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Costa Mesa Speedway 101 and the Jack Milne Cup

Story & Photos by Harald Zechner

     Jack Milne’s granddaughter, Katherine Armenta, holds the perpetual Cup trophy.

Much like the Groundhog predicts winter's end, many are convinced that Costa Mesa starts the official Speedway season. This is certainly something that brings out passionate discussions, as only a handful of Speedway race facilities are as famous and long lasting. So what makes racing in the Bullring so special?

        Speedway is a fun happening as well as a social venue and serious race venue.

It’s a combination of many things that has made Costa Mesa the gold standard of American Speedway racing. Like 50 years of events and a rich history. Started by promoters Jack Milne (1937 World Champion) and the “Godfather” Harry Oxley, their families now carry on the tradition.

  1937 World Champion Jack Milne with 1936, 1937 and 1947 AMA National Champion Cody Milne.

A giant poster of Costa Mesa founder Harry Oxley hangs off the souvenir stand.

Then there are the spectators who consider this a Saturday night ritual and who, in many cases, have attended for decades. Or the newbies who love the fun and action and the studs and babes who come for the crowd that beach cities seem to draw.

Let's not forget the adrenaline junkies who enjoy noise and dirt in their beer as they stand just feet away from the racing action. Throw in a live band and Happy Hour at Baja Blues Cantina, along with a few sponsored booths where you can get free branded swag and a free race program. It’s a party interrupted by a race every few minutes, and those there would not have it any other way.

It’s the people who make Costa Mesa so special.

Spectators can stand just feet away from the racing action.

The track is only 185 yards long with a dirt/decomposed granite surface. Your first impression might be that it is way too small for racing, but that quickly changes once the first heat runs. It’s no accident that the track is so good. A trained team with years of experience preps the surface weeks in advance. With the proper amount of water and wheel pack, and of course no bad news from Mother Nature in the way of rain, they develop a track that is scary fast and only a few can master. From there it's spectators yelling "How do they do that?" and "Hey did you see that?” and riders asking "How did you save it?”

The Costa Mesa Speedway Track is called “The Bullring.”

The motorcycles used for this unique racing are light like a bicycle and weigh about 170 pounds. Powered by a 500 cc four stroke engine and fueled by pure methanol, they are nimble, swift and powerful. With high compression motors they have no kick starter and are pushed to get them running. There is no transmission so the clutch is only used at the start. And I almost forgot: They have NO Brakes.

No brakes, no gears - these high horsepower machines' only function is racing Speedway.

Racers prepare their machines for tech inspection and combat.

Of course they crash. It’s a common and accepted part of the sport. Most crashes are minor and the rider gets right back on their bike and continues racing. If that is not possible, corner workers help them up and move their disabled machines onto the infield. An ambulance and trained paramedics are always on hand in case it is serious. Fortunately, between the racers' protective gear and racing attire and the safety checks that each bike must pass, serious injuries are rare.

Protective gear for chest, legs, back and head is used to prevent injury.

Referee Steve Lucero and Industry Racing promoter Kelly Inman check the bikes and riders.

Then there are the racers. A special, fearless breed of men and women, they know the secrets of winning and losing in races that only last about a minute. But oh my, how long a minute can be. Sliding and bumping are the norm as this is a contact sport - maybe not intentionally, as safety always comes first, but contact is the norm that skilled racers use and the less experienced quickly learn. If a rider is knocked off, I mean falls off, a special dead man's switch kills the motor. There is nothing more ugly that a runaway bike racing down the track and crashing into a wall that has spectators on the other side of it. It's a serious offense; any racer who does not have this feature working properly cannot race and, if discovered on the track, receives a hefty fine.

Speedway ZAR Howie Zechner with Nine Time AMA National Speedway Champion Billy Janniro.

Dillon Ruml is interviewed prior to the start of the Jack Milne Cup Main Event  – he finished 2nd.

There you have it. Life under the big top - this is family entertainment that won’t break the bank. If you have been, you know and if you don’t, you should find out. And bring a friend, 'cause you will be the hero when they enjoy it as much as you do.

Kids enjoy the races as much as the adults. They can run around and have fun in a secure closed environment.

"So hold on. Don’t leave us in suspense, Howie. How was the first night of racing?" you ask. Well, my friends, the May 11th Jack Milne Cup was outstanding. Threats of rain were a no-show, so the afternoon and evening weather was perfect. No jacket required; fact is, many wore shorts.

Jessie DuBois enjoys the beautiful sunny weather at this year's Jack Milne Cup.

The band played as the gates opened at 6:30. Spectators were treated to a large vintage Speedway Bike display that included both the Jack and Cordy Milne Championship winning JAP machines. This outstanding exhibit included pictures of the brothers racing, track programs and magazine articles telling of their wins and adventures. The exhibit was put together by Gary Hicks Sr, Russ Toepher and Cordy Milne’s daughter Sandra Hicks. All were there and gladly shared the family history. It is nice to see that Costa Mesa is still a family business that is operated by the relatives of its founding fathers.

The JAP Speedway bikes Jack Milne and Cody Milne won their titles on were on display.

Cordy Milne’s daughter Sandra Hicks works the back gate riders' sign-in booth.

The race card was a good one. National Champion Billy Janniro, Gage Geist, Mad Max and his brother Dillon - except for those that are currently racing in Europe, most of America's top dogs were there. D-1, D-2 and D-3 Speedway, 150 & 250 Juniors and Sidecars made up a 41 heat Scratch and Handicap race program. It produced good racing and although there were some gnarly crashes, the ambulance never rolled.

Racers give a high-five to the fans who line the wall for this special pre-race greeting.

It was a full Speedway program that included both Scratch and Handicap racing.

The very popular 1000cc Sidecars were also on the opening night race card.

Four time World Speedway Champion Greg Hancock was there. When Greg first started, he learned how to slide here at Costa Mesa. Understanding the value of close contact racing, he brought his young son Wilbur Hancock to race on the evenings program. Funny how things go full circle.

World Speedway Champion Greg Hancock gives advice to his son Wilbur after his first Heat Race.

Of course track announcer Terry “Ike” Clanton kept the crowd abreast of all the action. A direct descendent of Ike Clanton from the famous Gunfight at the OK Coral and a former speedway racer himself, Ike does an outstanding job and is very popular with the spectators. When he does his “Who’s in the best grandstands" and foot rumble skit, the crowd goes crazy. It’s a show within a show that must be lived to be appreciated.

Announcer Terry Clanton with scorekeepers Jean Fink and Sandra Hicks.

International Speedway promoters Brad and Jaleen Oxley confirmed an eleven event 2019 schedule. A former two time National Champion, “Rad” Brad, is a hands on promoter who does every job needed to keep the lights on. We were late releasing this year's race dates because we were hoping to pick up an extra few weeks, but this place is always booked solid, Oxley told me. See the full 2019 Costa Mesa Race schedule on the speedway's website.

Promoter Brad Oxley holds a 1981 Speedway Star with him on the cover.

See all 445 photos from the May 11th Jack Milne Cup on Facebook.


Below is the May 11, 2019, Main Events scoring

357 - Ace Kale/Heather Flammia

911 - Stuart Glass/Jack Straw

11 - Kevin Holman/Shannon Hennessey

07 - Kevin Kale/Anthony Hernandez


Sidecar Main Event

1 - Joe Jones/Josh Flammia

74 - James Kinne/Joshua Bustoa

64 - Dillon Osborne/Ashley Summers

31 - Robert Curry/Johnny Glover


Mini 150 Main Event

3 - Nick Holbein

04 - Owen Williams

74 - Ken Matsudaira


Junior 250 Consolation

27 - Luke Whitcomb

96 - Andrew Russell


Junior 250 Main Event (restarted)

2 - Landon Norton

28 - Slater Lightcap

117 - Wilbur Hancock

35 - Kyle Cunningham (non starter, restart)


Third Division Main Event

159 - Kevin Fiore

175 - Jake Myers

327 - Tyler Moszer

150 - Damon Barry


Second Division Consolation

201 - Dylan Black

323 - Mike Miller

275 - Lawrence McNutt

242n - Sammy Tetrault


Second Division Main Event

118 - Rohn Zellner

249 - John Wilder

259 - Sebastian Palmese

242 - Bruce Marteney


Scratch Consolation (restarted)

321 - Russell Green

66 - Jason Ramirez

10 - Gage Geist (penalty line)

11 - Bobby Schwartz


Scratch Main Event

5 - Max Ruml

3 - Dillon Ruml

1 - Billy Janniro

199 - Samuel Ramirez


2019 Costa Mesa Race Dates:

May 11 - Jack Milne Cup (Speedway, Sidecars, Juniors) Gates open at 5:30pm, Qualifying 6pm, First Race 7:30pm

June 1 - Harley Night #1 (Speedway, Sidecars)

June 8 - (Speedway, Sidecars, Juniors)

July 12 - Freestyle Motocross Invitational (Sidecars)

July 13 - Freestyle Motocross Invitational (Speedway)

July 14 - Speedway Fair Derby

August 17 - Harley Night #2 (Speedway, Sidecars)

September 7 - Knobby Night (Speedway, Dirt bikes, Juniors)

September 21 - RSD Super Hooligan National Championship Series (Speedway) Gates Open at 5:30pm, Qualifying 6pm, First Race 7:30

September 28 - 51st US National Speedway Championship (Speedway, Juniors)

October 5 - Harley Night Finals (Sidecars)