a.m.; Sunday, race (TNN, 9:30 a.m.)

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* Where: Dover Downs International Speedway (oval, 1-mile, 24 degrees banking in turns), Dover, Del.

* Race distance: 400 miles, 400 laps.

* Last year: Bobby Labonte started on the pole and won. He and Jeff Gordon were the only drivers to finish the race on the lead lap.

* Last race: Matt Kenseth got his first Winston Cup victory at the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C. Kenseth, who started 21st, came from farther back in the field than any previous winner. Polesitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth.

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* Next race: Kmart 400, June 11, Brooklyn, Mich.

BUSCH GRAND NATIONAL, MBNA Platinum 200

* When: Today, qualifying, 8 a.m.; Saturday, race (TNN, 10 a.m.)

* Where: Dover Downs International Speedway (oval, 1-mile, 24 degrees banking in turns), Dover, Del.

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* Race distance: 200 miles, 200 laps.

* Last year: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second consecutive spring race in Dover. Dick Trickle finished second.

* Last race: Jeff Burton beat Mark Martin by one second to win the Carquest Auto Parts 300 in Concord, N.C. Martin had won three of the last four Carquest 300s.

* Next race: Textilease Medique 300, June 10, South Boston, Va.

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CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS, Sears 200

* When: Today, qualifying, 3:15 p.m.; Saturday, race (ESPN, 5 p.m.)

* Where: Evergreen Speedway (oval, 0.646 miles, 8 degrees banking in corners), Monroe, Wash.

* Race distance: 129.2 miles, 200 laps.

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* Last year: Ron Hornaday won the rain-interrupted race.

* Last race: Greg Biffle led 164 of 200 laps to win the Grainger.com 200 in Fountain, Colo.

* Next race: Pronto Auto Parts 400, June 9, Fort Worth, Texas.

CART, Miller Lite 225

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* When: Saturday, qualifying, 11 a.m. (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m., tape); Sunday, race (Channel 7, 1 p.m.)

* Where: The Milwaukee Mile (oval 1.032 miles, 9 degrees banking in turns), West Allis, Wis..

* Race distance: 206.4 miles, 200 laps.

* Last year: Paul Tracy took got his 14th career victory but first since May 1997.

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* Last race: Gil de Ferran won the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix in Nazareth. Pa. It was the 100th Champ-car victory for team owner Roger Penske.

* Next race: Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix, June 18, Detroit.

NHRA, Fram Route 66 Nationals

* When: Today, first-round qualifying, 11:45 a.m.; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 8:30 a.m. (ESPN2, 7 p.m., tape); Sunday, final eliminations, 7 a.m. (ESPN2, 2 p.m., tape).

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* Where: Route 66 Raceway, Joliet, Ill.

* Last year: Mike Dunn won the top fuel division.* Last event: Gary Scelzi (top fuel)and John Force (funny car) won divisions at the Castrol Nationals in Ennis, Texas.

* Next race: Pontiac Excitement Nationals, June 18, Columbus, Ohio.

FORMULA ONE, Monaco Grand Prix

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* When: Saturday, qualifying, (4 a.m., Speedvision). Sunday, race, (4:30 a.m., Speedvision).

* Where: Monte Carlo street circuit (2.068 miles), Monte Carlo.

* Race distance: 161.304 miles, 78 laps.

* Last year: Michael Schumacher won, becoming Ferrari’s career leader in victories. It was Schumacher’s 16th win in a Ferrari. He had tied Niki Lauda earlier by winning the San Marino Grand Prix.

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* Last race: Schumacher, the Formula One points leader, won the German Grand Prix.

* Next race: Canadian Grand Prix, June 18, Montreal.

Note: all times PDT


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