Five-time and defending AMA National Speedway Champion Greg Hancock of Costa Mesa, California, launched his title defense in style at Fast Fridays Speedway Friday in Auburn, California, last night, during round one of the 2005 AMA National Championship Speedway Series.
Hancock, 35, was the only rider in the elite 16-man field to go undefeated in his five qualifying heats, and he then capped off the evening in a tense A Main that had to be restarted once because of a crash.
“There’s always a lot of pressure in the A Main,” Hancock said after scoring the popular win, “especially with the restart. Even though I got through the night undefeated, I’ve had wins stolen from me in the past, and I’ve stolen a few myself. You just have to keep your head down and stay cool, and everything worked out great tonight.”
Hancock selected the inside starting position in the main event and his longtime friend and British Speedway League teammate Billy Hamill of Monrovia, California, chose gate number two. Rounding out the main-event field were 38-year-old veteran Charlie Venegas of San Bernardino, California, and Ryan Fisher, 21, of Norco, California.
Fisher, who narrowly lost the 2003 AMA National Championship to Hancock in a sudden-death runoff, crashed in the first turn of the A Main, which was red-flagged and re-started. But Hancock was clearly the class of the field, nailing a near-perfect start and holding off Hamill for the victory.
Venegas finished third, his best result in the AMA National Championships since a series format was instituted in 2002, and Fisher was fourth. Fifth on the night with a win in the B Main event was past champion and perennial contender Mike Faria of Reno, Nevada.
A busy weekend of championship speedway action will continue Saturday night when the Grand Arena at Industry Hills Expo Center in City of Industry, California, hosts its first-ever AMA National event.
Domestic-based riders figure to have an advantage over the European-based Hancock and Hamill at the Grand Arena, as neither has had a chance to race at the unique covered but open-air arena that first hosted AMA Speedway in 2004.
Hancock carries a 21-18 series points lead over Hamill to the second race in the three-race series, which will return to Fast Fridays Speedway for its Saturday, October 8 finale.
The top 14 riders in last night’s action will be seeded directly into Saturday’s Qualifying Round, while young chargers Chris Kerr and Billy Hiles will both be relegated to the eight-rider Elimination Round after placing next-to-last and last in Friday’s D Main event.