Costa Mesa Speedway
Orange County Fairgrounds - Costa Mesa, CA
2001 FALL CLASSIC
Costa Mesa Speedway
November 10, 2001
From Ryan Evans
1996 World Champion Billy "The Bullet" Hamill returned to his old stomping grounds and closed out the 2001 season in grand style by winning the Scratch Main to cap a perfect night in front of a full house at Costa Mesa Saturday night.
Hamill, who was making his first appearance at Costa Mesa since the 1997 National Championship, lined up on the pole for the main event. Alongside Hamill in gate two was Bobby "Boogaloo" Schwartz, who entered the main having only been defeated by Hamill in an earlier heat. In gate three was 1997 World Champion Greg Hancock who was making his first appearance at the world famous track since the 1998 Spring Classic. In gate four was Shawn "Mad Dog" McConnell who had three wins to his credit, including a victory over Hancock. On the outside was Ryan Fisher, who is on the fast track to gaining the status held by the legends who were lined up inside of him.
The first attempt never saw the tapes go up as the riders received a warning from the referee for movement at the tapes. Hamill and Hancock gated together on the second try with Hamill holding the inside line and Hancock trying to pass his Coventry teammate on the outside. They finished the first lap with Hamill holding a slight advantage. As the riders entered turn three the second time, Fisher and Schwartz went down, which forced McConnell to lay his bike down and the red flag came out. The referee ordered a full restart.
On the third attempt it was Hamill and Hancock at the front again, with Hamill getting the advantage on the inside as they exited turn two. Hancock went to the outside in turn three and was gaining on the leader at the end of lap one. The race was shaping up to be an epic battle between the two legends when Hancock pulled up in turn two with a flat tire. Schwartz inherited second place and set his sights on Hamill. Hamill never allowed Schwartz to get within striking distance, however, and he pulled away for the win and a perfect finish to a perfect night. Schwartz finished second, Fisher finished third, McConnell was fourth, and Hancock was fifth.
In addition to Hamill and Hancock, there were several other international riders on hand. Bartek Bardecki of Poland made his second appearance at Costa Mesa after a successful trip in August. Also representing Poland was Dariusz Sledz who was competing in the United States for the first time. England's David Meldrum, who rides for the Berwick Bandits of the English Premier League, made his Costa Mesa debut as well. In addition to those riders, John Cook and Billy Janniro, no strangers to international competition themselves, came down from Northern California for the event.
The evening was an all-scratch format with 20 riders competing in three rounds of five-man heats. The top ten point scorers qualified for two five-man semis. First and second place in each semi transferred to the Scratch Main and third and fourth transferred to the Last Chance. The winner of the Last Chance took the fifth, and final, spot in the Scratch Main.
The first race was an inauspicious start to Hancock's evening as he was taken wide in the first corner and was last at the end of the first lap. McConnell was at the front and never looked back as he took the win ahead of Eddie Castro while Hancock rode the outside to salvage third place.
The second race brought an abrupt end to Cook's evening as he lifted exiting turn two and hit the wall. Cook was helped off the track and he was too banged up to participate the rest of the evening. On the restart, Dukie Ermolenko took the lead but Sledz and Scott Brant went down in turn four which forced another restart. Brant got the jump on the field on the third start and took the win ahead of Ermolenko and Sledz.
Hamill didn't take long to get himself reacquainted with Costa Mesa as he took the lead at the start and pulled away from Fisher on every lap to take the win by a large margin. The round ended with Schwartz taking his first win of the evening while Janniro's first race ended quicker than it started when he went over backwards at the starting line.
Hancock started off the second round by earning his first win of the night with Janniro getting second. McConnell remained undefeated by winning the next race, while 17 year old Eric Carrillo finished second. Hamill used the outside line to go around Scott Brant and get the victory to keep pace with McConnell. Schwartz finished the round with a great start and his second victory in as many races.
Hancock began round three the same way he began round two, with a victory, with Meldrum finishing second.
The next race would pit two unbeaten riders in Hamill and Schwartz. They got to turn one together, but the riders made contact and both went down hard. Hamill was up immediately, but staggered off the track with the help of Hancock. Schwartz remained down for a minute, but was able to get up on his own. After complaining of dizziness for several minutes, it appeared as though Hamill wouldn't participate in the restart. As the other riders appeared ready to begin without him, Hamill emerged from the pits. On the restart, Schwartz held the advantage on the inside line as they exited turn two. Hamill immediately went to work on the outside. The two riders put on an excellent side-by-side battle before Hamill finally pulled in front and took the victory. The valiant performance, in which both riders got up off the deck to compete, was rewarded with a standing ovation.
McConnell was in the next race and was looking to match Hamill in the ranks of the unbeaten going into the semis. Jim Estes had other ideas, however, as he got the start and held McConnell back the entire way for a hard-earned victory. Fisher closed out the preliminary rounds with a victory over Brant.
After the preliminary rounds Hamill sat alone at the top with a perfect 12 points; Schwartz and McConnell each had 11 points; Hancock and Fisher had 10 points each; Meldrum, Brant, and Castro had eight points apiece, and Estes had seven to round out those with guaranteed spots in the semis. Ermolenko and Carrillo were tied with six points and Ermolenko won the runoff to take the last spot in the semis.
The first semi saw the old guard of Southern California speedway take control as Schwartz and McConnell, the defending Brighton Bonanza Pairs Champions, took first and second to book their spots in the main event. Brant and Ermolenko finished third and fourth, respectively, to transfer to the Last Chance, while Meldrum's night was over after finishing fifth.
Hamill and Hancock gated together in the second semi and battled throughout the first lap but Estes hit the wall hard coming out of turn four and the red flag came out. Estes was down for long period of time before being taken out on a stretcher after suffering a broken femur.
On the restart Hamill and Hancock were first to turn one again with Hamill trying to block Hancock as they went down the back straight. Hamill became so consumed with Hancock that his wide line allowed Fisher to sneak by on the inside. Hamill went to the outside and despite Fisher's many efforts to pinch him to the outside, Hamill stayed alongside the 18 year old. As they entered turn one the third time, Hamill dropped down on Fisher to complete the pass while simultaneously bringing the overflow crowd to its feet. Hamill pulled away to take the victory and his spot in the Scratch Main. Fisher held on to second to take his place in the main, while Hancock and Castro would have to try again in the Last Chance.
Hancock and Brant entered turn one simultaneously at the start of the Last Chance. Hancock was not going to be denied as he motored around the outside to take the lead. Hancock cruised the rest of the way for the victory and the last spot in the Scratch Main.
At the start of the Support Main there was some contact in turn one which forced Costa Mesa 2001 Support Points Champion David Lynch to the ground and "Cowboy" Bobby Krips to slow dramatically. The referee allowed the race to continue, however, and Sean McDougall held off 18 year old Shaun Harmatiuk to win the last Support race of 2001.
Veteran Doug Benjamin, who returned to speedway earlier this year after more than a decade away from the sport, rode four smooth laps to win the Support B Main Event. Scott Tidwell was second, Brent Smith was third, and Michael Novratil was fourth.
The Fall Classic was a very spectacular end to a great 2001 season. The riders took advantage of the excellent track conditions to put on some tremendous riding with several displays of outside passing. America's two best riders gave the fans their money's worth and showed why they are among the greatest riders in the world. Costa Mesa released a tentative schedule for 2002 with the first event, the Spring Classic, taking place on April 13.
Support B Consolation
137 - Jeremiah LeBlanc
212 - Steve Dziadus
169 - Dan Wensloff
123 - Chad Newlee (non starter)
Support B Consolation
336 - Bill Green
198 - Mike Boyle
197 - Kim Stevens
163 - Rohn Zellner (fell)
Support B Main Event
128 - Doug Benjamin
118 - Scott Tidwell
103 - Brent Smith
181 - Michael Novratil
249 - John Stunkard
106 - Robert Fiesler
239 - Philip Williams
338 - Dave Delbridge (fell)
47 - Johnny Walker
293 - Rick Valdez
174 - Tomasz Hampel
165 - Randy Kreps (retired)
Support Main Event
243 - Sean McDougall
139 - Shaun Harmatiuk
223 - Bobby Krips
131 - David Lynch (fell, remounted)
First Division Scoring
Rider 1 2 3 T
2 - Dariusz Sledz 2 1 0 3
6 - Shawn McConnell 4 4 3 11
7 - David Meldrum 3 2 3 8
10 - Scott Brant 4 1 3 8
11 - Bobby Schwartz 4 4 3 11
12 - Randy DiFrancesco E 2 2 4
14 - Eddie Castro 3 3 2 8
14n - Billy Janniro F 3 2 5
15 - Dukie Ermolenko 3 2 1 6
21 - Brad Sauer 1 2 0 3
23 - Mark Adams 0 F N 0
36 - Ryan Fisher 3 3 4 10
45 - Greg Hancock 2 4 4 10
56 - Jim Estes 2 1 4 7
69 - Bartek Bardecki 0 0 1 1
75 - Eric Carrillo 1 3 2 6
94 - John Cook F N N 0
104 - Billy Hamill 4 4 4 12
216 - Kitt Nay 2 1 1 4
249 - John Stunkard (R) 1 0 0 1
254 - Bryan Yarrow 1 0 1 2
1: McConnell, Castro, Hancock, Carrillo, Bardecki
2: Brant, Ermolenko, Sledz, Stunkard, Adams, Cook (fell, injured)
3: Hamill, Fisher, Nay, Sauer, DiFrancesco (engine failure)
4: Schwartz, Meldrum, Estes, Yarrow, Janniro (fell)
7: Hancock, Janniro, DiFrancesco, Sledz, Yarrow
8: McConnell, Carrillo, Sauer, Estes, Stunkard
9: Hamill, Castro, Meldrum (penalty line), Brant, Adams (fell)
10: Schwartz, Fisher, Ermolenko, Nay, Bardecki
13: Hancock, Meldrum, Carrillo, Ermolenko, Stunkard
14: Hamill, Schwartz, DiFrancesco, Bardecki, Adams (non starter)
15: Estes, McConnell, Janniro, Nay, Sledz
16: Fisher, Brant, Castro, Yarrow, Sauer
Runoff: Ermolenko, Carrillo
Semi #1: Schwartz, McConnell, Brant, Ermolenko, Meldrum
Semi #2: Hamill, Fisher, Hancock, Castro, Estes (fell, injured)
Last Chance: Hancock, Brant, Ermolenko, Castro
Scratch Main Event
104 - Billy Hamill
11 - Bobby Schwartz
36 - Ryan Fisher
6 - Shawn McConnell
45 - Greg Hancock (retired)