TOURING SERIES SRL & LOM @ IRWINDALE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Aug. 19 – Two competitive touring racing series—Spears SRL SW Tour super late models and Lucas Oil Modifieds presented by RAM Mounts—made a joint visit Saturday to the Irwindale Speedway progressively-banked half-mile. The doubleheader attracted 4,850 spectators for a high-speed, three hour racing program. It was the fifth of nine SRL point races at six speedways in four states, and seventh of ten LOM point races at eight speedways in four states.
MAVTV televised both main events live to company subscribers. Three and four-wide racing, especially during early laps, was common in both features. The SRL 27-car feature was the Patriots Honor 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse (San Dimas and Colton). The LOM 28-car main was the GEICO 75 presented by Spray Nine.
Drivers present for both professionally-run touring series came from numerous western states. SRL stock car drivers came from California, Nevada and Colorado. Modified drivers came from six states—Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada and one from North Carolina. Californians Derek Thorn (SRL) and Taylor Miinch (LOM) won their features.
Irwindale management also added two events to the program and both used the four-degree banked third-mile. Jan's Towing Super Stocks had a season high 11-cars. On-track exhibition laps by WRA vintage midgets and sprint cars, driven by vintage drivers aged 56 to 80, kicked off action at 7:20 pm with a 6-lap “heat” and ten cars. Vintage cars closed activity at 10:55 pm with seven cars in a 14-lap “feature” demonstration.
SPEARS SRL 100: All 27 cars present started the 100-feature. The eight fastest qualifiers during late afternoon, single-car time trials drew their starting positions (P. 1 through P. 8) on the front straight prior to the race. Irwindale regular Ricky Schlick, 19, started first with SRL regular Jacob Gomes alongside. Schlick led the first 21 circuits. Gomes then took command and led through lap 75.
Third starter and SRL three-time (2012, 14 and 16) champion Derek Thorn, from Bakersfield, passed Schlick for second on lap 34 after a two-by-two restart. A caution flag for a spin by 2017 SRL point leader Blaine Rocha, of Oakdale, produced another 2 X 2 restart on lap 76. Thorn restarted from the inside with leader Gomes outside. Thorn executed a slide-job pass through the first two corners and emerged with the lead exiting turn two.
The top five remained close to the lap 100 checkered flag. Second running Gomes got high in turn four on lap 82 and dropped to fifth position. Trevor Huddleston, 20-year old Irwindale Speedway NASCAR Late Model 2015-16 track and California Whelen Series champion and current point leader, took second after Gomes' slip. Schlick and 11th starter Linny White also passed Gomes before he recovered and continued fifth.
On lap 87, a multi-car crash resulted after two cars made contact entering the third turn. P. 5-6-7 cars of Nick Joanides, Toni McCray and Kyle Ray, plus others stopped with damage. Point leader Rocha's front end was smashed. Cale Kanke's car also was towed to the pits. Two wreckers also towed other involved cars to the pits under a 21-minute red flag to remove cars, clear debris and liquid from the track.
Racing resumed on lap 88 with another 2 X 2 lineup. Inside runner Huddleston challenged outside-running Thorn and pulled even initially in the second turn. Thorn's Byron and Carol Campbell-owned No. 43 gradually cemented his advantage during the final ten laps.
Thorn, a soon to be new father, won by ten-yards over Spears SRL rookie Huddleston, who trailed by 0.690. Thorn earned a $5,000 first place check. The runner-up drove his HPR Racecar Factory blue No. 50 owned by his father, Tim. Linny White took third from Schlick on the lap 88 restart and finished 1.695 off the lead. Late model veteran Schlick, also a rookie in SRL, placed fourth, 1.825 from the winner. Gomes, from Manteca, was fifth, 2.249 seconds in back of the winner.
Colby Potts, Ron Esau, Lance Wilson, Matt Meech, and Keith Spangler completed the top ten. SRL veterans Bob Lyon and Craig Raudman, and 15-year old rookie Kayla Eshleman, Irwindale's 2015 Bandolero champion, finished 11th through 13th respectively. All three also completed 100 laps at the 9:39 pm checkered flag.
Twenty of 27 starters were racing at the conclusion. The race took 1:02.00.252 because of five yellow flags in addition to the 21-minute red flag. Bobby Hodges, the last SRL 100 feature winner at Irwindale on March 25, 2017, was in P. 12 on lap 23 when he pulled into the K-rail protected infield work area with a problem. He returned six laps down and completed 90 laps for P. 20.
Most drivers were racing 97 to 99-mph laps with a full fuel load in traffic. Thorn ran the fastest race lap of 17.889 (100.620mph). His fastest qualifying time of 17.642 (102.929 mph) was well off his own one-lap SRL Irwindale track record of 17.272 (103.4 mph) that he established on March 25, 2017. SRL records show Irwindale is the fastest half-mile track on its schedule. The SRL Kern County Raceway Park track record is 17.398, also by Thorn in his Bakersfield-based No. 43.
Spears SRL driver point standings tallied after the Irwindale event showed Thorn had taken the lead with 786 points. Second with 742 is leading SRL rookie Schlick in the Cansdale No. 48. He has 742 points and trails Thorn by 44 points. Third is Bobby Hodges with 739. Pre-Irwindale point leader Blaine Rocha dropped to fourth at 735 points, but he is only seven points out of second place.
LUCAS OIL MODIFIEDS: The modified series run by Greg Scheidecker started all 28 cars present. It used a six-car inverted lineup based upon late afternoon single-car qualifying. Sixth quickest Wes Miller, from Turlock, started on the pole and led the first 22 laps. Point leader Taylor Miinch, a 22-year old from El Cajon, started fifth. On lap 3 Miinch took P. 2 from second starter Linny White (who raced No. 99 cars in both SRL and LOM).
A six-car crash on lap 15 in the third turn at the crash-wall damaged numerous cars. All but one driver, Michael Womack, rejoined the race. Miinch stormed past Miller for the lead entering the third turn on lap 23 and remained out front for this third victory of the season, His other wins came at Tucson and the Las Vegas “Bullring”.
Miinch is now tied at three for most 2017 victories with 2014 LOM Champion Dylan Cappello, who just finished an internship in North Carolina with Tony Stewart-Gene Haas Racing. Cappello, 21, won the last three LOM main events. However, he missed the set-up this week at Irwindale, where he won his first LOM feature three years ago. Cappello qualified 14th fastest and finished 14th after being lapped on lap 60.
At crossed flags from the starter to indicate the halfway mark, Miinch led seventh starter Jason Irwin, from Albuquerque. Fastest qualifier Austin Barnes, the 2012 and 2015 LOM Champion, 11th starter Ryan Partridge, Scott Winters, Miller, 2010-11 LOM Champion Jim Mardis, White, Eric Hamilton and Blake Rogers, from Yuma, AZ trailed.
Partridge, the main event “hard charger”, took third spot from Barnes on lap 41. At lap 50, Miinch led Irwin, Partridge, Barnes, Winters, and Mardis. Positions remained stable until the car of second place Irwin began smoking noticeably on lap 63. Partridge took second from Irwin on lap 73 and Winters dropped him to fourth on lap 74. Irwin's engine had a brief flash on the backstretch and slowed even more on the final lap. He lost three more positions before crossing the finish line seventh and stopped near the backstretch infield.
The top 12 drivers finished all 75 laps and 22 of 28 starters were still racing at the finish. P. 4-12 were: Barnes, Mardis, Michael Mitchell, Irwin, Rogers, White, Hamilton, Dusty Tilbury, and Miller. P. 13-18 drivers completed 74 laps. The top three drivers, Miinch, Partridge and Winters, were interviewed at the finish line.
The race had only one caution flag on lap 13 and took 25:01.385 for an average speed of 89.917 mph. Early leader Miller ran the fastest lap of 19.022 (94.627 mph). Three-wide racing was common during the race with lapping beginning about lap 30. The race concluded at 10:40 pm.
LOM raced in a $500 to win, 6-lap trophy dash for the six fastest qualifiers with a fully inverted lineup at 7:30. Fifth fastest L. White started second and led every lap. Mardis, Miller, Barnes, Winters and Miinch followed in a 1:55.101 (93.831 mph) race.
Miinch drove his No. 4t Zotto Mattress/Lucas Oil STR (Short Track Racecars, of Ramona) chassis with a 406 cubic inch Chevy built by Dave Arce Racing Engines of El Cajon. It was dyno-tested at 620 horsepower. Miinch and his car were featured in a national racing magazine Speedway Illustrated July, 2017 story. A photo of the car graced the magazine cover with extensive mechanical details about the car and photos included in the five-page story.
The existing LOM Irwindale one-lap track record of 18.470 (97.455 mph) was set April, 30, 2016 by Ryan Partridge, a multi-time Irwindale past champion in trucks and late models. Austin Barnes, the 2012 and 2015 LOM champion, was the final qualifier at 4:50 pm and turned the fastest time of 18.618 (96.681 mph) edging Miinch by 0.021 for quick time honors.
SUPER STOCKS 20: Eleven super stocks (Camaro, Chevy SS, Plymouth, and Dodge Dart) used a six-car inverted start and raced on the third-mile for the second time in 2017. Third starter Jason DeLong led lap 1. Fastest qualifier Steve Smith, the July 15 fastest qualifier and feature winner, led laps 2-19 in his Camaro.
Pressuring second quickest qualifier Tim Richter, from Las Vegas, made an inside pass in the second turn on the final lap. He won the 20-lap event in his No. 13 Camaro and edged Smith by 0.171. It was his first visit to Irwindale. Richter, 47, has been the Las Vegas Motor Speedway short tracks (3/8- mile paved “Bullring” and half-mile dirt track) operations manager since September 2012. He was the LVMS short tracks competition manager from 2010-11. He also is a former modified racer.
Gary Read, Harry Michaelian, Jerry Toporek, Bridgette Shaw,19, and Matthew Sampson also completed 20 laps. Eight of 11 starters were still racing at the finish. The 18-minute race, which had five yellow flags for solo spins, followed the LOM trophy dash. During time trials at 4:15 pm, San Bernardino resident Smith was the final qualifier. He used his No. 00 Camaro to break his own month-old one-lap track record of 16.658 with a fast lap of 16.524 (72.549 mph). Second quickest Richter was 0.241 slower.
WRA VINTAGE CARS: Four vintage sprint cars and six midgets from the 1930s-70s were driven by vintage drivers from ages 56 to 80. Their first 6-lap exhibition run with ten cars on the third-mile was the first event of the evening at 7:20 pm. Their last exhibition 14-lap run started at 10:55 pm with seven cars on track. The No. 55jr midget of Jeff Henyan traded the lead twice with the No. 14 midget of owner/driver Bob Mastroleo, who paced two laps before Henyan led the final circuit.
The Western Racing Assn., “called a rolling museum”, also had eight vehicles parked inside the front gate for arriving spectators to view. They included midgets, sprint cars quarter-midgets from the 1950s, and a 1931 Model A pickup truck with a Ford Pinto engine and nicknamed “Flying Duck” for its aircraft pilot owner.
The next Irwindale oval track event Saturday, September 2 will be another fan-popular “Night of Destruction” with late models also on the card before the mayhem events begin.