HUDDLESTON TAKES TWO IRWINDALE LM MAINS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA. Aug. 12 – It was “Back to School Night” Saturday at Irwindale Speedway with backpacks for students from promoter 211 Entertainment, LLC. It also was the annual $2.00 hot dogs, beers and sodas night so popular with fans. A crowd of 2,800+ attended and watched five divisions of racing action with six main events. Four divisions used the progressively-banked half-mile; legend cars used the four-degree banked third-mile.
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Home Tracks premier Division I at Irwindale is the LKQ Pick Your Part Late Models. Point leader Trevor Huddleston, a 20-year old college student and third-generation racer, had a possible crowning achievement. He was the Whelen Division I National point leader by four points (650-646) as of August 6. More than 500 drivers have scored Whelen Division I points.
Huddleston has scored Whelen 2017 points at three speedways--Irwindale, Tucson and Kern County Raceway Park. His major title contender is North Carolina-based Lee Pulliam, 29, who races at six speedways in southeastern states. The top three finishes for all drivers are key results. Only the best 18 finishes count when point racing concludes September 23. Irwindale has late model races scheduled on September 9 and 23.
Huddleston, the 2015-16 Irwindale and NASCAR California late model track champion, won both 30-lap features Saturday, August 12 at Irwindale to improve his chances of winning his first NASCAR Whelen National Championship. The latest Whelen Division I points as of August 13 were posted to the NASCAR Home Tracks page August 16. Huddleston and Pulliam are now tied at 667 points. The third place driver has 609.
Huddleston has run 28 races with 18 wins, 25 seconds, and 26 third place finishes. Pulliam has run 33 races with 15 wins, 28 seconds, and 32 thirds. Irwindale has 15 drivers in the top 380 nationally with five drivers in the top 26. Dylan Garner, 18, is seventh with 550 points. Ryan Vargas, 16, is 13th with 490, Lawless Alan, 17, ranks 22nd with 458, and three-time Irwindale track champion Nick Joanides, 47, is 26th at 446.
At Irwindale Saturday, 22 late models qualified from 4:15 to 4:44 pm. Huddleston was the final qualifier and turned the fastest lap at 19.259, 0.059 better than second fastest qualifier Joanides. That achievement gave Huddleston pole position for the first of twin-30-lap features. He led all 30 laps in the first main; then he started tenth via a ten-car inverted lineup based upon finishing positions in the first 30. Huddleston commandeered the lead in the second 30 on lap 7. He led the final 24 laps.
On August 9 track lessee 211 Entertainment announced its lease with the track owner was not renewed and it must vacate the premises by January 31, 2018. That fact has created urgency for Huddleston and his HPR Chevy team to win the 2017 NASCAR Whelen National Championship this season. The last time an Irwindale-based driver won the Whelen National crown was 2004 when Greg Pursley, Irwindale's 2004 super late model champion, accomplished the feat. He then moved to the touring NASCAR K & N West Series where he won two championships driving a Gene Price Motor-sports Ford.
Huddleston's twin main event victories boosted his total to 18 victories in 28 starts. That's a 64% winning average this season. His twin wins can only help him secure his first NASCAR home tracks national championship. Full NASCAR points are awarded when car counts are 18 or more. The Irwindale car count this season have never slipped below 18 late models. Irwindale has averaged 20 cars for its nine race dates to date.
Saturday during the 5:45 to 6:30 on-track autograph session on the front straight, a memorial tribute for long-time stock car racing photographer Earl Stubbs was held at the victory lane section near the pit entrance from the grandstand. The popular photographer from Azusa succumbed in early July from a heart attack at a hospital in Las Vegas, where he moved a decade ago. Earl's son Bobby and other family members drove from Las Vegas for the tribute. They showed the urn with his ashes and displayed albums and racing programs with Earl's racing photos.
1ST LKQ PYP LATE MODEL 30: Twenty-two late models started straight-up in qualifying time order. As expected, Huddleston led every lap and won by 1.217 seconds over fellow front row starter Joanides. Series rookie Jagger Jones, 14, came from seventh starting spot to earn his first podium finish--third, only 1.669 off the lead. Dylan Garner came from tenth starting slot to place fourth with 14-year old rookie Ryan Schartau fifth.
Ryan Vargas (via a late charge), rookie Matt Johnson (the third FQ), Billy Helgeson, George Atkinson, and 15-year old rookie Kayla Eshleman completed the top ten. Seventeen of 18 finishers completed all 30 circuits. Rookie Tanner Wallenbager, of Baldwin Park, made his late model debut in the ex-No.97 Dylan Garner-built late model. He started 20th and raced to 17th on the lead lap with 18 of 22 starters on-track at the checkered flag. Huddleston ran the fastest lap of 92.545 mph.
2ND LM 30: With the ten car inverted start, rookie Kayla Eshleman started on pole with Atkinson alongside in a 21-car field. Third starter Helgeson, in his No. 57, led the first three laps. Then seventh starting Garner led laps 4-6. Huddleston charged past his HPR teammate on lap 7 and led every lap to the finish. He beat fifth starter Vargas by 1.382.
The second 30 featured a tight race for second among Vargas, Garner and Joanides. Garner trailed runner-up Vargas by a mere 0.005. Joanides, Johnson, Lawless Alan, Eshleman, Schartau, Jones (son of Indy 500 two-time starter P.. J. and grandson of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones), and Helgeson rounded out the top ten. Eighteen of 19 finishers completed all 30 laps in a 15:31.711-minute race. Huddleston clocked the quickest lap of 90.580 mph.
Robertson Solar SW Tour Tucks: Eleven trucks used a five-truck inverted lineup that put fastest qualifier Ron Davis. inside row three. Zack St. Onge, 15, started third and led all 30 laps in a Dodge Ram rented from Jeff Williams. The Upland resident also won the April 22 Irwindale feature in the same No. 26. Two other drivers also raced the truck at Irwindale before the teenager climbed aboard it for his second winning ride.
Positions 6-8 Barry Kelperis (Ford F-150), Dan Coburn and Steve Reeves also completed every lap. George Perret and series sponsor Derrick Robertson finished a lap down. Gary T. Howard, son of open-wheel racing parents Gary and Tabitha Howard, logged 25 laps in a 17-minute race with one caution flag with five laps remaining. It ran as the second race of the evening. Vandermooren ran the fastest lap of 87.374 mph.
Sharkey's Spec Late Models 20 laps: Six cars qualified and used a fully-inverted starting line-up for the fourth race on the program. Fastest qualifier Robby Hornsby started last and led all 20 laps in Kenny Smith's Quick-pick Motor-sports No. 43. It was his fifth victory in six main events this season at IS. The point leader won by 0.229 over the series other IS 2017 feature winner, Craig Yeaton.
Zach Green, a truck racer and 2013-14 IS super stock champion in a Camaro, was not racing this week. The Long Beach driver brought his helmet and racing gear and picked up his first ride in a spec late model. He was asked to drive the No. 29 and turned the third fastest qualifying time. He placed third in his first spec late model race. P. 4-5 finishers Ed Cutler and Robert Arevalo also ran all 20 laps. Todd Conrad did not start. Yeaton ran the fastest race lap of 87.681 mph.
Jan's Towing Legend Cars 35: As the second main event on the busy racing card, 12 legend cars used the third-mile. Fastest qualifier Ricky Schlick started eighth and finished second, only 0.712 in back of winner/point leader Darren Amidon, the sixth starter. Tyler Hicks started second and led two laps before yielding to Amidon's No. 33 coupe.
Chad Schug came from seventh spot on the grid to place third in his No. 29 coupe. Ricky Leigh was fourth with Austin Farr fifth in his No. 79 “the number for gold”. Eight drivers completed all 35 laps and three drivers were lapped. Hicks retired his coupe on lap 7. Amidon's 73.605 mph was the quickest lap.
Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks 30: The sixth and final race of the night started 11 trucks with fast timer Ken Michaelian, 28, on the pole. He led every lap in his own No. 40 Chevy S-10 for his third consecutive victory. It was just his third race this season after he became a crash victim of a speeding driver fleeing police in Torrance. The Thursday night, April 6 crash occurred only three days before he was scheduled to race in his series season opener at IS.
Michaelian's Jeep Grand Cherokee was struck broadside at 80 mph by the fleeing Ford F-150 pickup of a teenage driver and tossed into a large light pole. Michaelian lost consciousness and suffered three broken ribs. He was hospitalized nine days at Harbor-UCLA Hospital and recently completed months of physical therapy. Lucas McNeil started third and finished second, 0.332 in back of the winner in a 12-minute, all-green flag race. Michaelian clocked the fastest lap at 89.588 mph.
Dennis Arena and his rookie teammate L. J. Billings, 18, finished third and fourth. Jacob McNeil and truck rookie Mike Di Gregorio, a 14-time skid plate car winner, followed. Nico Mongenel and 2015 Bandolero champion/truck rookie Mckenzie Eshleman, 18, also completed all 30 laps. All 11 starters finished the race, which concluded about 9:45 pm.
The next Irwindale race on August 19 will be the only appearance of 2017 for both the Lucas Oil Modified Series and the Spears SRL SW Tour Series super late model stock cars. Both series expect about 30 cars and will race on the half-mile in 75 and 100-lap main events respectively. Super stocks and WRA vintage open-wheel midgets and sprints will use the third-mile.