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Arciero Jr. Hopes to Get It in Gear Again : Laguna Hills Driver Prepares to Defend His Off-Road Title at Riverside Raceway

August 21, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Frank Arciero Jr. of Laguna Hills will bring good and bad memories into this weekend's SCORE Off-Road World Championships at Riverside International Raceway.

A couple of days before last year's race, one of the most prestigious events in off-road racing, Arciero had car trouble.

Among other things, Arciero's Class 10, dune buggy-type stadium vehicle had a transmission breakdown. He was forced to borrow a transmission the day before the race, which meant he had no time even to test the gears.

"It was a terrible weekend," Arciero said. "I had all kinds of problems."

But the good memories overshadow the bad.

Arciero, 41, went on to win the 1.2-mile race, and that weekend turned into the best of his career.

"After the first turn, I managed to pass the guy who was in first," he said. "I could just feel the gearing was right, and I knew then that I could win."

It was perfect timing for Arciero, who had never won at Riverside in more than 10 years of racing there. Had the race been a little longer, he might not have finished.

When he disassembled his borrowed transmission after the race, Arciero discovered that his car had been pushed to the limit. The bearing case on his gear box was broken into three pieces.

"If I would have had one more lap, I wouldn't have made it," he said. "The gear was destroyed."

Arciero keeps the gear on a shelf in the office of Arciero & Sons, a construction company his father started in Anaheim in 1949.

"For too long I'd been the bridesmaid at Riverside because of mechanical problems, and finally I won," he said.

"I've won lots of desert and short-course races, but the race at Riverside was the highlight of my career. I've been racing there for a long time, and there's always top drivers from the East and West Coast. It's always a big honor to win it."

Also in his office are trophies, plaques and photos of cars--lots of cars that Frank Arciero Sr. has bought and that some of the best racers in the world have driven.

A shiny red Indy-type race car in which Michael Andretti won the 1982 Super Vee series sits in the lobby of the building. It is an Arciero car.

The trophies and plaques represent the various races Frank Jr. has won in 16 years of desert and short-course racing, which takes place in stadiums.

This year, Arciero has had stadium victories in June at Seattle's Kingdome, and in January at Indianapolis and at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, where he won the Class 10 main event.

Besides his stadium victory at Riverside last year, Arciero won one of the biggest desert races of 1986, the Frontier 500 at Las Vegas for two-seated, unlimited cars.

So far, 1987 has been a very good year for Arciero. He leads the Mickey Thompson series--which started in January at Anaheim and ends in September in Las Vegas--with 229 points. His brother, Albert, is in second place with 205 points.

The point margin between the Arcieros and the rest of the competitors is so great that the race for the title is between the brothers.

"It's not like we're even competing against each other," Albert said. "We trade secrets and stuff. We are a team. The Arciero team."

Albert won the Off-Road Championship at the Coliseum last month, and earlier in the year, he had stadium victories at Michigan and Indianapolis.

Racing has been a part of the Arcieros' life for a long time.

Frank Sr., an Italian immigrant, has been involved in car racing since 1953, when he raced stock cars.

In 1956, he purchased a Ferrari after seeing one at a race in Palm Springs that a friend had taken him to. Since then, car racing has been a ritual in the Arciero family.

Arciero cars have been driven by greats such as Dan Gurney, one of America's all-time racing favorites, who dominated California Club racing in an Arciero-owned Ferrari.

Also, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser prepared for his first Indy race in 1965 in an Arciero-owned Maserati.

Other racing greats such as Jimmy Clark, Parnelli Jones and Kevin Cogan have competed in Arciero vehicles.

It's no wonder then, that, after being surrounded by fast sports cars as youngsters and rubbing elbows with the world's best drivers, Arciero and his brother--who also will compete this weekend at Riverside--could hardly wait to get behind the wheel of one of those speedy machines.

"It was always a family affair," said Frank Sr., of racing in the '50s and '60s. "The kids and wife went to all the races, and when the boys grew up, they said that's what they wanted to do--drive the cars."

Both Arciero sons did some dirt-bike desert racing before becoming seriously involved with cars in the early '70s. Frank Jr. won about 30 desert races on his motorcycle, but he knew that eventually he'd get into car racing.

"It's really helped me," Arciero said of motorcycle racing. "Bikes are quicker and a lot faster, so you really have to read the track.

"Most of the guys who are doing good (in car racing) today, are former motorcycle racers."

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