Author: Jim Ober Photos: Trackside Photo
Backstory: It was 1994, and the drivers of the stadium trucks of the Mickey Thompson Gran Prix gathered for an official photo. From left to right the drivers captured in the historic moment were: Jimmie Johnson, the youngest of the bunch at just 19, and in his first full year as a Chevrolet factory driver. Johnson soon moved onward and upward to the ranks of NASCAR, winning the Sprint Cup Series five times. Ric Miller, past director of operations for MTEG, said of Jimmy, “He was always so helpful, exuberant, wanting to help out anywhere he could to make the series a success.” Rob MacCachren drove for Ford as part of the Rough Riders team. It was also his first season driving the stadium trucks, and he went on to win the Thunder Truck championship the following year as part of the revamped MTEG series just before it folded in 1996. Walker Evans, already a legend by the time this photo was taken, won numerous class championships as well as the 1979 Baja 1000 in a Dodge truck, the marque he still campaigned in the MTEG series. He won the MTEG series in 1991 to go along with five SCORE class championships over his winning career. Ivan Stewart was arguably the most aggressive and winningest driver on the circuit. He was a three-time series champion, in ’83, ’84 and ’90, and was on Cal Wells’ PPI Toyota race team. The technology Toyota brought to the series, including on-board racecar diagnostics, revolutionized the sport. The other half of this formidable team was Rod Millen, who was the only three-in-a-row winner of the series (’92, ’93, ’94). He drove his first year for Glen Harris’ Mazda team in 1992, and then for Toyota the next two years. Millen astounded the crowds with his rally driving style, learned on the forest tracks of England and North America where he won the North American Rally Championship a number of times prior to coming to Mickey’s stadium series. Roger Mears Sr. and Jr. were the only father-son team in the series, and a formidable one-two punch when it came to on-track race strategy. Senior had won the series in 1985, and both father and son drove for the Nissan factory team. Danny Thompson was founder Mickey Thompson’s son, and together with MacCachren, made up the Ford team. Thompson had won the stadium truck event at the L.A. Coliseum two years prior. Jimmy Nichols was a privateer with his own entry for the season. Scottish-born Jeff Ward was Walker Evans’ teammate on the Dodge factory effort. He had enjoyed a stellar career in AMA motocross and Supercross racing, where he won every championship the series offered, and was just getting his feet wet on four wheels. Ricky Johnson was also a former AMA star where he won seven national championships in heated battles against Ward, and was out to prove his worth in the stadium trucks. Ricky drove with Jimmy Johnson for Chevrolet.
Epilogue: Danny Thompson took over as boss of the MTEG series in 1995, but a series of mishaps (including the 1995 earthquake that collapsed the scoreboard in Anaheim Stadium) as well as torrential rains in 1996, combined with falling attendance and weak sponsorship signaled the end of the series.
Nineteen years later, stadium racing has been resurrected by Robby Gordon, a former competitor on the Toyota Team with Ivan Stewart. The Stadium Super Trucks series is here, and Robby has announced an ambitious schedule for this year, with 10 domestic events and one international contest to be run.
Ivan Stewart and Walker Evans are all but retired now, but both have been inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Vaya con Dios from the staff of Dirt Sports.