AMA: Hancock claims third AMA Speedway title
3 October 2000
PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- Greg Hancock had a shaky start, but was brilliant when it counted most in winning his third American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) National Speedway Championship Friday night, Sept. 29, at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, Calif. On a track that bills its weekly races as Fast Fridays, this was the fastest Friday of the year, with three World Champions and six AMA National Champions included in the elite 16-rider field. Up for grabs was one of the AMA's most venerable championships, dating back to 1932. And a standing-room-only crowd enveloped the tight 190-meter dirt oval to cheer on the action. The program began with 20 four-lap, four-rider qualifying heats, in which each rider raced five times and met each of his 15 opponents once. Points were awarded in the qualifiers on a 3-2-1-0 basis, and the riders ranked fourth through seventh transferred to a semifinal event. The winner of the semifinal then joined the three top qualifiers in the four-lap National Championship showdown. Throughout the preliminaries, defending champion Billy Hamill of Monrovia, Calif., like Hancock a former world champion, was in a class of his own. He pulled off five picture-perfect starts and stormed to a maximum 15-point total and pole position for the championship finale. Also transferring directly to the final were three-time champion Mike Faria, a wily 43-year-old veteran from Reno, Nev., and Charlie Venegas, the 1998 Fast Fridays track champion from Vallejo, Calif. Contesting the semifinal were Bobby Hedden of Folsom, Calif., the AMA's Northern California points champion for 2000; Hancock, who bounced back from a last-place finish in his second qualifying heat to keep his title hopes alive; Dukie Ermolenko of Cypress, Calif.; and Gary Hicks of Riverside, Calif., the final qualifier. Hancock out-dueled Hedden in a thrilling semifinal encounter, while the pair were followed closely by Ermolenko and Hicks, who was riding an unfamiliar machine on loan from past champ Bobby Schwartz. The win put the 30-year-old Hancock into the main event, but with the unenviable last pick of starting positions. In the final, Hamill came out of the number two gate just a bit slow, and Venegas enjoyed a perfect hole shot from gate three. Venegas led the charge into turn one, but Hancock put together a perfect lap to pass for the lead on the outside. Hamill tried to make up ground, but tangled with Faria and slammed the backstretch wall on lap two. By the time he regained control, Hancock and Venegas were gone, and there was no way the 33-year-old Venegas was going to catch Hancock. "What a great way to end the season," said Hancock, 30, whose impressive resume includes AMA National Speedway Championships in 1995 and 1998 and the World Championship in 1997. "I don't get to race here at home very often, and it's great to win in front of the American fans." Hamill complimented his rival. "Greg rode a perfect race," he said. "And I had to best seat in the house to watch it. It's disappointing to lose after going so well in the heats, but I'm happy for Greg, and I'll just have to get him next time." Runner-up Venegas was also philosophical. "Greg and Billy are the best in the world," Venegas said. "So I guess that makes me the best here at home. I learn something every time I race, and I'll be back."