Costa Mesa Speedway
Orange County Fairgrounds - Costa Mesa, CA
2001 U.S. National Championship
Costa Mesa Speedway
October 13, 2001
From Ryan Evans
Chris Manchester capped an evening filled with excellent racing by capturing his second U.S. National Championship in stunning fashion at Costa Mesa Saturday Night.
The lineup in the National Championship Final featured three former National Champions, a former World Finalist, and a rider who came out of retirement just two months ago. Josh Larsen, who entered the Final as the only undefeated rider, chose the pole position. Bart Bast, who had only been defeated by Larsen in a heat and Manchester in a semi, chose gate two. Mike Faria, trying to become only the second four-time U.S. Champion, chose gate three. Manchester, who won his semi final despite only scoring one heat win and seven points overall in the preliminary rounds, chose gate five. Scott Brant, who qualified by winning the Last Chance, was left with gate four.
Faria launched into the lead going into turn one, but drifted wide exiting turn two which left room for Larsen on the inside. Both riders cut hard back to their left to protect the inside, but simultaneously lost their momentum. Both riders were unaware that Manchester had made a great start and made a big sweep around the outside, while keeping his momentum. Larsen shot underneath Faria, but his hard turn didn't leave him with enough speed to block Manchester, who completed his pass by cutting to the pole in turn three. Manchester had a three bike-length lead at the end of lap one, but Larsen was hot on his tail. Manchester put together four smooth laps and Larsen couldn't make up the ground and watched Manchester race away with the title that he had to feel was rightfully his own. Manchester became the U.S. Champion for the second time, Larsen had to settle for second for the second straight year, while the ageless Faria finished third, Brant was fourth, and Bast was fifth.
The defeat was particularly disheartening for Larsen who had been undefeated throughout the evening, including his semi, yet he wasn't crowned champion. This is the third time in four years (he was in Europe in 1999) that Larsen has been the top scorer in the preliminary rounds, but didn't win the title.
Manchester's plight was completely opposite from Larsen's. The former Overseas Champion scored only seven points in the preliminary rounds and didn't win a heat until the final round. Despite being in a four-way tie for seventh place, Manchester took advantage of the format and won the two most important races of the night, both from gate five, to take the title.
The format, which has been the subject of a lot of debate since its inception in 1998, features 20 riders in four rounds of four-man heats with each rider starting from each gate position once. Unlike the original format, as well as the format used in 1997, the riders do not compete against every other competitor during the preliminary rounds. The top 10 scorers from the preliminary rounds qualify for one of two five-man semis with gate choice based on points. The top two riders from each semi qualify directly to the main event. The top four remaining riders in cumulative points (which included a 4-3-2-1-0 format for the semis) qualify for the Last Chance, with the winner qualifying for the Championship Final. Gate choice in the Final is based on cumulative points, including the semi, with the qualifier from the Last Chance getting the last choice.
The evening began with 17 year old Eric Carrillo jumping into the lead ahead of 1998 Champion Bart Bast. Bast hunted down Carrillo and passed him as they entered turn three the second time and pulled away for the victory while Ryan Fisher was also able to pass Carrillo and earn two points.
Two-time National Champion Bobby Schwartz took the win in race two after a great move in turn two gave him the lead. Bobby Hedden finished second ahead of Manchester, who was just beginning his unusual path to the championship.
Faria trapped from gate four and took the win over Dukie Ermolenko in the third race. Brant made a great start in race four to earn his first three points of the evening. Larsen took an easy win ahead of Shawn McConnell to finish round one.
Faria got his second win in as many races with another perfect gate to start round two. Larsen got a great start and ran away with the victory to keep up with Faria, while Bast finished second to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten, and Manchester finished third again and had to be thinking that his title hopes were slipping away. Two-time champion Brad Oxley got a great start and held off McConnell for the victory in race eight. Fisher got a great start and made a beautiful move on the outside line in turn one to take the lead and the victory over Brant in race nine. John Cook, making his first appearance at Costa Mesa in over a decade, held off Bobby Schwartz to close out the second round with a victory.
Round three began with a big showdown between Faria, Manchester, Oxley, and Brant. The race would turn out to be the crossroad for Manchester who desperately needed points to get to the semis. Faria and Manchester came out of the gate together, but Brant split them in turn two to take the lead. Manchester beat Faria to turn three to secure second, but couldn't catch Brant. The race was Faria's first defeat of the evening, but would turn out to be Manchester's last defeat.
Race 12 featured one of the best efforts of the evening. After missing the start Jim Estes found himself in third behind Carrillo and McConnell. After following their inside line for two laps, Estes went to the outside and brought the crowd to its feet with an outstanding outside pass around both riders. Estes took the win while McConnell was able to pass Carrillo for second.
Bast regained his winning form by defeating fellow Northern Californian Hedden in race 13. Fisher and Cook gated together and the crafty veteran showed the youngster that he still had some grit by going around the outside of the 18 year old on the first lap and running away with the victory. Larsen made the same maneuver that Cook had in the previous race to defeat Schwartz, his mentor when Larsen was younger, to sit alone in the ranks of the undefeated.
Faria began the final round with a win over McConnell. Brant remained just one point shy of perfect with a win in the next race, but not after making contact with Schwartz in turn one and leaving the former champion on the ground and looking for a restart that he wouldn't get. Bast earned his third victory of the night by defeating Ermolenko in the next race.
Larsen's final preliminary race placed him on the outside with Bobby Hedden starting directly inside of him in gate three. Hedden got the gate and led Larsen down the back straight and into turn three. With his perfect score in jeopardy Larsen pressured Hedden into drifting wide off turn four and blasted by to take the lead and drive the crowd into a frenzy. Larsen pulled away for the victory, a perfect score, and a much deserved standing ovation from the crowd.
Manchester found himself on the pole for the final preliminary race and was pitted against Fisher. Manchester and Fisher entered turn one together, but it was Manchester who was in the lead exiting turn two. Manchester won his first race of the evening and earned his spot in the semis.
The qualifiers for the first semi were Brant and Bast with 11 points each, Hedden with eight points, while McConnell and Manchester each had seven. Manchester made a beautiful trap from gate five and took the lead in turn one. From there, it was all Manchester who raced away with the win and transferred to the Final. Bast finished second to earn a spot in the Final, while the others would have to wait for the other semi to see if they would be in the Last Chance.
The field for the second semi was Larsen with a perfect 12 points, Faria with 10 points, Fisher with nine, and Schwartz and Cook with seven apiece. The first start didn't go far as there was movement at the tapes, but curiously nobody was penalized. The second start got as far as turn one before Fisher, Schwartz, and Cook all went down. On the third try, Larsen and Faria entered turn one together, but Larsen had the inside line exiting turn two and rocketed into the lead. All Faria could do was settle into second as Larsen ran away with his fifth consecutive victory and a berth in the Final. Faria's second place finish put him into the Final as well.
The Last Chance would have Brant, Fisher, Hedden, and Schwartz all vying for the last slot in the Final. Since Brant had the most cumulative points, he had first choice and wisely selected the pole. Brant and Fisher gated together, but Brant held a slight lead entering turn three. Fisher went to the outside, but lifted in turn four and had to slow down to avoid the wall which allowed Schwartz and Hedden to go inside him. Brant was never challenged and his victory put him in the Final.
Absent from the National Championship were defending champion Charlie Venegas and Gary Hicks, who was runner-up in season points. Venegas re-injured his broken leg two weeks ago while leading the Scratch Main. Hicks has been nursing a broken foot suffered in a crash on August 25. In a classy gesture, both riders were paraded around the track in convertibles during the pre-race festivities.
The action-packed National Championship is not the final race on the 2001 Costa Mesa schedule. On November 10, the world-famous "bullring" oval will host the Fall Classic which will feature all of the top riders who compete weekly. Several of the top European-based riders have also been invited to compete. The very popular freestyle motocross jumpers will be performing as well. This will be the last chance to see speedway in Southern California before 2002!
SCORING 1 2 3 4 T S T
4 - Josh Larsen 3 3 3 3 12 4 16
5 - Brad Oxley 0 3 0 1 4 - 4
6 - Shawn McConnell 2 1 2 2 7 0 7
9 - Mike Faria 3 3 1 3 10 3 13
10 - Scott Brant 3 2 3 3 11 1 12
11 - Bobby Schwartz 3 2 2 0 7 1 8
12 - Randy DiFrancesco 0 2 1 1 4 - 4
14 - Eddie Castro 1 1 1 0 3 - 3
15 - Dukie Ermolenko 2 0 0 2 4 - 4
23 - Mark Adams 2 1 0 1 4 - 4
36 - Ryan Fisher 2 3 2 2 9 2 11
51 - George Lazor F 0 0 0 0 - 0
56 - Jim Estes F 1 3 1 5 - 5
63 - Bobby Hedden 2 2 2 2 8 2 10
64 - Gene Bonsignore 0 0 0 0 0 - 0
75 - Eric Carrillo 1 0 1 2 4 - 4
87 - Bart Bast 3 2 3 3 11 3 14
94 - John Cook 1 3 3 0 7 0 7
130 - Chris Manchester 1 1 2 3 7 4 11
216 - Kitt Nay 1 0 1 1 3 - 3
17 - Robbie Sauer (R) Did Not Ride
230 - Doug Greyson (R) Did Not Ride
1: Bast, Fisher, Carrillo, Oxley
2: Schwartz, Hedden, Manchester, Lazor (fell)
3: Faria, Ermolenko, Nay, Bonsignore (tape penalty)
4: Brant, Adams, Castro, Estes (fell)
5: Larsen, McConnell, Cook, DiFrancesco
6: Faria, Hedden, Castro, Carrillo
7: Larsen, Bast, Manchester, Nay
8: Oxley, DiFrancesco, Estes, Lazor (fell, remounted)
9: Fisher, Brant, McConnell, Ermolenko
10: Cook, Schwartz, Adams, Bonsignore
11: Brant, Manchester, Faria, Oxley
12: Estes, McConnell, Carrillo, Bonsignore
13: Bast, Hedden, DiFrancesco, Adams
14: Cook, Fisher, Nay, Lazor
15: Larsen, Schwartz, Castro, Ermolenko
16: Faria, McConnell, Adams, Lazor (penalty line)
17: (restarted) Brant, Carrillo, Nay, Schwartz (fell, remounted)
18: (restarted) Bast, Ermolenko, Estes, Cook (penalty line)
19: Larsen, Hedden, Oxley, Bonsignore (tape penalty)
20: Manchester, Fisher, DiFrancesco, Castro
Semi Final #1: Manchester, Bast, Hedden, Brant, McConnell
Semi Final #2: Larsen, Faria, Fisher, Schwartz, Cook
Last Chance: Brant, Schwartz, Hedden, Fisher
U.S. National Championship Final
130 - Chris Manchester
4 - Josh Larsen
9 - Mike Faria
10 - Scott Brant
87 - Bart Bast