KENNEDY: Wrapping Up Speedway Bike Season

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Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The 16th AMA speedway bike racing season at the eighth-mile dirt Industry Speedway in the Grand Arena of the Industry Hills Expo Center concluded with four important events during August.

Pro riders of the sport popular in California used 500cc bikes powered by Jawa, GM and one GTR Swiss-designed and manufactured engine.

Saturday, Aug. 10 was round two of the three round AMA Speedway National Championship Series conducted in Ventura during June, Industry (August) and Auburn; in September. Industry had 16 first division riders race five rounds of four-lap heat races to earn points.

Max Ruml led all four laps pf the feature over Austin Novratil and Gino Manzares. Nine-time AMA Speedway National champion Billy Janniro fell in turn two on the opening lap. He remounted quickly but trailed by a straightaway and finished fourth. Nevertheless, Janniro led series points after two rounds.

Sunday, Aug. 11 was the seventh annual AMA/FIM Silver Cup event for Junior Division riders. Sixteen 250cc riders and 11 150cc riders competed in heat races. The four high-point riders in both divisions raced for the championships. First-time Silver Cup champions were Nor Cal riders.

Cameron Krezman, 16, won the 250cc cash and huge trophy. Nick Hohlbein, 10, won the 150cc cash and trophy. The top three finishers in each division were honored on the podium.

Wednesday, Aug. 14 was the fourth annual Ray “Junior” Kurtz Memorial Cup race. The event honors the long-time speedway bike fan and financial supporter through his Plastic Express Trucking firm. Kurtz also owned the winning USAC Silver Crown No. 30 Plastic Express dirt track car raced to many victories by Chuck Gurney, who was present. Junior suffered a fatal heart attack on March 1, 2016 while in Las Vegas.

SoCal star Max Ruml, 22, used a thrilling outside pass on the final lap in the third and fourth turns to pass race-long leader Janniro, 39, and win by two lengths over the Nor Cal star. Aaron Fox and Gino Manzares followed closely.

Ruml became the first repeat Kurtz Cup winner. He also won in 2017 after Janniro won the 2016 race. Novratil, who uses the Swiss engine, won in 2018. Names of winners appear on the base of the perpetual Kurtz Cup trophy, which has a colorful helmet painted by racing artist Troy Lee, Junior’s stepson.

Saturday, Aug. 24 was the season finale at Industry. It was the 44th running of the AMA Speedway California Championship. Industry Racing Director Kelly Inman arranged for a well-timed promotional video and interview from the speedway that appeared Aug. 22 on the KCAL Channel 9 (Los Angeles) 10 p.m. newscast sports segment.

More than 1,000 people attended the race. Sixteen first division pro riders raced five rounds of heats with four riders in each race. Points were awarded on a 3-2-1-0 basis. The eight highest point riders competed in a pair of semi-finals that transferred first and second place finishers in each semi to the feature.

Main event winner M. Ruml repeated his 2016 victory and became the eighth multi-year California State Champion. Five-time AMA California State Champion Janniro finished second, a mere length back. Novratil, 24, won all five of his heat races and scored the maximum 15 points. He finished third with Manzares fourth. Dillon Ruml, 20-year old brother of the winner, was unable to race because he had a broken wrist from a fall weeks earlier at Industry.

Eleven of the 19 different AMA California State Champions have won the coveted title once. The series began in 1968 and ran each year through 1998. The event was not run from 1998-2005. Industry Speedway hosted the event each year since 2006. Eight riders have won multi-titles and 33 of the 44 races. They are: Nor Cal brothers Steve and Mike Bast (six titles each), B. Janniro (five), Mike Faria, current AMA referee Steve Lucero, and Charlie Venegas (four titles each), plus Bobby Schwartz and M. Ruml (two titles each).

Two other AMA speedway bike races took place and deserve mention. On Saturday, August 31 Fast Fridays Motorcycle Speedway in Auburn (north of Sacramento) held its annual track championship race. M. Ruml won the 2019 FFMS track championship with 15 points. Following were: Bart Bast and Charlie Venegas with 12 points each. Next were Anthony Dion and Russell Green with 11 points each.

To the surprise of many, four-time track champion Billy Janniro was not at his home track in Auburn Aug. 31. He was at Action Park East, in Greene, New York racing in the US Open Speedway Chamionship round one. The A-main finish top four were: Janniro, fellow Nor Cal rider Blake Borello, 18, and New Yorkers Casey Donholt and Dave Oakden.

On Sept. 1 Janniro won all four of his heat races and his first US Open Championship with 68 points. Nor Cal riders Chris Kerr and B. Borello finished second and third with 48 and 41 points. Donholt was fourth with 36 points in the 16 rider field. There also were races for support classes–second and third division 500cc riders and for 250cc and 150cc junior division riders.

California’s Costa Mesa Speedway at the Orange County Fairgrounds hosted a speedway bike program Saturday, Sept. 7. M. Ruml won the first division feature over Janniro, with Manzares and Fox third and fourth. Support 500cc D-2 and D-3 pros plus 250cc and 150cc junior riders also raced. The third and final round of the 2019 AMA National Championship will be held Sept. 21 in Auburn.