IRWINDALE “N of D” TOPS 8,000 SPECTATORS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jan. 27 – What was billed in November as the final racing event at Irwindale Speedway Saturday turned out to be only the end of “act two”. The Crypt-Unite Global presented evening was the final event promoted by 211 Entertainment LLC. “Act three” under the auspices of a new promotional group called Group of Motor-sports Enthusiasts will assume promotion of the Irwindale oval and eighth-mile drag-strip on February 1. A press release on December 28 announced the prestigious speedway would continue under at a two-year lease with an option for five years.
The third promotional group at IS in 20 years consists of well-known, distinguished local businessmen. They are: business owner Tim Huddleston, a three-time NASCAR late model driving champion at IS, Bob Bruncati, owner of the Sunrise Ford dealership and a multi-car NASCAR K & N West stock car team, plus Ed Justice, Jr., owner of Justice Brothers Car Care Products in Duarte and a long-time racing sponsor. They expect to hit the ground running and will implement new ideas.
The new promotional team announced a full slate of racing events on both the oval track and drag-strip. There will be 18 Saturday nights of oval racing from March 10 to December 1 under NASCAR sanction, as has been the case since the speedway opened in March 1999. The drag-strip will be open to the public each Thursday evening and will host six NHRA Summit Racing track championship events.
On hand for 7:00 pm opening ceremonies at the finish line were Los Angeles Dodgers goodwill ambassador and long-time manager Tommy Lasorda, 90. The gregarious MLB Hall of Fame inductee addressed the huge crowd and said the Dodgers will return to the World Series this year and win one more game. Also present was famous gospel singer Keith Williams, Jr., who sang our National Anthem as he has done before Dodger playoff games in Dodgers Stadium.
The first of monthly Irwindale “Night of Destruction” events and a ten-minute aerial fireworks show attracted a crowd of more than 8,000 persons. All 6,500 grandstand seats were sold out two days prior to the event. Management brought in three metal bleachers (Rose Parade type) and placed two near turn four and one near turn one. Additional grandstands allowed about 800 more persons to watch events comfortably. The pit bleachers at turn one and the 12 suites added additional spectators. The result was a new track record for oval track attendance, excluding drifting events.
On track events started at 7:15 pm with a Seidner's Collision Centers compact car enduro 25-lap race. Brad Stellman, of Gardena, started second in the same No. 62 Honda Accord that he drove to victory last season in one of the six enduros for four-cylinder sedans. The race on the third-mile used a five-turn R-oval with jogs into the infield and onto the half-mile front straight.
There were 44 entrants in race one of 2018 and 39 cars started. Stellman, 55, led every lap and won by 7.490 seconds over James Bolinas, who had a helmeted and seat-belted passenger alongside. Dewitt Jones was third. Seven drivers finished on the lead lap with 31 cars running at the finish. The all-green light race took 10:43.966 and averaged 69.879 mph.
Event two was a Seidner's Collision Centers Figure 8 race for compact cars. It used the third-mile oval and the treacherous X intersection in the middle of the infield. Twenty-five drivers entered and 16 of the enduro cars reappeared to do battle and out-brave other drivers. Pole starter Robert Rice, Jr., 23, led all the way in a Honda Accord and defeated his father by 1.997 seconds after 25 laps. J. Bolinas finished third, 3.552 seconds behind the winner.
The race was free of crashes at the X despite some close calls that elicited exclamations by many amazed spectators. As usual the N of D attracted numerous families and children, who come to the wild N of D for just such thrills. The all-green flag race took 8:59.678 and averaged 62.871 mph. The winner turned the fastest lap of 65.912 mph. Three drivers completed all 25 laps and ten drivers reached the checkered flag.
SKID PLATES: Next on the seven event schedule was a Seidner's Collision Centers skid plate cars 25-lap race. The same four-cylinder foreign and domestic compact cars able to compete after the prior two races reappeared and raced. Competitors replaced the two rear tires with metal skid plates on the back wheels. Forty drivers entered and 28 started.
Austin Lee., from Rancho Cucamonga, started first and led the initial 12 laps with his sister and father also in the field. On lap 13 at the starting line Lee got hit and spun while lapping cars and lost the lead. Mike Di Gregorio, the 29-year old all-time skid plate race winner in his No,. 18 Honda Accord, took the lead as Lee spun and led the final 13 laps.
Di Gregorio, from Menifee, added to his skid plate victory total by taking his 16th victory in 59 skid plate races since the first skid plate race at IS in 2009. His 18th IS victory in all series moved him into a 30th place tie on the list of drivers with the most Irwindale feature triumphs.
The all-green flag skid plate race took 14:10.444 and averaged 52.914 mph. Eighteen of 28 starters finished and three drivers completed all 25 laps. R. Rice, Sr. and A. Lee battled to the final lap for the runner-up status. Rice earned the position officially on the final lap and was 31 seconds in back of the winner.
Event four was the LKQ Pick Your Part J-10 aircraft jet engine demonstration burn-down of an old sedan in the infield. The maroon pickup truck with yellow flames on the side lived up to its name—“Inferno”. It melted down the old sedan in mere minutes. Magnesium and aluminum sparks from the melting sedan flew into the air and back to turn three of the third mile oval. Track firemen extinguished smoldering metal.
DEMO DERBY: An LKQ Pick Your Part demolition derby on a watered section of the infield had a seven-car field of well-used compact cars. Smashing and bashing (usually tail first to protect radiators) lasted 14-minutes. Veteran N of D participant Jeffrey Best, from Valencia, emerged with a hard-fought victory in his Honda Accord over first-time participant Nate Loumley, in a tough Volvo sedan. R. Rice, Jr. placed third.
Event six was the fan-favorite trailer race on the third-mile oval with 15 competitors. They drove sedans, pickup trucks, three Chevy El Caminos, and a black Bat-mobile look-alike car. Drivers towed trailers with large and small boats, jet skis, a taco cart, a standing human-like figure, and a small house trailer. R. Rice, Sr. and Robbie Salcido swapped the lead twice during the first six laps of a race that ran about 25 laps.
The checkered flag at 9:43 pm stopped the extensive littering around the track with only two vehicles still circling the track. Five spectators from the grandstand were chosen randomly and sat in the race control booth to determine the winner. They selected R. Rice, Sr. as the winner and grandstand spectators cheered their decision. It was the 46th career triumph (most in N of D events) at IS for Rice, ranking him fourth on the list of all-time winners at IS. Rip Michels leads with 67.
AWARDS CEREMONY: A 2017 season championship awards ceremony started at 4:15 pm in the victory lane area at the fan zone near the pit entrance. Track announcer Bruce Flanders served as emcee. 211 Entertainment, LLC presented trophies and plaques to the top three drivers in four NASCAR Irwindale divisions—the Pick Your Part Late Models (top ten), Seidner's Irwindale Race Trucks (top seven), Jan's Towing Legend Cars (top seven), and Sharkey's Spec Late Models (top three).
Top ten drivers recognized in the four divisions that awarded IS points were:
Late Models: Champion Trevor Huddleston, and P. 2-10—Dylan Garner, Nick Joanides, Ryan Vargas, Lawless Alan, Matt Johnson (Rkie), Ryan Schartau (Rkie), Jagger Jones (Rkie), George Atkinson, and Billy Helgeson. It is Huddleson's third consecutive IS LM track championship.
Irwindale Race Trucks: Champion Dennis Arena, and P. 2-7—Lucas McNeil, Jason McNeil, Zack Green, Nico Mongenel, L. J. Billings (Rkie), and Kenny Brown. It is Arena's first IS championship.
Spec Late Models: Champion Robby Hornsby, and P. 2-3—Craig Yeaton, and Ed Cutler. It is Hornsby's first Spec LM track title. He drove for Kenny Smith, 72, who will return to driving his No. 43 car in 2018. Hornsby was the IS 2013 mini stock champion.
Legend Cars: Champion Darren Amidon, and P. 2-7—Chad Schug, Austin Farr, Colton Page, Ricky Schlick, Tyler Hicks, and Troy Briesch. It is Amidon's fourth LC track championship at IS. He also won in 2007, 2013 and 2016.
Rookies of the year on the oval track were named in two divisions. They were: Matt Johnson, 37, from Corona, who placed sixth in late model final points with one fast time and one 30-lap feature victory. He is the son of 16-time IS late model main event winner Mike Johnson, of Covina. L. J. Billings, 19, from Glendora, finished sixth in IRT final points. He drove Dennis Arena's second truck (No. 3)..
Irwindale Drag-strip Summit Racing Series champions also honored were:
> Super Pro - Alex George, of Huntington Beach.
> Pro - Marvin Roles, of La Crescenta.
> Sportsman – Jack Swanson, of Yucaipa.
> Pro Bike - Laverk Harper,of Fontana.