JANNIRO WINS PENHALL MEMORIAL @ INDUSTRY – By Tim Kennedy
Industry, CA., May 30 - Perennial speedway bike racing champion Billy Janniro flew from Northern California and won the 4th annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup Wednesday at Industry Speedway in front of 1,500 fans of the action-filled two wheel sport. It was his fourth victory in the event, which was shown live on the internet via the track website. The Penhall family--parents Bruce and Laurie--sister and brother, attended, with 300 Penhall family VIP guests.
The 32-race event kicked-off the 15th consecutive season of speedway racing at the eighth-mile dirt track in the Grand Arena of the Industry Hills Expo Center. Sponsor cash increased the usual rider purse to more than $14,000. Janniro won the lion's share of the huge payday. He also won the coveted first place, glass-encased Penhall Memorial Cup first-place award—a custom painted helmet from famous Troy Lee Designs of Corona, CA. Lee custom designs and paints helmets for drivers in all major racing circuits.
The 7:30 to 10:00 pm racing program Wednesday featured 16 Division 1 500cc riders and one reserve from the Division 2 ranks. They raced five rounds of four-lap heat races for points, awarded on a 3, 2, 1, 0 basis. Points were tallied after five rounds and the top eight riders in points transferred to two semi-final events. The top two finishers in each semi-final advanced to the four-lap feature race.
The Penhall Memorial event honors the memory of respected motocross and speedway racer (No. 81) Connor Penhall, son of 1981-82 Speedway World Champion Bruce Penhall. Connor. 21, was killed tragically in April, 2012 while working as a sub-contractor for Cal Trans on an Interstate 10 Freeway project near Francisquito Ave. east of the 605 Freeway in Baldwin Park. A drunk driver ran through construction zone cones in a Toyota RAV4. At about 60 mph the vehicle struck Connor, tossing him 50 to 75 feet, killing him instantly.
The 2018 Penhall Memorial Grand Marshal was still active speedway racer Bobby “ Boogaloo” Schwartz, 61, a two-time US National Speedway Champion (1986 and 89) and two-time California State Speedway Champion (1984 and 91). The long-time Penhall family friend and 1982 World Cup teammate of Bruce Penhall spoke to spectators from the infield.
Bruce, 61, was an actor and off-shore boat racer after he retired from speedway racing in 1983. He also addressed fans during track prep prior to round two. Both men reminded everyone to drive safely and do not drink and drive. “Be Safe, Don't Drink & Drive.” is the ongoing Connor Penhall legacy.
JUNIOR DIVISIONS: Junior Division 150cc and 250cc riders also raced. They competed in a pair of heats and main events. Thirteen-time 150 or 250cc champion Sebastian Palmese 14, from Mission Viejo, led every lap in the 250cc division. Slater Lightcap, Greg Moore, and Luke Whitcomb followed. Jake Isaac, who led every lap in his first heat, took the two-rider consolation race over Andrew Russell. Isaac fell in turn two while leading his second heat, depriving him of points and a berth in the four-rider main.
So Cal riders Owen Williams, 11, and Travis Horn, 10, split the two 150cc heat race victories in a five-rider field. Williams, from Costa Mesa, led all four laps ahead of closely following La Verne resident Horn. Both juniors rode Cadet Track Plus 150cc bikes. Jose Navarette, Levi Leutz and Gordon Teufel III trailed.
D-1 HEATS: Remarkably, four of the 16 riders tied at 12 points after five heat race rounds. Janniro, Broc Nicol, Dillon Ruml and Charlie Venegas were the four point-leaders. Heat race triumphs were recorded by 11 of the 16 D-1 riders. Three heat race winners were: Janniro and Nicol. Two heat winners included: D. Ruml, rookie D-1 rider Colton Hicks, 16, from Auburn, Tyson Burmeister and Venegas. One heat winners were: Max Ruml, Austin Novratil, Jimmy Fishback, Aaron Fox and Russell Green.
The first semi-final event had Nicol, Venegas, Burmeister and M. Ruml in lanes one through four respectively. Nicol led all four laps over pressing Ruml and they advanced to the feature. Venegas and Burmeister placed third and fourth. The second semi had Janniro, Hicks, D. Ruml and Fishback at the starting gate in that order from pole position to the crash-wall. Janniro got the jump into the first corner and led every lap. D. Ruml, Hicks and Fishback followed. Fishback remounted after a second turn slip and trailed Hicks to the checkered flag.
FEATURE: The eagerly anticipated Penhall Memorial Final had riders choose their starting positions. Jannior took the outside lane. Nicol then selected the pole. Max Ruml took lane two, leaving his younger brother Dillon the third lane. At the 10:02 pm green light, starting tapes rose quickly and pole starter Nicol got the hole shot. Nicol led the first two laps on the inside over outside-running Janniro, and the Ruml brothers—Max and Dillon.
Motivated Janniro made a high-speed, outside power pass in the third and fourth turns on lap 3 to take the lead narrowly over Nicol. Janniro, 37, led the final two laps aboard the No. 1 Ronnie Scopellite Stuha frame with GM engine bike based in Huntington Beach. Nicol fought back on the inside to regain the lead, but he trailed Janniro by a length. The Rumls—Max, two lengths in back of Nicol, and Dillon, five lengths behind his brother--followed. All four riders used GM engines.
Feature riders celebrated and saluted cheering spectators with wheelies on their back-wheels on the front straight. Trophy presentations to the top three finishers took place on the podium at the start/finish infield. Junior 150cc and 250cc winners also received their hardware on the podium and posed for photos as well.
> Max Ruml told me he flew into LAX Tuesday, May 29 from Scotland on a WOW Airlines (of Europe) 320A airliner. He planned to fly back to Scotland Sunday, June 3 to resume his rookie season in the British Racing League. He had some bruises from a recent racing crash. He said he is enjoying his first full season as a member of the Edinburgh Monarchs, which has been doing well. Max said his highest point score in heat races so far has been 7-points. Industry Speedway veteran Ricky Wells is one of his Edinburgh teammates. Max started on bike No. 2 and now rides No. 4 on the seven member team. He said “all European riders are fast. The straights are longer than in the USA and crowds are impressive.”
> Max fell in a “three-riders down” crash during a heat race (along with his brother Dillon and Burmeister) on lap 1 at turn two. Only Colton Hicks completed the initial lap. All three downed riders made the restarted round five event (heat 25). Max was in P. 3 on lap 4 in turn four with the checkers waving when his bike rotated and bucked him about five feet in the air over the front end. Max flew like Superman for an instant as his bike tumbled to a stop near the plywood crash-wall. Max landed hard near the bike, rose quickly and walked away unhurt.
> Best heat race of the night was in round five (event 24). Nicol and Venegas finished ahead of Janniro and Aaron Fox in a close pack all four laps. Venegas said his Junior Division 250cc rider/son Keelan was absent because of a baseball game for his team. Keelan is primarily a catcher but plays elsewhere when necessary.
> Janniro, a long-time JAWA rider, rode the Stuha frame/powerful GM engine bike housed in Huntington Beach by Ronnie Scopellite, father of two speedway bike racing sons. It is the ride Billy first rode and took to victory at Industry March 9 in the annual Gumball Rally feature. Billy flew south and Ronnie picked him up at LAX. He stayed with the Scopellite family and Ronnie drove him back to LAX Thursday morning for his flight home. He will repeat that routine this season whenever he races in So Cal.
> Janniro, known as “Billy the Kid”, and his wife welcomed their second child, son Ricky, in February. His daughter Gracie, 7, has raced a 50cc pee-wee bike at Industry and at Billy's home track--Fast Fridays Motorcycle Speedway in Auburn.
> Ronnie Scopellite gave me an update on his Junior Division graduate and 500c D-1 speedway rider (No. 126) son Rocco, who turned 22 on May 22. Rocco has not raced since 2015 because he had a bad crash at Costa Mesa Speedway. He was in a coma and intensive care at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach for two days with a head injury and broken back. He recovered and has been working as an EMT at Centennial. According to his proud dad, Rocco is about to realize his career goal of becoming a firefighter/paramedic for Los Angeles County Fire Department. His younger brother Gino, now 15, raced as a junior rider to 2015.
> The GM engine is the brainchild of Italian Giuseppe Marzotta (born in 1944). He is a five-time speedway champion in Italy. The former motocross and speedway rider developed his own engine and it went by his initials GM starting in 1979. It soon began winning races in Europe. The GM engine enjoyed its first major success when Egon Muller won the 1983 World Speedway Championship. Many major victories followed in succeeding decades.
> Industry Speedway officials returned intact for this season. Racing Director is former speedway bike and sprint car racer Kelly Inman, who recently turned 60. Referee is former speedway champion Steve Lucero. Starter is Tom Fox and pit steward is Ryan Evans. Experienced scorers and Industry's long-time PA announcer Bruce Flanders were back in their main grandstand booth.
> Pre-race rider introductions took place at 7:20. D-1 riders were introduced as they rode around the track in the back of four pickup trucks. A video salute to Connor Penhall was shown on the large video screen above the third turn. It also shows the internet video and crash replays to spectators at the track.
> Costa Mesa Speedway celebrated its 50th season opening night Saturday, May 12. Harry Oxley was the original promoter. His son Brad and his family are the current promoters. The first of 11 race dates this season was the annual Jack Milne Cup in honor of the 1937 World Speedway Champion from the USA. Austin Novratil won the main event over Nicol, Burmeister and Fox. Janniro, making his first start at Costa Mesa in many years, won the scratch consolation race over Shawn McConnell, Jason Ramirez and Bobby Schwartz.
> The free to all May 30 Industry Speedway ten-page racing program featured stories by Kelly Inman, Bruce Penhall and a profile of event grand marshal Bobby Schwartz. It contained two pages of color photos, a two-page center section of pre-printed heat race lineups, the Industry Speedway 14 race dates, and of course ads by the numerous all-important race supporters/backers.
> I spoke to personable Bruce Penhall during post-race awards presentations. He said the illegal alien/Japanese citizen from Arcadia working here illegally was found guilty. The month-long trial used a Japanese language interpreter. Prosecutors went for a 2nd degree murder conviction. However, jurors voted 10-2 for that verdict and 12 guilty votes were required. Bruce and his family, to avoid another month-long trial, agreed to the lesser conviction of felony manslaughter resulting in loss of life. Sakamoto Tatsuhiko, 37 in 2012, received a 15-year prison sentence in state prison with no early release possible. He is serving his sentence in Norco State Prison and will be deported back to Japan upon his release according to Bruce.
> Colton Hicks, son of D-1 500cc rider Bob Hicks (No. 808) showed he belongs in the 500cc first division. He bypassed 500cc D-3 and D-2. Personable Colton scored points in all five of his heat races (1-3-2-1-3) for a total of 10 in a tough field of D-1 veterans. He tied for fifth place to easily qualify for an eight-rider semi-final race.
> Ryan Bast, 39-year old son of 500cc champion and Auburn star Mike Bast, came south from his Nor Cal home with his two children (ages 3 and 1) and their mom. They stayed on the fifth floor of the 11-story Pacific Palms Resort Hotel on the hill overlooking The Grand Arena and the East San Gabriel Valley. The hotel offers a discounted room rate for guests who mention speedway racing at the Grand Arena.
> D-1 point totals after two semi-finals showed: at 15-Janniro and Nicol, 14-D. Ruml, 13-Venegas, 11-Hicks, 10-M. Ruml and Burmeister, 7-Fishbeck, Fox, and Green, 6-McConnell and Novratil, 4-Tim Gomez, and Ryan Bast, 2-Michael Wells, 1-Ricky Richards, and 0-Eloy Medelin (reserve who had two rides as a sub).
> Long-time speedway bike partisan Harald “Howie” Zechner, of Pasadena, was back in the pits after an absence of a few years. He took numerous photos of the people and events for his internet blog.
> Support D-2 and D-3 500cc riders did not race Wednesday during the Penhall Memorial. Many of them came out to watch from the pits. D-2 rider/USMC veteran Eloy Medelin was the only reserve. He got to race twice in rounds two and three after scheduled riders touched starting gate tapes or had a solo fall on the initial lap and were excluded by rule from a complete restart. Eloy placed fourth in both of his rides after replacing Russell Green and Austin Novratil.
> Round two of the 2018 Industry season will be Wednesday, June 6with all divisions and those wild sidecar teams in action. First race starts at 7:30 pm. The rapidly run program usually concludes by 10:00 pm