2012 Monster Energy SRA United States National Speedway Championship - Costa Mesa, CA, USA - September 22
Billy "The Bullet" Hamill blended perseverance with fate and captured his third Monster Energy United States National Speedway Championship in front of a packed house at the world famous Costa Mesa Speedway.
An exciting evening of racing and an electric atmosphere reached its zenith as the four riders who qualified for the Monster Energy National Championship Final walked on the track. Four-time and defending National Champion Billy "The Kid" Janniro had a perfect 12 points and earned first choice of starting position. He selected gate one without hesitation. Jimmy "Little Animal" Fishback, who had only been defeated by Janniro and Hamill in the heats, entered the Final with 10 points and picked quickly picked gate two. Bryan Yarrow, who had nine points and beat Hamill in a runoff to qualify directly to the Final, chose gate four. This left Hamill, who suffered an engine failure in his first race and qualified via the Last Chance, with gate three.
The intensity in the air was thick when the tapes went up. Janniro was first to the corner with Hamill in tow. Janniro had little margin for error as they went through turns three and four but led through lap one. Concerned about protecting the inside line, Janniro put his front wheel inside the pole as allowed by the rules to strengthen his defense even more. His strategy backfired when bumped the pole, which may have upset his bike just enough to derail his chain. Janniro's lead, and his chance to match legendary Mike Bast as the only racers to win three straight National Championships, ended amid a shower of sparks as he coasted to a stop. Hamill had to take evasive action but remained focused enough to assume the lead without error. The former World Champion maintained his poise and wasn't threatened as he led the remaining laps to take home the title underneath a cascade of cheers from his many fans in attendance. Fishback finished second and Yarrow was third as both competitors finished on the podium for the first time.
During the post-race festivities Hamill was joined on the top step of the podium by his son, Kurtis, who had won the 250cc Main Event which was staged just prior to the National Championship Final.
The involvement of Monster Energy and Performance Machine, as well as their contributions to the purse, only added to the anticipation of what is already the biggest event on the American speedway calendar. The $22,000 purse, with $5,000 going to the winner, was the largest for an American speedway event in many years. The presence of and hospitality of Monster Energy added to the overall presentation of the event and made the racers and the large contingent of spectators feel as if they were attending a Speedway Grand Prix.
Prior to the commencement of racing a moment of silence was observed to honor the memory of Dennis Fink. In addition to being the printer of the programs at Costa Mesa since its inception, Fink and his wife Jean, who is currently a scorekeeper, have printed programs for numerous other events for International Speedway Inc. and for promoters and venues throughout Southern California. Dennis spent countless hours of his time involved with speedway both at the track and away from the track and was admired and respected by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Twenty racers competed in four rounds of four-rider heats to be one of ten to compete in the championship round. The top three would qualify directly to the Final, fourth through seventh qualified to the Last Chance, and seventh through tenth went to the Semi. The winner of Semi would transfer to the Last Chance and the winner of the Last Chance would qualify for the Final.
Hamill kicked off the evening by leading the first heat but an easy victory evaporated when he suffered a bike problem that ended his race prematurely. Former National Champion "Flyin" Mike Faria was the benefactor and scored his first win with Yarrow getting second.
Shawn "Mad Dog" McConnell won the second heat with Aaron Fox finishing second.
Fishback made a better start than Janniro and led the first lap of event three. Janniro hounded the leader but couldn't find a way past on the second lap. Janniro employed the same strategy that would later bite him by putting his front wheel inside the pipe and it paid off as he found a narrow opening and slipped past Fishback as they took the white flag. Janniro led the final lap to get his first victory.
Janniro started round two by blazing to his second straight victory ahead of Fox. Hamill beat Fishback for his first win of the evening. Yarrow was victorious over Hedden in event eight. Burmeister defeated Manzares for his second straight win. Schwartz scored a victory that was very popular with the spectators to finish the second round.
The third round began with Janniro making it three consecutive victories by defeating Burmeister. Faria beat Hedden in event 12 for his second win. Hamill made it two wins in a row with a victory over Fox. Fishback made a great start from the outside and held off "Battling" Buck Blair for his first win. Former National Champion Charlie "The Edge" Venegas completed round three by getting his first victory.
After three rounds Janniro was alone at the top with nine points. Burmeister was right behind him with eight points. Faria and Fishback were next with seven points each. There was a logjam behind them with Yarrow, Schwartz, Manzares, Hedden, Venegas, Fox, and Hamill all sitting on six points.
Janniro opened the last round of heats with a runaway victory to make himself the top seed in the Final while Manzares's second place put him into the championship round but he would have to wait to see where.
Event 17 brought four racers to the tapes with a chance to qualify directly to the Final. Burmeister could assure guarantee himself a place with a win or second while Fishback and Faria could do the same with a victory. A victory by Venegas could put him into the Final with help from the results of other races. Fishback and Venegas got to the front and they were side-by-side through lap one. Fishback remained on the inside while Venegas was on the cushion. The battle continued over the next two laps before Fishback inched ahead on the last lap to secure the victory and the second spot in the Final while Venegas, Faria, and Burmeister would have to await their destination.
Hamill defeated Chris Kerr for his third straight victory in event 18 and assured himself no worse than a runoff for a spot in the Final.
Charles "Dukie" Ermolenko salvaged his evening by winning the last heat in front of "Fast" Eddie Castro.
After 20 heats only three spots in the championship round were filled—Janniro and Fishback in the Final and Schwartz as the last qualifier of the semi. Five competitors were tied with eight points and required a runoff to determine two spots in the Last Chance and who would join Schwartz in the Semi.
Venegas, starting on the outside, used a great first corner to get himself into the lead and led all the way to put himself into the Last Chance. Manzares followed him all the way and would join him. Faria, Burmeister, and Fox could hold on to their title hopes, but would have to continue their quest from the Semi.
An automatic place in the Final was on the line when Hamill and Yarrow emerged from the pits for their runoff. Yarrow got the jump on Hamill and led him into turn one. Hamill began his assault as they entered turn three but Yarrow was unmoved by the pressure. Hamill didn't give up and searched for a way past the leader but Yarrow maintained his composure, didn't allow an opening, kept Hamill at bay for a hard-earned spot in the Final while Hamill would have to come back in the Last Chance.
Burmeister, just as he did in 2011, won the Semi comfortably and transferred to the Last Chance. Faria finished second, Fox was third, and Schwartz finished fourth.
Hamill wasn't about to have his title hopes end without at least contesting the Final. He exploded from the tapes in the Last Chance and left little doubt that his desire for the championship was still burning strong with a comfortable victory to book his place in the Monster Energy National Championship Final. Manzares finished second, Venegas was third, and Burmeister finished fourth.
The event was a climactic way to bring the curtain down on the 2012 Costa Mesa Speedway season, its 44th at the bullring located on the Orange County Fairgrounds. The event program included a proposed 2013 schedule with 14 events that is tentatively slated to begin with the Spring Classic on Saturday, April 13.
HAMILL WINS US NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP @ COSTA MESA SPEEDWAY – By Tim Kennedy
Costa Mesa, CA., Sept. 22 – Billy "the Bullet" Hamill, the 1996 World Speedway Champion, led the final two laps of the 44th annual U.S. Speedway Cycle Championship Saturday night at Costa Mesa Speedway. He surprisingly won the four-lap race at the Orange County Fairgrounds site that has hosted the event since 1969. Hamill won the 2002 and 2007 US Nationals at the Costa Mesa 185-yard (one-tenth mile) oval with a clay base and smooth decomposed granite surface. The winner, who has been a part-time racer until this season, earned the right to use No. 1 on his cycle and leathers next season.
Race leader Billy Janniro, 32, from Rancho Cordova, slowed on lap 3 in the second turn when his chain broke, causing him to pull into the backstretch infield. He finished fourth. Hamill was close to Janniro's back wheel and later said, "I'm amazed I missed his back wheel I was so close when he slowed suddenly." Hamill, a 42-year old Carlsbad resident, won by 15-yards over runner-up Jimmy Fishback and third place Bryan Yarrow. Janniro was racing for his third consecutive victory in the prestigious event. He won the 2004, 2008, 2010-11 events at Costa Mesa. He congratulated Hamill, one of his past teammates in Europe, and walked to the pits behind the backstretch grandstand.
A huge crowd of 5,000 filled all available seats in the front and back straight grandstands and in the turns 1-2 and 3-4 bleachers. A standing room only crowd on the premises brought the crowd to an estimated 6,000. The event, sponsored by Monster Energy drink and Performance Machine, offered the richest purse ($20,000+) in U.S speedway cycle racing history. The championship feature alone paid the participants $11,000. Twenty Division 1 riders and two reserves all participated in the financial payout.
The battle between the two dominant Billys--Hamill and Janniro—lived up to all the pre-race hype. Janniro enjoyed success early in the evening by winning all four of his heat races from different starting lanes behind the starting gate. He accumulated the maximum 12 points via the 3-2-1-0 scoring system. The three riders with the most points earned automatic transfers into the four rider championship feature. Fishback, with 10 points, via two wins and two seconds, also moved directly to the feature.
Hamill experienced heart-break early and success at the end of the night. In round one of four heat race rounds, Hamill was leading on lap 3 when his ignition failed and caused him to pull into the turn two infield with a dead engine. He used his backup cycle the rest of the evening, but he was at a definite disadvantage for making the top three in points. After scoring no points in round one, Hamill won his heats in the next three rounds for a total of nine points. He tied Bryan Yarrow and forced a runoff race to determine the third and last direct transfer to the feature. Yarrow scored 2-3-1-3 while Hamill tallied 0-3-3-3. Yarrow started the runoff on the inside and led all four laps over contending Hamill. That forced the eventual 2012 U.S National Champion to win the last chance race for the riders ranked 4-5-6 in points for the fourth and final feature starting berth.
Hamill started the last chance race on the pole and led all four laps over 19-year old Gino Manzares, two-time U.S. National Champion Charlie Venegas, and Tyson Burmeister, the semi-main race winner. Burmeister, 28, won his first two heats and was second in his third heat, but he scored no points in his fourth ride. Five riders tied at 8-points and forced a five rider runoff race in which the first two finishers advanced to the last chance race with Hamill. Venegas and Manzares finished one-two in the five rider runoff and joined Hamill in the pursuit of the final feature starting position.
The 8-point riders runoff race P. 3-5 finishing positions went to three-time U.S. National Champion Mike Faria, 55, from Nevada, Burmeister and Aaron Fox, 24. All three moved to the semi-main event. They were joined by two-time U.S National Champion Bobby Schwartz, 56, who tallied 7-points in his four heat races. Burmeister started the semi from lane two and led all four laps over Faria, Fox and Schwartz to earn his spot in the last chance race. Riders who did not move beyond the heat races (with their point totals) were: 6-point riders Chris Kerr, 17, and Tommy Hedden, 39; 5-point rider Eddie Castro, 53, and 4-point riders Shawn McConnell, 53-year old 2012 Costa Mesa track champion, Charles Ermolenko, 43, and Buck Blair, 34. The 20 heat race winners were: Janniro (4), Hamill (3), Burmeister, Faria, Fishback and Yarrow (2), and Ermolenko, Manzares, McConnell, Schwartz and Venegas (1).
Other racing classes included Junior Division riders on 200cc and 250cc cycles with two rounds of heats for each class. A six rider field of pee-wees (ages 5-8) on 50cc mini cycles also ran a main event. "Lightning"Luke Whitcomb, 6, of Anaheim, thrilled the appreciative crowd as usual by starting from the back row on his No. 27 Suzuki 50cc. He passed laps 1-3 leader Carter Cooper, 6, on the inside in the final turn to win the four lap race. Jaden Tice, 6, finished third in the six rider field. Gino Scopellite, 10, was the surprise winner of the 200cc main after first three laps leader Braydan Galvin, 14, the winner of the two 200cc heats, fell in the second corner on the final lap and did not finish. Michael Wells and Maverick Molloy finished second and third.
The 250cc main went to Kurtis Hamill, 13-year old son of the 2012 U.S Speedway National Champion. Hamill led all four laps after starting from lane three in a five rider field. Max Ruml. 15, won the pair of 250cc heats earlier and incurred a starting gate penalty before the 250cc feature. He came from the penalty line and almost overcame the penalty by finishing a closing second, only two lengths in back of Hamill. Broc Nicol, 14, Dillon Ruml, 13, and Hayley Perrault, 15, followed. Miss Perrault fell hard in the fourth turn during both heat races, but she limped to the pits and returned to finish the feature.
U.S Speedway National Grand Marshal Shawn McConnell, the Costa Mesa Speedway 2012 track champion, gave the "Gentlemen Start Your Engines" command at 7:30 before the first of 20 Division 1 heats. A total of 32 races were run, including the two D-1 runoff races. The final checkered flag flew at 9:40 pm. The top three riders in the finale sprayed champagne on supporters at the elevated podium in the infield. Other division winners also joined the winning Hamill father and son Hagon Shocks team and accepted their awards. A happy crowd went to the pits for autographs with entertainment by a live band serenading them well into the evening. The 24-page printed race program listed the 2013 Costa Mesa 45th season tentative schedule. The 16 race dates run from the April 13 spring classic opener to the October 5 US National Speedway Championship season finale.
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