SCHMIDT WINS SPEARS MFG SW TOUR IRWINDALE 100 – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jun. 9 – Eric Schmidt won his first career feature on the Irwindale Speedway progressively-banked half-mile Saturday in the first of two stops this season for the touring super late model series. The Spears Mfg Southwest Tour 100, the fourth of nine Spears SWT point races this season, was presented by Coleman Powersports. The winner collected a $5,000 first place check thanks to Performance Friction Brakes. Four Irwindale track series also raced prior to the SWT feature.
Schmidt, a 43-year old veteran from Roseville, won his last feature in the series 12 years ago during his 2006 Spears SWT championship season. He also raced at IS in the annual NASCAR-sanctioned Toyota All-Star Challenge Championship event that pit top ten point drivers from each of NASCAR Elite Division four regions around the country. Schmidt said he never had much success in those events. He finished eighth at Irwindale in the 2017 Spears SWT point-season opener.
Schmidt intends to race for the Spears SWT championship this year after not doing so for almost a decade following his 2006 championship. He raced successfully in the super late model Pacific Challenge Series, which raced at IS in 2015. That series raced primarily at tracks in northern and central California. He and his team have been together for many years.
This season Schmidt finished fourth at Madera, third at the Bullring in Las Vegas, and 26th at Bakersfield’s Kern County Raceway Park after a blown engine. He entered round four at Irwindale ranked eighth in points and departed in third position. This year the series competes at five speedways—Stockton 99 Speedway once, and twice each at Madera, LVMS Bullring, KCRP, and Irwindale.
The next round at Irwindale will be Saturday, July 14 when four-time SWT champion Derek Thorn and three-time IS late model champion Trevor Huddleston will be in the field. Thorn and Huddleston competed in the NASCAR K & N West Series Dacono, Colo. 175 Saturday and finished first and third respectively. Their Bob Bruncati Sunrise Ford teammate Ryan Partridge placed second, giving the So Cal Ford dealership owner and IS co-promoter a podium sweep in a 15-car field.
Spears SWT procedure calls for the fastest qualifiers (eight at IS) to draw for their main event starting positions just before climbing aboard their cars. Irwindale home track favorite Ricky Schlick, from Claremont, used his “home track” knowledge to set the quickest time during 5:00 pm qualifying. His 17.559 fell short of the 17.272 (103.4 mph) Spears SWT track record set by Thorn last year.
In order, the eight fastest qualifiers and their drawn starting positions were: Schlick (6), Jacob Gomes (4), Jeremy Doss (3), Jeff Bischofberger (7), Schmidt (pole position), Carlos Vieira (5), Craig Raudman (2) and Blaine Rocha (8). Qualifiers in positions nine-20 started straight-up in their qualifying speed order.
The range of qualifying times by the 20 touring professional drivers ranged by only 0.765 from Schlick’s 17.559 to the 20th fastest 18.324. Racing proved to be just as competitive with two and three wide racing common during the race. Drivers raced hard using inside and outside grooves while conserving tires, especially the right rear, for a late race push for positions during the closing laps.
FEATURE: SWT starter Noel Dawson waved the green flag at 9:20 and Schmidt out-dueled second starter Raudman, the 2001 NASCAR Elite Division Southwest Tour champion, for the lead. The first six drivers—Schmidt, Raudman, Gomes, Schlick, Rocha and Vieira—raced in a tight pack during the initial ten laps. Drivers clicked off 37 laps in 12 minutes with positions changing in mid-pack nearly every lap. Schmidt lapped his first car, which was a straight-away behind the 19th place car., on lap 21.
On lap 24 Raudman, 56, executed an inside move and cleared Schmidt for the lead. He quickly opened a ten-yard advantage by lap 30 with only one car down a lap. On lap 37 the 14th place car of Bob Lyon had a flat tire and slowed suddenly in turn three. Keith Spangler’s 16th place car, following closely, could not avoid contact with Lyon’s No. 44 and both spun in front of rapidly approaching leader Raudman. Lyon spun hard into the outside wall. Raudman’s Dave Reed No. 2 slammed into the side of Spangler’s car and received significant damage. Drivers escaped injury.
As following cars dodged the melee, the fifth place No. 21 of Rocha, from Oakdale, spun out in the fourth turn. He drove to the pits and retired his car with an oil leak. Drivers were shown the yellow flag initially and then the red flag at 9:33 to allow track crews to clear the crash. Wreckers towed the three stopped cars to the pits. Starter Dawson waved his green flag at 9:48 and Schmidt dueled the P. 2-3 cars of Gomes and Schlick in a tight three-car pack lap after lap.
The lap 50 crossed flags signal to drivers showed P. 4-10 drivers were: SWT rookie Kyle Neveau, 26, from San Clemente, Vieira, two-time 2018 Spears SWT winner Doss, Dan Holtz, Bischofberger, Cale Kanke and SWT rookie Cole Moore. The fifth place duel between Vieira and Doss was intense for the next ten laps with Doss attacking from the inside groove.
Kayla Eshleman, a 16-year old high school junior in So. Cal, started 19th and raced up to 11th by lap 39. She was still on the lead lap in P. 12 on lap 62 when she lost oil pressure and pulled into the infield “to save the engine”. The 2016 IS champion in bandolero cars, stepped up to NASCAR late models last season at Irwindale driving the No. 09 Chevy owned by her grandfather Dave with her father Jeff as crew chief. The petite blonde progressed rapidly and finished a close second in the series 100-lap season finale last November. She entered the IS race ranked fifth in the 15 driver SWT 2018 rookie class. Her 188 points ranked 23rd of 45 drivers with SWT points.
Second-running Gomes, the 2015 Spears SWT champion, was only one length in back of race leader Schmidt pressing for the lead. Schlick was only ten yard s in back of Gomes with plans for a late race charge into the lead. Suddenly, on lap 72 Gomes’ No. 16 slowed and pulled into the infield “with a broken right front hub”. He finished 15th.
With closest challenger Gomes in the infield, Schmidt decided to stop conserving tires and go for the victory. By lap 75 he led Schlick’s No. 48 Howard Schlick S & J Towing Chevy by 30-yards. He extended his lead to 35-yards when the lap 100 checkers flew at 10:07 pm. Schlick, the Spears SWT 2017 rookie of the year, scored his second top five in four SWT races this season. He said he was fighting a tight car in the center of the turns. Nevertheless, Schlick, who turned 21 last month, was happy with his best result since he won a Spears SWT 150-lap race in Utah last September. He now ranks second in 2018 points.
Third finisher Doss trailed the winner by 3.197 seconds. SWT rookie/Irwindale super late No. 39 veteran K. Neveau was a SWT career-best fourth place (-3.367). Bischofberger (-5.215) completed the top five. Bischofberger, 36, took fifth place from Holtz with a power pass to the inside at the finish line and edged Holtz by 0.024. He earned a post-race top five drivers interview at the finish line. The first five cars were Chevy SS bodies, but the Mike Doss-owned No. 75 used a Ford engine. The first five finishing cars went through post-race tech inspection and all passed.
Holtz, Vieira, C. Kanke, Cole Moore and his father John Moore completed the top ten. All logged 100 laps and finished within 14 seconds. The father/son Moore team from Granite Bay (Placer County) waged an entertaining duel from lap 30 to the finish and were close together all 70 laps. Dad John started 14th and son Cole, 22, started 15th. Cole led the family duel from early laps and edged his dad by 0.401.
Fourteen of 20 starters finished. Jason Gilbert and SWT rookie Jack Wood had 99 laps. Scott Sanchez ran 98 and 20th starter Jim Wulfenstein logged 97 circuits. Disappointed Raudman, a past Irwindale touring series winner, chalked up his heart-breaking loss to continuing bad luck this season.
Schmidt drove the No. 05 Chevy SS owned by Randy Hedrick and sponsored by Sierra Technology and W.A.R Racing Shocks. He led the first 23 laps and laps 38-100 while conserving his tires and won by 1.221 seconds. The 41-minute race was red flagged for 15-minutes after the third turn crash involving leader Raudman. The winning speed was 72.707 mph. Schmidt clocked the fastest lap of the race at 18.040 (99.778 mph). Other fastest laps were: 18.059 by Raudman, 18.063 by Schlick, and 18.097 by Gomes.
POINT LEADER ABSENT: SWT teams were shocked to learn Buddy Shepherd, the18-year old series point leader after three point races, was not present at IS. His No. 15 Wilson Racing team from Washington state reportedly was absent because of financial reasons. Shepherd, who recently graduated from Centennial High in northwest Bakersfield, held a ten-point lead (470-460) over Doss and 35-points over Schlick. A SWT victory is worth 180-points. Shepherd, a KCRP and Madera Speedway driver, also led the Spears SWT rookie point standings by 42 over Cole Moore, who had 428 points and ranked sixth overall. Moore is the new SWT rookie point leader after Irwindale with five point races remaining.
What makes the financial set-back so devastating is the fact that Shepherd is so talented as a driver. He placed second in the Wilson Racing No. 15 to first-time California feature winner/NASCAR Monster Energy Cup driver Kyle Busch (the fourth fastest qualifier) on February 3, 2018. The 4th annual Winter Showdown for super late models took place at the KCRP half-mile in Bakersfield. Bubba Pollard, from Georgia, won the first two events at KCRP and Thorn won last year with Kyle Busch a top five finisher on his first trip to KCRP.
The $150,000 televised 300-lap event attracted national drivers to the “nation’s richest short track super late model race”. It paid the winner $30,000 and a minimum of $3,000 to all feature starters. Shepherd set the fastest qualifying time of 17.310 (103.986 mph) in a 48 car field and 36 cars started the feature. Only nine drivers finished all 300 laps. Shepherd led early in the Wilson Racing No. 15 and finished only 1.783 behind Busch. Runner-up Shepherd beat NASCAR Xfinity Series 2018 drivers Daniel Hemric, Ty Majeski, and Noah Gragson, who finished third through fifth.
Shepherd started racing at age four in quads and motorcycles. He progressed through junior micro sprints, restricted 600cc micros sprints, and INEX Legend Cars in which he won the 2013 track championship during the inaugural KCRP season. Then he transitioned to late models. He also raced at ages 15-17 five times in the NASCAR K & N West Series in a Jefferson-Pitts Racing Ford. No. 27 and No. 55.
Buddy, whose first name is Richard in honor of his father Dick–a veteran dirt late model driver–also won a 2017 Spears SWT feature at Madera Speedway and had two top fives. He uses No. 22 on his family-owned cars because it was his dad’s car number.
Shepherd is a three-time late model track champion (two at Madera and one at KCRP). He was the 2017 Pro Late Model Series Champion and also captured the $10,000 to win late model 2017 Short Track Shootout at Madera. He started on the pole as fastest qualifier and led every lap in the MAVTV televised event. Clearly, Shepherd deserves his chance to compete for the 2018 SWT championship on his journey to the top national tier of stock car racing.
Irwindale Spears SWT practice on Friday night had all 20 teams present. Drivers ran up to 44 laps and Doss was fastest in the 4:30 pm session with a lap of 17.988. He was fastest again in the 6:00 session with a lap of 17.777 as drivers ran up to 45 laps. The third and final session at 7 :30 had Raudman at 17.631 atop the speed chart as drivers logged up to 47 laps. The combined all three sessions best lap had a range from 17.631 to 18.560. The only Saturday SWT practice in mid-day 85-degree heat had Raudman fastest at 17.870 and the 20th quickest at 18.527.
SWT IS HISTORY: Spears SWT has had eight different Irwindale feature winners in nine races since 2009 when Troy Ermish won a July 100-lap main. M. K. Kanke, a SWT champion, won the only 125-lap SWT feature at IS in September, 2009. Since 2010 all SWT mains have been 100 laps, including wins by Jonathan Gomez in July and Kanke’s second IS win in September. There were no SWT events run in Irwindale during 2011 and 2013.
The IS oval track was idle during 2012 between the first and second promotional organizations. Spears SWT events have been held each year from 2014-2018. Winners were: Greg Voigt (August, 2014), Derek Thorn (June, 2015), Ryan Cansdale (April, 2016), and Bobby Hodges (March, 2017) prior to Schmidt’s win in the June, 2018 event.
SPEARS MFG: Former NASCAR West Series No. 75 stock car owners Wayne and Connie Spears, of So Cal, have been long-time SWT Series sponsors. They own Spears Manufacturing with headquarters in Sylmar. It is a world leader in plastic pipe fittings and valves. The firm has more than one million square feet of manufacturing facilities in four states and nine distribution centers in the USA for world-wide distribution.
SUPER STOCKS: Ten super stock drivers raced a 30-lap main event on the third-mile with a four-car inverted starting lineup. Rich De Long III, 30, led every lap from the pole in his No. 84 Chevy SS for his second victory this season. Darren Cheek, the 2013 track champion, un-retired this year and won a main event April 28. He started third in his No.62 Camaro but dropped out of second place on lap 14 with a mechanical problem.
Fastest qualifier Bryan Harrell, 56, last raced in 2011 in his own No. 55 Camaro. The 2008 IS super stock champion subbed in the No. 94 Camaro for owner Larry Sampson, whose regular driver/son Matthew took a vacation to Las Vegas. Harrell showed he hasn’t lost his racing ability by setting the fastest qualifying time and a super stock new track record on the third-mile. Super stocks raced on the half-mile prior to the 2017 season. Harrell’s 16.290 (73.591 mph) eclipsed the 16.524 (72.549 mph) record set by Steve Smith in his No. 00 Camaro last August.
When Cheek exited Harrell inherited P. 2 and finished second by 0.396. He tried an outside pass for the lead in the fourth turn during lap 26 but went into a four-wheel drift that cost him ten yards. First-time IS racer Gavin Bucy, a Havasu (Ariz.) 95 Speedway street stock driver, started ninth and finished third, 1.625 off the lead. Rich De Long, father of the winner, and Jerry Toporek also completed all 30 laps. Bridgette Shaw and Jason De Long were down a lap. Harrell ran the fastest lap of 16.377 (73.200 mph).
INEX LEGEND CARS: Eleven legend car drivers raced a 35-lap main on the third-mile. Tyler Hicks led the first five laps from the pole. Donny St. Ours led laps 6-13 but slowed to stop at turn two on lap 14 with a suspected seized rear end. His car went to the pits via a wrecker. Darren Amidon, 33, proved why he is a four-time L/C track champion by leading laps 14-35 and won by 0.203. It was his third victory in four IS races this season.
Three-time series champion Chad Schug followed. Hicks, Mathew Bowen and Austin Farr followed and were the last drivers on the lead lap. In the absence of any mini stock cars in the pits, legend cars ran a pair of 8-lap heat races to start competition at 7:06 pm. Hicks and Schug came from the back for heat victories.
SHARKEY’s SPEC LATE MODELS: Six RCF-built late models, formerly called S2 cars, raced with a three-car inverted grid based on afternoon time trials. Kenny Smith, 71 started second in his No. 43 and led all 25 laps. He drove the car in which 2017 series champion Robby Hornsby won seven of the nine events. With new father Hornsby taking a year off from racing, “grandpa” Smith stepped back into the role of driver.
Smith said his goal is to become the oldest main event winner and series champion in Irwindale history. “I’ll be 72 on September 25.” he stated. With three different feature winners in three 2018 races he might be able to accomplish his ambitious goal. He dedicated his victory to his wife who was present after surviving lengthy cancer treatment last year in nearby City of Hope Medical Center in nearby Duarte.
Last main event winner Johnny Butler, 60, finished second, 0.460 back. Series sponsor Craig Yeaton followed and also completed 25 laps. Fourth through sixth drivers John Watkinson and the De Long brothers–Rich III and Jason—followed and also ran 25 laps. The 10:26.283-timed event had one caution for a solo spin by Jason. Smith’s 87.934 mph was the fastest lap of the race.
JUNIOR LATE MODELS: Five youngsters with a variety of racing experience stepped up this year to race in a new IS division–Junior Late Models. Drivers ages range from 11 to 14 and participants drive full-size late models on the third-mile oval. They qualified against the clock Friday during the open practice for all divisions and again Saturday afternoon. They raced main events both Friday and Saturday.
Saturday: A 25-lap main event lined up two-by-two with fastest qualifiers in front. Las Vegan fast timer R. J. Smotherman, 13, led every lap and beat Cody Kiemele, 11, by 0.941. Rylee Davidhizer, a girl from Bakersfield, finished 1.519 off the lead. Las Vegas resident Kyle Keller, 14, was challenging for the lead on the final lap when he spun out to the backstretch infield. He restarted under caution and beat Braden Connor, 11, to the finish line. The 16-minute race had six yellow flags for solo spins.
Friday: The same five drivers qualified Friday after the final SWT practice session and raced at 9:30 pm in a scheduled 20-lap main. FQ Smothermon started on pole and led through the white flag lap by a few feet over Keller. On lap 20 entering the third turn Keller’s RF fender contacted the LR fender of the leader. Smotherman spun and Keller was the only drive to cross start/finish under the caution flag. All other drivers spun to avoid Smotherman’s car.
All five cars restarted for a green, white, checkered flag final two laps that resulted in the race going 21 laps officially. Kiemele, in the No. 48 Chevy, led the final two laps over Davidhizer. Smotherman and Keller restarted in that order at the back and raced past Connor on the outside to P. 3-4. Connor trailed Keller in fifth place in a 13-minute contest with two caution flags.
The series has now run Friday/Saturday doubleheaders three times since the March 23 debut race. There have been four different main event winners in six features. Kiemele and Smotherman became first-time winners in the series. Other winners Austin Edwards and Kyle Keller have won twice.
The next event at IS on Saturday, June 16 will be another of those wild and zany “Night of Destruction” events so popular with fans. Management advised fans to buy admission tickets prior to Saturday to avoid being shutout, which happened earlier this year with all tickets sold out early for a N of D event.