Costa Mesa Speedway
35th U.S. National Championship
Orange County Fairgrounds
Costa Mesa, California
Costa Mesa Speedway
October 11, 2003
From Ryan Evans
Scott Brant capped his season points championship with a perfect night to win the United States National Championship during an action-packed evening of racing at Costa Mesa.
Brant entered the National Championship Final as the evening's only unbeaten rider and chose the pole to start from. Josh Larsen, in only his third meeting at Costa Mesa this season, had only dropped one point and chose gate two. Two-time U.S. Champion Chris Manchester, the only former champion in the final, had dropped his only point to Larsen and he selected gate five. Gary Hicks then chose gate three, leaving John Cook with gate four.
Brant was out first when the tapes went up and was first to turn one with Larsen right behind. Brant led as they exited turn two with Larsen chasing on the inside. Manchester rode the outside and made a challenge for the lead on lap two. Instead of changing lines to block Manchester, Brant wisely remained on the inside to protect against Larsen. Manchester began to fade backward on the last two laps and Brant calmly held off Larsen to secure his first National Championship. Larsen finished second for the fourth time, Hicks garnered third for the fourth time, Manchester finished fourth, and Cook was fifth.
Eddie Castro began the evening with a runaway victory over Shawn McConnell and Bryan Yarrow. Event two got as far as turn one before Bobby Krips, Andy Northrup, and New York's Jeremy Parsons tangled and went down. Northrup suffered a probable separated shoulder and had to withdraw from the meeting. On the restart, Parsons got the best start and impressively held off 1985 National Champion Alan Christian for three laps. Christian's vast experience at the tiny oval paid off as he cut underneath Parsons coming out of turn two on the final lap and took the win.
The first attempt of race three ended in turn one as Brant went down along with Cook. The referee ordered a complete restart and Brant made the most of his second chance. Brant started on the outside and stayed out on the cushion throughout lap one to go around the field and take the lead. He steadily pulled away for his first win of the evening.
Manchester trapped from gate four and never looked back as he romped to victory in race three. Larsen further showed that gate four was fast as he trapped from the outside and ran away with the final race of round one.
Brant began round two with a win over Hicks and his teammate, Castro. Cook, using a 22-inch rear tire, was an easy winner in race seven ahead of Yarrow who passed Shaun Harmatiuk at the white flag to take second place. Larsen got the jump on Manchester and held him off for four laps to earn his second win of the night. Starting in gate four was enough to persuade McConnell to mount a 22-inch tire on his bike and he put on a spectacular outside ride to win race nine ahead of Randy DiFrancesco. Two-time National Champion Bobby "Boogaloo" Schwartz defeated Christian to end round two and leave only Brant and Larsen with perfect scores.
Brant began round three the same way he began round two, an easy win from start to finish. Manchester regained his winning form with a victory over Schwartz and Castro in the next race.
Larsen jumped into the lead in race 13 but hooked up in turn two and slowed dramatically to avoid hitting the fence. Yarrow took advantage by going by on the inside. Larsen recovered and went to the outside to try to regain the lead. A potentially great battle ended because Justin Boyle had fallen in turn two behind them. The restart had little drama as Larsen cruised to win number three.
Cook jumped into the lead in race 14 but McConnell fell in turn three to bring out the red flag. Cook's outside starting position put him closer to where he wanted to be as he stayed on the outside for four laps with a stylish win ahead of Parsons. Hicks earned his first victory of the evening ahead of Christian to end round three.
Parsons started round four by getting the jump on Brant. Brant went to the outside and was making the pass when Parsons spun in turn three and halted the race. Brant maintained his perfect score with an easy win on the restart and put himself directly in the Final.
Cook made it three wins in a row by holding off Castro in race 17. Manchester used the outside to gain the lead on lap one booked his place in the Final with his victory in race 18. Schwartz defeated Hedden in race 19 for his second victory of the night.
The final qualifying race brought Larsen to the tapes with a chance to match Brant's perfect score. Larsen blasted into the lead and was set for victory when McConnell bumped Krips in turn three which launched Krips's bike into the turn four wall at a high rate of speed. Fortunately, Krips was able to separate himself from his machine and, after being down for several minutes, he was able to restart. Hicks made the most of the second chance and beat Larsen to turn one. Hicks fought off Larsen's valiant attempts for a hard-earned victory. Larsen's second place was still good enough to earn him a place in the Final.
Dukie Ermolenko defeated Parsons in a runoff for the final spot in the Semi. Castro earned the last guaranteed spot in the Last Chance and sent Yarrow and Christian to the Semi.
Yarrow used the pole to his advantage and fought off the other four riders to win the only transfer position in the Last Chance. With two spots in the Final on the line, the Last Chance lived up to its dramatic expectations. Cook predictably went to outside right away with Hicks using the low line in an awesome battle. With the dirt being extremely wide Cook's line got longer with each successive lap and allowed Schwartz to make it a three-man battle. The riders remained locked in a war all the way to the finish. Hicks was the clear winner, but Cook and Schwartz crossed the line so closely that nobody was sure of the finishing order, but all of the fans were out of their seats. Cook was declared second and moved to the Final with Hicks, but Schwartz certainly earned kudos for his effort.
Tributes to the legendary Ken Maely, who passed away Thursday, could be witnessed everywhere. A banner was placed in turn two and the flags were placed at half-staff. The riders donned ribbons that had been made in his honor. In addition to several mechanics and staff wearing the ribbons, there were many who wore Maely stickers and/or had black armbands. Brant and Castro had "KM" placed on their number plates as well.
Although the Nationals determines who will wear number one in 2004, it is not the final event on the Costa Mesa calendar for 2003. Brant will get his first chance to wear his new number one when the world famous bullring hosts the Fall Classic on Saturday, November 1.
Scoring 1 2 3 4 T
2 - Josh Larsen 3 3 3 2 11
2n - Alan Christian 3 2 2 0 7
3 - Gary Hicks 2 2 3 3 10
6 - Shawn McConnell 2 3 1 0 6
8n - Bryan Yarrow 1 2 2 2 7
10 - Scott Brant 3 3 3 3 12
11 - Bobby Schwartz 2 3 2 3 10
12 - Randy DiFrancesco 2 2 0 2 6
14 - Eddie Castro 3 1 1 2 7
15 - Dukie Ermolenko 1 1 1 1 4
16e - Jeremy Parsons 2 0 2 0 4
18 - Justin Boyle 1 1 0 1 3
24 - Bobby Krips 1 F 2 1 4
31 - Kelly Moran R R R - 0
40n - Tommy Hedden 0 1 0 2 3
56 - Jim Estes F 0 1 1 2
94 - John Cook 0 3 3 3 9
130 - Chris Manchester 3 2 3 3 11
166 - Andy Northrup N - - - 0
89 - Danny Perkins (R) 0 0 1 1 2
64 - Paul Colston (R) F - - - 0
1: Castro, McConnell, Yarrow, Hedden
2:(restarted twice) Christian, Parsons, Krips (penalty line), Perkins, Northrup (non starter)
3: Brant, Schwartz, Ermolenko, Cook (fell, remounted)
4: Manchester, Hicks, Boyle, Estes (fell)
5: Larsen, DiFrancesco, Harmatiuk, Moran (retired)
6: Brant, Hicks, Castro, Perkins
7: Cook, Yarrow, Harmatiuk, Krips (fell)
8: Larsen, Manchester, Hedden, Parsons
9: McConnell, DiFrancesco, Ermolenko, Estes
10: (restarted) Schwartz, Christian, Boyle (penalty line), Moran (retired)
11: Brant, Krips, Estes, Hedden
12: Manchester, Schwartz, Castro, DiFrancesco
13: (restarted) Larsen, Yarrow, Perkins, Boyle (penalty line)
14: (restarted) Cook, Parsons, McConnell (penalty line), Moran (retired)
15: Hicks, Christian, Ermolenko, Harmatiuk
16: (restarted) Brant, DiFrancesco, Boyle, Parsons (penalty line)
17: Cook, Castro, Estes, Christian
18: Manchester, Yarrow, Ermolenko, Colston (fell)
19: (restarted) Schwartz, Hedden, Perkins, Harmatiuk (penalty line)
20: (restarted) Hicks, Larsen, Krips, McConnell (penalty line)
Runoff for 12th: Ermolenko, Parsons
Runoff for 7th: Castro, Yarrow, Christian
Semi: Yarrow, McConnell, Ermolenko, Christian, DiFrancesco
Last Chance: Hicks, Cook, Schwartz, Castro, Yarrow
U.S. National Championship Final
10 - Scott Brant
2 - Josh Larsen
3 - Gary Hicks
130 - Chris Manchester
94 - John Cook