“OLD GUYS” RULE @ IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Sept. 23 – Late model racing at Irwindale Speedway Saturday started as a coronation for the “young guns” in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late model 50-lap main event and for the track and California State Championship. What happened was proof that older drivers still get the job done and win features.
Ryan Vargas, celebrating his 17th birthday, started third in an 18-car field and took the lead on lap 12. He extended his advantage to 50-yards by lap 42 in a caution-free race to that point. It appeared the impressive teen would win his third late model feature at IS this season. On lap 43 the caution flag flew briefly and eliminated his huge lead.
Vargas, the 2014 IS Bandolero champion and 2015 truck racer, is in his second season driving his family-owned Chevy late model. He survived two side-by-side restarts on laps 43 and 47 after taking the inside row next to three-time track champion Nick Joanides. He led through lap 48. On the final restart after a three-car crash on lap 49 in the third turn, Vargas again chose the inside with past multi-series champion Sean Woodside alongside for a green, white checkered flag conclusion.
Tenth starter Woodside, the 1999 NASCAR West touring series and 2001 super late model series champion at Irwindale, inched ahead of Vargas exiting turn four and had the lead for good by turn two. The now part-time racer led laps 49 and 50 and won by 0.097. It was his first feature in more than a decade. Three and four-wide racing and side-by-side bumping occurred behind him and dropped Vargas to third on lap 49 and fourth at the checkered flag.
CHAMPIONSHIP: The late model track and state championships also were nail-biters. Trevor Huddleston, a 21-year old college student and third-generation driver from Agoura Hills, led IS points by 68 entering the season finale. However, the double-points race Saturday offered 100-points to the winner, with drop-offs of four points per position. His High-Point Racing teammate Dylan Garner, 18, occupied second place.
As fastest qualifier, Huddleston started seventh in his dad's Racecar Factory-built No. 50 Chevy. On lap 32 the point leader was in third position and closing. A flat right rear tire on lap 43 sent him to the pits for a new tire; he returned under caution to the back of a now 17-car field. On lap 49, Danny Gay and Josh Soto collided and stopped between turns three and four. Closely following Huddleston could not avoid Soto's car and collided with it.
Huddleston's car incurred a smashed left front end that pushed his hood upwards, a flat left front tire and broken radiator. He drove slowly to the pits and retired his car that also received significant damage at the last race. Huddleston had to watch his huge point advantage slip away gradually. He won his third consecutive IS and California championships by 40 points (984-944) over teammate Garner. He tied his father Tim, the 2005, 07-08 IS late model champion. Trevor also won the KCRP (Bakersfield) track championship.
Trevor waged a close battle all season for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series National Championship with Lee Pulliam, of North Carolina. Trevor even led in points near the end of the season. However, despite twin main event victories September 16 at the banked half-mile Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, he trailed now four-time Whelen National Champion Pulliam by three points (688-685) when the Whelen season concluded on September 20. (See Footnotes.)
LM 50 RECAP: The LKQ Pick Your Part late model 18-car field included the usual tough rookie class, teens and 20+ young drivers. Also in the field were three veterans of NASCAR touring series from a decade ago. Nick Joanides, 47, and Sean Woodside, 46, were joined by Danny Gay, 43, who had not raced his late model since 2009. He last won an IS feature in his super late model in 2009. He had parked his daughter Allison, 16, who raced his No. 89 at Madera and Havasu 95 Speedways and raced his late model himself. Rookie P.J. Hernandez, 30, also debuted his No. 18 that he bought recently from Kern County racer Scott Sanchez.
The competitive main featured passing and three-wide racing throughout the 37-minute contest and was green to lap 43. The final four laps were chaotic and eventful for leader Vargas and others. Woodside was a distant third at lap 43 and second on the final 2 X 2 restart. He won by about a yard over 17-year old Lawless Alan, who took second on lap 49. Joanides took third from Vargas on lap 50. The top four finishers were within 0.938 at the checkered flag.
Pole starter/series rookie Ryan Schartau, driving the No. 7 Chevy owned by Kevin Bowles, father of former driver Jason Bowles, led laps 4-11; he finished fifth, 1.038 off the lead. Andrew Porter, 23, started 11th and was battling his Joe Nava Chevy teammate Joanides closely for P. 3 from laps 44-49 until he was bumped back to P. 6 (-1.084) during the hectic final two circuits. Rookie Matt Johnson started second and led the first three laps before fading to seventh position (-1.606) in his dad Mike's No. 17 Chevy.
Dylan Garner, 18, started fourth in the HPR No. 56 Chevy and finished eighth (-1.715). Rookie Jagger Jones, 14, placed ninth (-1.928) in the No. 55 HPR Chevy. He started sixth as the second fastest qualifier in 4:15 pm time trials. His grandparents Parnelli and Judy Jones were in the pits to watch the older of P. J. Jones' two racing sons. Twelve cars finished with only one car lapped. P. 10-11 were J. Soto and Jeff Williams. Champion Huddleston ran the fastest lap of 19.751 (91.135 mph). He celebrated his 21st birthday in May and said he is now old enough to enjoy the championship champagne.
ROOKIE OF YEAR: The IS close rookie of the year battle came down to the final lap with three of the four talented rookies dueling closely. P. 7 Johnson, 37, and P. 5 Schartau, 14, tied at 750 points and sixth place in final 2017 track points. Jones was eighth in points with 740. Absent Kayla Eshleman, 15, earned 584 points and 12th place among 36 drivers with IS points.
The tie-breaker system was used to declare Johnson the rookie award winner based on highest main event finish. Johnson won the second 30-lap feature on September 9. Schartau's best finish was second in the first 30 lap race also on September 9. Long-time fans agreed the 2017 rookie class was one of the best and youngest in track history.
SPEC LATE MODELS 25: A season-high eight car field started the 25-lap Sharkey's Spec Late Model Series main event, also on the progressively-banked half-mile. Fastest qualifier/surprise starter Tim Huddleston (Trevor's father) owns three of the 15 RCF-built spec late models that started racing at IS in 2009. He had no intention of racing. His son, crew members and car builder Jeff Schrader got the No. 50 spec late model ready late Thursday night. They towed it to the pits Friday on an open trailer and told Tim he was driving it.
He last raced his No. 50 Chevy late model regularly eight years ago in 2009 when he won five IS main events (his last victory came on July 4, 2009 in a 75-lap main). Tim made one late model start in his No. 56 Chevy on July 20, 2013 when usual driver Cole Custer was unavailable. He wanted to say he raced at least once with his late model rookie son Trevor.
Tim retired as a driver to start his High Point Racing driver development program in 2010. It raced as many as five “blue crew” RCF-built late models at a time. He said three current drivers in the NASCAR three national series that came through his program are Ryan Reed, Dylan Lupton and Custer, all active and contending NASCAR Xfinity Series 2017 drivers.
Tim's helmet, harness, gloves and fire-suit were still in the HPR enclosed hauler clothes locker. He practiced in the spec late model two hours Friday during open practice. His younger son Tanner, 14, became his first-time race spotter via radio on the roof Saturday. Tanner, who raced the HPR Bandolero No. 50 once two years ago at IS, said he might race next year. Making the unexpected start Saturday special was the fact there were about 40 family members and other backers in the grandstand cheering for both Huddleston racers.
Pole starter Ed Cutler led lap 1 over Todd Conrad and Huddleston. On lap 2, Huddleston shot from third to first on the inside in turn four. Point leader/usual fastest qualifier Robby Hornsby, 25-year old winner of six of seven prior series features this season and three last season, started third. He chased Huddleston all the way but trailed by 0.852. Cutler and Conrad traded third place on laps 4 and 11. Cutler placed third, a straightaway behind the leading duo, with Conrad fourth, six seconds off the lead.
Craig Yeaton, the July 15 feature winner, started sixth and finished fifth. Kenny Smith, 70. owns the No. 43 car driven by Hornsby, but he drove series sponsor Yeaton's second car from eighth to sixth. Robert Arevalo followed. Newcomer Matt Tsau, a 35-year old Chinese driver from Irvine and graduate of the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience and Irwindale's LA Racing Experience courses, finished eighth. All eight drivers completed 25 laps in the 8:39.069 race that averaged 86.694 mph.
Huddleston, showing he still has his racing skills, clocked the fastest lap of 87.711 mph. The senior Huddleston increased his main event victory total at IS to 45. He now ranks fourth in track history behind only leader Rip Michels (67 wins), Nick Joanides (54) and Ryan Partridge (51). Retired Legend Car driver Tom Landreth is fifth with 43 wins. The next spec LM series race for double-points will be Saturday, November 11.
IRT 35: Seidner Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks ran on the half-mile as the second main event on “Paint Your World Purple Night at the Races”. Many Figure 8 racers painted parts of their cars purple and carried the names of cancer survivors. Twelve IRT drivers used a straight-up starting lineup that put fastest qualifier Connor Cantrell, 27, on pole. The 2011 and 2016 IRT track champion, a current resident of Pacifica, led all 35 laps. He drove the No. 9 Chevy S-10 to his second consecutive victory and fourth in eight IRT events this season.
Ken Michaelian, who won three IRT features in July and August, started third and pressed Cantrell all 35 laps, but he trailed by 15-yards (0.966) at the finish. Point leader and June 3 main event winner Lucas McNeil trailed the winner by 3.096 seconds. Truck rookie/14-time skid plate cars winner Sean Brennan started eighth and raced past four truck veterans to fourth position, 7.653 seconds back.
Dennis Arena, L. J. Billings, Jacob McNeil, and Nico Mongenel also finished all 35 laps in P. 5-8 respectively. Ten of 12 starters finished the all-green light, 13-minute race that averaged 77.231 mph. Rookie Billings, 18, turned the fastest race lap at 90.813 mph. The final IRT race will be for double-points on the fifth “Night of Destruction” this season on Saturday, October 28.
ROBERTSON SOLAR SWT TRUCKS 30: As the sixth of seven features, ten Southwest Tour trucks started and raced 30 all-green laps in 10:27.941 for an average speed of 85.995 mph. Jeremiah Wagner, from Las Vegas, started fourth as second quickest qualifier in the Jeff Williams-owned rental No. 26 Ford F-150. The now 23-year old former Legends, Thunder Car and ASA truck racer, is a current ATV racer at The Orleans Arena in his hometown. He became the third driver to win an IS feature in the No. 26 Ford this season. It was his first IS victory.
After seven Irwindale main events, the No. 26 has four triumphs and five drivers have been victorious in it. July 15 series feature winner Dustin Vandermooren started second and led the initial 14 laps over Wagner, who used an inside pass in turn four on lap 15 to take command. He opened half a straightaway lead by lap 27 and won by 3.652 seconds. Wagner's 20.618 (87.302 mph) lap was the fastest of the race.
Retired Arcadia Fire Department Captain Neil Conrad, Ron Davis, Jr., and Mike Kelperis followed. SWT Truck first-time starter Mike Di Gregorio, the 29-year old 15-time skid plate race winner now from Menifee, started and finished sixth in a rented No. 77 truck rented from series sponsor Derrick Robertson. He was the last driver on the lead lap. Nine of ten starters were racing at the finish. The season finale will be for double points on Saturday, December 2—the sixth and final “Night of Destruction” at IS.
LEGEND CARS TWIN 25s: The Jan's Towing INEX Legend Car Series ran twin 25-lap main events for the first time since August 2015 when current point leader and three-time champion Darren Amidon won both 35-lap races on the third-mile. This time FQ Amidon started the first main on the pole and led all 25 laps for his sixth triumph this year. It was the first of seven features Saturday.
The race was a close three-way dogfight all the way. Runner-up Ricky Schlick (-0.479) and P. 3 Chad Schug (-0.669) followed. Teens Austin Farr and Colton Page, from Bakersfield, finished in P. 4-5, two seconds back. All 12 starters completed 25 laps in a race with one yellow flag. Schug logged the fastest lap of 72.787 mph. The race attracted two teenagers from Bakersfield for their initial attempts at IS.
SECOND LC 25: Legends drivers returned for race five of seven at 9:00. The field had an eight-car inverted lineup and ran a 22-minute race with two caution flags. Troy Briesch led two laps. Then first-time IS driver/KCRP regular Braden Rogers, 16, led laps 3-7. Amidon, 32, then took the lead and was chased by Schlick and Schug in a three-car pack.
The leading trio was lapping the last place car on the white flag lap when it moved up at turn two and contacted leader Amidon. Both cars spun to a halt as Schlick and Schug raced past them on the inside. A green, white, checkered flag scenario sent the race one lap beyond the scheduled 25 laps. Schlick, 20, led laps 25-26 for his third LLC victory this season.
Second place Schug trailed by 0.135, with Farr (-0.758) also on the top three podium. P 4-9 also completed all 26 laps. Schlick's 73.240 mph lap was the quickest. The 11th and final 2017 LC race will be November 11 for double points. Amidon leads Schug 476-452. Both drivers are three-time LC champions at IS.
SEIDNER COLLISION CENTERS FIGURE 8s: The seventh and final event at 9:55 pm had 13 four-cylinder Figure 8 enduro cars on the Figure 8 infield course. Rodney Argo, from Gardena, turned the fastest speed of 66.907 mph during 4:30 pm group qualifying. The former SCRA 410 c.i sprint car driver and winner of the PAS 1998 3rd annual Oval Nationals in Perris started his 1991 Honda Accord from pole position and led all 20 laps.
It was his second consecutive Figure 8 victory. This time he used a recently purchased car from Craig's List that had 293,000+ miles on the odometer. He won his first F-8 feature at IS two weeks earlier in his tan and brown spots 1995 Honda Accord that he named “Moo-Cow Car” or “Cow-mouflage”. He used his traditional sprint car No. 19 on both cars. He said he still has three Stinger sprint cars and engines and all are for sale.
Eddie Howell, the July 29 F-8 feature winner from Carson, trailed Argo by 8.4 seconds in the same No. 81 sedan. Third finisher James Bolinas and two-time 2017 F-8 winner Robert Rice were the only other drivers on the lead lap. Ten cars avoided near collisions at the infield X and finished the 6:51.983 all-green flag race. The average speed was 65.886 mph. Argo ran the fastest lap of 67.235 mph. He became the fifth different winner in seven F-8 races this season. The F-8 race was the fourth all-green light race on the seven main event program.
> Five Irwindale late model drivers finished in the top 45 Division I drivers in Whelen National point standings (more than 500 drivers earned at least 125 points). Irwindale Speedway drivers earned points at Irwindale, Bakersfield and Tucson. National champ Pulliam earned points at six southeastern speedways. His prior Whelen National Championship years were 2012-13 and 2015. Irwindale drivers finishing positions with national points in parenthesis are:
P. 2 Trevor Huddleston (age 21) 685 points.
P. 10 Dylan Garner (age 18) 562
P. 16 Ryan Vargas (age 17) 538
P 17 Nick Joanides (age 47) 530
P. 44 Lawless Alan (age 17) 470
> The comparison between NASCAR Whelen Racing Series top two national point drivers is interesting. As shown on the NASCAR Home Tracks home page, their results are:
Lee Pulliam ---------- 45 races, 19 wins, 36 top fives, and 43 top tens for 688 points.
Trevor Huddleston – 35 races, 22 wins, 31 top fives, and 32 top tens for 685 points.
> The Irwindale 2017 season ran 12 nights and had 21 main events including twin 30s.and solo 50-lap features. Huddleston set the fastest qualifying time at seven of the 12 events (58%) and won 11 of the 21 main events (52%).
> Eight drivers won the 21 Irwindale features this season. Huddleston won 11, Nick Joanides had three, Ryan Vargas had two, and one each went to Toni Marie McCray, Andrew Porter, Lawless Alan, Matt Johnson and Sean Woodside. First-time late model feature winners at IS were: Vargas, Porter, Alan, and Johnson.
> Tim Huddleston mentioned three of his HPR driver development program graduates now racing in a NASCAR national series. He also could have mentioned Brandon Davis, of Las Vegas, who won 11 of 22 IS late model mains and the track championship in Tim's No. 55 HPR Chevy. He then raced in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series briefly in 2012 for his Las Vegas-based airline team before it folded. Another of Tim's HPR 2014 season graduates is Blaine Perkins, of Bakersfield. He is currently racing in the ARCA national stock car series.
> Lacie Price, a talented 2013 Legends rookie and 2014 IRT truck rookie from Bellflower, quit racing in 2015 to attend college full-time with a goal of becoming a doctor. Now 23-years old, Lacie attended the September 9 and 23 Irwindale races with her father Mike, the Irwindale 1999 inaugural season super stock champion in his No. 3 Camaro.
> Danny Gay, now 43, last raced in 2009 when he won the first of two 35-lap super late model features in his own No. 01 on May 2, 2009. The Lakeside resident stopped racing himself to concentrate on his daughters Allison and Madison and their INEX Bandolero racing. His daughter Allison, now 16, raced his No. 89 late model at two tracks. Danny decided to park her and race his late model at Irwindale again on September 23.
> Late model rookie Kayla Eshleman, the 2016 Irwindale Bandolero champion and 2017 late model rookie, was absent at IS September 23. She reportedly raced her No. 09 Chevy at the Las Vegas “Bullring” short track in preparation for the annual mid-November multi-series event at that speedway.
> FINAL IRWINDALE LATE MODEL 2017 POINT STANDINGS: (36 drivers earned IS points)
1 Trevor Huddleston 984 T6 Matt Johnson ® 750 (won RoY tiebreaker)
2 Dylan Garner 944 T6 Ryan Schartau ® 750
3 Nick Joanides 912 8 Jagger Jones ® 740
4 Ryan Vargas 910 9 George Atkinson 674
5 Lawless Alan 866 10 Billy Helgeson 668
Note: The slip from P. 3 to P. 4 on the final lap Saturday dropped Vargas from third to fourth in final track points.
> The 211 Entertainment, LLC lease of Irwindale Speedway is ending on Jan. 31, 2018. Track Champion Trevor Huddleston said his plans for 2018 racing include a pair of touring series in the West. He named the NASCAR K & N West Series and the late model Spears SWT Series as his likely racing venues.
> Irwindale Speedway remaining 2017 Saturday night racing schedule:
Oct. 28 – Night of Destruction V destruction events TBA, plus Irwindale Race Trucks (double points).
Nov. 11 – Fall Spectacular $5,000 to win NASCAR Late Model 100-lap feature (non-points), plus
Spec Late Models (double points), and Legend Cars (double points).
Dec. 2 – Night of Destruction VI destruction events TBA, plus SWT Trucks (double points).
> IS Racing Director Mike Atkinson (son of the late Orange Show Speedway and Speedway 605 in Irwindale promoter Art Atkinson) said 211 Entertainment, LLC plans to have an event similar to the November 11 event during January. He said it will not be run on the MAVTV nationally live telecast of the Tulsa (Okla.) Chili Bowl Midget Classic on Saturday, January 13, 2018.