IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY 2018 NASCAR SEASON OPENER – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 24 – The 19th NASCAR Whelen All-American Series opener, presented by the City of Irwindale, ran seven main events Saturday from 7:00 to 9:40 pm at Irwindale Speedway. Twin 30-lap features for the LKQ Pick Your Part Late Models on the half-mile topped the program. A new Junior Late Model division for drivers ages 10-15 also raced at IS for the first time and utilized the third-mile.
New Irwindale co-promoters Tim Huddleston and Bob Bruncati, owner of the Sunrise Ford dealerships, welcomed fans to the NASCAR event during opening ceremonies. Huddleston’s teenage daughter sang the National Anthem. Irwindale ;Mayor Mark Breceda gave the command to start engines for the first of two 30-lap main events.
The first late model feature for 18 cars present used a straight-up starting lineup based upon 4:30 pm single-car qualifying. Lawless Alan, a former Notre Dame High-Sherman Oaks student, started from pole position. The 18-year old INEX Legend Cars graduate led every lap for his second career IS late model feature victory. He won his initial main last season in the first 30-lap main on September 23.
Allan, a definite 2018 IS and California championship contender, drove the same Christopher & Lawless Allan-owned No. 25 sponsored by AutoPark It.com, an automated parking system founded by his father Christopher in 2007. He also won NASCAR late model mains earlier this season on February 2 and March 15 at the half-mile Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield.
The second 30-lap feature was the sixth of seven events Saturday. The event used a ten-car inverted starting lineup based on the finishing order in the first 30. That lineup placed Allan on the outside of row five and tenth finisher Dylan Garner, 19, on the pole for the second 30. Blaine Perkins, 18, who finished ninth in the first 30, started second in the No. 51 HPR Toyota and led every lap in the second 30.
It also was the second career late model series feature triumph at IS for the Bakersfield driver. His first triumph came as a 14-year old late model rookie in the second 35-lap race on September 27, 2014. He drove for the same HPR team owned by Tim Huddleston, but he used the No. 55 car in that impressive victory.
Perkins also raced the HPR No. 50 spec late model to three consecutive Irwindale Spec Late Model victories on the half-mile from August 2 to October 18, 2014. Perkins has not raced regularly at IS in recent years because he was a 2016 rookie in the traveling series NASCAR K & N West Series. He drove the No. 21 Chevy of Steve Portenga and also raced it during the 2017 season. Perkins finished tenth in final 2017 K & N West driver points (four points out of ninth). He had ten finishes in the top ten, including a pair of sevenths.
1ST LM 30: Allan beat second starter Ryan Schartau, 15, to the first turn and led the second year late model driver all 30 laps. Schartau, driving the No. 7 Kevin Bowles Chevy again this year, trailed by 15-yards at lap 10. He gradually closed on the leader and trailed by two lengths (-0.263 seconds) at the finish. Christopher McGhee started and finished third in one of two Joe Nava cars. Upland’s Zachary St. Onge, 16, started fifth and finished fourth. Jagger Jones, 15, came from ninth on the grid to place fifth.
Nick Joanides, 47, Alec Martinez, Hailie Deegan, 16-year old daughter of off-road racing star Brian Deegan and a Drive for Diversity NASCAR Next rookie in the 2018 K & N West Series, followed. She raced a legend car on the IS third-mile four years ago. Perkins and Garner completed the top ten. Twelve drivers finished on the lead lap and only one car did not finish. Alan ran the fastest lap at 93.211 mph and averaged 90.553 mph during his 15-mile run.
2ND LM 30: With Garner and Perkins on the front row, Perkins shot into the lead at the start and led all 30 laps. Martinez (No. 26), started fourth and finished a career-best second (-0.262) aboard the ex-No. 23 Ryan Vargas car from last season. The Martinez family purchased the Vargas car during the off-season. Vargas, a three feature winner in 2017, moved to North Carolina to race in the K & N East Series as a 2018 NASCAR Next driver.
Schartau, passed Joanides for third on lap 22. Alan took fourth a lap later. The top five remained unchanged to the finish. Garner, in his new self-built No. 97, finished sixth. Deegan, in her first race night on the IS half-mile, drove the No. 56 HPR Toyota. She started third and finished seventh. Second year late model driver Jagger Jones, 15, St. Onge and Billy Helgeson completed the top ten.
Thirteen of 15 finishers were on the lead lap. The only caution flag flew on the initial lap after Kevin Furden contacted the crash-wall leaving turn two and stopped against the backstretch wall with right side damage. Two other drivers did not finish the 18-minute event. Perkins clocked the fastest lap of 91.959 mph. Allan (P 1 and 4) and Schartau (P. 2 and 3) are tied for the series point lead at 94 points.
SHARKY’S SPEC LATE MODELS (Irwindale Race of Champions): The half-mile oval event canceled by rain during the March 10 “Night of Destruction” event started ten cars. Drivers were past racing champions and an Irwindale race driving school graduate. Ryan Partridge, a four-time IS champion in trucks and late models, stated fourth in the No. 68 ex-Hildebrand Racing car. He took the lead on lap 2 from three-time IS super stock champion Zack Green.
Three-time IS series champion Joanides drove the ex-Dylan Garner No. 97. He took third on lap 3 and challenged Partridge during the first stage through lap 15 of the 30-lap race. A yellow flag after lap 15 allowed officials to invert the first five cars for the second 15 laps. That put leader Partridge inside row three, with Joanides outside row two.
The lap 16 green flag had 1991-92 NASCAR K & N West champion Bill Sedgwick, 63, on the pole in the HPR No. 50, with IS 2002 Grand Am Modified champion John Watkinson alongside. Kenny Smith, a 71-year old eight time champion at three speedways, started third in his own No. 43 that Robby Hornsby drove to the 2017 IS spec late model title.
Sedgwick, a K & N West crew chief, led laps 16-24 in a close duel with Partridge from laps 18-24. On lap 25 Partridge used an inside pass in the second turn to take command for good. Joanides made an inside fourth corner pass on lap 27, dropping Sedgwick to a P. 3 finish. Smith placed fourth with Zack Green fifth. IRT 2017 champion Dennis Arena, Watkinson, Robert Arevalo, and three-time IS late model champion Trevor Huddleston followed. Matt Tsou was a DNF. Partridge ran the fastest lap at 88.924 mph. He also won his 52nd IS feature in multiple divisions by 1.179 seconds over Joanides, the winner of 54-features at IS.
IRWINDALE RACE TRUCKS 35: Eight trucks used a straight-up start in the final race at 9:20 pm. Fastest qualifier and two-time series champion Connor Cantrell, 27, started first and led the first 18 laps on the half-mile in his Chevy S-10. He held a truck-length lead on lap 19 when the only caution occurred for a solo spinner. On the restart, runner-up Partridge (in the No. 6 Ford Ranger that he drove to the 2014 IRT championship as No. 48) took the lead entering turn one. He pulled away to a 50-yard winning margin over Cantrell, a five-time IRT winner last season. Cantrell relocated to Pacifica last year for a job and missed four mid-season races.
Partridge returned to IS competition after a one-year hiatus from racing last season. He also is racing one of three Bob Bruncati Fords in the 2018 NASCAR K & N West Series. His second feature victory Saturday upped his IS career total to 53 feature victories, one short of tying Joanides for second place on the list of all-time IS main event winners.
Lucas McNeil started and finished third. Teammates Dennis Arena and 2017 series rookie of the year L. J. Billings finished fourth and fifth. Sixth finisher Philip Lauck also completed 35 laps. Partridge logged the the fastest race lap at 89.188 mph.
THIRD-MILE ACTION: The third-mile oval was the setting for three divisions—INEX Legend Cars, super stocks, and the new IS Junior Late Model Series. Drivers ages 10-15 ran two events with a race Friday during the 5:00 to 9:30 pm open practice session for all divisions. They also raced as event five Saturday. Five juniors raced Friday and four Saturday.
SUPER STOCKS: With only three cars present, drivers raced a 12-lap main. Fastest qualifier Rich De Long III, a NASCAR K & N West owner/driver, led all but the first lap. He won by 0.691 in his No. 84 Chevy SS. Jerry Toporek, from Venice, finished 12 seconds in front of Matthew Sampson’s Camaro. Sampson started third and banged past pole-man De Long entering the first turn to lead lap 1. Toporek took P. 2 on lap 5 after Sampson almost spun in turn four. The all-green light race took 4:45.818. Toporek ran the quickest lap of 71.124 mph.
INEX LEGEND CARS 35: Thirteen drivers raced and used a seven-car inverted lineup by qualifying times. Austin Farr, 18, started second and led the initial seven laps. Fast timer Darren Amidon, 33-year old four-time series champion, worked forward to P. 2 by lap 7 in a nose-to-tail three-way dogfight. Amidon used an inside pass entering the third turn on lap 8 and opened a 40-yard edge (2.316 seconds) over runner-up Chad Schug, a three-time series champion. Schug took his P. 2 on lap 10.
Farr earned third, 3,272 seconds short of his first main event victory. Late model driver Schartau was fourth with Ricky Leigh fifth. Tyler Hicks was sixth in his new replica 1934 Ford coupe and was the last lead lap driver. Eleven of 13 drivers finished. The 20-minute race had one caution flag on lap 5 for a spinner. Amidon ran the fastest lap of 72.867 mph.
JR LATE MODELS: Friday – The new IS series for youngsters in full-size late models used the lower speed third-mile. R. J. Smotherman, from Las Vegas, set fast time of 15.817 (75.792 mph) for a series automatic NTR. Two drivers tied for second with identical 15.895 laps. The scheduled 20 lap race ran 21 laps with second starter Kyle Keller, 14, from Las Vegas, the lap 1-6 leader.
Then third starter Austin Edwards, 13, from Mentone, took charge and won by 1.470 seconds over Smotherman. Keller was third in a 17-minute race and 2.978 in back of the winner. Bandolero veteran Olivia Manke, who recently turned 15, finished fourth, a lap down in a car that her father raced years ago. Braden Connor dropped out on lap 3 with an engine problem. He did not return Saturday.
Saturday – The four drivers who finished Friday returned and re-qualified with Keller the fastest at 15.937. Third starter Keller led laps 1 and 8-12 in a race shortened by eight laps earlier by officials. Second starter Edwards led laps 2-7 in his Hamke-built chassis after passing Keller on the inside entering turn three. Keller used an inside pass in the fourth corner on lap 8 and opened a ten-yard winning margin (0.638) over Edwards. Manke was 11-seconds back at the end. Smotherman dropped out on lap 3. The all-green race took 3:12.579 and averaged 74.700 mph. Edwards ran the fastest lap of 15.814 (75.806 mph), faster than the series one-lap track record by 0.003. After two races, Edwards is the point leader with 98. Keller has 96 points and Smotherman 92.
The next Irwindale oval track event on Saturday, April 7 has twin late model 30-lap mains, with IRT, Legend Cars, spec late models, and four-cylinder enduro cars on the program.