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2019 Connor Penhall Memorial Cup

The Annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup is a celebration on many levels. It marks the first race of the new Speedway Motorcycle Racing season at the Grand Arena in the City of Industry, California USA. Much anticipated this Wednesday night tradition enters its sixteenth consecutive season of racing on the eighth-mile dirt track oval and will host fourteen Speedway race dates in 2019.

Story & Photos by Harald “Howie” Zechner

Industry Racings opening night is also a celebration of a life lost but not forgotten. The fifth annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup is a remembrance to honor a racer, brother, comrade, and son. Always a full house it does a heart good to see the large number of spectators and VIP visitors that attend.

Hosted by Two-Time World Champion Bruce Penhall this memorial honors the memory of his son Connor Penhall who was killed at age 21 after a drunk driver ran him over as he worked on the 10 Freeway as a sub-contractor for Cal Trans. “My race family was there for me and the family when it counted so this is our way of paying it" forward Bruce told me.

Bruce Penhall with his son Ryan

This race is his baby and Penhall does a stellar job on the event. A special VIP area with seats and tables is set up on the turn two, back straightway area. A deal with Red Bull and Wienerschnitzel supplies the food and drink. Guests are given Connor Penhall t-shirts, decals and branded booty.

All of Bruce's guests were given Connor Penhall t-shirts

So who makes the VIP list? Of course its exclusive cause BP is famous and knows a zillion people but truth be told if you have put in the time to become his friend your in. I won’t name drop cause it’s a losing game when you forget someone but will say race royalty and champions were plentiful as were his friends, supporters and sponsors. Guess mentioning Greg Hancock, Rick Miller, Dennie Sigalos, Sammy Tanner and “The Godfather” Harry Oxley can’t hurt but other than that I know nothing….

World Team Cup Champion Rick Miller with International Speedway promoters Harry & Brad Oxley

Trailblazer Judy Whitson and Mike Maely were among the VIP's that attended

Jeff Ward was the Grand Marshall. A long time friend of Bruce’s the five time AMA Motocross, two-time AMA Supercross, seven-time Motocross des Nation winner and Supermoto X Games gold medal recipient coached the Penhall boys Ryan and Connor in Motocross. It must have worked cause Connor was crowned California State Motocross Champion and with his brother Ryan won the Baja Championship, Motorcycle Class in 2007.

Grand Marshall Jeff Ward and Speedway World Champion Greg Hancock

Once a racer, always a racer so a match between Ward and Hancock got everyone’s attention. Greg on Speedway machine had the clear advantage over Jeff’s Supermoto machine. Of course the crowd went wild as Hancock displayed the talent that has earned him four World Speedway Championship titles.

Hancock takes Ward to school in a Supermoto vs Speedway match race

There was lots of Fanfare. Four Corona Police motorcycle officers escorted a pickup truck filled with the evening’s competitors on a parade lap around the track. It was quite the sight with riders waving and yelling as police with their red & blue lights flashing led the group. The crowd enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of this unusual mix and showed their approval with wild cheers and applause.

Corona motor officers honored Connor on a parade lap

Spectators were quick to show their appreciation for the Police Honor Guard

Popular Costa Mesa Speedway announcer Terry “Ike” Clanton handled the introductions. Substituting for the ailing Bruce Flanders he handled the microphone and Internet TV duties flawlessly. Clanton and Flanders are good friends and work the Long Beach Grand Prix together. He told the crowd that “God Willing” Flanders would be announcing at Industry later in the season.

Announcer Terry Clanton's cousin was Ike Clanton for the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral

A true Championship program the memorial always draws America’s best Speedway racers. Lots of sponsorship makes the $15,000. + purse one of the highest paid all year here at Industry.

Promotor Kelly Inman stands above the 2019 Connor Cup competitor field

Twenty-three Division-one Scratch races the action was fierce and no one gave any quarter. All clean, no ambulance trips, the racing was spectacular.

Current California State Champion Dillon Ruml leads Tommy Hedden

Five rounds of racing, a semi and main later it was Austin Novratil for the win followed by Billy Janniro and the brothers Max and Dillon Ruml.

Billy Janniro had the pole for the main event

Shoulda, coulda, woulda, the Nine Time National Champion Billy Janniro was second in the main

Austin Novratil takes a victory lap with the checkered flag

Billy Janniro (2nd) - Austin Novratil (1st) - Max Ruml (3rd)

One of the perks in winning the Memorial Cup is getting a specially painted Troy Lee Designs helmet. The workmanship on this helmet is outstanding and main event winner Novratil was delighted to win this one of a kind trophy. On the other side, second place finisher Janniro was clearly disappointed as he had hoped to add it his collection of four from previous Connor Penhall Cup wins here at Industry.

Austin Novratil stands above his new Troy Lee Designs helmet

Bruce Penhall also had Juniors on the program. With sponsorship and gifts he strongly supports them and rightfully considers Juniors to be the future of the sport. Mixed with the fact that this year’s crop of youngsters is very talented and able the Juniors have their own following and are quite popular. On this night both the 150cc and 250cc class raced and were very exciting. Twelve year old Owen Williams took the 150cc honors and thirteen year old Slater Lightcap the 250cc main. Honorable mention also goes out to Greg’s son Wilbur Hancock for his 250cc Consolation win.

L/R: 250cc winners - Greg Moor (2nd) - Slater Lightcap (1st) - Dylan Wagner (3rd)

Bruce Penhall with 150cc winner Owen Williams

The night also featured lots of down time entertainment. A highly modified Ford Bronco did several high-speed launches from the pit gate into the infield.

Off Road racing driver Mike Cox wowed the crowd with a thrilling Baja style half-time performance

There is still one more surprise to relay. Trailblazers President Don Emde and clubs Board members were there in force. The week before they had approved the Hall of Fame nomination Howie Zechner made to them and voted that Bruce Penhall would be added to that distinguished group at their 2020 banquet. I take much pleasure in being the instigator of this process and am delighted they choose the Connor Cup to make their announcement.

Trailblazers Board Members L/R: Billy Getty, Ernie Aragon, Kevin Foley, Bruce Penhall, Don Emde, Paul Flanders, Judy Whitson, Keith Lynas

So there you have it. Just another night in tinsel town. A few races, some good cheer. Speedway is special.

Speedway historian Howie Zechner with Connor Penhall's Junior machine

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Thanks for listening

Harald “Howie” Zechner

Motor Press Journalist – Trailblazer.