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2002 Northwest Road Racing Preview

Series Begins To Take Shape

By Simon-Pierre Smith

The preview of a race season should, by definition, come before the first race. This technique leaves too much to chance. The first race tells us whose sponsor came through, whose wounds healed, whose mechanic could tune and not just talk, and who has maintained their velocity after a winter of idleness. Even at the first race, riders can be on old machinery awaiting a new steed, or busy debugging the bike they first saw a week before. So, with one WMRRA and one OMMRA race under their belts, here's how the season is stacking up.

#27 Strong finisher Mike McCullough takes the bus stop at Pacific Raceway. Lack of prize money will keep him away from Portland this year.

The first factor to review is health. Alan Schwen, current WMRRA champion, is finishing up a vigorous and successful round of cancer treatments. It is a well known technique of the faster racers to schedule serious illness during the off season. His first and third place finishes on the SB Motorsports Suzuki SV650s show promise for when health and weather improve. Mike Sullivan, always a strong finisher, is struggling with a deteriorating hip but his increasingly awkward gait in the pits doesn't carry over to the track. Six podium finishes, including a win out of six races so far, show his capabilities. John Dugan had severe knee injuries keeping him from breaking into international competition in 2001. He seems properly healed this year, pulling three wins in one day at Portland on his Eric Dorn prepared machinery.

The next factor to review is machinery. Alan Schwen has opted to stay on his highly refined SV650s. His early plans to campaign a GSXR 600 have been set aside. Canadian Oliver Jervis is riding for Dan Zlock this year with a brace of ZX6, ZX7, & ZX9R Kawasakis. Zlock's Kawasakis have a reputation for outrageous power. Jervis puts this to good use by getting two podium finishes in superbike classes using street Pirellis. Barry Wressel, WMRRA standing president, made a unique but effective choice of machines with the Triumph Speed Triple. This brought him wins in 750 Superbike and Formula Thunder. Is the Triumph a far better bike than many believe, or is Barry a savagely fast rain rider? It will take a dry race day to answer that one, maybe in September. Couple these wins to a victory on a Ducati 900ss and Mr. Wressel shows up tied in the chase for the number one plate with none other than Tom Wertman. Wertman, riding the Suzuki GSXR 600 and 750 machines he is accustomed to, dominated with four victories in the Washington rain. This is a new level for him. Last year he was there near the front, chasing the fast pack, but never really forcing his way to the front. This year he's motoring away to easy wins. Nobi Iso and Jonah Miller, riding the exotic and erratic Aprilia two stroke bikes, are poised to dominate 125 and 250 GP. A recent trip to Thunder Hill brought victory for Jonah and a lap record for Nobi. If they can keep them running, they can keep them winning.

A patriotic Jace Bottenberg rounds Pacific Raceway's turn 9 in the rain.

The third factor, and perhaps the most controlling, is race schedule and organization. John Dugan and Alan Schmidt, always contenders for the win, plan to attend a large number of AMA races. This leaves a lot of zeros in their point totals when race days overlap. Mike Sullivan's hopped up superbike ride failed to materialize after a mechanical failure in Daytona. He plans to stay in the Northwest gathering points and prize money. Matt Zurbuchen, who blazed out victories in Portland's 600cc classes, plans to only attend AMA races that don't conflict. His race plan only includes Oregon, not Washington. Some of this willingness to travel afar is fueled by OMRRA's new policy of removing prize money from all but one class. Some worry this will cause the faster riders to stay at home. One example of this is Mike McCullough, whose 600 Honda has gone where no F4 has gone before, into the money. It is worth noting that the only class that does pay money, Formula Ultra, included only 9 riders. This makes it the least populated race heat of the day, smaller even than the chronically underrepresented 250 vintage class.

All that's left are the predictions. My guess, and it is nothing more than that, is that Tom Wertman has good odds for the WMRRA #1 plate. He's shown consistency in the past and speed now. Mike Sullivan is the other contender, based on a long history. If those two get in each other's way, then the door is left open for Alan Schwen. Wressel's triumph is unlikely to be up to snuff on a dry track. In Portland Zurbuchen, Sullivan, and Wertman will be the battle to watch.


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