For the first two years of Mickey Thompson's Championship Off-Road Gran Prix series, the dominant name in the mini-pickup division was Roger Mears of Bakersfield. The next two years of the series he would just as soon forget.
It wasn't until earlier this season at the Rose Bowl that Mears and his Electromotive-built Nissan finally snapped a long losing streak.
Mears will attempt to keep his good fortune alive Saturday night at the Coliseum against strong factory teams from Toyota, Mazda, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford.
Although his limited appearances in the series this year have eliminated him as a contender for the championship, Mears could be instrumental in determining the outcome of a close race.
According to the 40-year-old veteran, his being out of the points race is no big deal.
"One of the things I learned from my dad when I first started racing was going for points can cause more problems," he said. "His theory, and it's a solid one, was that if you concentrate on doing the best you can in each race, the points will take care of themselves."
Nevertheless, going into Saturday night's eighth round of the series, the point battle is about as close as it can get. Mazda's Glenn Harris holds a one-point edge on teammate Jeff Huber, 222-221. In third place is Chevy's Danny Thompson at 200, with Dodge's Walker Evans next at 197.
Next is Toyota's Ivan Stewart, and he leads Toyota's trio of himself, Frank Arciero Jr. and defending series champion Steve Millen. Team Toyota also leads the manufacturers' race by 46 points over Mazda.
Mears is hoping that the third time will be the charm for him in the Coliseum.
"The past couple of years, we have had bad luck at the Coliseum," said Mears, who has been involved in two controversial incidents in the last two races there.
In 1985, Mears was going for his fifth straight Thompson win when he was blocked by another driver in the last lap and was nipped at the wire.
"I still get mad about that when I think about it," he says.
Last year, he was knocked unconscious when the seat on his truck broke in one of the rough sections of the track.
"I don't remember much about that night, except that I didn't win," he said.
Even so, Mears is looking forward to Saturday night's race.
"The truck is working exceptionally well and I think we should be a favorite to win," he said. "We have learned a few more things about this new truck since the Rose Bowl and Kingdome races."
Another driver who has been absent from the series recently, Sherman Balch of Fremont, Calif., will be Mears' teammate Saturday night. Balch, incidentally, is the defending champion, having escaped a multi-car pileup early in the race last year and posting an easy victory.
"While last year's win was nice, with the wreck I think some thought that it was a fluke," Balch said. "I would like to prove it wasn't."
Balch will drive the car Mears drove last year, but it has been completely rebuilt.
Although the trucks are the star attractions, the Coliseum races will be pivotal in several other classes.
One is the four-wheel ATV division with Jimmy White leading Don Turk by one point, 195-194. Marty Hart is third with 183 and Gary Denton is next with 180.
Other close races include the Ultrastocks where Ken Kazarian leads Tim Maples, 218-193. Both drive Volkswagen Sciroccos. In the super 1,600 single-seaters, Frank Arciero Jr. has a 55-point lead over his brother Albert, but the next four drivers Jerry Whelchel, Bob Gordon, Greg George and Tommy Croft are separated by only five points. A similar situation exists in the Odyssey class with Ron Pierce leading Don Archibald, 185-149, but only 16 points separate the next seven drivers.
The 250cc Ultracross motorcycle class has the widest point span with Jeff Matisevich the leader.
Racing will begin at 7:30.
Three and a half hours of nonstop motorsports Sunday will make up the first Motor Extravaganza that will climax the weekend at the Coliseum.
Sunday's event will feature drag racing, side by side mud bog racing, a battle of monster trucks and races for four-wheel ATVs and Odysseys.
Four classes will compete in the drag races over a 200-foot dirt strip. The drag racing cars will be attached to retrieval cords to help them stop at the end of the strip. Mud bog races will be held at the opposite end of the stadium. First of the 37 scheduled races will start at 1 p.m.
SPRINT CARS--Rip Williams, who became the 10th driver to win a Parnelli Jones/California Racing Assn. main event last Saturday night at Ascot, will try for a repeat in this Saturday night's 30-lapper. Williams, driving the Jack Gardner-owned Shrike that carried Brad Noffsinger to the championship last year, survived two early red-flags and finally held off Bubby Jones, his brother-in-law, who came from 10th to second. It was William's 12th CRA victory. Noffsinger's fifth-place finish enabled him to trim series leader Mike Sweeney's lead to 99 points, 2,185-2,086. Sweeney was sixth last Saturday. Jones is third with 1,989.