The Bullet Pulls the Trigger at the Speedway National Championship Opener

| 4 June 2015 5:39 pm

AMA Speedway National Championship Series
Round 1: Costa Mesa Speedway

Story by Tim Kennedy
Photos by Dorcey Wingo
COSTA MESA, CA, MAY 30, 2015

The first of four points races for the 2015 AMA Speedway National Championship Series took place on Saturday, May 30, at Brad Oxley’s Costa Mesa Speedway. The historic speedway motorcycle-racing track at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Exhibition Center in Costa Mesa is now in its 47th consecutive year of speedway-bike racing. Huntington Beach resident Max Ruml, 18, won the track season opener on May 16 in the Jack Milne Cup event. Max is the 2011 California State Youth Champion and the 2013-14 Under 21 U.S Speedway National Champion.

Former World Champion Billy “The Bullet” Hamill pulled the trigger at the AMA Speedway National Championship opener, still showing the kids how it’s done.

Former World Champion Billy “The Bullet” Hamill pulled the trigger at the AMA Speedway National Championship opener, still showing the kids how it’s done.

The Costa Mesa Speedway motto is “pitch’n it sideways,” and riders did just that on Saturday night in five rounds of four-lap heat races. Riders earned points on a 3-2-1-0 basis during those 20 heats. A pair of semifinal races divided the top eight riders in points into two four-rider races. The top two finishers in each semifinal advanced to the final race, with four riders racing for four laps. Under the championship format, all races, including the finals, added points to the heat-race total points. A radio-controlled drone flew above the track and recorded the racing action all evening.

Costa Mesa Speedway emcee Terry “Ike” Clanton.

Costa Mesa Speedway emcee Terry “Ike” Clanton.

From lane one, Aaron Fox, 27, won the first semi, over 17-year-old rising star Broc Nicol. Northern California rider Bart Bast, 47, and rookie 500cc rider Dillon Ruml, 16, followed. Dillon, the 2013-14 California State Junior Champion, is the brother of Max.

In the second semi, Billy Hamill, 45, started in lane two and led all four laps over lane-one starter Billy Janniro, 34, Max Ruml, and Buck Blair, 37.

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The line-up for the final race had Fox (with 16 points after the semi final) earning first lane choice for the start. He selected the pole. Next, Hamill (with 15 points) selected lane two. With the third lane choice, 15-point rider Janniro took the outside lane four. Nichol, with 14 points, was left with the third lane.

Nicol jumped the start and broke through the starting-gate tapes. That resulted in his exclusion from the race, per championship event rules. He rode back to the pits.

On the first attempt at starting the main event of the evening, Broc Nicol (far left) ended up in the tapes.

On the first attempt at starting the main event of the evening, Broc Nicol (far left) ended up in the tapes.

At the start, Hamill shot into the lead, with Fox in close quarters on his left. They forced the outside-running Janniro high in the first two turns, and that is the way the three competitors ran for all four laps. Hamill won by three bikelengths over Fox, who had five bikelengths over Janniro. Unable to catch Fox on the last lap, Billy “The Kid” Janniro slowed noticeably as he exited turn four.

Aaron Fox was very impressive en route to taking second in the main.

Aaron Fox was very impressive en route to taking second in the main.

Hamill was riding his Hagon Shocks GM bike. Janniro was riding the backup GM bike of Rocco Scopellite, as he had three nights earlier in the week when he won the inaugural Connor Penhall Memorial Cup final in front of 3,400 spectators at Industry Speedway, located 35 miles north of Costa Mesa.

Billy Janniro (1) claimed third in the main.

Billy Janniro (1) claimed third in the main.

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After the Industry event, Janniro drove back home to Northern California for the regular Friday night racing at his home track – Fast Fridays Motorcycle Speedway at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. Janniro won that Scratch main event on May 29 and then drove south again on the I-5 Freeway on Saturday to race at Costa Mesa. He said he earned about $3,500 and other prizes Wednesday night at Industry. At Costa Mesa, in front of about 2,000 fans, he added more feature cash to his loot for two victories. It was a lucrative financial haul over 96 hours in the span of four days.

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Other riders who raced on Friday night in Auburn and on Saturday night at Costa Mesa included Charlie “The Edge” Venegas, Auburn resident Tommy Hedden, Tyler Warren, Jamison Dilkey, and the Handicap main-event winner Broc Nicol from Lomita, California.

Broc Nicol at speed.

Broc Nicol at speed.

Venegas, a regular competitor at Auburn, keeps a speedway bike in Nor Cal and flies between So Cal and Nor Cal races. Janniro, Venegas and Hamill all list their occupation as “professional racer” on speedway websites.

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The remaining three rounds of the AMA Speedway National Championship Series at four different speedways will be: Saturday, June 27, at Jim Naylor’s Ventura Raceway; Saturday, August 8, at Industry Speedway (in Los Angeles County); and Friday, September 18, at Fast Fridays in Auburn. That track is located about 40 miles north of Sacramento and just a few miles from the I-80 Freeway.

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The AMA Speedway National Championship Series has 14 eligible riders and alternates. Jason Ramirez fell hard on Wednesday night in the Connor Penhall event at Industry and did not race Friday. Russell Green, 23, moved into the Ramirez-assigned starting slots for the five rounds of heat races in Costa Mesa. Rocco Scopellite raced as an alternate in round four (event 14) after Max Ruml was excluded by referee Steve Lucero, per championship rules, for touching the starting gate with his front wheel before it lifted. He rode back to the pits, and Scopellite joined the event-14 field.

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Three wild-card heats (1a, 2a and 3a) started the Costa Mesa racing program at 7:30 p.m. and preceded the 20 rounds of heat races for 500cc riders. Winners of the first three wild-card heats moved on to the fourth wild-card heat (4a), along with the fastest second-place finisher by elapsed time in the three wild-card heats.

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The wild-card heat winners were Tyler Warren, 19, from Auburn; Gage Geist, 15; and Dillon Ruml, 16. The fastest second-place finisher was Bobby “Boogaloo” Schwartz, 58, who completed his four laps in 43.10 seconds. He had wild-card heat 2a all but won when two riders fell on lap three in turn three. The entire race was rerun from the start, and Geist led all four laps, over Schwartz, who elected to skip race 4a, which ran with only the three wild-card heat winners.

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Junior 250cc champ Dillon Ruml, in only his fourth 500cc race (according to his father, Dave), led race 4a all the way, over Geist. They earned spots in the five rounds of qualifying races in starting slots W1 and W2 (reserved for the wild-card heat 4a first- and second-place finishers). The two teens were elated to join the other 14 riders in the 16-rider field. Points are accumulated in all four AMA National Championship Speedway rounds, so they are officially in the chase for the 2015 Speedway National Championship.


Support Races
Costa Mesa Speedway also ran heat races and main events for two support classes.

Three riders raced in the Mini 150cc class. “Slammin’ Slater” Lightcap from Huntington Beach, California, rode his 2007 Shupa 150 and edged “Lightning Luke” Whitcomb of Anaheim, California, in a close duel. “Rocket Rachel” Schnakenberg, also of Anaheim, placed third. All three are 9 years old.

Slater Lightcap won the 150cc main event.

Slater Lightcap won the 150cc main event.

The Junior 250cc class had a four-rider field. Feature winner Sebastian “Big Daddy” Palmese, 11, rode his Jawa 250 and dominated the contest. Jake Isaac, 12, Michael Wells, 14, and rookie James Blair, 14, from Grand Junction, Colorado, followed. Blair is the nephew of “Battlin’ Buck” Blair and also rode with the number 39, as his uncle does.

Junior 250cc ace Sebastian “Big Daddy” Palmese (18).

Junior 250cc ace Sebastian “Big Daddy” Palmese (18).

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It was announced that teenagers Broc Nicol and Max Ruml would be flying to Europe on Tuesday, June 2, to race in the Speedway World Team Championship events. Multiple-time U.S. National Champion Billy “The Bullet” Hamill, the 1996 Speedway World Champion and 1998 World Team Champion, is captain of the USA team.

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The next Costa Mesa Speedway event will be Harley Night (number one), with speedway bikes and sidecars, on the Saturday, June 13, program.

[For more from this event, including more race coverage, race results and more photos by Dorcey Wingo, please see “Hamill Takes Round One of AMA National Championship Speedway Series” by Elaine Jones… Editor]

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