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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | MOTOR SPORTS

Kelley and Michels Want Team to Build on Checkered Past

March 22, 2000|DARIN ESPER

A team from the region will be trying to improve on its success from 1999 when Irwindale Speedway kicks off its season Saturday night.

Ladco Racing will field entries in three classes, two of which will be on the track Saturday in a program featuring the super late model division.

Brian Kelley of Arleta, who finished second in the super late model division points standings as a rookie, will drive the No. 77 Chevy owned by 61-year-old Lee Ladd of Thousand Oaks in the Home Depot 100 For Super Late Models, and Rip Michels of Mission Hills will be in the No. 12 Grand American Modified attempting to improve on his second-place finish in the points standings.

Ladd, who is the defending track champion in the mini-stock division, will be in the pits Saturday because the first race in his division isn't until April 22.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 24, 2000 Valley Edition Sports Part D Page 12 Zones Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Auto racing--Bristol Motor Speedway is located in Bristol, Tenn. The location was reported incorrectly in Wednesday's edition.

The seeds of Ladco Racing were planted at Saugus Speedway. All three drivers moved on to Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield after Saugus was closed in 1995 and the team formally came together last year at Irwindale.

The three drivers have six track championships between them. Kelley won the hobby stock championship in 1989, the pro stock championship in 1994 and the late model championship in 1995, all at Saugus, and was the top modified driver at Mesa Marin in 1998. Michels won the modified championship at Mesa Marin in 1997, then sat out the 1998 season because of lack of financing.

Gerrit Cromsigt of Pine Mountain Club, who finished second in the late model division in 1999 for Ladd, has left the team in an attempt to secure a ride in the NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Tour.

Ladd originally planned on retiring after the 1999 season, and got rid of his championship Ford Pinto, but he had a change of heart following Irwindale's awards banquet in January.

"The people at Irwindale were so supportive of their champions that I decided I owed it to them to come back and defend my title," Ladd said. "This is completely different than anybody has treated racers."

Ladd started in hobby stocks at Saugus as a 50th birthday present to himself, then moved up after two years to the sportsman class with a best finish of fifth in the points standings. Kelley and Michels, who were acquaintances at Poly High in the early 80s, also both started in the hobby stock class but quickly moved up to street stocks.

Michels and Kelly became friends and formed an informal team once Michels moved up to modifieds in 1994.

"It's real nice to have somebody to talk to who you are not racing against," Michels said. "I know when I get out of the car that Brian knows what I am thinking and I know what he is thinking."

Michels and Kelley said that Ladd is not a typical car owner.

"Lee's been great for us," said Kelley. "He supplied great equipment for us, but still told us we had to go out and work for it. He hasn't given us everything on a silver platter."

Said Michels: "Lee is one of these guys who does it for pure fun, it's not like he wants to be Richard Childress."

*

In a 24-hour span last week, the region lost its entire presence in the Championship Auto Racing Team series.

Richie Hearn, formerly of Canyon Country, lost his ride with DellaPenna Motorsports, and Bryan Herta of Valencia was informed that the Forsythe Racing satellite team will not compete until a franchise dispute between CART and team-owner Gerald Forsythe is resolved.

Herta, who said he has been contacted by other car owners, believes the issue will be resolved in time for the Long Beach Grand Prix in April, and added that he will remain loyal to owner Gerald Forsythe as the team makes use of the time off to try to bring its Swift-Honda up to speed.

"It is flattering to get offers, but Jerry has given me assurances that we are in this for the long haul," Herta said. "I believe him.

"It's a bummer, but it certainly takes a lot of pressure off, the way the car's been running."

According to Herta, the Swift chassis and tires were not properly gripping the track, forcing him to back off the throttle before turning.

Hearn, who lost his seat to rookie Norberto Fontana, is considering moving to a different series while he waits for his contract with car owner John DellaPenna to be bought out. While Herta will watch the season-opening Toyota Grand Prix of Miami on Sunday from his Valencia home, Hearn will travel to Bristol, Conn., for Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Although the drivers haven't discussed their situations, both acknowledge the reasons behind Hearn losing his ride to a driver who brought sponsorship.

"The American companies by and large don't seem to care if they sponsor American drivers," said Herta. "The companies from foreign countries seem to stay loyal to their countrymen."

Said Hearn: "That's really where the root of the problem is. It's been going on for years, and you are just now seeing the effects of it."

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