Champions Lock Horns in Epic AMA National Openeradmin
It was a tale of two champions as current AMA National Champion Max Ruml and 10-time winner Billy Janniro fought an epic battle to come out on top at the Digger Helm AMA National Championship Round 1 at Kern County Raceway Bakersfield on June 25th, 2022. Whilst Ruml was the victor on the night in taking the event win, Janniro leads the standings by virtue of scoring more points in all races throughout the night.
The event was the first AMA National Round to be held at the new KCRP venue. Despite hot weather that was close to 100 degrees at start time, the track was in prime condition, producing a fast outside dirt line and its best ever racing in the short 16 months it has been staging speedway.
The Grand Prix Race format of 16 riders, 20 heats followed by semi finals and finals was once more employed with the 3,2,1,0 points from every race on the night not only qualifying riders for the latter stages, but also serving as series points overall.
Event wildcard Chris Kerr opened proceedings with a blistering win over Rheten Todd and Bart Bast in heat 1. Janniro dominated heat 2 with 17-year-old Alex Martin picking up second place. Any thoughts that Ruml would run away with defending his title, a not unrealistic thought based on his domestic form, were quickly disabused in heat 3. Though the defending series champion made the best start, Austin Novratil produced a stunning pass to take the lead. Whilst Ruml fought hard to retake first place, his efforts ultimately were in vain. In Heat 4, Gino Manzares led home Aaron Fox to complete round 1.
Northern California’s Louis Mersaroli upset the pre-event form book with an impressive victory over Kerr to open round 2. In the initial staging of the race, Novratil got out of shape coming out of turn 4 on lap one and crashed chasing Kerr. Novratil was excluded from the rerun. Janniro, out of gate 4 took his second win of the night over Fox in heat 6. Ruml outfoxed Manzares to win heat 7. Heat 8 saw 2021 Speedway of Nations rider Blake Borello take his first win on the night over Rheten Todd.
Janniro stayed as the only rider on a perfect score with a win statement making win over Ruml and Kerr in heat 9. Dan Faria got a superb start and rode a great outside line to stun Manzares and Mersaroli to win heat 10. Fox made good work from gate 4 to win heat 11 over NorCal legend Bart Bast. Alex Martin got his first win of the night in heat 12, with Rheten Todd scoring his third second place of the night.
Kerr found his winning ways again to start round 4 with the win over Fox and Martin. Ruml blitzed the field and won by a huge margin in heat 14, with Tyler Warren’s second place his best heat of the event. Mersaroli again made all in attendance pay attention with victory over Borello in heat 15. Manzares inflicted the first defeat of the event over Janniro in heat 16, both riding flat out in the wide dirt line and thrilling the fans in attendance.
Manzares went back-to-back after the track work to take heat 17 from Kerr and end the heats on 13 points. Martin booked his spot in the semi finals with a win over local wildcard Randy DiFrancesco in heat 18. Janniro was back to winning ways in heat 19, his victory taking him to top qualifier with 14 points. Heat 20 saw Ruml with a comfortable lead before a disastrous mechanical failure caused him to fall coming out of turn two on the last lap. The uncharacteristic issue gave Fox victory over Todd and dropped Ruml from 2nd to 5th in the qualifying standings,
Points after 20 heats.
Janniro 14, Manzares 13, Fox 12, Kerr 11, Ruml 10, Martin 9, Mersaroli 9, Todd 8 (all qualify for semi finals),Borello 6, Novratil 6, Bast 6, Faria 5, DiFrancesco 4, Warren 3, Slater Lightcap 3, Rees Todd (reserve) 1, Jonathan Oakden 0.
So, it was down to the business end of the meeting and any thought of predictable results was soon thrown out of the window when the ultra-impressive Mersaroli booked his place in the final in semi final one. He was second place behind Janniro with Chris Kerr held to third and Martin 4th. Semi final 2 saw another lightning start from Ruml who led Fox as they hit the back straight. Manzares unfortunately went wide and outside of the speedway track onto the sprint car track and to a premature race retirement. Ruml led Fox home with Todd in third place.
So that set the stage for the grand finale. The packed stands of enthusiastic fans were not disappointed. Ruml got a fantastic start while Janniro went straight for the dirt line. The two pre-race favorites duked it out in the dirt for 4 laps with Ruml able to keep his rival at bay. Meantime, Mersaroli continued the night of his career by thwarting all efforts of Fox to get by and thus scoring a groundbreaking podium.
Janniro’s consolation is a three-point series lead, partly due to Ruml’s mechanical failure in heat 20 which would otherwise see them tied on 19 points. The duo met twice on the night, each taking a win and it is very clear that their battle, with the potential of others joining, will likely go down to the wire in the three-round series. Both will leave round 1 knowing that there is plenty more action to come and though they are obvious series bookies favorites, it would be foolish to write off the next contenders behind them.
There were minimal supporting events, but Charlie Trana went 3 for 3 in the 250cc Junior Class. The Rod Lake sponsored kids’ classes saw Jackson Joiner win in 65cc and Axle Absher take 50cc. Local rider Isaiah Canales won the support class.
The event was the finale for the 2021/2022 season at Kern County Raceway. The summer heat in Bakersfield means a season that runs September to June with racing returning on September 17th.
The event was staged in honor of local Bakersfield racing legend Digger Helm, who passed away in 2018. Helm was the promoter of speedway at the Bakersfield Fairgrounds in the 1980s, a champion Flat Track racer and a huge sponsor and asset to local motorcycle racing. Helm’s son Michael was instrumental in promotion of the race.
1st Main 1 Max Ruml 2 3 2 3 F 3 3 = 16 Points
2nd Main 14N Billy Janniro 3 3 3 2 3 3 2 = 19 Points
3rd Main188 Louie Mersaroli 1 3 1 3 1 2 1 = 12 points
4th Main 46 Aaron Fox 2 2 3 2 3 2 0 = 14 points
5th 24 Gino Manzares 3 2 2 3 3 R = 13 points
6th 27K Chris Kerr 3 2 1 3 2 1 = 12 points
7th 30 Alex Martin 2 0 3 1 3 0 = 9 points
8th 399 Rheten Todd 2 2 2 0 2 1 = 9 points
9th 27 Blake Borello 1 3 0 2 R = 6 points
10th 7 Austin Novratil 3 X 1 1 1 = 6 points
11th 87 Bart Bast 1 1 2 0 2 = 6 points
12th 105 Dan Faria 0 1 3 0 1 = 5 points
13th 12 Randy DiFrancesco 0 1 0 1 2 = 4 points
14th 25 Tyler Warren 0 1 0 2 0 = 3 points
15th 28 Slater Lightcap 1 R 1 1 N = 3 points
16th 173 Rees Todd 1 = 1 point
17th 309 Jonathan Oakden 0 0 0 0 0 = 0 points
18th 14 Eddie Castro Did not ride
F = Fell
X =Fell, excluded from rerun as prime cause of the stoppage.
R = Retired
N = Nonstarter
173 Rees Todd (not scored)
14 Eddie Castro (not scored)
106 Isaiah Canales
138 Jim Sanders
250cc Junior Main
66 Charlie Trana
226 Levi Leutz
23 Darren Armbruster
123 Catherine Moore
Rod Lake Kids 50cc / 65cc Main
26 Jackson Joiner (65)
109 Axle Absher (50)
819 Charlie Absher (65)
125 Ryder Faria (50)
630 Kreed Absher (50)