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By Tim Kennedy, Howie Zechner and Albert Wong

Industry, CA., May 29 – Austin Novratil, 24, won the AMA Speedway bike 500cc season-opener at Industry Speedway Wednesday in front of more than 1,300 spectators. The first of 14 speedway race nights took place on the eighth-mile dirt track in the Grand Arena at the Industry Hills Expo Center. It kicked off the 16th consecutive season of racing at the popular Los Angeles County venue in the eastern San Gabriel Valley.

The fifth annual Connor Penhall Memorial Cup again opened the Industry season Novratil, from Huntington Beach, became only the second rider to win the prestigious Penhall Cup. He rode his usual No. 7 Jawa frame with a Marcel Gerhard-designed GTR engine manufactured by Gerhard Engine Co. & Suter Racing Technology in Switzerland. He started using it at the end of 2018.

Austin Novratil's motor is a Marcel Gerhard-GTR made in Switzerland

The Penhall Memorial event honors the memory of speedway racer Connor Penhall. He was killed at age 21 in April, 2012 while working as a sub-contractor for Cal Trans on an I-10 Freeway construction project near the 605 Freeway. The drunk driver who drove through barriers and hit Penhall was an illegal alien from Japan. He was convicted of second degree murder and given a 15-year sentence and confined at Norco State Prison.

Don't drink & drive is the theme of the Connor Memorial Cup

Live - Ride - Race

Bruce Penhall, 62-year old father of Connor and 1981-82 Speedway World Champion, and his family began the Penhall Memorial Cup to keep the memory of Connor alive. They also hope to spread the message against impaired driving. Bruce, his entire family, and numerous guests were present as usual. Bruce presented the coveted first place award—a specially painted Troy Lee Designs helmet in a see-through plastic case—to Novratil during post-race ceremonies in the infield.

Troy Lee Designs created this one of a kind helmet for Main Event Winner Austin Novratil

Top three riders in the 500cc D-1 and top three 250cc and 150cc junior division riders received their awards and posed on the podium with Penhall. It was the first time the distinctive Penhall Memorial Cup helmet trophy did not go home with nine-time AMA National Speedway Champion and five-time California AMA Speedway Champion Billy Janniro, 38, from northern California.

Kelly Inman with winner Austin Novratil - Billy Janniro (2nd) - Max Ruml (3rd)

Grand Marshal was versatile motorsports champion and 1999 Indianapolis 500 second place finisher Jeff Ward, 57. The long-time Penhall family friend was a motocross mentor to young Connor at the request of his dad Bruce. Born in Scotland, Ward came to the United States at age 4. He is a nine-time AMA motocross champion, two-time AMA supercross champion, AMA flat track racer, Indy Car driver from 1996-2005, NASCAR Cup driver in 1998, off-road truck racer, X-Games gold medal winner, Red Bull Rally Series and stadium truck racing driver. He is currently racing at age 57 in AMA Flat Track 450cc singles series TT events on a KTM. (See Pit Notes following this story for more information about Ward.)

Jeff Ward doing some practice laps on his Supermoto Machine

Also present was Greg Hancock, a four-time (1997, 2011, 2014 and 2016) World Speedway Champion. Hancock, 48. is another long-time friend of the Penhall family and Industry Speedway promoter Kelly Inman. Hancock’s son Wilbur, 14, raced in the Junior 250cc division. Greg will not be racing in Europe this year. He will remain in So Cal to support his wife Jennie who is battling a serious illness.

Greg Hancock and Motorsports writer Howie Zechner

A special four-lap match race, following the fourth round of heats, had Hancock on a No. 45 motocross bike and Ward on his AMA Flat Track No. 336 KTM. Each rider led two laps. The friendly “race” ended in a virtual tie at the checkered flag.

Greg Hancock leads Jeff Ward in a match

Another special event was a Ford Bronco, driven by Mike Cox, speeding from the back of the pit road, launching high in the air from a metal ramp at the turn four pit entrance, and landing in mid-turn four. All three jumps were successful.

Baja comes to Industry at this Half-time Show

FORMAT: Sixteen 500cc first division riders competed in five rounds of four-lap heat races for points awarded on a 3-2-1-0 basis. Eight riders scoring the most points advanced to a pair of semi-final races from which the top two in each semi-final transferred to the four-lap feature. Janniro and Max Ruml, 22, won the two semi-final races from the inside lane at the starting gate. Novratil, from lane three, trailed Janniro. Dillon Ruml, 20, from the second lane, trailed his brother to also make the feature. Russell Green and Tim Gomez trailed in the first semi; Colton Hicks and Tommy Hedden trailed the Ruml brothers in the second semi.

The 2019 Connor Cup racers

FEATURE: The much anticipated post-10 pm feature lived up to expectations. Janniro shot into the lead on the inside entering turn one and was still in front at turn two in a three rider pack, Novratil raced from third to first on the outside entering the backstretch. D. Ruml slid to the dirt entering turn three, remounted and continued half a lap back. M. Ruml also passed Janniro on the first lap. Janniro recaptured second on lap 2 and finished two lengths in back of Novratil. M. Ruml trailed Janniro by two lengths. D. Ruml placed fourth.

Billy Janniro leads the Main Event pack out of in the first lap

Austin Novratil gets the lead and is never challenged for the lead and wins the Connor Cup

JUNIOR MAINS: Six 150cc and seven 250cc riders competed. Both divisions raced two rounds of heats, a consolation race, and four rider main events. Nick Dunn (150cc) and Wilbur Hancock (250cc) won the consys. Owen Williams, 12, won the 150cc main over Jose Navarette, Levi Leutz and Ken Matsuidaira. Slater Lightcap, 13, led all the way and defeated Nor Cal riders Greg Moore and Dylan Wagner, (Janniro’s nephew). Justin Almon was fourth.

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

Eleven of 16 D-1 riders won the 20 500cc heat races. Janniro won four of his five heats and M. Ruml won three of his rides. Novratil, D. Ruml, Gino Manzares and Russell Green won two heats. Single heat winners were: Blake Borello, Tim Gomez, Bobby Schwartz and the Nor Cal father/son team of Bob and Colton Hicks.

Tim Gomez gets some grip coming out of turn one

PIT NOTES: Four Corona Police motorcycle officers, with red & blue lights flashing, led a pickup truck parade around the track at 7:30 with speedway riders waving to spectators from the back of trucks. The Corona PD escort was present to honor the Penhall family and Connor. One officer noted the drunk driver who struck and killed Connor is still serving his prison sentence.

Corona Police did a honor lap for Connor Penhall

Industry Speedway PA announcer Bruce Flanders, who was PA announcer at the 2019 Indy Car Long Beach GP in April as usual, is battling COPD and was absent. He watched the Industry opening night live on the internet. His friend Terry “Ike” Clanton, speedway announcer at Costa Mesa Speedway, served as Industry opening night announcer.

Announcer Terry Clanton interviews Speedway Historian Howie Zechner

Bruce Penhall told me his son Connor never raced his No. 81 speedway bike at Industry. He was too young when Industry racing started and then worked in the family business. Connor did race his speedway bike at Victorville Speedway.

Bruce Penhall with Connors restored Speedway bike

Travis Horn, 11, the 2018 AMA 150cc National Champion on his No. 25, was not present for the opener. His mom said he was invited to race in Pennsylvania in a flat track 85cc race. His goal is to race AMA Flat Track and the 85cc class is his first step towards achieving that goal.

Spectators watch the action just feet from the track

Harli Faccinto, 8, made her 150cc Junior Division debut at the Industry. She is the daughter of D-1 500cc speedway rider Neil Faccinto, of Riverside. She finished all her races without incident on the lead lap. Harli's only prior racing experience was in 2017 with three 50cc pee-wee division rides--two at Perris Raceway and one at Industry in the February Gumball Rally event.

Harli Facchini with her pink 50cc Junior Speedway bike

Sebastian Palmese, 15, made his D-1 500cc debut Wednesday at Industry. He used No. 259 on his 500cc GM ride. The many-time Junior 250cc National and California Champion earned an AMA age waiver in May to race 500cc bikes three months before he turns the miniumum age of 16 on August 3. He made his 500cc debut in Division 2 on May 11 in Costa Mesa. He finished third in the D-2 main event that night. At Industry Sebastian scored seven points with three second place rides, one third, and one fourth in his five heat races. He just missed transfering to a semi-final event in his first D-1 500cc competition against established D-1 500cc riders.

Junior Speedway Stars - Jose Navarrete - Levi Leutz - Owen Williams - Ken Matsudaira

Long-time Industry Speedway scorer Lisa Inman was not in the scoring booth. She is attending night school. Co-scorer Anna Venegas was present. Two new scorers in the booth next to the track announcer were Brianne Rose and Kylee Lucero, daughter of Industry Speedway referee Steve Lucero.

Bobby Schwartz must be living up to his joke reputation

Bobby “Boogaloo” Schwartz, 62, is a two-time US National Speedway Champion (1984 and 1991). He raced his No. 11 Wednesday as usual at Industry. He continues to amaze other veteran motorcycle racers. Bobby scored three P. 3 heat finishes and had a nasty-looking fall in turn four during round three that injured his shoulder. Nevertheless, Bobby came out for his round five ride and led all the way for 3 points that gave him six points for the night.

#11 Bobby Schwartz has been racing incredibly well this season

D-2 500cc veteran Eloy Medellin, a D-1 reserve, was included in the 16 rider D-1 field when Nor Cal's Chance Grove was absent. Mike Miller, a D-2 veteran, was the only other reserve and he got to race in a round five heat race. He replaced Gino Manzarez who had a hard fall entering turn three during his round four heat that totaled his No. 24 bike. He scratched from round five.

Reserve Mike Miller (on the wall) with Bob Hicks, Tim Gomez and Russell Green

Two-wheel racers Duke Ermolenko (No. 15 speedway bike) and AMA Flat Track champion Sammy “the Flying Flea” Tanner (No. 7) were present for the Industry opener. Sammy, who turned 80 a week earlier, is still active as an independent businessman/distributor in Fontana for Arai helmets.

Sammy Tanner is an Arai Helment distributor

Also present were long-time Costa Mesa Speedway promoter Harry Oxley and his son Brad, the current Costa Mesa Speedway promoter.

Rick Miller wtih Costa Mesa promotors Harry & Brad Oxley

The unique GTR engine used by Novratil is one of only two GTR engines in the USA. Greg Hancock owns the other GTR that is popular in European speedway racing. It was designed by Marcel Gerhard in collaboration with Suter Racing Technology, of Frauenfeld, Switzerland. Their innovative engine is the first new speedway engine in 30 years. It joins Jawa and GM engines. Gerhard won the 1992 Long Track World Championship as a speedway rider. The Swiss citizen, now 63, became a famous engine tuner upon retirement as a rider. He wanted to build an engine with more power and reliability and accomplished his goal.

Greg Hancock and Austin Novratil both race the new GTR motors

Industry Speedway upcoming race dates are Wednesdays, June 5, 12, 19 and 26 with all divisions and those wild sidecars in action. Following race dates are July 10, 17, 24 and 31, plus August 10-11, 21 and 24. First race starting time as usual is 7:30 pm.

Industry promotor Kelly Inman and Bruce Penhall award Bruce Savatos for his support of the Speedway

GRAND MARSHAL JEFF WARD: The 57-year old said he started racing in flat track races. After watching AMA American Flat Track one-hour highlight shows on NBC-SN after each 2018 race, he decided to race flat track again. “Wardy” keeps in shape with gym workouts. He also rode his motocross bike at a practice track near Murrieta to get into racing shape. He is racing a KTM 450SXF in the singles class for Johnny Lewis in 2019. He has targeted the five TT national point events and said if all goes well he might race in a few short track national point races as well.

Jeff Ward & Greg Hancock

Ward (like the late Joe Leonard) is one of the most versatile, diverse and successful two and four-wheel racers in American racing. The 5'7” dynamo raced in the Indy Lights Series in 1993-94. Then he had a successful career in IRL Indy Car racing from 1996-2005.

He started the Indianapolis 500 seven times from 1997 to 2005. Ward won the 1997 Indy 500 rookie of the year title after leading 49 laps and finishing third driving for Eddie Cheever. He finished second to Kenny Brack in the Indy 500 in 1999 after starting 14th aboard the No. 21 Pagan Racing entry. Ward finished fourth in the 2000 Indy 500 driving for A. J. Foyt. He also finished ninth in 2002 driving the No. 9 Target car for Chip Ganassi.

Ward won his only IRL Indy Car feature in round six on June 8, 2002 at Texas Motor Speedway in a 200-mile event. He drove the Ganassi No. 9 G-Force/Chevy. Ward had his best IRL point season in 1998 when he finished sixth. He finished 11th in final IRL driver points four years in a row from 1999-2002. He also raced the No. 45 Chevy in the 1998 NASCAR Cup Series.

Ward won the Supermoto X Games gold medal in 2006 at age 45. He also raced in the 2013 Robby Gordon Stadium Super Truck Series, plus the 2015 Global Rally Cross Series for Ganassi. He likes to stay active on two or four wheels. Ward was inducted into two motorsports halls of fame. He became a 1999 inductee into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Ohio and in 2006 he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in Daytona Beach, FL.

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