Gene Romero, when he was the national motorcycle champion, used to say: "If you haven't seen a San Jose Mile, you haven't seen a motorcycle race."
Sunday will offer the last chance to watch what many consider to be the most exciting two-wheel dirt-track race in America. After 33 years, the last San Jose Mile will be held on the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds' mile dirt oval before it is paved for Winston Cup stock car racing.
Romero, now director of promotions at Ascot Park, won one of his greatest races there in 1973 on a Triumph, edging Gene Scott by an eyelash.
"There were 20 lead changes in 25 miles among five of us and you could have thrown a beach blanket over the top of all of us at the finish," Romero recalled. He and Ascot promoter Chris Agajanian will be at Sunday's finale, reminiscing with former winners dating back to Joe Leonard, who won the first race in 1957 on a Harley-Davidson.
Bubba Shobert, a transplanted Texan living in Carmel Valley, and Jim Filice, a fourth-generation San Jose resident, will be the sentimental favorites.
Shobert has won five of the last eight races on the track, all on a Honda. He is also the two-time defending champion in the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s Camel Pro series and holds a 20-16 margin over Scott Parker of Flint, Mich., in this year's standings.
Filice won the 1983 San Jose Mile, becoming the 19th straight Harley-Davidson rider to win--but it was also the last time for the American manufacturer. Honda has won the last eight.
"I remember when my dad took me to watch Gene Romero and Jim Rice race there in 1972," Filice recalled. "I was only 9 years old then, but I still remember Rice winning. Then Romero won the next year. I didn't even own a motorcycle at the time, but I knew right then that I wanted to race."
Filice believes this may be the year for a Harley turn-around.
"The San Jose Mile brings both the Harleys and the Hondas closer together," Filice said. "Late in the race, the track gets a little slippery, so anything can happen. Hondas have more horsepower, but they tend to spin the tires more coming off the corners. Either of them could win Sunday."
Although Filice, 25, will be on a Harley, he scored his most recent win last month on a Honda in the 250cc road race division of the United States International Grand Prix at Laguna Seca.
"I still can't believe it," said Filice, best known as a dirt-track specialist. "I entered the race not even knowing what kind of bike I'd be riding because I didn't have a sponsor. Then (Honda rider) Doug Chandler's sponsor, Jerry Griffith, and Erv Kanemoto really helped me."
When Japanese rider Masahiro Shimuzu broke his wrist and couldn't ride, Griffith and Kanemoto suggested Filice to Shimuzu's sponsor.
"The next thing I knew, I had a factory Honda ride for the race, and I won it. That's got to give me confidence going into the San Jose Mile, even if it is on dirt and not pavement."
The win was Filice's first since San Jose in 1983.
The San Jose track--with 25,000 seats added--is scheduled to replace Riverside International Raceway for the June race on the 1989 Winston Cup schedule.
INDY 500--Four-time winner A. J. Foyt, 3-time winner Johnny Rutherford and 2-time winner Gordon Johncock are among a group of drivers who will attempt to fill the field for the May 29 Indianapolis 500 during time trials this weekend. Twelve spots are open in the 33-car field before bumping begins.
STOCK CARS--Defending Winston West champion Chad Little and perennial favorite Hershel McGriff will resume their rivalry Saturday night at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield in the second race of the championship series. Bad blood developed between the two front-runners last year at Mesa Marin when McGriff bumped Little off the road and Little returned and smashed the side of McGriff's car.
Both are also looking to improve on their opening race performances at Sears Point, where McGriff was the first one out with engine failure in his Pontiac and Little rolled his Ford and finished 13th. Other favorites in the 100-mile race include Sears Point winner Bill Schmitt and two-time Mesa Marin winner Ruben Garcia in Chevrolets, and Ron Esau in a Buick recently purchased from Winston Cup veteran James Hylton.
Ron Meyer of Garden Grove continues to hold a precarious lead in the Pacific Coast region of the $400,000 Winston Racing Series but he faces a serious challenge on his home track at Ascot Park from Marcus Mallett of Gardena. Mallett, who finished second last year and third in 1986 to Meyer, closed to within eight points of the leader in their last race. They will meet again Sunday night in a double points race at Ascot.