Costa Mesa Speedway
Orange County Fairgrounds
Costa Mesa, CA
2002 U.S. National Championship
Costa Mesa Speedway
October 12, 2002
By: Ryan Evans
Billy "The Bullet" Hamill became the undisputed U.S. National Champion by winning the SRA U.S. National Championship at Costa Mesa on Saturday.
Hamill, who won his third AMA National Championship last month, scored 11 points in the preliminary rounds and earned first choice of starting position. Hamill chose gate two, thus becoming the first rider under the current format to not select the pole with the first choice. Gary Hicks, who had also scored 11 points, then grabbed the pole position. John Cook, who was using a 22" rear tire instead of the conventional tire, had third choice and took gate five. Three-time National Champion Mike Faria then chose gate four, which left current National Champion Chris Manchester in gate three.
Hamill exploded into the lead when the tapes went up and headed right to the pole in turn one. Faria went wide and made a move on the outside as they went down the back straight, but the savvy Hamill moved up the track to protect his lead and he slowed Faria’s momentum as they entered turn three. After one lap Hamill had a solid hold on the lead, but Faria was continuing to stalk him. Hamill has been in many big races in his career and he wasn’t about to let Faria take the lead. Hamill maintained a safe distance in front of Faria as he raced away with the title, making him the first rider to hold both national crowns simultaneously since separate National Championships began in 1998. Faria finished second, Hicks finished third, Manchester was fourth, and Cook was fifth.
The format for the championship was altered from the format that had been in place since 1998. There was 20 rider in the field with each rider competing in four rounds of four-man scratch heats. The top three scorers qualified directly to the National Championship Final. The fourth through seventh scorers qualified for the Last Chance. The eighth through twelfth scorers qualified for the semi. The winner of the semi transferred into the Last Chance. The top two riders in the Last Chance transferred to the Final.
The first race of the evening got no further than turn one when Dukie Ermolenko and Coventry Bees rider Billy Janniro, making his first appearance at Costa Mesa in 2002, got together in turn one and went down. A full restart was ordered. On the restart, Ermolenko and Janniro made contact again, which forced both riders wide. 2000 Junior National Champion Bryan Yarrow, the youngest rider in the field, cut under both riders and took the lead. Yarrow rode four perfect laps to earn the first three points of the evening while 2000 National Champion Charlie Venegas finished second.
Hamill provided a preview of his evening with a runaway victory over Andy Northrup and Eddie Castro in race two. Hicks got a great start in race three and held off Manchester’s constant pressure to win impressively. Faria got a great start and took an easy win ahead of Shawn McConnell in the fourth race.
In the final race of the opening round Cook jumped into the lead as they entered turn one. Season points champion Josh Larsen found himself in last as he exited turn twobut tried to split Bart Bast and Bobby Schwartz on the back straight. The inevitable contact occurred which left Larsen and Schwartz on the ground. The referee called for a complete restart. Cook took the lead again and cruised to his first win of the evening while Bast took second.
Round two began with Hamill jumping into the lead ahead of Scott Brant. The race was red-flagged when Janniro and Brad Oxley went down in turn three. Janniro was excluded and he decided to call an end to his evening after aggravating a previous injury. The restart was all Hamill as he motored to his second victory of the evening. Hicks scored his second victory of the evening in race seven.
Ermolenko held off Larsen to get his first win in the next race. Cook made it two for two with an easy win in race nine. Faria ended the round by winning the "race of champions" which featured current and former champions Schwartz, Alan Christian, and Manchester.
Brant started the third round by defeating Castro. Manchester found his winning stride by winning race 12, while Cook fell in turn four and failed to score.
Race 13 was one that many had been pointing at prior to the evening as it featured Larsen, Venegas, Faria, and Hamill. Larsen and Hamill entered turn one together, but Hamill used the thick outside line to his advantage and he took the lead in turn two and left everyone in his wake.
Hicks fell from the ranks of the undefeated as Schwartz scored an impressive win in race 14. Bast won the final race of the third round as fellow Northern California rider Christian finished in second.
The final round began with Faria jumping into the lead, but Cook had that 22" rear tire working on the outside and he swooped around Faria on the back straight and into the lead. Cook ran away with the victory and forced a tie with Faria with nine points.
Hicks started on the pole and took an easy win in race 17 and guaranteed himself a spot in the National Championship Final. Venegas took his only win of the night by beating McConnell and Schwartz in race 18.
Just when Hamill was starting to look invincible Manchester showed that he wasn’t going to give up his crown without a fight. Manchester roared from the line and held the lead in turn one. Hamill tried the outside but didn’t have enough to get around Manchester on the back straight and turn three. Hamill switched his attack to the inside and pressured Manchester throughout the race. Manchester showed the toughness that champions are made of has he held off Hamill for the win.
The final preliminary race of the evening saw Eddie Castro defeat Larsen for his first win of the evening and bring his tally to eight points.
Two runoffs were required to finalize the positions in the championship round. Cook defeated Faria to earn the third, and final, direct spot in the Final, while Faria would have to try again in the Last Chance. Brant defeated McConnell and Schwartz to get the final seeded spot in the Last Chance and the other two would have to go to the semi.
Although Larsen had the last gate choice for the semi, gate four, he jumped into the lead and appeared to be headed to the Last Chance when a crash brought out the red flag. The restart began the same way as Larsen took the lead at the start. This time there was no restart and Larsen cruised to the victory and the only transfer to the Last Chance.
From the inside to the outside it was Faria, Castro, Larsen, Brant, and Manchester. Faria took the lead while Manchester rode the outside into second place. Manchester wasn’t satisfied with second and began to work on Faria for the lead. Several times Manchester closed the gap to a bikelength, but he couldn’t muster enough traction to make the pass. Faria was victorious followed by Manchester and they were off to try to win the championship. Brant was third, Castro finished fourth, and Larsen was fifth.
The track was excellently prepared as there was an outstanding outside line throughout the whole evening. The outside line helped to provide excellent racing for the crowd. There is one more race left on the calendar at Costa Mesa, the Fall Classic on Saturday, November 2. The field is yet to be confirmed, but there are several foreign riders who have expressed interest in competing.
Scoring 1 2 3 4 T
1 - Chris Manchester 2 0 3 3 8
2 - Josh Larsen 0 2 2 2 6
2n - Alan Christian 0 1 2 1 4
3 - Gary Hicks 3 3 2 3 11
5 - Brad Oxley 1 F 1 0 2
6 - Shawn McConnell 2 1 2 2 7
8n - Bryan Yarrow 3 0 1 1 5
9 - Mike Faria 3 3 1 2 9
10 - Scott Brant 1 2 3 1 7
11 - Bobby Schwartz 1 2 3 1 7
12 - Randy DiFrancesco 0 2 0 2 4
14 - Eddie Castro 1 2 2 3 8
14n - Billy Janniro 0 Fx N N 0
15 - Dukie Ermolenko 1 3 1 1 6
43 - Charlie Venegas 2 0 0 3 5
87n - Bart Bast 2 1 3 0 6
89 - Danny Perkins (R) 1 1 0 - 2
94 - John Cook 3 3 0 3 9
104 - Billy Hamill 3 3 3 2 11
139 - Shaun Harmatiuk 0 1 0 R 1
166 - Andy Northrup 2 F F 0 2
1: (restarted) Yarrow, Venegas, Ermolenko, Janniro (fell, remounted)
2: Hamill, Northrup, Castro, Christian
3: Hicks, Manchester, Brant, Harmatiuk
4: Faria, McConnell, Oxley, DiFrancesco
5: (restarted) Cook, Bast, Schwartz, Larsen
6: (restarted) Hamill, Brant, Perkins, Oxley (fell), Janniro (fell, excluded)
7: Hicks, Castro, Bast, Venegas
8: Ermolenko, Larsen, McConnell, Northrup
9: Cook, DiFrancesco, Harmatiuk, Yarrow (fell, remounted)
10: Faria, Schwartz, Christian, Manchester
11: Brant, Castro, Ermolenko, DiFrancesco
12: Manchester, McConnell, Perkins, Cook (fell, remounted)
13: Hamill, Larsen, Faria, Venegas
14: (restarted) Schwartz, Hicks, Yarrow, Northrup
15: Bast, Christian, Oxley, Harmatiuk
16: Cook, Faria, Brant, Northrup
17: Hicks, DiFrancesco, Christian, Perkins
18: Venegas, McConnell, Schwartz, Harmatiuk (retired)
19: Manchester, Hamill, Ermolenko, Bast
20: Castro, Larsen, Yarrow, Oxley
Runoff for 3rd qualifier in Final: Cook, Faria
Runoff to qualify for Last Chance: Brant, McConnell, Schwartz
Semi: (restarted) Larsen, Ermolenko, Bast, McConnell, Schwartz
Last Chance: Faria, Manchester, Brant, Castro, Larsen
U.S. National Championship Final
104 - Billy Hamill
9 - Mike Faria
3 - Gary Hicks
1 - Chris Manchester
94 - John Cook