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1997 Costa Mesa Speedway
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1997 Race Results

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Costa Mesa Speedway
Orange County Fairgrounds
Costa Mesa, California

1997 American Final
Costa Mesa Speedway
June 14, 1997
From: Gary Roberts

Forty year old Mike Faria beat forty year old Bobby Schwartz in a run off to win the American Final. This was after they out scored top British League Riders Sam Ermolenko, Chris Manchester, Charlie Venegas and Dukie Ermolenko to tie at 13 points each.

Both Mike and Bobby rode pretty much flawlessly, all night. Mike lost both points in his second ride, after Bobby Schwartz got the gate, Mike tried to get around the outside of Bobby, letting Bobby Hedden into second place. Bobby lost his points in his first ride to Sam Ermolenko and Gary Ackroyd.

Points scored, in order, after run offs:

Mike Faria       13
Bobby Schwartz   13
Charlie Venegas  12
Sam Ermolenko    12
Chris Manchester 10
Eddie Castro     10
Dukie Ermolenko   8
Brad Oxley        7
Bob Hicks         7
John Aden         6
Bobby Hedden      6
Pat Linn          5
Gary Ackroyd      4
Shawn McConnell   3
Rick Pearce       2
Andy Northrup     2
Jerry Black       0, reserve, 1 ride.

Missing qualifiers were Steve Lucero, Louis Kossuth, and Bart Bast. Bast suffered a separated shoulder the previous evening at Auburn, the others declined to ride.

Missing non-qualifiers, by virtue of not competing in the qualification series, but generally expected to be present, at this level of competition were Rob Pfetzing and Gary Hicks. I understand that both have cut down on their racing this year.

So who is going forward to the Overseas Final? Not the first four qualifiers.

After a conversation today with Brad Oxley, I understand that Faria, Schwartz and Castro all declined, so it leaves 2 Ermolenkos', Manchester and Venegas. These are the four who made the commitment to go to Europe to further their careers, they have a place to stay when they get there, a mechanic there, and probably most important, competitive equipment there. It could be argued that this selection could have been made on paper without putting them through the torture and expense of coming 6000 miles for the evening, but what a great night of racing we would have missed! Generally, throughout the night the standard of racing was nothing short of outstanding. A very large crowd saw the evening start out on a wet track, with 30 tons of new dirt. It took 8 laps before the track became near its normal high standard, but even then, few succeeded when they left the pole.

It got a bit brutal towards the end. The penultimate heat was red flagged during the first lap because the referee detected Bobby Schwartz getting a rolling start. Bobby received a warning. The re-run lasted as far as the first corner, when all except Eddie Castro who was tight on the inside, went down. Bobby got his hand trapped somewhere and ended up with a pretty mangled looking hand. Not serious enough to keep him out of the re-run. This time Bobby got the gate and Manchester, Bob Hicks and Castro rode side by side for a couple of laps before Eddie's escapades on the outside failed, leaving Manchester second and Hicks third. Had the other 3 not fallen down in the previous re-run and had Eddie stayed in front, he would have been having the run off for first place with Mike Faria!

There were surprises. After 3 races with victories over Sam Ermolenko and Chris Manchester, Charlie Venegas was unbeaten and looking set for victory. But it quickly turned. His fourth ride gave him a second place behind Schwartz. His fifth ride looked good until first corner contact with Faria pushed him out wide, (I was amazed he stayed on) giving him a distant fourth place position. He went on to recover one place.

Sam Ermolenko must have been pleased when the evening was over. After many spectacular appearances in the past at Costa Mesa, including a National Championship win, he did not show his earlier form. At times, he was having to work for his points, which included getting overtaken by Eddie Castro.

John Aden had a disastrous night. He was the most likely of the US based riders to have benefitted from at least, visibility in Europe. John also goes well on a bigger track. Whether qualifying would have justified the associated investment would have been another story. I expected him to score more than his 6 points.

Bob Hicks from Northern California rode better than his score suggested. The Northern California riders have demonstrated greater ability this year than any time in the past 15 years that I have followed US speedway. It was very unfortunate that Bart Bast and Louis Kossuth were not able to compete. After Kossuth's third place in last years National and Bast's win in the Auburn qualifier, I believe that both were capable of a top 5 position.

Results, by heat:

1. Venegas, Castro, McConnell, C. Ermolenko Venegas from the gate. The track was pretty wet leaving little opportunity for overtaking.

2. Hicks, Oxley, Hedden, Northrup Bobby Hedden got the gate, followed by Hicks. Hedden lifted coming out of turn 2, very nearly lost it, letting Hicks and Oxley through.

3. Faria, Manchester, Pearce, Linn. Faria from the gate. Manchester very nearly lost it on the third lap. Linn was third, but fell and remounted, loosing third place to Pearce.

4. S. Ermolenko, Ackroyd, Schwartz, Aden. Again, there was no opportunity to overtake. Bobby Schwartz, in my mind the favorite for this meeting, got a bad start and was stuck there. Aden, number 4 from the qualifying rounds slid off and remounted.

5. Schwartz, Hedden, Faria, McConnell. Bobby Schwartz from the gate. Mike Faria was clearly determined to get around Bobby and tried the outside. This proved to be a mistake, as Bobby Hedden stayed low taking Mike's second place.

6. Venegas, S. Ermolenko, Linn, Hicks. Charlie Venegas went like a rocket from the gate and stayed there.

7. Castro, Aden, Oxley, Pearce. Same order as they came out of the gate.

8. Manchester, C. Ermolenko, Ackroyd, Northrup.

9. Hicks, McConnell, Ackroyd, Pearce. The first time Ackroyd and Pearce both went down on the first lap. In the re-run the finishing order was the same order as they came out of the gate.

10. Venegas, Manchester, Hedden, Black. Aden disqualified. The first time the tapes went up Chris Manchester was still stationary at the gate. He somehow managed to convince the referee that he wasn't ready and the referee ordered a re-run. Second time Aden was first out of the gate, but the tapes hadn't gone up. He was disqualified and replaced by reserve, Jerry Black. Third time Manchester got the gate, but Charlie Venegas rode round him on the outside. This was the first indication that the track was drying out.

11. Faria, Castro, S. Ermolenko, Northrup. Mike Faria from the gate with Sam in second. Hard riding Eddie Castro managed to get through on the inside of Ermolenko, taking away his second place.

12. Schwartz, C. Ermolenko, Linn, Oxley

13. S. Ermolenko, Oxley, Manchester, McConnell First time out, Manchester led from the gate, followed by Oxley, McConnell and Ermolenko. Coming out of turn 4 on the first lap, Ermolenko and McConnell fell. In the re-run Ermolenko got the gate and the order stayed the same for 4 laps.

14. Schwartz, Venegas, Northrup, Pearce. Same order as they left the gate.

15. Castro, Hedden, Linn, Ackroyd. Castro from the gate, followed by Hedden, Ackroyd, Linn. Ackroyd fell trying to get by Hedden and remounted, but lost his third place.

16. Faria, C. Ermolenko, Aden, Hicks. Faria from the gate. Aden was fourth, but got past Hicks.

17. Aden, Linn, Northrup, Pearce. Aden salvaged three points from his last ride, which doubled his score. A performance well below his norm.

18. Faria, Oxley, Venegas, Ackroyd. First time out, the red flag came out and Venegas was given a warning for anticipating the gate. This was the first referee's decision that crowd objected to. In the re-run Faria and Venegas were side by side into turn one. They made very heavy contact half way round, sending Charlie, struggling to stay aboard, out towards the wall. Oxley and Ackroyd both came inside him. Charlie recomposed and went on to take third from Ackroyd.

19. Schwartz, Manchester, Hicks, Castro Same thing happened again. The red flag came out and Bobby Schwartz was given a warning for anticipating the gate. The re-run was even worse for Bobby. Eddie Castro got the gate and Schwartz, Manchester and Hicks all went down in turn one. Manchester and Hicks were up right away, but Schwartz was hurt. He went back to the pits to have lacerations on his left hand seen to. He got a big cheer from the crowd when he reappeared for the re-run. He was first out of the gate and the other three circled two laps side by side. Eddie Castro tried riding the outside, which eventually took him to fourth place.

20. S. Ermolenko, C. Ermolenko, Pearce, Hedden. The most entertaining part of this race was watching Bobby Hedden, who was in third place at the time chasing a photographer into the infield. He managed to completely encircle him without touching him.
This left Faria and Schwartz tied on 13
Sam Ermolenko and Venegas tied on 12
Castro and Manchester tied on 10
Faria beat Schwartz.
Schwartz got the gate, Faria went inside on the back straight and past him. Bobby pulled up along side Mike a lap later, but couldn't get past.
Venegas beat S. Ermolenko Venegas from the gate.
Manchester beat Castro.

The referee's third unpopular decision. Eddie Castro touched the tape, shortly before Chris touched the tape. As Eddie was first, he was disqualified.


Several riders were using laydowns, but Faria, Schwartz and Sam Ermolenko rode uprights.
I don't recall seeing anyone, all evening, failing to finish a race, due to mechanical problems.
Even at an event of this importance, certain members of the crowd failed to recognise the value to their grandchildren of the event program, and too many ended up as paper aeroplanes, on the track. This is a disgusting habit of a minority, which is fortunately unique to Costa Mesa. I'll have to have another word with Brad about charging for programs.
Having been the referee this season at Santa Maria, I empathized with the referee, having to listen to all the complaints from the crowd. When will referees get the respect they deserve! Anticipating the start, without touching the tape is a variation I'd not seen before. But overall, having the benefit of 4 days to think about the decisions he had to make in less than 30 seconds, he did a good job.
As always at Costa Mesa, the presentation was excellent. I'm sure anyone from the UK who has visited Costa Mesa will agree that it is a lively show. I went away feeling I had been totally entertained. The same can be said for Auburn Speedway.

The sad news I listen to on the speedway mail distribution every day about British Speedway, blaming one team manager's failure to put a better team together is, in my opinion, way down the list of British speedway's problems. The reason that the crowds are diminishing is because its not entertaining. The racing may be fast, but the total show is dull. Add that to the high priced "food" and the disgusting toilet facilities, why would anyone pay 6 or 8 or 10 quid to go and watch 15 races and another quid for a program. . . Sorry, going off in a direction I meant to keep away from. This as supposed to be match results.

Gary Roberts - gary_rob@ix.netcom.com

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