For the last 8 years, West Coast stock car racing fans have been heading for Riverside on the first weekend in November for the Winston Western 500 NASCAR race on the historic 8-turn road course.
This year they will have to travel a little farther. The Riverside race, doomed there when construction workers began to dig up portions of the track last summer, has been moved to Phoenix International Raceway with a new name--the Checker 500--where it will be held Sunday on a low-banked 1-mile oval that has a kink in the backstretch.
The 500-kilometer (312 miles) race will be the first Winston Cup event ever held on the Phoenix Mile, although the track has held Winston West races from 1977 through 1984 when the winners included such NASCAR regulars as Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett and Cale Yarborough, who stopped off on the way home from the race at Riverside.
The Checker 500 is the next-to-last race on this year's 30-race NASCAR schedule and may go a long way toward determining the winner of the $400,000 championship bonus between Bill Elliott, the standings leader, and Rusty Wallace.
Wallace, who has won the last 3 races in his Pontiac, has closed to within 79 points of Elliott and his Ford with only Phoenix and the Atlanta Journal 500, Nov. 20, remaining.
Wallace has not only won the last 3, he has rallied in each of them after dropping a lap or more behind.
On Oct. 9, the red-headed St. Louis driver was 2 laps down at Charlotte in the Oakwood Homes 500 before coming back to win. A week later, at North Wilkesboro, N.C., he fell a lap back before making it up and beating Geoff Bodine to the wire. Two weeks ago, in the AC Delco 500 at Rockingham, N.C., he found himself 2 laps behind again but rallied and won.
"We have done all we can do the last 3 races," Wallace said. "The most we can do is win the race and we've done that. The Winston Cup championship is everything in the world to me. If we lose, it will be very disheartening. But Bill is still leading and has to falter for us to close much more."
Elliott finished fourth, fifth and fourth in the 3 recent races.
"The way Rusty keeps gnawing at us, he's going to be tough to beat," said Elliott who, like Wallace, is looking for his first championship. "All we can do is run as good as we can the last 2 races and whatever falls, falls. If we have bad luck, we're history."
Elliott conceivably could win the championship at Phoenix if he wins the race and leads the most laps, while Wallace finishes 29th or worse.
Wallace's win at Rockingham pushed his season winnings to $1,003,910.
The strongest field in the 3-year history of the NASCAR Southwest Tour will run Saturday at Phoenix in the AC Delco 300, the season-ending race for late-model stock cars that will determine the championship between Roman Calczynski of Sepulveda and Troy Beebe of Modesto.
Calczynski holds a 48-point lead, 2,710 to 2,662, after 18 races, with defending champion Mike Chase of Bakersfield clinging to an outside chance with 2,582 points. Calczynski, 37, runner-up in the last 2 Southwest Tour seasons, needs only a 10th place finish to win the championship.
Besides a full complement of West Coast drivers, five Winston Cup regulars--Davey Allison, Ken Schrader, Mike Alexander and former Cup champions Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip--have entered the 186-mile event.
"I'm anxious to drive the track," Waltrip said. "I think everybody would like to have some extra time on a new track. Racing on Saturday will give me 186 laps under race conditions. It should help me learn how it (the track) changes during the course of a race."
MOTORCYCLES--Eddie Lawson of Upland, who has won 3 world road racing championships riding a Yamaha, will switch to Honda next year and defend his championship with a new team headed by Erv Kanemoto, who was Freddie Spencer's tuner when the Louisiana rider was world champion. . . . This year's American Motorcyclist Assn. professional champions will be honored Saturday night at an awards banquet on the Queen Mary in Long Beach. . . . A Formula USA race is scheduled Sunday at Willow Springs.
Trade Tech teacher Pat Owens is spearheading a Ted Boody memorial ride Sunday from Hansen Dam Park in Sylmar to raise funds for the nationally-ranked racer who was killed last May 7 at Ascot Park. Both cars and cycles will travel a loop of about 70 miles from Hansen Dam to Acton and back.
Among the items to be raffled off at the benefit are two cars, four motorcycles and eight helmets autographed by Boody's fellow riders in the AMA Camel Pro series, including 1987 champion Bubba Shobert and 1988 champion Scott Parker. Boody finished second to Jay Springsteen in the 1977 AMA series and again to Shobert in 1985.