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Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach: Racing’s greatest ‘street party’

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Long Beach Grand Prix may have a new official name, but it remains one of the highlights on the calendar for any race fans.

What began as the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1975, continued as the United States Grand Prix West from 1976-1983, to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from 1980-2018, will now be known as the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“That happens to be the exact message we have been using in all of our advertising – ‘New Race Name. Same Fast Game,’” Jim Michaelian, President and CEO of the Gran Prix Association of Long Beach told NBC Sports on Monday. “That captures the essence of what you will experience when you come to the 2019 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.”

The week-long event brings Southern California’s glamour crowd to Long Beach to watch fast cars, soak up the sun, attend concerts and tour the exposition center. Only the Indianapolis 500 and the Grand Prix of Monaco would be seen as more prestigious races.

The weekend’s main attraction is the NTT IndyCar Series race (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app), while IMSA has its biggest street race of the season in Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix of Long Beach (Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app).

But it’s more than just racing.

“Both days contain a significant number of what I call ‘non-hardcore racing fans,’” Michaelian said. “They are coming out, enjoying the atmosphere, participating in a lot of the activities here whether it is in the Lifestyle Expo, or the Kids Zone or the go-kart tracks or attending the concerts or Friday and Saturday night or Drifting on those two nights.

“The attraction for our guests all three days is to come out and enjoy themselves and take in some of the racing. Robby Gordon’s SST Trucks are always popular, and Drifting is always packed in the evening.

“And who doesn’t want to see Sports Cars in action like IMSA has, not only in DPI but also in the GTLM. Those are really aspirational type cars with Ford GT, Porsche, Corvette and BMW. Those are cars people would love to own and love to drive and they get to see them in action here.

“It’s the same mentality as far as approach that our customers and guests take when they attend here.”

In addition to a new sponsor, IMSA will help celebrate its 50thYear with an historic GTO race with 32 of the old GTO cars from 1990 and 1991. There will also be a display of GTP cars in the Prominade area of the Long Beach Convention Center. There are six events scheduled including NTT IndyCar, IMSA WeatherTech Series, the Pirelli GT4 America Series, Robby Gordon’s SST Trucks, Formula Drift and the IMSA Historic GTO Race as all part of the schedule.

Michaelian has been part of this event since its inception in 1975 when the event was created by England’s Chris Pook, who was running a travel agency in Long Beach at the time and hoped to turn the city into a destination.

“That first year was a real scramble,” Michaelian recalled. “We didn’t get approval from the State of California Corporation Commissioner to spend the funds we had raised until July. We had that race on September 28, 1975 so we were really hustling to put that event on. You can’t compare what we do now to what we did then.”

It ended up being a great event full of legendary racing names. As time went on and the promoter became more efficient at conducting the race, they were able to branch out with non-racing options to help attract more fans to the circuit.

The old Toyota Celebrity Race was a very popular addition that was held for 40 years with entertainment stars competing in a race around the circuit. When the Long Beach Convention Center was completed, that became a central zone for the non-racing portion of the event.

“As time has gone on, we’ve looked to add things,” Michaelian said. “We have created a Food Truck line on the backside. We have the Patron Club next to the IndyCar Paddock. We have been able to maintain and attract more of the non-track hardcore fans to give them reason to attend.

“We have 21 restaurants inside of our circuit. You can go to any number or restaurants. How many other restaurants have that? None, absolutely none.”

This year’s concert lineup includes Mexican Rock group El Tri for the third time. Saturday’s headliner is Cold War Kids with Moontower, an indie-electronic musical group as the opening act.

The real star of the show, however, is the racing on the track.

The race course is tight and difficult and has featured eight different configurations since that first race in 1975. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, Long Beach is the biggest street race on the schedule. Only the legendary Indianapolis 500 is a bigger race on the 17-race schedule.

That is why any driver that wins at Long Beach feels the history and significance that comes with that victory.

“For sure, more so from the legacy of the track and not the size of the race or the people there,” last year’s winner, Alexander Rossi, told NBC Sports.com. “It’s how that city has hosted a race of some sort, whether it be Formula One or IndyCar or both for such a long period of time has made it such a historical and significant race. That’s the cool thing. It’s another race where my name is going to get to be among some pretty amazing racing drivers is pretty special.

“Outside of the Indianapolis 500, Long Beach is one of the ones you want to win. I have to agree with that.”

Among the unique aspects of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is the event continues to thrive and has helped transform the city of Long Beach into a destination area. There has been tremendous commercial development near the street course since it first staged the Grand Prix back in 1975.

Times were far different then and despite changes in political culture, the event is able to continue as one of the major sporting events of the season in Southern California.

It’s auto racing’s version of the Rose Bowl, the New Year’s Classic college football game played in nearby Pasadena, California.

“It is something that would never happen in 2019 if it didn’t have a special place in the city’s heart and legacy that went along with it.,” Rossi said. “I think we are very fortunate to continue to race there and should appreciate every year and opportunity that we have to go there and compete and have a show for what is an awesome fan base.”

With its luxurious hotels across the street from the race course, and one major hotel actually inside the race course, the drivers and teams enjoy the amenities and convenience at Long Beach.

“It’s awesome,” Rossi said. “If I have an 8:15 a.m. meeting, I set my alarm for 7:55 a.m. It makes our lives pretty easy, it’s great and convenient. The general vibe and atmosphere that goes along with that race is great. Along that same strip are all the restaurants and night life and people there and the music. The weather is always sunny and 75 in Southern California. It’s an amazing weekend and something we look forward to every year.

“The best thing about it is the convenience to be so close to good food and good people being so close to the race track.”

Winning the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach is big to an IndyCar driver, and it’s just as important for the drivers in IMSA.

“Long Beach has always been a unique event for us,” IMSA GTLM Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner told NBC Sports.com. “I can remember the first time I went there in 2007, the atmosphere there was different than any other event I had ever experienced. You have casual fans that attend the race and people that may not follow Sports Car racing like a diehard racing fans. It’s fun to talk to people from all different walks of life.

“Maybe it’s the first time they see our race and we explain what we do or to see young kids and their eyes light up when they see these cars for the first time run on the city streets.

“It’s unique and something we don’t experience any place out.

“The history of Long Beach, it’s LA. All of it together – the crowd, the atmosphere, the history and the great races we have – makes it a lot of fun. The streets after the race are alive with fans. It’s a fun event to go to and even better to win. It’s definitely a highlight of the season.”

2018 ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH SCHEDULE

Schedule (All Times Pacific Daylight Time)

Gates open at 7 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Some of the highlights of each day include:

Friday:

  • 10 a.m. Friday: IndyCar practice;
  • 11:40 a.m. Friday: Historic IMSA GTO practice;
  • 12:20 p.m. Friday: Stadium Super Trucks practice;
  • 2 p.m. Friday: IndyCar practice;
  • 3 p.m. Friday: Historic IMSA GTO qualifying;
  • 3:30 p.m. Friday: Pirelli GT4 America practice and IndyCar autograph session;
  • 4:45 p.m. Friday: BUBBA burger SportsCar qualifying;
  • 6:45 p.m. Friday: Super Drift Challenge practice and the Fiesta Friday concert with El Tri;
  • 7:30 p.m. Friday: Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge.

Saturday:

  • 9 a.m. Saturday: IndyCar practice;
  • 9:30 a.m. Saturday: IMSA Weather Tech SportsCar autograph session;
  • 10 a.m. Saturday: Pirelli GT4 America practice;
  • 10:45 a.m. Saturday: Pirelli GT4 America qualifying;
  • 12:10 p.m. Saturday: IndyCar qualifying and Firestone Fast 6;
  • 1:30 p.m. Saturday: BUBBA burger SportsCar pre-race;
  • 2:06 p.m. Saturday: BUBBA burger SportsCar Grand Prix;
  • 4:15 p.m. Saturday: Stadium Super Trucks Race No.1;
  • 5 p.m. Saturday: Historic IMSA GTO Race;
  • 6 p.m. Saturday: Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge and Rock-N-Roar concert with Moontower opening for Cold War Kids.

Sunday:

  • 9 a.m. Sunday: NTT IndyCar Series warm-up;
  • 9:35 a.m. Sunday: Pirelli GT4 America pre-race;
  • 9:53 a.m. Sunday: “Drivers Start Your Engines”;
  • 10 a.m. Sunday: Pirelli GT4 America race;
  • 11:50 a.m. Sunday: Mothers Exotic Car Parade;
  • 12:15 p.m. Sunday: NTT IndyCar Series pre-race;
  • 12:30 p.m. Sunday: Indy Cars to grid;
  • 1:23 p.m. Sunday: “Drivers Start Your Engines”;
  • 1:42 p.m. Sunday: Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (Race no. 4 of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series);
  • 4:05 p.m. Sunday: Stadium SUPER Trucks Race No. 2.

NHRA Texas winners: B. Torrence, Hagan, Anderson, Savoie

Photo and videos courtesy NHRA
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Defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence is a proud Texan who hates to lose. But if there’s one person Torrence likely doesn’t mind seeing win if he can’t reach the winner’s circle – particularly if it’s on home turf – it’s father Billy.

Steve was cheering his father on as the latter boosted his own championship hopes Sunday by winning the Top Fuel category in the final eliminations of the 34th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in the Dallas suburb of Ennis, Texas.

Billy Torrence (3.775 seconds at 319.67 mph) defeated Jordan Vandergriff (4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph in his first career final round) for his fourth win of the season, including his second win in the first four races of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs. With the fifth Top Fuel triumph of his career, the elder Torrence moved into fourth in the Top Fuel standings, just 71 points behind his son with two races remaining in the Countdown.

Even though Billy’s son lost in the opening round Sunday, he still leads the Top Fuel standings, holding a 33-point lead over second-ranked Doug Kalitta and a 46-point lead over third-ranked and the weekend’s No. 1 qualifier, Brittany Force.

Sunday marked the third consecutive win in this year’s playoffs for the father-son combo and their second straight triumph at Dallas (Steve won there last year as part of an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown en route to the championship).

It’s home turf and we love to race here,” Billy Torrence said after visiting the winner’s circle. “We’ve raced here our whole career and we have a lot of fans here. There’s no better place to race than Dallas, Texas, and we did have the best car today.

It has been very humbling, and we’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have the success we’ve had. We’ve got a great group of guys on both cars and our success is just a testament to the work these guys do. I think that we’re probably the second-best car in the country, with Steve having the best. We’ve had a stellar season.”

In Funny Car: Matt Hagan (3.909 seconds at 327.59 mph) roared to his third win of the season – as well as his third at the Motorplex – and the 32nd victory of his career, defeating Bob Tasca (3.928 seconds at 323.12 mph). Hagan also moved up to fourth in the standings.

We had a great race car today,” Hagan said. “Qualifying was pretty tough, but to turn on four win lights was pretty huge. (Tasca) is a great driver and those guys are good, so I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

We’re just trying to keep some momentum going, keep doing our job and control what we can control. It was a pretty special weekend. We’ve just got to keep digging and keep working. I love this sport and it’s been a big part of my life for 10 years. I knew (crew chief Dickie Venables) was tuned in and you could see he was confident, and that builds confidence in me.”

Robert Hight continues to lead the Funny Car standings, followed by Jack Beckman (70 points back) and No. 1 qualifier John Force (74 points back).

In Pro Stock: Greg Anderson (6.609 seconds at 209.75 mph) defeated longtime rival Jeg Coughlin Jr. (6.610 seconds at 207.56 mph) to earn his third win of the season, fifth of his career at the Motorplex and 94th of his overall Pro Stock career.

It was the 102nd time Anderson and Coughlin, who qualified No. 1 for the weekend, have met each other in a race, including the 21st time in the final round.

We’ve had so many titanic clashes with so much on the line, and I knew it would be close,” said Anderson, who is seventh in points. “It’s a total team effort and that’s what it takes to win a national event in Pro Stock right now. You’ve got to have perfection every time out there.

We made a lot of changes this week and we hit on it. It showed it on Saturday and I knew coming into today we had a chance. Now it’s a matter of if I can drive the car well enough. I can’t tell you who’s going to win this thing because everybody right now can beat everybody else.”

Erica Enders held on to her lead in the category, but saw the margin over second-ranked Matt Hartford drop to only 28 points. Coughlin is third (-65 points) and Anderson is seventh (-99 points).

In Pro Stock Motorcycle: Jerry “Alligator Farmer” Savoie (6.881 seconds at 195.90 mph) took a big step towards potentially earning his second PSM championship in the last three seasons, defeating three-time champion Eddie Krawiec (6.901 seconds at 195.62 mph).

It was Savoie’s third win of the season and 12th of his career. It’s also his second win in the first four playoff races and fifth straight appearance in the final round at the Motorplex. He’s now third in the PSM standings, 94 points behind five-time champion Andrew Hines.

It was a great day and we knew we had a good bike coming in,” Savoie said. “We said if we held our composure we could win this thing. For the most part, tracks favor certain riders and we’ve been blessed here. It’s a great place and today was great.

Bottom line, I want a championship just as bad as anybody else, so whoever is in my way I’m going to do everything I can to try and beat them. I felt good and we’ve got a great team. To me, this win gives you more hope and means a lot. This gives you that window of opportunity where you could win a championship again.”

NOTES: Only two races remain this season: Las Vegas in two weeks (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3) and Pomona, California four weeks from now (Nov. 14 – 17).

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FINAL FINISHING ORDER

TOP FUEL: 1. Billy Torrence; 2. Jordan Vandergriff; 3. Brittany Force; 4. Austin Prock; 5. Leah Pritchett; 6. Antron Brown; 7. Shawn Reed; 8. Lee Callaway; 9. Steve Torrence; 10. Terry McMillen; 11. Doug Kalitta; 12. Kebin Kinsley; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Cameron Ferre; 15. Clay Millican; 16. Richie Crampton.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Matt Hagan; 2. Bob Tasca III; 3. John Force; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Jack Beckman; 8. Shawn Langdon; 9. Tim Wilkerson; 10. Ron Capps; 11. Paul Lee; 12. Blake Alexander; 13. Cruz Pedregon; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Jeff Arend; 16. Jonnie Lindberg.

PRO STOCK: 1. Greg Anderson; 2. Jeg Coughlin; 3. Deric Kramer; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Erica Enders; 6. Chris McGaha; 7. Aaron Stanfield; 8. Bo Butner; 9. Jason Line; 10. Fernando Cuadra Jr.; 11. Val Smeland; 12. Kenny Delco; 13. Shane Tucker; 14. Fernando Cuadra; 15. Alex Laughlin; 16. Richie Stevens.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Jerry Savoie; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Angelle Sampey; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Steve Johnson; 6. Karen Stoffer; 7. Scotty Pollacheck; 8. Matt Smith; 9. Hector Arana; 10. Ryan Oehler; 11. Angie Smith; 12. Hector Arana Jr; 13. Kelly Clontz; 14. Michael Ray; 15. Jianna Salinas.

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FINAL RESULTS

TOP FUEL: Billy Torrence, 3.775 seconds, 319.67 mph def. Jordan Vandergriff, 4.299 seconds, 246.03 mph.

FUNNY CAR: Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 3.909, 327.59 def. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.928, 323.12.

PRO STOCK: Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.609, 209.75 def. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.610, 207.56.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.881, 195.90 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 195.62.

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FINAL ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS

TOP FUEL: ROUND ONE — Jordan Vandergriff, 3.746, 321.12 def. Clay Millican, 4.099, 219.72; Austin Prock, 3.688, 334.40 def. Doug Kalitta, 3.812, 316.15; Lee Callaway, 3.794, 313.66 def. Mike Salinas, 3.856, 318.69; Brittany Force, 3.694, 330.31 def. Cameron Ferre, 3.984, 269.19; Leah Pritchett, 3.724, 324.12 def. Kebin Kinsley, 3.822, 263.51; Billy Torrence, 3.733, 327.35 def. Terry McMillen, 3.756, 325.77; Shawn Reed, 3.728, 327.51 def. Steve Torrence, 3.733, 319.52; Antron Brown, 3.743, 329.58 def. Richie Crampton, 4.330, 186.61; QUARTERFINALS — Vandergriff, 3.753, 322.73 def. Callaway, 9.885, 82.51; B. Torrence, 3.767, 325.69 def. Reed, 4.861, 154.60; Prock, 3.742, 330.39 def. Pritchett, 3.964, 250.55; Force, 3.815, 319.60 def. Brown, 4.113, 230.72; SEMIFINALS — B. Torrence, 3.747, 328.38 def. Force, 3.793, 318.32; Vandergriff, 3.824, 316.97 def. Prock, 3.864, 294.95; FINAL — B. Torrence, 3.775, 319.67 def. Vandergriff, 4.299, 246.03.

FUNNY CAR: ROUND ONE — Jack Beckman, Dodge Charger, 3.896, 328.86 def. Ron Capps, Charger, 3.955, 326.79; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.908, 327.03 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.375, 219.54; John Force, Camaro, 3.926, 328.14 def. Jeff Arend, Ford Mustang, 7.353, 96.26; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.911, 327.19 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 4.342, 209.20; Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.873, 327.19 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 15.205, 57.93; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.903, 329.58 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.007, 280.19; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.925, 325.85 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.908, 323.97; Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.932, 324.05 def. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.957, 323.97; QUARTERFINALS — Hight, 3.937, 326.40 def. Langdon, 3.964, 321.35; Hagan, 3.903, 329.18 def. Todd, 3.937, 325.85; Tasca III, 3.938, 324.20 def. Beckman, 3.951, 322.42; Force, 3.937, 327.98 def. Johnson Jr., 3.919, 320.20; SEMIFINALS — Hagan, 3.900, 329.83 def. Hight, Foul – Red Light; Tasca III, 3.920, 323.89 def. Force, 3.951, 327.98; FINAL — Hagan, 3.909, 327.59 def. Tasca III, 3.928, 323.12.

PRO STOCK: ROUND ONE — Aaron Stanfield, Chevy Camaro, 6.609, 208.91 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.635, 208.68; Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.597, 208.78 def. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.590, 208.88; Chris McGaha, Camaro, 7.964, 125.90 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, Foul – Red Light; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.602, 207.59 def. Fernando Cuadra Jr., Camaro, 6.615, 208.17; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.617, 208.14 def. Shane Tucker, Camaro, 6.638, 207.85; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.577, 209.56 def. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.618, 208.55; Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.579, 210.11 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 7.820, 127.56; Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.573, 209.49 def. Richie Stevens, Dodge Dart, Broke; QUARTERFINALS — Hartford, 6.625, 208.23 def. Butner, 6.656, 208.42; Anderson, 6.596, 210.05 def. Enders, 6.604, 210.54; Kramer, 6.611, 209.17 def. McGaha, 6.630, 208.75; Coughlin, 6.620, 208.23 def. Stanfield, 6.630, 208.46; SEMIFINALS — Coughlin, 6.609, 207.37 def. Hartford, 6.656, 207.43; Anderson, 6.628, 206.76 def. Kramer, 6.627, 208.30; FINAL — Anderson, 6.609, 209.75 def. Coughlin, 6.610, 207.56.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: ROUND ONE — Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.912, 195.34 def. Ryan Oehler, 6.901, 196.33; Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.863, 196.67 def. Angie Smith, 6.910, 195.65; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.885, 194.46 def. Hector Arana Jr, 6.933, 193.52; Angelle Sampey, Harley-Davidson, 6.903, 190.89 def. Hector Arana, Foul – Red Light; Scotty Pollacheck, 6.898, 194.21 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.955, 192.08; Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.849, 194.21 def. Michael Ray, 7.209, 155.76; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.827, 196.10 def. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 8.231, 104.03; Matt Smith, 6.837, 197.33 was unopposed; QUARTERFINALS — Sampey, 6.914, 193.93 def. Pollacheck, 6.918, 194.16; Hines, 6.921, 194.58 def. Johnson, 6.889, 194.35; Krawiec, 6.899, 195.76 def. M. Smith, 6.935, 196.24; Savoie, 6.857, 196.44 def. Stoffer, 6.900, 196.07; SEMIFINALS — Krawiec, 6.957, 195.48 def. Sampey, 6.989, 190.35; Savoie, 6.877, 195.76 def. Hines, 6.991, 191.51; FINAL — Savoie, 6.881, 195.90 def. Krawiec, 6.901, 195.62.

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UPDATED POINT STANDINGS

TOP FUEL: 1. Steve Torrence, 2,394; 2. Doug Kalitta, 2,361; 3. Brittany Force, 2,348; 4. Billy Torrence, 2,323; 5. Leah Pritchett, 2,290; 6. Austin Prock, 2,278; 7. Mike Salinas, 2,266; 8. Antron Brown, 2,247; 9. Richie Crampton, 2,228; 10. Clay Millican, 2,210.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Robert Hight, 2,437; 2. Jack Beckman, 2,367; 3. John Force, 2,363; 4. Matt Hagan, 2,325; 5. Bob Tasca III, 2,315; 6. Ron Capps, 2,302; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,274; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,243; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,239; 10. Tim Wilkerson, 2,188.

PRO STOCK: 1. Erica Enders, 2,395; 2. Matt Hartford, 2,367; 3. Jeg Coughlin, 2,330; 4. Jason Line, 2,327; 5. Deric Kramer, 2,323; 6. Bo Butner, 2,321; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,296; 8. Alex Laughlin, 2,239; 9. Chris McGaha, 2,217; 10. Val Smeland, 2,124.

PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE: 1. Andrew Hines, 2,464; 2. Karen Stoffer, 2,383; 3. Jerry Savoie, 2,370; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,365; 5. Matt Smith, 2,297; 6. Hector Arana Jr, 2,274; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,248; 8. Angie Smith, 2,181; 9. Ryan Oehler, 2,159; 10. Hector Arana, 2,128.

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