Bobby Schwartz, a Los Angeles beach boy whose dad called him Boogaloo, spent eight years in England, fine-tuning his speedway motorcycling career against the best riders in the world before coming home last year to win the United States Speedway championship.
Now, at 30, he'd like to go back to Europe to show his old friends and foes how well he looks with the No. 1 plate on his bike.
Toward that end, Schwartz will ride Saturday night in the Nissan American final at Long Beach Veterans Stadium in the first round of the World tournament. Five of the 20 riders will advance to the next runoff, July 5 at Bradford, England. After that, there are the Intercontinental final, July 26 at Vogens, Denmark, and the World final at Amsterdam, Netherlands, Sept. 5-6.
Only twice since the American final was first held in 1978 have non-British League riders from Southern California made it to the World final--Kelly Moran in 1982 and Sam Ermolenko in 1985. Schwartz hopes to become the third.
Five Southern Californians returned this week from British League competition to ride in Saturday night's test.
The favorites are brothers Kelly and Shawn Moran of Huntington Beach, both former national champions, and teammates on the league-leading Sheffield team. Shawn is defending champion. The others are Ermolenko of Corona, Lance King of Fountain Valley and Rick Miller of Reseda.
"The way myself and Mike Faria have been riding, I think we have a good chance of being in the top five," Schwartz said Wednesday during a break from training near his recently purchased home in Costa Mesa. "I know my style better suits smaller tracks like the ones we ride here, but I've ridden enough on the larger tracks to do just as well."
Since winning the U.S. title last October, Schwartz has dominated competition at Costa Mesa, Ascot Park, San Bernardino and Victorville, the small tracks that make up the Southern California circuit. He has won 23 of 35 scratch main events and been second in six others.
The local tracks average only about 200 yards, however, and the Long Beach track, conforming to international specifications, is 400 yards.
"All my best equipment from England is here, and I adapt well from one size track to another, so I see no problems with not having raced on the big tracks all year," Schwartz said.
If the Boogaloo Kid has a secret weapon, it could be his favorite Weslake engine, a 500cc power plant that he used when he scored 11 of a possible 12 points in the World Team Cup last year and the one he rode to win the Spring Classic at Long Beach in March.
Ermolenko also used that engine--he borrowed it from Schwartz--in 1985 when he tied for first in the World final and finished third in the runoff.
"Most of the guys from England will be using the newest hot engine, a GM from Italy, but I've had good luck with my old one, and it's still strong," Schwartz said. "Speedway is all confidence, concentration and preparation, and I'm plenty confident with the old engine and it's well prepared. The concentration comes Saturday."
Schwartz will ride only tonight at Ascot to get ready for Saturday night's program, in which each rider will race in five heats, facing every other rider once.
"I've got some mending to do after taking a couple of spills last week," Schwartz said. "I tangled with Faria last Saturday night at Victorville and hurt my chest, and I crashed last week at Costa Mesa and hurt my ribs. Both hurt now, but all that will be forgotten when it's time to ride. I won't even notice it."
Schwartz decided to remain home after winning last year's nationals because he wanted to re-establish his roots in Southern California, where he plans to live when his racing days are over.
"I was second in the nationals in both '84 and '85 and it meant an awful lot to me to win last year and be No. 1. I wanted to stay and ride here as the champion. I'd been in England so long I felt like I was losing touch with Southern California."
Schwartz went to Fremont High in Los Angeles but began his riding career in Santa Barbara, where his father lived after his parents separated.
"My dad kept me a little Kawasaki 90 to ride, and I'd take the Greyhound bus every weekend from L.A. to Santa Barbara to see him," Schwartz said.
"My dad died a few years ago but he really helped me when I needed it. He's the one that gave me the name Boogaloo when I was real little.
"At first I rode mostly motocross, until one day I met Sonny Nutter (a former speedway rider), and he told me that I ought to try speedway.
"I was 17 when my dad bought me a speedway bike and I rode my first race at Irwindale. That was 1974 and I've been at it ever since. In '78, I won the American final at Santa Ana and got myself a trip to England for the Overseas final. I didn't do so well there but I hooked on with the Cradley Heath team and practically lived in England for the next eight years."