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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | MOTOR SPORTS

Predictions Were Half-Baked

November 16, 2000|DARIN ESPER

The Sports Illustrated cover jinx has nothing on this space.

The unpredictable nature of racing is one of the primary reasons we find it to be the most exciting sport of all, except we conveniently forgot motorsports are unpredictable when we tried to forecast the second half of the season Aug. 9.

To say we dropped the ball is an understatement.

Our predictions about Sean Woodside of Saugus, former Palmdale resident Ron Hornaday Jr., and Cory Kruseman of Ventura had the same effects as if Don Corleone had kissed them each on the cheek. It will be a miracle if any of them ever speak to us again--after all, racers are a very superstitious lot. On some of our predictions, we were so bad it probably was a good thing that we never printed our e-mail address.

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All is not lost, however.

Now that we have held ourselves accountable, the public flogging can stop, as can anybody who expected to read an entire column of self-flagellation.

At least a couple of drivers ignored our forecast and did well anyway.

Rip Michels of Agoura, James Weston of Goleta and Gary Howard of Ventura either ignored this space or broke out the hurricane preparation kit when we did our gypsy act.

We predicted Howard would win two more sprint car races on his way to becoming the first two-time track champion in the six years Ventura Raceway has been sanctioning them, and he one-upped us by winning three times on his way to the championship.

Michels also one-upped us, finishing with 10 victories in 12 NASCAR Grand American Modified races at Irwindale Speedway after we predicted he would finish with nine in 12.

Weston two-upped us. Not only did he win two more NASCAR late model races at Irwindale instead of the one we predicted, he was so dominating he won the Pacific Coast Region NASCAR ShorTrack championship.

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Driver of the Year: This is a toss-up between Weston and Michels.

We are going with Weston, only because Michels has two more years experience racing in his class than Weston. Winning a regional championship in his second year of pavement competition ranks with pitching a shutout in the World Series after being called up from Class A-ball two hours before game time.

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* Drive of the Year: Another tie, between Bryan Herta of Valencia in the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Sept. 10, and Joe Bean of San Diego in the Home Depot 250 NASCAR Winston West series race Aug. 19 at Irwindale.

Bean's performance at Irwindale was one for the ages. After falling one lap behind on lap 84 when he was hit by a spinning car, Bean came back to win the race by three-fourths of a lap over Bill Sedgwick of Acton.

Herta, who spent his year turning in strong performances in unfamiliar cars, overcame mechanical and handling difficulties to qualify fourth and finish fourth at Laguna Seca in a car he had driven for the first time two days before.

Honorable mention goes to Jeremy Mayfield for his victory in the California 500 NASCAR Winston Cup series race at California Speedway on April 29.

Mayfield fell one lap behind in the early going when the car's oil cooler malfunctioned, yet he won the race despite a blistered back caused by driving 500 miles with a tank of 325-degree oil mounted directly behind his seat.

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* Race of the Year: The Marlboro 500 CART series race at California Speedway Oct. 29-30.

Yes, it was a war of attrition, with only six of 25 cars running at the end. Yes, there was a 20-hour rain delay. And yes, the two drivers in contention for the championship played safe and conservative.

But 59 official lead changes and countless unofficial ones--the only lead changes counted are when the cars cross the start-finish line--all at 230-plus mph, should be enough to make anybody's heart pound.

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* The NAPA Award: Named for the company that dropped its sponsorship of two talented drivers from the region in a 12-month period, for reasons that had nothing to do with on-track performance, and awarded to the driver who received the biggest shaft of the year.

Woodside was released from his contract with Bill McAnally in October, 1999, when he was in the process of wrapping up the Winston West championship.

The auto parts manufacturer wanted McAnally to foot the bill for NAPA to maintain its presence in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck series when car-owner Dale Earnhardt moved Hornaday to the NASCAR Busch Grand National Division.

McAnally was forced to take on a partner, casino-owner Michael Gaughan of Las Vegas, and the ride went to Gaughan's son Brendan--who won the 2000 Winston West championship and contested a limited schedule in the Craftsman Truck series.

Lo and behold, when Earnhardt decided 11 months later he wanted to put all of his eggs into one basket--the Winston Cup in 2001--he ended up having to turn to NAPA for sponsorship.

Michael Waltrip was chosen over Hornaday, ending Hornaday's six-year tenure with Earnhardt and NAPA that produced two Craftsman Truck championships and fifth place in the Busch series as a rookie.

The award--which could have been named after the winner--goes to Herta, whose noncompetitive entry was withdrawn before the opening race by team-owner Gerald Forsythe in a dispute with the series' board of directors.

Forsythe has taken on a partner for next year and announced Herta will drive one of the team's two entries, so we do not expect the Valencia native to be a two-time recipient of this award.

We do believe if Hornaday wins one Winston Cup race for his new employer, A.J. Foyt, in 2001, he will finish with more victories than Waltrip, but please don't hold us to either of these speculations since racing is so unpredictable.

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