TWO 1ST TIME IRWINDALE LATE MODEL WINNERS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Sept. 9 – Five divisions ran seven main events Saturday at Irwindale Speedway as 211 Entertainment, LLC presented “First Responders Night”, an annual event. Drivers raced on the half-mile and third-mile ovals and completed 190 main event laps during three plus hours of competition. When the final checkered flag flew, there were three first-time feature winners plus a two-time truck champion back in victory lane after a four-month absence from racing while on a job in Nor Cal.
The first LKQ-Pick Your Part Late Model feature started all 20 qualifiers with a straight-up lineup based on single-car qualifying at 4 pm. Point leader Trevor Huddleston, 21, set fastest qualifying time and earned pole position, but he did not start there for an unusual reason. Following the on-track fan autograph session to 6:30, LM cars, as the first race at 7 pm, were sent to staging in turn four of the third-mile.
The cars of 16th starter George Atkinson and pole starter Huddleston developed flat tires. They requested permission to go to the pits for replacements. The obvious cause was metal debris missed during the track clean-up from Night of Destruction events on the third-mile a week earlier. Rules call for cars to race on tires used during qualifying.
Race Director Mike Atkinson polled spotters to get 100% approval for the two drivers to return to their original positions after replacing flat tires. Fifteen teams approved but three teams did not, so both drivers had to start from the back row. That was significant for Huddleston, who is in a close duel with Lee Pulliam, of North Carolina, for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series lucrative national title. Only two weeks remain until the cutoff date to earn Whelen points.
1ST LM 30: The tire setback was not the end of Huddleston's problems. Lawless Alan, a 17-year old legends car and late model veteran, and Matt Johnson occupied the front row. They traded the lead on the first two laps. Alan took charge on lap 5 and led to the checkers. On lap 6 a yellow flag flew after Andrew Porter spun across the starting line to the third-mile after contact from Dylan Garner. Both drivers were sent to the back for causing the caution.
On lap 8 “the big one” happened. Alec Martinez spun his eighth place car in mid-track in the third turn. Closely-packed cars piled in quickly. P. 10 Huddleston was caught in the seven-car melee and his car received extensive damage. Cars of Martinez, Huddleston, David Ross, Billy Helgeson, Josh Soto, first-time LM starter/truck veteran Lucas McNeil, and Craig Yeaton were sidelined. A 23-minute red flag ensued to remove cars and clear the crash site.
Rookie Jagger Jones, 14, was in P. 4 on lap 14 when he scraped the second turn wall. He continued, but his HPR Chevy hit the fourth turn crash-wall and stopped next to the wall with significant RF damage. Crashes took out three of the four HPR cars. With the second LM 30 feature not scheduled for about two hours, HPR crews went to work rebuilding the Huddleston No. 50 and Jones No. 55. Both were able to return to a reduced 14-car field and started at the back of the second 30.
A two-by-two restart after lap 8 again had Alan and Johnson in the front row. Alan prevailed and won his first-ever feature at Irwindale. He had prior top three finishes. He said he really wanted to win a main event before the track lease ended at the end of January 2018. Rookie Ryan Schartau, 14, started fourth, took second from Johnson on lap 8 and scored his best finish of second, 0.849 in back of Alan. Nick Joanides placed third, 2.767 seconds back.
Cole Cabrera, 24, started ninth and was eighth at the back of a dueling five-car pack during the final ten laps. He picked off four cars in the final three laps and finished fourth, 3.659 seconds in back of the winner. Porter, September 2 winner Ryan Vargas, Johnson and Garner (in the HPR No. 56) finished fifth through eighth and were within 0.494 of each other. Rookie Kayla Eshleman, 15, and Rodney Peacher completed the top ten. All 12 finishers logged 30 laps. The opening race took 48-minutes. Fourth fastest qualifier Schartau ran the fastest race lap of 91.776 mph.
2ND LM 30: The first ten finishers from the first 30 started fully-inverted with first 30 winner Alan outside row five. Only 14 of 20 cars were able to start race two. Huddleston's battered No. 50 had multi-color florescent masking tape applied to the front, back and both sides of the car, making it resemble psychedelic artwork. A revised front row had Garner and late model rookie Eshleman on the front row. Vargas, in his repaired No. 23 that he crashed during Friday night open practice, and rookie Johnson, 37, were in row two.
Seeking a first LM victory, Eshleman led the first two laps over fellow rookie Johnson, driving his father Mike's No. 17 RCF-built Chevy. Johnson took the lead on lap 3. On lap 4 Eshleman's No. 09 Chevy was struck by third place Porter and sent into the backstretch wall. Both damaged cars exited the race. At lap 10, mid-pack four-wide racing off turn four despite the diminished field excited the 1,200 fans present. Joanides took second position from Garner by lap 10. Huddleston was up to P. 4 by lap 17 after an eight-lap duel with his HPR teammate Garner.
On lap 28 Alan spun out of fifth position in mid-turn four. He restarted at the back with 12 cars running and all on the lead lap. Rookie Johnson led all but the first two laps and beat runner-up Joanides by 0.585 (10-yards). He took a slow victory drive in reverse direction on the front straight. Huddleston's battered car took third spot from Vargas on lap 28 and closed on Joanides' No. 77 quickly, but trailed him by 0.114 at the conclusion. Vargas, rookie Jones, Garner, Cabrera, Schartau, Alan, Atkinson, Jeff Williams and Peacher finished in P. 4-12. The race took 24-minutes. Huddleston ran the quickest lap of 90.630 mph.
The top three stopped at the finish line for interviews. Winner Johnson said, “Thank God. It was a lot easier to drive this race than the first race. Thanks to my dad and Jeff Schrader. I led a lot of laps earlier this season. I should've finished fourth in the first 30, but I made a mistake. I always looked up to Nick Joanides and he finished second.” Joanides said, “The only positive is I'm the only one here in the top three in both races. We put seven race-old tires on it. Trevor did a good job to get to third with his wrecked car.” Huddleston said, “This was a rough one. My car was duct taped together.”
IRT 35: Connor Cantrell, of Valencia, celebrated his 27th birthday (DOB 9/9/90) by driving his No. 9 Chevy S-10 to fastest qualifying time. He started from pole position and led all 35 laps of the Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks race, the fifth main of the night. He won the first two of eight IRT main events this season during April and spent the last four months working on a job in Nor Cal and living in Pacifica (near Half Moon Bay).
Cantrell, the 2011 and 2016 IRT track champion, won the all-green light feature by 30-yards (1.683 seconds) over Ken Michaelian, who won the last three IRT features during July and August. Michaelian was in P. 4 for 25 laps. Then he used an inside pass in the fourth corner and took third from point leader Lucas McNeil. He used the same move on lap 32 to take second from Dennis Arena, who finished third, 2.7 seconds behind the winner. McNeil was fourth, 3.2 back. Nico Mongenel, truck rookie/skid plate cars 15-time winner Mike Di Gregorio, rookie L. J. Billings, Jacob McNeil, and Zack Green also ran all 35 laps in a ten-truck field. Cantrell averaged 88.410 mph and ran the fastest lap of 90.644 mph.
SPEC LM 20: Six Sharkey's Spec Late Models used a four-car inverted starting lineup, putting fast timer Robby Hornsby, 25, from Yucaipa, outside row two. The 2013 IS mini stock track champion in a Pinto led all 20-laps in Kenny Smith's No. 43 Chevy. He won by 1.845 seconds over series sponsor Craig Yeaton, the July 15 winner. Hornsby now has won six of seven 2017 Irwindale features, including the last three events.
Ed Cutler took P. 3 from pole-sitter Robert Arevalo on lap 17 with an inside pass at the starting line. Arevalo and 70-year old Kenny Smith (in a Yeaton-owned car) followed. Truck racer/two-time IS super stock champion Zack Green started and finished sixth, five seconds in back of the winner. The all-green light race averaged 86.000 mph. Hornsby clocked the fastest lap of 87.264 mph.
LEGENDS 35: Event three was the Jan's Towing Legend Cars main starting ten cars on the third-mile. Versatile Ricky Schlick, 20, was fresh from winning his first Spears SRL SW Tour 150-lap super late model feature in Salt Lake City last Saturday in the Cansdale No. 48. He drove his new 2017 legends coupe to fast time honors in group qualifying at 3:30. The Claremont resident started fourth and became the third leader on lap 9. He then led every lap to the checkers.
Third starter Chad Schug led laps 3-8 and finished 0.466 in back of Schlick. Point leader/sixth starter Darren Amidon reached P. 3 by lap 8 and ran nose-to-tail in the lead trio. He trailed Schlick by 0.719. Colton Page and laps 1-2 leader Austin Farr completed the top five. All ten starters finished the caution-free race with the first eight finishers on the lead lap. Schlick's 73.299 mph lap was the quickest.
Rusty Wallace Racing Experience Twin 20s: The second and seventh main events were late models with 400 HP GM crate engines from the school that operates at California Speedway in Fontana and other speedways. It was the first racing event at IS for the Wallace school. Retired NASCAR Cup 1989 Champion Rusty Wallace bought the race car driving school known as Drive Tech in 2011.
Six cars used afternoon practice laps (up to 13 laps) as qualifying times. Matt Tsou was the quickest at 83.403 mph on the half-mile. That was 7.295 mph slower than the existing Drive Tech record lap of 90.698 mph. Dave Sear, of La Jolla, won both 20-lap races for his initial IS triumphs. He led laps 3-20 in race one and beat Peter Styles by 0.550.
James Scott and David Arnold followed and also ran 20 laps. Tsou ran the fastest lap of 85.645 mph, spun on lap 5 and lost a lap. Joseph Crozer was sixth, also with 19 laps in the 11-minute contest. The final race started five cars and Sear, a past IS late model driver, again led laps 3-20 in a nine-minute event. He won by 0.650 over laps 1-2 leader Tsou. Arnold, Scott and Styles followed.