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Off-Road Championship Gran Prix : Balch Wins Main Event After Seven Trucks Crash

July 20, 1986|TOM HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Nissan factory driver Sherman Balch won a crash-marred main event Saturday night in Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix.

A crowd of 52,873 at the Coliseum saw Balch avoid a major pileup near the Peristyle ramp as seven trucks crashed in what looked like a demolition derby.

Steve Millen of Irvine was second, and Danny Thompson of Costa Mesa was third.

The debut of Roger Mears' new Nissan "Hardbody" mini pickup truck failed to provide the anticipated excitement.

Mears had compared the technology of the prototype truck to that of a Grand National stock car. But the 39-year-old driver from Bakersfield never got a chance to handle the vehicle on the man-made course.

Mears broke a flex plate in the automatic transmission during an afternoon practice session and switched back to the truck he drove to the series championship last year. He finished third in his heat race as Millen, a Toyota factory driver, scored an easy win.

Millen, a former rally racer from New Zealand, is the points leader in the class and has won four of the series races. He was never challenged in the eight-lap heat.

Danny Thompson, son of promoter Mickey Thompson, held off Balch to win the other mini pickup heat.

Glenn Harris, driving a Mazda, won the opening trophy dash.

Mears drove the truck that teammate Balch was scheduled to drive and qualified with the second-fastest time. Balch moved into teammate Spencer Low's truck, leaving Low with Mears' patched-together new truck. Low finished fifth among seven drivers in his heat race.

Mears, the most successful driver in off-road racing history, had failed to win a race this season. He was hoping the new truck would change his racing fortunes.

"The truck was finished late, and unfortunately, we experienced the new car blues," Mears said. "We'll get this race out of the way and then start testing next week."

Low was literally the low man on the Nissan team. He was forced to drive a truck in which he had never been behind the wheel. The truck had been completed Thursday.

"Well, there's nothing I can really do at this point but drive it hard in the heat race," Low said after practice. "It would have been nice to have just a couple of laps in the new truck, but it didn't work out that way."

The program got off to a spectacular start when Rick Jones of Riverside flipped his Funco buggy at the northeast end of the Coliseum floor and nearly struck the pace truck. Jones hit a series of whoop-de-doos that sent his car catapulting into the air, and he sailed over the hood of the parked pace truck to the delight of the crowd.

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