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Big Time Speedway
Prairie City OHV Park
Rancho Cordova California

November 5, 2011
Article By: Gary Roberts
Photos from Big Time Speedway

Mike Bast     Color Guard
2011 Honoree Mike Bast and Color Guard

How many times in one's life does one get to enjoy the privilege of attending the opening of a brand new Speedway track? Not too often. I did today. It's actually been open for a few months as a practice track, but this was the first public event to be staged there. The track is set on the Prairie City State Vehicular Recreation Area, 5 miles south of Folsom, California.

The event was described as the "2011 Invitational" and it certainly lived up to its name. 16 of America's best, including one former World Champion, 5 former National Champions, including the current National Champion. Which other sport, even in California, boasts such an impressive content, on a November Saturday afternoon?

The format was conventional, a 16 man 20 race championship format, followed by 2 semi-finals for the top 8 scorers, the top two finishers from each semi-final going to the main, along with the last chance qualifier, winner from the third and fourth placed riders in the semi-finals.
The results from the qualifying heats were as follows:

Billy Janniro 3 3 3 3 315
Charlie Venegas 3 3 3 1 212
Billy Hamill 3 3 3 2 011
Bart Bast 2 1 2 3 311
Chris Kerr 2 3 1 2 311
Greg Hooten 2 2 1 1 39
Bryan Yarrow 1 2 1 2 2 8
Tommy Hedden 1 0 2 3 28
Dukie Ermolenko 0 0 2 3 27
Mike Faria3 0 0 1 15
Michael Raines 2 0 3 0 05
Tuff Mc Bride 1 1 1 1 15 
Alex Marcucci 0 1 0 2 14
Bobby Hedden 0 2 2 0 04
Aaron Fox 0 2 0 0 13
Bryce Starks 1 1 0 0 02
Devin DeFreece (reserve) 0 0 00

After 3 rounds Janniro, Hamill and Venegas were unbeaten, but that came to an end in heat 15, when the three came together. Hamill and Janniro swapped places throughout the race but Janniro was first over the line. Hamill's effort to catch Janniro at the line cost him dearly. As he lifted he slid back on the seat and got stuck sitting on the mudguard, between the seat and the push bar, unable to shut off. He fought it for most of the length of the front straight but ended up falling off the back. He told me afterwards his neck was a bit sore and his leg hurt a bit, but no big deal. Somehow, having heard this story several times in the past, the no big deal sounds less convincing with time! He did follow that with the fact that he was having fun for the rest of the event. Disappointingly for him and the spectators, because he had ridden brilliantly all afternoon, this ended his day's racing. Venegas lost 2 points here and a further point to a very fast Chris Kerr in his last race. Janniro completed his five qualifying heats unbeaten.

Semi finals:
1. Charlie Venegas
2. Bart Bast
3. Bryan Yarrow
4. Tommy Hedden
Charlie Venegas got the gate, pursued closely by Tommy Hedden. A couple of laps on Venegas pulled away and Bart Bast was closing in on Hedden. From where I was sitting it looked like contact was made as Bart tried to get past Tommy on the inside and Tommy went down. He was slow to get up and the race was stopped. In the rerun, Tommy was penalized with a handicap, which left Charlie and Bart to qualify directly to the main.

1. Dukie Ermolenko
2. Greg Hooten
3. Chris Kerr
4. Billy Janniro
More surprises in the second semifinal, with Chris Kerr and Billy Janniro battling for the lead. Chris got the advantage and in his effort to catch him Billy found too much traction, causing him to go down. Chris's recent British League spell has programmed him for 4 lap races but these semifinalswere 5. Chris shut off at the white flag, letting Dukie Ermolenko and Greg Hooten take the qualifying places.

Last chance qualifier:
1. Billy Janniro
2. Tommy Hedden
3. Bryan Yarrow
4. Chris Kerr (non-starter)
Predictably Janniro won the final place in the main. Chris confided afterwards that he was out of shape so didn't attempt another race.

Main event:
1. Billy Janniro
2. Bart Bast
3. Charlie Venegas
4. Dukie Ermolenko
5. Greg Hooten
Venegas lead from the start, with Janniro battling behind him. Bast lead the remaining three. Not surprisingly Janniro found his way into the lead, making it look easy. A lap later Bast managed to squeeze past Venegas for second place.

There was an additional race, a Dash for Ca$h heat, again won by Billy Janniro.
1. Billy Janniro
2. Bryan Yarrow
3. Greg Hooten
4. Chris Kerr

Lap speeds were being monitored throughout the event, by transmitters on each bike and a sensor on the starting gates which measured to 1/100 of a second. This unveiled some interesting results. As one would expect, the fastest laps were set by Hamill and Janniro, but they were followed by Kerr and Michael Raines.

The Prairie City track is a pleasant facility, on land owned by the state, so is unlikely to go away. The promoters spared no cost and no thought for the event. All staff were in matching apparel and a color cover on an impressive program added professional touches. To add to the pomp and glory, the event was opened by none greater than Grand Marshall Mike Bast. The promoters presented Mike with a plaque and even had flowers for Mike's wife. They plan on further events next season.

My only complaint was the weather. I was frozen stiff. RC Jones asked me if I had taken any photographs. I explained that it was a struggle filling in a program, let alone using a camera. Thankfully I found a wooden seat, rather than the usual aluminum version.

All signs point to this track being a big success, especially if the promoters can continue to put on events of this caliber. With what can only be described as diabolical weather, I was amazed at how many people, stayed to the end.

- Gary Robertsgary_rob@ix.netcom.com

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