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RACE TO FOCUS ON MAKING THE `RIGHT’ TURNS

SHARE RACE TO FOCUS ON MAKING THE `RIGHT’ TURNS

Instead of a series of lefts followed by a right, drivers in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Off-Road Racing series will make rights, then a lift.

A problem? It was a concern last year when drivers were first told of the reverse direction on the dirt-track layout in Rice Stadium on the University of Utah campus.Left turns come on the driver's side of the truck and keep the weight down, where right turns keep the driver's weight out and make rollovers more likely. On left turns drivers can see the ground as the car leans, while on right turns they're looking at the sky. Drivers joke, too, that right turns are always "in the wrong place."

And this year?

"Oh, that's right," said Ivan Stewart, a member of the points-leading Toyota Team. "I forgot. Ya, we did go in the opposite direction here. Must not have been that bad."

"Oh, it took me about one lap to adjust . . . Then I never thought another thing about it," said Roger Mears, a member of the Budweiser Team.

In fact, consensus seemed to be that this one race in the "opposite" direction is a nice change.

The race will be Saturday. Gates will open at 5 p.m., followed by an autograph party, with racing at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at Smith-Tix, at the Huntsman Center, and on race day at the stadium.

This year's track will be similar to last year's, with all the right turns and one left. And, of course, all the bumps and corners that make this brand of racing a mix of demolition derby and a flat-out drag race.

This year's field of racers will be similar to last year's. Stewart, of course, and point leader and teammate Rod Millen are favored. Millen won last year's race in Rice Stadium.

The Ford Team of Rob MacCachren and Jerry Whelchel are currently in 2nd place in the points chase.

Followed by the Chevrolet Team of Rick Johnson (winner of two of four races so far), and teammate Jimmie Johnson (no relation).

The father-son Mears team - Roger and Roger Jr. - have family tradition and two strong trucks behind them, and some impressive finishes over the years.

Being a father-son team, however, does have its drawbacks.

The senior Mears admits he loves to race with and against his son, "But I also maybe give him an inch or two that I might not other drivers. I want to catch and pass him, and I want to win. I don't mind beating him, but I admit, I may take a little extra precaution to make sure I don't hit him. But not much. Not so that anyone would know it," he said.

And in this bump and grind type of racing, it's pretty hard to see any give, anywhere, even if it is there.

As Stewart said, "If you haven't rolled, then you're not going fast enough. I can't count how many times I've rolled. I guess that means I'm going fast enough, right?"

These high-powered, perfectly engineer moto-trucks are made to take the bumps and rollovers, and keep on going. Nothing is left to chance. The minute there's a problem, it's fixed.

Which means, says Mears, competition is keen. Where there used to be several seconds between top and bottom qualifies, now there are only a few seconds.

But it is a rough and tumble sport, where trucks are bumping and pushing in every corner and even on the straights.

Danny Thompson, son of series founder Mickey Thompson, points out that there is a "Rough Driving Committee" and in the case of contact, it is their job to determine if it was excessive or merely part of the traffic flow. A ruling against a driver can put him in a penalty box for a few seconds, which in this type of racing, may cost him a victory.

The popular trucks will not be the only show on the track Saturday. Other classes include everything from dune buggies, to mini-dune buggies, to ATV and motorcycles.

All classes will, of course, run on a track built of 25,000 million pounds of dirt made to be rough.