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Suddenly, Sam Returns to Ride Again

March 03, 1994|SHAV GLICK

Sam Ermolenko, world and national speedway motorcycle champion from Cypress known as Sudden Sam because of his fast reactions, just keeps coming back from one accident after another.

Ermolenko, who took a career-threatening spill last Oct. 28 in England, will return to the track Saturday night when the Coors Light Spring Classic opens the 26th speedway season at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa--the same track where he won the nationals.

"The stories that came out of England were a bit exaggerated about how badly hurt I was," Ermolenko said after arriving in Southern California from his home in Hatton, England. "My right leg had two clean breaks, one on the shin and one on the femur, and I had a cracked vertebra in my back. I was in the hospital two weeks.

"Since then, I've been in the gym, either here or in England, nearly every day. It's been a long haul, but I think I'm ready for a few laps."

Ermolenko, 33, who joined Bruce Penhall as the only American riders to win both the world and national titles in the same year, will not be part of the regular competition Saturday night, but will ride in several exhibition match races during the program.

"I'm OK, but I'm not 100%, by any means," he said. "I can walk and can almost run, and I'm strong enough to ride. I hope to be ready when the (British Speedway League) season starts March 21."

Ermolenko is captain of the Wolverhampton Wolves and was the leading scorer in the British League last year before being injured in a spill on his home track two races from the end of the season. With their star rider out, the Wolves lost the season-deciding match in a tiebreaker with Bellevue. Two other Americans, Bobby Ott and Shawn Moran, rode for Bellevue.

In addition to winning the world championship at Pocking, Germany, and the national title a month later in Costa Mesa, Ermolenko was a member of the United States' winning World Cup team and with Ronnie Correy was a runner-up in the World Pairs competition.

"I was hurt real bad last October, but the accident was nowhere near the worst I've had," Ermolenko said.

In 1977, Ermolenko was hit by a car and spent two months in the hospital recuperating from a broken shoulder and elbow and crushed thighbone. A year later, riding in a motocross, he fell and ruptured his spleen.

In 1987, after having switched from motocross to speedway racing, he fell during an international race in Denmark and broke a wrist and an ankle.

In 1989, he fell during the world long-track championship and was hit by a trailing motorcycle in what was his worst accident. One leg was broken in three places, and surgeons worked seven hours piecing it back together. He was in the hospital for four weeks and did not ride again for a year.

Three other former national champions--Bobby Schwartz, Brad Oxley and Mike Faria--will be in Saturday night's field, along with four Southland riders who compete in the British League--Greg Hancock, Josh Larson, Billy Hamill and Dukie Ermolenko, Sam's younger brother.

The regular weekly Friday night speedway season at Costa Mesa will open on April 1.

Motor Racing Notes

STOCK CARS--Jeff Purvis, 35, of Clarksville, Tenn., was named to take over the Winston Cup ride of his late friend, Neil Bonnett, who died in a crash last month at Daytona International Speedway. Purvis will enter eight races in Bonnett's Chevrolet Lumina, owned by James Finch.

HONORS--Ten new members have been elected to the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America: Bobby Unser, open-wheel; Cale Yarborough, stock cars; Bob Glidden, drag racing; Jim Hall, sports cars; Roger DeCoster, motorcycles; Bernie Little, powerboats; Bill Falck, air racing; Sir Malcolm Campbell, land speed; Chris Economaki, journalist, and Eddie Rickenbacker, historic. Induction ceremonies will be held on June 8 in Detroit.

MISCELLANY--The Presidential 250, part of La Rana Racing's Great Mojave Desert series, is scheduled for Saturday near Barstow. Racing will start at 9 a.m. from the Sidewinder exit off I-15. . . . The KCR Challenge winter series for stock cars at Kern County Raceway in Willow Springs will end Sunday with IMCA Grand American and sportsman cars sharing the spotlight. . . . Dave Simpson, an auto parts salesman from Alta Loma, will be one of four drivers competing this weekend near Istanbul, Turkey, for the right to represent the United States in the 15th annual Camel Trophy Adventure next month in South America. Two will be chosen for the 20-day rally.

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