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1998 Costa Mesa Speedway
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Costa Mesa Speedway
Orange County Fairgrounds
Costa Mesa, CA

1998 SRA National Championship
October 3, 1998 Costa Mesa Speedway
From Ryan Evans

(Also see reports from Linda Love, and Gary Roberts for more details!)

Bart Bast walked away victorious in the U.S. National Championship Saturday night at Costa Mesa. It was Bast's first national championship, but the tenth won by a member of the Bast family as cousins Mike (1971, 73, 75-79) and Steve (1969, 74) have also won titles. Bast won in spectacular style by leading the main event wire-to-wire and holding off Brad Oxley all four laps and beating him by less than a bike length at the line. Mike Faria finished third, Bobby Hedden fourth, and Josh Larsen fifth.

The championship was competed under a new format, with 20 riders as opposed to 16, and four rounds of qualifying heats, and five heats in each round. The top 10 qualifiers were then placed in two five-rider semi-finals with the top two going into the Final and third and fourth transferring to the Last Chance.

The winner of the Last Chance transferred into the Final. The qualifying heats provided some pretty exciting racing with quite a bit of passing. The lowlight being in event 17 when Chris Manchester, who up to that point was undefeated, was taken down by Tommy Hedden in turn four while running second behind Bast. Manchester was taken to Hoag Hospital in Costa Mesa with possible knee damage.

More excitement was created in race six when Bast, after making a great move to pass Larsen, got a little anxious and took out Venegas in turn 3. Clearly Bast's fault, but the way he passed Larsen and reeled in Venegas proved that he was definitely the fastest guy on the track and it was just a matter of making the start. Top qualifier for the semis was Larsen on 11 points (out of 12), with Gary Hicks and Bobby Hedden on 10, Faria and Bast had 9.

An interesting scenario was created with Manchester not being able to compete in the semis. He had earned enough points to qualify for the semis, but was obviously unable to compete. I believed that his semi would then become a four-rider race since his position was an earned position and on an ordinary night a reserve DOES NOT take an earned position. This was not the case though, as Oxley then became the 10th and last qualifier for the semis.

Qualifyling Scores and Race Order:
  1-Mike Faria             2  3  1  3     9
  3-Gary Hicks             2  3  3  2    10
 3N-Robin Nicolaides       0  0  0  0     0
  4-Josh Larsen            3  3  2  3    11
 4E-Warren Diem         (did not show)
  5-Brad Oxley             2  1  2  1     6
  6-Shawn McConnell        0  1  2  1     5
  7-John Aden              0  0  T  N     0
  8-Gary Ackroyd           1  1  T  F     2
 10-Chris Manchester       3  3  3  N     9
 11-Bobby Schwartz         2  2  1  3     8
 14-Eddie Castro           1  0  1  2     5
 15-Charles Ermolenko      1  3  0  1     5
40N-Tommy Hedden           0  0  2  X     2
 43-Charlie Venegas        3  2  3  E     8
63N-Bobby Hedden           3  2  2  3    10
 72-Randy DiFrancesco E    2  0  1        3
81N-Jim Sisemore           2  2  1  2     7
87N-Bart Bast              3  X  3  3     9
166-Andy Northrup          1  1  3  2     7
 38-David Taylor           1  0  0  0     1
 (Replaced Warren Diem in the program)
225-Kon Baur (R)           1  1  0        2
165-Charlie Cooley (R)     0  1  1        2

 1:  Bast, Faria, Ermolenko, Aden (fell, remounted)
 2:  Venegas, Sisemore, Castro, McConnell (fell, remounted)
 3:  Larsen, Schwartz, Ackroyd, T.Hedden
 4:  Manchester, Oxley, Taylor, Nicolaides (fell, remounted)
 5:  B.Hedden, Hicks, Northrup, DiFrancesco (lost a chain)

 6:  (restarted) Larsen, Venegas, Baur, Taylor, Bast (excluded)
 7:  (restarted) Faria, Sisemore, Northrup, T.Hedden (fell, remounted)
 8:  Ermolenko, B.Hedden, Oxley, Castro
 9:  Manchester, DiFrancesco, Ackroyd, Aden (fell, remounted)
10: Hicks, Schwartz, McConnell, Nicolaides (fell, remounted)

11:  Manchester, Larsen, Sisemore, Ermolenko
12:  Bast, Oxley, Schwartz, DiFrancesco
13:  Venegas, B.Hedden, Faria, Nicolaides
14:  Hicks, T.Hedden, Castro, Cooley, Aden (tapes exclusion)
15:  Northrup, McConnell, Baur, Taylor, Ackroyd (tapes exclusion)

16:  Larsen, Castro, DiFrancesco, Nicolaides
17:  (restarted) Bast, McConnell, Cooley, Baur, (Manchester, ns), T.Hedden (excluded)
18:  Faria, Hicks, Oxley, Ackroyd (fell)
19:  Schwartz, Northrup, Ermolenko, Venegas (engine failure--box??)
20:  B.Hedden, Sisemore, Cooley, Taylor

21-Semi #1: B.Hedden, Oxley, Venegas (ef), Schwartz (fell, remounted) Hicks (fell)
The first corner was wild with lots of bumping and Hicks and Schwartz going down. Suprisingly, there was no red flag. Hedden and Oxley became the benefactors as they qualified for the final and Venegas suffering his second consecutive engine failure but going far enough to get third. The referee awarded fourth to Schwartz even though Hicks came over to protest just prior to the Last Chance starting.

22-Semi #2: Larsen, Bast, Northrup, Faria, Sisemore
Larsen got a beautiful start off the pole with Bast in tow. Contact between Faria and Sisemore left Sisemore on the ground and Faria with too much ground to gain so off to the Last Chance for he and Northrup.

23-Last Chance: Faria, Schwartz, Northrup, Venegas
Faria made an absolutely spectacular first lap as he blew around Schwartz in turn 4 after riding the outside all the way. He then pulled away for an easy victory and a lot of momentum going into the final. It looked as though Venegas was again down on horsepower as he was left behind by Faria and Schwartz and then passen by Northrup.

24-Championship Final: BAST, Oxley, Faria, Hedden, Larsen
Tension was high and then made even higher as Hedden (from my vantage point) got into the tapes, but was not excluded when the referee said that the green staging light had been turned off. (It didn't look off to me) After restaging, Bast (gate 3) came off the line first and was followed by Oxley (gate 4) and Hedden (gate 2). Larsen missed the start from the pole and then drifted very wide into turn two and seemed to block Faria who also missed the start. The first two laps were VERY tight as Bast was trying his best to hold off Oxley but was insisting on riding a wide line. Faria made his way by Hedden but was never close enough to Oxley and Bast. Oxley seemed to gain ground on Bast with each lap and seemed in position as they entered turn 3 the final time. But it was Bast hanging on in what had to be the closest finish in a National-deciding race that I have ever witnessed. Side-by-side for 4 laps on the tiny oval was absolutely breathtaking!! Bast brings the championship back to American speedway's most storied family after a long 19 years. Congratulations Bart!!!!

This is the first time that a Northern California-based rider has lifted the championship. (Faria was based in SoCal last year even though he competed up north in 1998)

The racing was as spectacular as ever, but I still wonder about the format. Under the system, Bast was the best rider. As I said two weeks ago, I felt that he was the fastest rider at the end of the season. I really wonder about the use of the semis, though. If there must be a one-race final, then I think that the system used in the AMA National was more fair. (top 4 seeded into final, 5-8 in last chance). (Bast would still have had a chance under that system). Also, with 10 riders in the semis, as I said a couple of weeks ago, a rider could not win a race all night, and still be in position to win the championship. (As was the case with Brad Oxley) If Oxley had won, would that have really been considered fair? Rehashing the dual-championship problem.

What an irony. A SoCal rider (Greg Hancock) wins the championship up north and a NorCal rider wins the championship here. Will Auburn (AMA) allow Bart to wear #1? The AMA is very strict about things like this, after all they didn't even want Greg riding in the Costa Mesa non-AMA National. We know Bart will be #1 here, but what about Greg? Once again, absolutely NO mention of Greg winning the AMA National was made at Costa Mesa. MY OPINION----BOTH wear #1!! If the AMA doesn't like Bart wearing #1, well tough s--t!! He's too popular up north for those tracks not to recognize him as being a national champion. Something to think about over these long winter months. I would love to hear other opinions, comments, etc. about this situation and the Nationals in general.

By the way, I finally had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Gary Roberts and it was very nice just to finally speak to him after all our chatter about speedway via e-mail. I'm sure that he will have results/opinions about these issues.
I'll be waiting Gary!!

The Nationals are always great, but they are also bittersweet because it means the end of speedway here until March. Suggestion--Have a race involving international riders while they are flying to Australia. My guess would be that it may be less expensive since they are going that way anyway. Or do they fly the other way from Europe?? Anyway, that's all for now!!

Ryan Evans

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