Speedway is such a crowd friendly sport. Here, Billy Hamill gives out some high-fives during opening ceremonies.
Speedway motorcycle racing attains much of its popularity in Europe where the World Championships are held. The Championship was originally established in 1936 and is one of the oldest forms of motorcycle racing featuring the best of the best from around the world. The world championship is a 12 race series and just like any other championship uses a performance-based points system to determine a World Champion at the end of each year. Points are gained through a series of 20+ heats which also determines the 4-rider main event at the end of the night. Last year’s World Champion and longtime speedway veteran was American Greg Hancock.
American speedway has been a slow growing sport due to scarce resources of equipment and races, that is, until now. For 2012, Monster Energy, title sponsor for the FIM Speedway Grand Prix, has stepped up to the plate big time as the title sponsor for the 2012 U.S. Speedway National Championship, a one-shot, winner-take-all night of action packed bar banging for the $11,000 purse.
“Monster Energy’s involvement in Speedway is great,” said 1996 World Champion Billy Hamill. “The good thing about speedway is, especially here in California, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Its action packed racing. A race lasts sixty second and then you’re on to the next race and it’s a show that goes really fast and it’s a spectator sport and it is made for them to enjoy. We’ll have a great crowd here tonight. Monster’s involvement is huge, they’re obviously involved in the Grand Prix Series which is the pinnacle of the sport on the world level so the fact that they’re helping us in our little market in California is a huge bonus for American Speedway and I think there are some big things on the horizon. With Monster’s help speedway could really benefit and grow.”
(Top) Second place main event finisher Jimmy FIshback leads en route to a heat race victory.
(Bottom) Monster Energy featured a sampling station which of course was a huge hit.
Costa Mesa Speedway, the longest running weekly motorcycle promotion in the country, is the proving grounds for American Speedway and is famous throughout the Speedway world due to the competitive nature it brings to not only the racers, but also the fans. The track is much smaller scale than your average Speedway track, described at the “tea cup” and “bullring” by racers. Solid wooden walls line the outsides barrier of the track meaning the slightest mistake could be ugly. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the bikes have no brakes.
After opening ceremonies, rider introductions, and the always essential National Anthem, the night got underway and it was straight to racing, no practice, no sight laps, strictly racing. The first heat featured Monster Energy/ Joker Machine backed Billy “The Bullet” Hamill. Although I have ridden Speedway once, with a Road Racing background my first thoughts were, “These guys are nuts.” The engines revved, starting tape sprung up and the first race of the night was off. After just a lap the guys were already banging bars and smashing into each other. Hamil led and was en route to the first win of the night when smoke began to pour from the exhaust of his bike and a mechanical would give leave him with a DNF, missing out on valuable points for a spot in the final. With so much action packed into just the first race, I had no idea what to expect for the next 25.
The night continued race after race approximately every 4 minutes with quick track preps in between. Everything happens quickly leaving no time for a dull moment for both racers and fans. Billy Janniro from Rancho Cordova, California was a standout performer all night long winning two heats before intermission. From the first time out Janniro was on fire and clearly on top of his game as well as everyone else’s making no mistake. Janniro’s flawless riding would earn him a spot in the nights final 4-lap main event.
The rest of the heats saw multiple winners with Jimmy Fishback, Bryan Yarrow, Charlie Venegas amongst a few winners and top scorers. Troy Lee Designs backed Venegas was one we expected to see in the final but bad scores and bike set-up kept him out. Fifty-six year old Bobby Schwartz was able to grab himself a victory but other not so good scores eliminated him from the final round as well.
While his night started out about as horrible as possible, Billy Hamill was determined to get himself in the main event. Hamill showed this by rebounding to take three victories giving him just enough points to tie for the third guaranteed spot in the main event but he would be outridden and sent on to win the LCQ and the fourth and final spot in the 44th Annual Monster Energy U.S. Speedway National Championship main event.
In addition to the main program, the night showed off some of its future contenders of the sport. Three additional classes were run including 50cc, 140cc, and 250cc Junior races. The 250cc class saw Max Ruml win the first two of three races but the final was a different story. Max would get the early jump and fall on lap 2 forcing a red flag and restart. Since causing the restart, Ruml would have to start from the penalty row. A good jump out of the gate gave Kurtis Hammil, son of Billy, the lead but Ruml closed in quickly. Hamill would keep his cool for the 4 lap race to take the win, his first at Costa Mesa Speedway.
Following the Juniors was the Pro main event featuring the back-to-back reigning champ and perfect scored Billy Janniro, Jimmy Fishback, Bryan Yarrow, and Billy Hamill. Off the start it was Janniro but on lap two, with his front wheel, would run over the inside pipe that lined the track resulting in too much frame flex and a derailing of his chain. The mistake
Billy Hamill (center) celebrates with his son Kurtis (behind), second place Jimmy Fishback (left) and third place finisher Bryan Yarrow (right).
handed the lead to Hamill who pushed all the way to victory to win his third U.S. National Speedway Championship.
“The win feels awesome,” said Hamill. “I think I’m more happy for my kid to be quite honest with you and I missed that race because we were prepping. I saw Janniro was riding defensive and I knew I was getting roost on the inside from his rear wheel. He was afraid I was going to come up the inside of him and he started to protect that line and when he hit that pole with his front wheel his chassis flexed and caused his chain to come off. We had a bit of bad luck in the beginning of the night but turned it around at the end of the night so we’ll take it. This win is really special to me and the Hamill family tonight especially with Kurtis getting his first win here at Costa Mesa.”
2012 Monster Energy U.S. Speedway National Championship Results:
1. Billy Hamill
2. Jimmy Fishback
3. Bryan Yarrow
4. Billy Janniro