SAN DIEGO — Rick Johnson is back.
Johnson, 22, who lives in El Cajon, proved that he has recovered from injuries and illness that have plagued his 1987 motocross season and captured his second straight 250cc San Diego Supercross title Saturday night in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium in front of 33,321 fans.
Kawasaki's Jeff Ward had won the previous two races on the 12-event circuit but settled for seventh. El Cajon's Ron Lechien was second and Micky Dymond finished third.
Johnson, riding a 250cc Honda, got off to a slow start this season, failing to finish at Anaheim two weeks ago and finishing fourth last week at Houston.
He made up for all of that Saturday, getting the holeshot (leading into the first turn) and opened up his lead to as much as four seconds. Ward was squeezed out on the opening turn and was 19th in the opening three laps.
"I got off to a great start," said Johnson, the defending Supercross and 250cc Outdoor National champion. "I've been getting some bad starts this season."
Johnson was able to ensure his lead by weaving through traffic. While second-place Lechien struggled through a denser pack.
"I found that (the stadium whoop) were the hardest part of the track," Ward said. "It is the only place on the track where you can make mistakes."
Stadium whoops are a series of 17 short rolling hills in close succession. Johnson's strategy was to skim across the top of the shorter bumps and jump over the taller hills.
In his qualifying heat, Johnson got the holeshot on the first turn and led throughout the heat. Lechien threatened Johnson on the last lap for second place. Jeffrey Leisk was a distant third.
"I was just trying to stay smooth," Johnson said of the qualifying heat. "I was concentrating on attacking from the get go."
Kawasaki's Ward, in his qualifying heat, climbed from sixth place on the first lap to take the lead in the second lap en route to the heat victory. Larry Brooks finished second and Keith Bowen, who lost second place after falling on the sixth lap, finished third.
"The riders in front of me were not high caliber," Ward said. "The whole track seemed easy."
In the 250cc opening qualifying heat, Honda's Dymond, battling a virus, took the lead on the fifth of eight laps and was never challenged. Suziki's Johnny O'Mara forced his was past Rick Ryan on the last lap for second.
El Cajon's Broc Glover, a nine-time U.S. National Champion in indoor and outdoor racing, aggravated a pinched nerve in his back during a press preview Thursday and withdrew from Saturday's event.
In the 125cc main event, Honda's Kyle Lewis, 16, in only his second professional race, soared to the lead on the opening triple jump and was never challenged. Kawasaki's Eddie Hicks was second and Lowell Thompson third. Lewis is a high school student from Simi Valley.