If Mickey Thompson were still alive, he would love it. In fact, he would probably claim the idea as his own.
When the trucks and cars in Saturday night's Coliseum round of the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Gran Prix stadium series reach the bottom of the peristyle, the drivers will have to make an instant decision--to take the right hand lane up the 85-foot incline and through the arches and go 40 feet farther, or take the inside lane and be faced with a tight horseshoe turn at the top of the six-story landing.
Theoretically, if two vehicles of the same caliber took different lines up the east end of the Coliseum at the same time, they would return to the floor of the stadium together.
"Every time around each competitor will face the same decision and each time the circumstances may be different," course designer Jerry Stansbury explained Wednesday when drivers got their first view of the new track configuration. A lot will depend on how the vehicle is handling, what the traffic is like, who's just in front or just behind, and what the track conditions are like in each lane."
No matter which lane, however, each vehicle will come out of the back of the peristyle to face a blind jump off the 83-foot drop onto the football field level.
Decisions must be made, too, during qualifying. Each competitor gets two timed laps with the starting lineup determined by the fastest of the two. The puzzle: Should a driver take both his laps on the same ramp or should he make one of each to check the difference?
Almost from the day Thompson brought off-road racing in from the desert to showcase it in a stadium setting a decade ago, he sought to get away from the one-groove track where drivers found it almost impossible to pass. He hated follow-the-leader racing.
Thompson experimented with lanes of different length and difficulty when he was getting the growing pains out of the sport at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds a few years back. He designed a track where the short way around the course was made more difficult with higher jumps and the long way around was smoother. His idea was to have the cars or trucks reach the straightaway as nearly even as possible.
In the heat of the racing, the idea never really caught on as drivers quickly learned how to cross lanes and ended up with pretty much a single lane groove.
Bill Marcel, who succeeded Thompson as president of Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group when Mickey and his wife were murdered at their home in Bradbury, and course designer Stansbury may have solved the problem--for the Coliseum, at least.
The Coliseum, however, with its unique peristyle landing, is the only stadium where the cars and trucks can be forced into holding their line as they must enter and exit through the archways beneath the Olympic torch. It is also the only stadium where the trucks and cars race up, into and over the seats.
The overall length of the Coliseum track is 1,986 feet, longer than any other stadium course, and will also include eight turns and four field-level jumps per lap as well as a series of stutter bumps at the beginning of the back straightaway.
Steve and Rod Millen, the New Zealand brothers who live in Orange County, dropped out of stadium off-road racing after dominating the sport last year, but they are no less successful in their new ventures.
Steve, winner of the Grand National truck championship last year, won the truck class at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in a General Tire Nissan and followed that a week later by winning the International Motor Sports Assn. GTO class in a Nissan 300ZX at Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Rod, who won the Coliseum truck race last year, also won at Pikes Peak, driving a four-wheel-steer Mazda MX-6 in a special production car class, and last Tuesday night finished second to Sweden's Ingvar Carlson in the New Zealand round of the world rally championships. Both drove Mazdas.
SPRINT CARS--Spectators and drivers will get an extra 10 laps Saturday night when the 40-lap Midsummer Special takes place at Ascot Park in the Parnelli Jones Firestone/California Racing Assn. series. It was originally scheduled for 30 laps, but the championship battle between Jerry Meyer, Ron Shuman, Brad Noffsinger, Rip Williams, John Redican and Eddie Wirth prompted Agajanian Enterprises, operators of Ascot, and Frank Lewis, CRA president, to extend it to 40 laps and distribute more points.