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Ford Los Angeles Street Race a 'Sneak Meet,' But Fun

9 September 1998

Last year at this time the auto race in the streets of L.A. was known as the L.A. Grand Prix and featured Vintage Auto Racing sports cars from the past. For this year's go 'round, however, race impresario Bill Burke, founder of the extremely successful Los Angeles Marathon, opted for NASCAR stockers to bring out the crowd.

The street course was moved from around Union Station to a 1.2 mile tight six turn stop and go street venue outside the fabled L.A. Coliseum. Ford dealers of Southern California once again sponsored the event, and Burke signed on the NASCAR Featherlight series as his feature race. The Featherlight cars are 350 ci V8 powered plastic replicas of Winston Cup cars, and most are Chevrolet Monte Carlos.

Knowing that it would take a couple of recognizable ``racer names'' to sell tickets to people who never heard of NASCAR in the highly ethnic neighborhood of downtown L.A., the organizers hired Cup Aces, Mark Martin, Ken Shrader, Chad Little and ex-Trans- Am standout Willy T. Ribbs to zap into town on Labor Day to qualify and race in the 88 lap ``featch.''

Supporting races showcased a truck series with vehicles powered by V8s, plastic body shells, and two-speed automatic gear boxes; while a Pro Sports Car series brought out some interesting iron, including a gaggle of Porsches of various flavors, an Acura NSX with Nitrous, assorted Hondas, BMWs, Mustang, a Ferrari 308 and a potent v-10 Dodge Viper.

Pretty good show, but few people were around for the 6;30 p.m. finish. Of the 40 cars that started the Featherlight main event, 16 finished, there were 30 laps under yellow, and lots of bent fenders. Martin qualified 26th on Monday morning with a time that, had it been posted on Sunday, would have placed him on the pole. As it happened he worked his way to the front late in the race, but crashed trying to overtake eventual winner Steve Portenga, who led a procession of eleven GM cars as he won the *FORD* L.A. Street Race. Martin finished 22nd, Shrader 19th, Willy T 25th, and Chad Little was 28th. Trans Am and Craftsman truck racer Boris Said came home second and Roger Mears Jr was 16th.

The pre-race TV spots for the three day event showed Mark Martin in his Winston Cup Ford Taurus (which of course remained back in Darlington) with the announcer telling commercial viewers the cars would be hitting 160 mph past the L.A. Coliseum. The average speed of the race was 53 mph. Attendance was not announced, but it seemed there were more spectators in the Ford hospitality area (including Trans Am standouts Tommy Kendall and George Follmer) than there were in the grandstands. It was most likely an artistic success and a financial flop, but there were NO lines to get into the event and NO waiting to get out.

Bill Maloney -- The Auto Channel