The first qualifying round for the world championship of speedway motorcycle racing is scheduled at 8 tonight with 16 of the top U.S. riders competing in the American Final at Long Beach Veterans Stadium.
The top five finishers will advance to the Overseas Final June 29 at Coventry, England. The ultimate goal is the World Final Aug. 30 at Chorzow, Poland.
Each rider will compete in five four-lap races on the 440-yard course. Riders are awarded three points for a victory, two for second place and one for third.
Based on past performances, the winner figures to score 15 points. In four previous meetings, the winner has been first in all five of his heats. Dennis Sigalos was perfect in 1982 and 1983, Bobby Schwartz scored the maximum in 1984 and John Cook did the same last year.
Schwartz and Cook are among six riders who compete in the British Speedway League and are considered strong favorites. Sam Ermolenko had the fastest lap times in a practice session Thursday, however. Ermolenko finished third in the World Final last year
Two riders--Shawn Moran and Lance King--are coming off serious injuries. King crushed two vertebrae in a crash two months ago and hasn't ridden since the accident. He is the only American rider to qualify for the World Final in each of the past three seasons.
Moran broke his right ankle last week and will compete with a specially fitted fiberglass cast. His older brother, former two-time U.S. champion Kelly Moran, is also entered.
Brad Oxley is the top competitor from the local circuit. The 26-year-old rider is the son of promoter Harry Oxley and is the track leader at Ascot Park and Costa Mesa. Local riders compete on smaller tracks than the sweeping, narrow course at Long Beach, where the bikes reach speeds up to 80 m.p.h. on the straightaways.