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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 Gary Roberts

(Also see reports from Linda Love, and Ryan Evans for more details!)

Unofficial Results of the 1998 SRA National Championship, Costa Mesa, CA

Saturday night International Speedway hosted the 1998 SRA sanctioned US National Championship at Costa Mesa. A large crowd saw 24 heats of great racing, and the crowning of a new SRA National Champion, Bart Bast from Auburn, Northern California. For the Costa Mesa regular fans, this may have been seen as somewhat of a shock, having an outsider come in and win, to others it was recognition that the quality of the Northern California riders has now officially matched the high standard with which the south have dominated. Bart rode with determination all evening and was a worthy winner.

The evening included the full pomp and ceremony to which Costa Mesa fans have become accustomed on the night of the National, including a medieval jousting performance during the interval and a very melodic brass band curiously located at turn 3. No doubt they spent Sunday emptying the DG out of their trumpets.

This National was also a change from the regular format. 20 riders competed over 20x 4 man heats. The top 10 transferred to 2 semi-finals and the first and second from each semi went to the National Championship Final Heat. The 3rd and 4th from each semi competed in a last chance heat with the winner joining the other 4. Whilst providing a lot of excitement in the last 4 races, this format meant that only finishing in the top half of the list, took some of the importance out of the first 20 heats. This was demonstrated by the fact that the none of the top 3 point scorers made the final rostrum. Also with 20 riders, not every rider raced against every other rider in the qualifying heats. >From the positive perspective, it also took the pressure off the top riders in the first 20 heats. In past Nationals there have been riders who have enjoyed bad luck and good luck along the way, but personally, I believe and I am sure that most of the riders would agree that a normal championship format with every rider riding against every other rider once is the fairest format and the truest way to reward consistent performance.

Results of the qualifying heats:
Josh Larsen       11
Bobby Hedden      10
Gary Hicks        10
Chris Manchester   9
Mike Faria         9
Bart Bast          9
Charlie Venegas    8
Bobby Schwartz     8
Jim Sisemore       7
Andy Northrup      7
Brad Oxley         6
Charles Ermolenko  5
Shawn McConnell    5
Eddie Castro       4
Randy DiFrancesco  3
Gary Ackroyd       2
Tommy Hedden       2
Dave Taylor        1
John Aden          0
Robin Nicholaides  0
Kon Baur           2 reserve 3 rides
Charlie Cooley     2 reserve 2 rides

The biggest disappointment of the night came for Chris Manchester. After 3 rides he had 3 wins, including one over otherwise unbeatable Josh Larsen. In heat 17, Chris was lined up with Tommy Hedden, Bart Bast and Shawn McConnell. The tapes went up and everyone left except Chris. The race was red-flagged because another rider anticipated the start and in the re-run on turn 4 he got tangled up with Tommy Hedden. Chris fell injuring his knee, was stretchered off and was unable to take further part in the meeting. In the third running of this heat, again, Bast got the gate and went on to an easy win.

Bart Bast rode with determination throughout. He lost three points in the heat 6, when Charlie Venegas got the gate and Bart's overzealous pressure on Charlie brought them both down, resulting in Bart's disqualification.

Brad Oxley scrapped into the semi-finals, as 11th man, because Manchester was unable to race. Brad had a disappointing series of events in his qualifying races. Bobby Hedden actually over took him on the inside, a rare sight as Brad always sticks close to the pole. In his final heat, presumably knowing his desperation for points he was all over Gary Hicks, making frequent contact. On the final lap he ran hard into the back of Hicks, visibly projecting him into a 10 yard lead! But he certainly made up for this performance in the final heats, where it really mattered.

Charlie Venegas, a definite favorite to win had rotten luck. His engine started misfiring badly in his last heat, giving him a last place, but worse was to come.

John Aden, who has been a intermittently successful this season had the worst night imaginable. After falling down in his first 2 races, he broke the tapes in the third, was disqualified, ran through the new tapes and the no-nonsense referee put him out for the rest of the night.

Shawn McConnell was seen by many with expectations of success, especially after a win with a maximum at last week's Costa Mesa Season Finale event. For some reason this week, he just couldn't seem to find traction.

So Josh Larsen, Bobby Hedden and Gary Hicks lead the point scorers into the semi-finals. But removing the pressure from the 20 qualifying heats really piled it onto the semi-finals, resulting in them both becoming 3 man races.

In the first, Oxley, Hedden, Venegas, Schwartz and Hicks lined up. Hicks got the gate and was first into the corner. He wobbled and went out wide. Bobby Schwartz was stuck behind him with nowhere to go. Bobby slowed, thinking there would be a restart, but it didn't happen. Meanwhile, Bobby Hedden charged ahead, with a determined Brad Oxley chasing. Charlie Venegas found that his sick motor was still not right and was unable to catch them, so that was the order in which they finished. By the time Charlie got back to the pits, his motor was seized solid.

In the second, top scoring Josh Larsen made the gate with the rest close behind. In turn 3 Jim Sisemore span and finished up in the wall. Mike Faria took avoiding action and also went down. But the race went on with Larsen winning from Bast and Northrup.

Four desperate men lined up for the last chance qualifier. Any one of them could have won it. Hot favorites Mike Faria and Charlie Venegas, multi ex National Champion and Costa Mesa expert Schwartz and on-form Costa Mesa expert Northrup. The tapes went up with Schwartz getting the gate and lining himself up for his usual super-fast Costa Mesa circular pattern. But Mike Faria found traction on the outside coming out of turn 4 and squeezed between Bobby and the wall. Despite taking his carb, twistgrip and seat from his own bike and putting it on Randy DiFrancesco's, Charlie Venegas was still under powered. Finishing order Faria, Schwartz, Northrup, Venegas.

Five determined men lined up for the National Championship Final. The tapes went up and Josh Larsen and Bart Bast were slow starters. The other three went out hard into the corner. Bart turned hard, then cut down low inside all of them. He had done this trick at least once earlier in the evening, the previous time with more speed, taking an enormous lead from it. This time the lead was much smaller and within a lap, Brad Oxley was up on the inside. They circled for the rest of the race, side by side, Brad on the inside coming out of the corners ahead, then Bart's outside speed taking him past on the straights. Bart's lead over Brad at the chequered flag was about half a wheel length. Not far behind, but totally unnoticed by any of the crowd, Mike Faria got third from Hedden and Larsen.

This was a great event for Bart Bast, who achieved the one career goal that he wanted in Speedway. This, along with his second place the previous week in the Auburn AMA National behind Greg Hancock, well and truly carved his name at the top of the list of US resident American Speedway riders. Also jubilant with Bart's win were his brother Harlan Junior, another accomplished Northern California rider and Bart's ever present mechanic Mark Wallace.

For Brad Oxley, who came so close to winning, it was the best result he has had since winning the National back in 1987.

For Mike Faria, who had such an outstanding performance last year, beating Billy Hamill and Greg Hancock each no less than four times in an evening, it might have been a disappointment. It was also a disappointment to many of his fans. Now a resident of Northern California and regular competitor at Auburn, Mike is still enormously popular with the Costa Mesa crowd.

For Bobby Hedden, a good performance. To come fourth in two Nationals, in two weeks is not just a good achievement for himself, but also adds to the credibility of home-grown Northern Californian riders.

Josh Larsen put on an outstanding show, winning 3 of his heats, then the semi-final, only to come last in the heat that really mattered.

All the riders I talked to thought the track was very well prepared and this was confirmed by the number of riders able to use the outside.

Well, that's it for another year at Auburn and Costa Mesa. Livermore will run its last 1998 race next Saturday, then its back into the cultural vacuum again for another 6 months.

Gary Roberts

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