Janniro Wins Connor Penhall Memorial Cup at Industry Racing!

| 9 June 2017 1:00 pm

Connor Penhall Memorial Cup
Industry Racing at the Industry Hills Expo Center

Story by Tim Kennedy
Photos by Clark Oden/Race Day Images

AMA Speedway racing superstar and reigning National and California Champion Billy Janniro, 36, did it again. The Northern California ace won the third annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup on Wednesday night, May 31, at Industry Speedway for the third time.

Billy Janniro (1) made it three for three when he won the third annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup race. So far he is only racer to have won this prestigious event.

Billy Janniro (1) made it three for three when he won the third annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup race. So far he is only racer to have won this prestigious event.

Janniro rode his 500cc Jawa to victory after starting from the inside lane and leading all four laps. He defeated the runner-up by four bikelengths on the eighth-mile dirt track in the Grand Arena at the Industry Hills Expo Center. Officials ran 38 races between 7:40 and 10:05 p.m. More than 1,200 spectators entered through the front gate, and about 200 more watched from the pits.

Bruce Penhall.

Bruce Penhall.

The Penhall Memorial race honors the memory of late speedway-bike racer Connor Penhall, the youngest son of 1980-81 U.S. National Speedway Champion and 1981-82 World Speedway Champion Bruce Penhall. Connor lost his life in a tragic incident in April of 2012 on the westbound I-10 Freeway, near the 605 Freeway. He was working as a Cal-Trans contractor on a nighttime construction project when an intoxicated driver drove through cone barriers at an estimated 60 mph and stuck Connor, tossing him 60 to75 feet and killing him instantly.

Each year, individual and corporate sponsors add money to this racing event honoring Connor. The announced purse this year surpassed $12,000. Troy Lee, owner of Troy Lee Designs and a racing artist and helmet painter for major racing stars, again donated one of his colorful painted helmets to the Penhall Memorial Cup winner. This year, the black-and-green-and-gold helmet had a big “number one” on the side as it sat on display in a Plexiglas container. Janniro uses that number on his Jawa, and he won the third coveted Troy Lee helmet for his growing trophy collection.

Austin Novratil, 22, who hails from Huntington Beach, California, was the only rider able to defeat Janniro all night. He did so in the final round of heat races. However, he could not catch Janniro in the feature.

The only rider to finish ahead of Billy Janniro all evening was Austin Novratil (7).

The only rider to finish ahead of Billy Janniro all evening was Austin Novratil (7).

Dillon Ruml, 18, trailed Novratil by one bikelength. Nor Cal rider Luke Becker, 18, finished fourth, two bikelengths in back of Ruml.

Luke Becker (22) came in fourth in the main event.

Luke Becker (22) came in fourth in the main event.

There were five rounds of heat races for the 16 500cc Division One riders and two reserves, both of whom were able to start heats as alternates. Janniro and Novratil tied for high-point honors at 14 points, based on the usual 3, 2, 1, 0 scoring system. Both riders won four races and placed second in another heat. Max Ruml, 20, and Becker tied for third place, at 12 points. Dillon Ruml and Broc Nicol, 19, tied for fifth place, with 10 points apiece. Tim Gomez (with nine points) and Aaron Fox (with eight points) completed the field of eight riders for the two semifinal races. The top two finishers in each semi would advance to the main event.

Broc Nicol (4) at speed in the Grand Arena.

Broc Nicol (4) at speed in the Grand Arena.

Becker started from the outside lane and led all four laps of the first semi (event 34) to outrun pole starter Novratil, Nicol and Gomez.

Tim Gomez (30) in action in the first semifinal.

Tim Gomez (30) in action in the first semifinal.

Janniro started the second semi (event 35) on the inside and beat the Ruml brothers. Lane-three starter Dillon Ruml tried to pass his older brother Max, the lane-two starter, on the outside for all four laps. Dillon pulled off a spectacular pass on the outside from turn four to the finish line with the checkered flag waving. Scorers agreed that Dillon had taken the final transfer to the feature by inches. Outside-lane starter Fox was a close fourth all the way.

Billy Janniro (1) battles the Ruml brothers in the second semi.

Billy Janniro (1) battles the Ruml brothers in the second semi.

Nine 250cc and 10 150cc Junior riders from throughout California raced in two heats, plus a consolation race and semi races.

AMA 250cc Youth 2015 National Champion Colton Hicks from Auburn, California, launched from lane one and led all the way in the 250cc main. Southern California riders Sebastian Palmese, Jake Isaac and Michael Wells trailed the leader in the 250cc main.

The 15-year-old Hicks came to Industry with his father, Bob, who raced and scored three points in the 500cc Division One class.

Sebastian Palmese (leading) was runner-up in the Junior 250cc contest.

Sebastian Palmese (leading) was runner-up in the Junior 250cc contest.

In the Mini 150cc main event, Enzo Sorani, 11, from Grass Valley, California, took the lead on lap two from Huntington Beach resident Slater Lightcap, 11, and beat him to the checkered flag, which was waved by starter Tom Fox. Luke Whitcomb and Glenn Geist, both 11, followed in third and fourth, respectively.

Enzo Sorani (22) rabbited to the victory in the Mini 150cc main.

Enzo Sorani (22) rabbited to the victory in the Mini 150cc main.

The younger set (riders ages 5 to 8) race 50cc bikes and are called Pee Wees. Five of the tykes raced two heats and a main event, with all five racing. Gavin Geist, the youngest of the three racing Geists, at age 6, led all four laps in the main aboard his Yamaha 50cc. He defeated double heat-race winner Owen Williams.

“Go Go” Gavin Geist (6) went went wire to wire for the win in the Pee Wee main.

“Go Go” Gavin Geist (6) went went wire to wire for the win in the Pee Wee main.

Exciting Races
Most exciting races of the night included the Ruml brothers’ battle for the final berth in the feature race.

Another was Nicol’s outside-running, high-wire balancing act on his bucking number-four mount, trying to pass Novratil for the second spot in his semifinal. The fifth-round race (event 29) by Novratil to barely beat a pressing Janniro brought the fans to their feet; they cheered loudly at the checkers after Novratil’s gutsy ride to beat the master rider.

Nine riders won the 20 Division One heat races: Four-time winners Janniro, Novratil and Max Ruml; triple winner Becker; plus solo winners Dillon Ruml, Nicol, Gomez, Gino Manzares and Rick Richards.

Gino Manzares (24) in action at Industry.

Gino Manzares (24) in action at Industry.

Max Ruml had four victories in four races, but in round five his front wheel touched the starting-line tape prematurely, which meant an automatic disqualification. He was replaced on the starting line by reserve rider Mike Bloom.

Reserve rider Rick Valdez also raced in two heats and scored one point.

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Pit Notes
Mike Bast, 64, was the 2017 Penhall Memorial Cup grand marshal. The seven-time U.S. Speedway National Champion (1971-79), U.S. Open Champion (1979), American Final Champion (1977) and California State Champion (1973-83) was unable to attend because of illness. Mike is a longtime friend and fellow speedway-bike racer with Bruce Penhall, a speedway legend who is now a young-looking age 60. As an actor, Bruce portrayed a California Highway Patrol officer on the 1970s TV show CHiPS.

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A photo and salute to the late Carol Perez, IHEC general manager and a major supporter of speedway-bike racing, was included in the 12-page color program that was given free to all fans and competitors.

Industry Speedway racing director Kelly Inman was honored as “a friend of AMA racing and for bringing young riders into the ranks.” The presentation took place at the starting line during an intermission for track regrooming. “Thanks,” Inman said, “but I think this award belongs to Carol Perez and all the Industry Hills staff.”

The May 31 Industry printed program contained two pages with 29 color photos of Connor Penhall as a Youth and Junior Speedway rider, plus many with the Penhall family. Bruce; his wife, Laurie; sons Devin and Ryan and daughter McKenzie were shown in various informal settings.

Bruce brought a display that he keeps in his office to honor his son Connor and placed it on display inside the Grand’s main entrance. It included Connor’s number-81 Junior Speedway bike, his number-81 racing leathers, and his colorful helmet.

Bruce said that the Toyota RV4 driver whose alcohol-impaired nighttime driving cost Connor his life has had his day in court. The then-37-year-old Asian driver from Arcadia, California, tried to flee the scene after hitting and instantly killing Connor. He tried to plead innocent but was found guilty of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter. He is now serving a 15-year sentence in state prison. He was working in the United States for years as an illegal alien. When he is eventually paroled, he will be deported back to his native Japan.

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Prior to the races, Janniro, wearing new, colorful yellow-and-red Jawa leathers, said that he drove south from his home solo and brought one of his Nor Cal Jawa bikes. He also keeps a Jawa in So Cal. Billy said he has won two of the three Friday night features at Fast Fridays Motorcycle Speedway in Auburn, and Becker won the other.

Charlie Venegas was present in the pits on May 31 but was not racing. He said he fell the previous week while racing in Auburn and suffered a broken left clavicle. Charlie’s son Keelan, 13, also scratched from racing because it was his eighth-grade graduation party and dance.

Mike Miller sang the national anthem, as usual, from the infield following the rider parade and introductions from the pits to the infield.

Division One racer Ricky Wells from Huntington Beach has been racing speedway for years in Europe. His mother sells pit passes at the Industry pit gate each week. She said that Ricky is racing this season for the Edinburgh (Scotland) Monarchs.


Nine-year-old Junior 150cc rider Travis Horn, a frequent winner on his number-25 machine, was present in the pits on May 31 but did not race. He decided to concentrate on motorcycle road racing. His mother, Gina, prints the speedway racing programs.

Broc Nicol returned from racing in Europe for the May 31 Industry Speedway opener. He raced in Poland, Germany and Italy (Broc scored three points) in the Under 21 Championship, which was won by Aussie Jack Holden. Broc’s dad, Doug, a veteran 500cc Division One rider, related the info in the Industry pits. Doug said he pits for Luke Becker when Luke’s dad is not present. Broc gets $500 airfares, making returning to the USA reasonable financially. His racing base is Sweden.

Broc has busy months on his 2017 racing agenda. He will race in the first of four U.S. National rounds on Saturday, June 17, at Ventura Raceway. Then on June 18 he will fly to London to race next. He will race in Europe from June 18 to July 27. Then he will return home to race in the second U.S. National round on Saturday, July 29, at Santa Maria Speedway. Broc’s ultimate goal is to race for the Speedway Bike World Championship.

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Doug revealed that Great Britain citizen Martin Hagon from London, has lived in Santa Margarita, California, and operated his Hagon speedway bike business in Carlsbad, California, for years. However, he is closing his successful business and returning to England. Why? He has been unable to get U.S. government permission to bring his wife and children to the United States to live as residents. They have only been allowed visitor visas and returned to London after each visit. Martin’s son Sam, 12, has raced a Hagon 140cc Junior Speedway bike (with the number 350) in California from 2013 to 2016.

Wednesday nights, June 7 and June 14, at Industry Speedway will feature extreme sidecar racing and all regular speedway-bike divisions, including Division Two and Division Three, plus Juniors and Pee Wees.

Industry Racing at the Industry Hills Expo Center
City of Industry, California
Results: May 31, 2017

PEE WEE MAIN: 1. Gavin Geist; 2. Owen Williams; 3. Conner Salazar; 4. Ken Matsudaira; 5. Dakota Black.

MINI 150 MAIN: 1. Enzo Sorani; 2. Slater Lightcap; 3. Luke Whitcomb; 4. Glenn Geist.

JR 250 MAIN: 1. Colton Hicks; 2. Sebastian Palmese; 3. Jake Isaac; 4. Michael Wells.

CONNOR PENHALL MEMORIAL CUP SEMI 1: 1. Luke Becker; 2. Austin Novratil; 3. Broc Nicol; 4. Tim Gomez.

CONNOR PENHALL MEMORIAL CUP SEMI 2: 1. Billy Janniro; 2. Dillon Ruml; 3. Max Ruml; 4. Aaron Fox.

CONNOR PENHALL MEMORIAL CUP FINAL 1: 1. Billy Janniro; 2. Dillon Ruml; 3. Austin Novratil; 4. Luke Becker.

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