IRWINDALE LM TWIN-30s: CLEAN & WRECK-FEST – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Apr. 22 – Irwindale Speedway ran six divisions and seven main events Saturday from 7:00 to 10:25 pm. NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Pick Your Part Late Models were the main story. A season-high 20 cars started the first and seventh races of the night. Outcomes were as different as day and night. The first 30 was clean and caution-free, while the second was a wreck-fest with four yellows and one red flag. Race one took ten minutes and the final race took 48 minutes, including a 14-minute red flag for a seven car crash.
1ST LM 30: Race one used a straight-up lineup based upon qualifying times. Fastest qualifier/point leader Trevor Huddleston, 20, earned pole position. The 2015-16 Irwindale track and NASCAR Whelen California Champion, led all 30-laps aboard his dad Tim's Racecar Factory-built No. 50 High Point Racing Chevy. It was his second victory in race four this season. His former HPR teammate Dylan Lupton, a 23-year old from Wilton, started second in Mark Perry's No. 10 Chevy and battled all 30-laps for the lead.
Lupton, the 2010 Irwindale S2 sportsman stock car champion, won three of 14 IS features that season driving the No. 56 HPR S2. He later raced in the touring NASCAR K & N West series for Bob Bruncati and finished second in 2014 points. He won a K & N feature at Kern County Raceway Park and was named a 2015 NASCAR Next driver. Lupton raced for several teams in NASCAR K & N East, the Xfinity Series and four Sprint Cup races in Toyota Camrys for BK Racing. He also graduated in 2016 with a finance degree from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
Lupton crossed the finish line five-yards (-0.401) in back of Huddleston. The all-green light race took 10:03.320 and averaged 89.505 mph. Third place Toni McCray finished 7.848 seconds off the lead. Dylan Garner, an 18-year old from Yorba Linda, started and finished fourth in the HPR No. 56. Billy Helgeson, 38, and rookie Jagger Jones, 14, followed closely in a tight four-car pack. Nick Joanides, April 8 second 30 winner Ryan Vargas, 16, George Atkinson and Andrew Porter, 23, completed the top ten.
Eighteen of 20 starters finished. The three 14-year old drivers completed all 30 laps. Four series rookies, including all three 14-year old drivers, completed every lap. Jones, son of P.J Jones and grandson of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones (who was present), ran sixth for his second best result in just four late model races. Ryan Schartau, 14, rookie Matt Johnson, 37, and 2016 Bandolero champion Kayla Eshleman, 14, finished in P. 12-14. The three LM rookies battled each other closely and traded positions during mid-race and finished all 30 laps.
2ND LM 30: The final race of the night brought back the late model 20-car field and used a ten-car inverted start based on the finishing order of the first 30. That put Huddleston and Lupton in row five of ten and had Andrew Porter (No. 88) and George Atkinson (No. 65) on the front row. As expected the competitive race had four leaders and frequent position changes for the first half of the event. Atkinson led lap 1 barely over third starter Vargas, who led the next two laps. Garner came from inside row four and led laps 4-8. Huddleston was up to fourth by lap 7 and a lap later passed two cars to take second.
Third place Lupton spun high in turn two on lap 9 for the second caution flag of the race. On the two-by-two restart, Huddleston was on the inside of Garner and raced into the lead entering the first turn. That was the final lead change. Huddleston ran off to a comfortable 35-yard lead by lap 20. A lap 24 caution for a solo spin by Jones caused another two-by-two restart. An axiom says caution flags breed caution flags. On lap 24, at the end of the backstretch, chaos ensued in the tight pack battling for positions with only seven laps remaining. In this case, a red flag was the result.
Second through fourth place cars made contact and triggered a seven-car crash. Garner and Vargas made contact and spun; Joanides swapped ends and spun up to the third turn wall. Kevin Furden, Porter, Glenn Schwenger and Jones also were involved. The red light extended 14-minutes as wreckers removed all damaged cars and crews cleaned the track for racing.
HPR teammates Garner and Jones drove to the pits and returned to the track prior to the green flag. Garner's No. 56 had the hood taped down, while Jones' No. 55 had the hood and two front fenders removed. An estimated 1,700 spectators present at the start of racing on a hot 90-degree day were still present when racing concluded at 10:25 with temp in the mid-70s. The second 30 started at 9:48 and took 48-minutes.
The second LM 30 final laps were completed without further mayhem. Huddleston won by 20 yards (0.999) over eighth starter McCray. Helgeson, 38, came from sixth grid position to earn his second podium finish in April. Lupton drove back from the rear after his spin to earn fourth on his return to IS racing. Schartau, 14, came from 12th starting spot in the No. 7 Kevin Bowles Chevy to his first top five finish. Lawless Alan, 17, Atkinson, rookie Matt Johnson, Garner and Josh Soto completed the top ten. P. 11-12 Jones and Rodney Peacher also completed all 30 laps. Huddleston's third victory in five events this season increased his point lead to 16 (234-218) over Helgeson, who is enjoying his career-year.
SEIDNER'S COLLISION CENTERS RACE TRUCKS: Two-time series champion (2011 & 2016) and current point leader Connor Cantrell, 26, set fastest qualifying time in the 11-truck field. He started outside row three with a six-truck inverted lineup in an event run just before the second LM 30. He became the third race leader via an outside pass leaving turn four on lap 15 and led the final 21 laps of a 35-lap race. It was Cantrell's second victory in two races this year and his fourth in a row counting the final two 2016 races.
Cantrell drove the No. 9 Chevy S-10 co-owned by Santa Clarita residents Jeff Latimer and Larry Vannix. They built this truck in 2011 and won the IS championship with Cantrell. Lacie Price drove it as No. 22 in 2015. Cantrell was back in it last season. Latimer said Cantrell's original No. 9 family-owned truck, painted identically to the current truck, was sold in 2008 to the Lucas McNeil No. 78 team. So Connor raced against his original No. 9 (his favorite number because he was born on 9/9/90).
McNeil led laps 3-14 and finished second by 0.304. Zack Green, series 2016 rookie of the year, started second, led the first two laps and finished third, 6.306 seconds back. Dennis Arena and Nico Mongenel, 19, placed fourth and fifth. All 11 drivers finished and eight ran all 35 laps. Latimer said this week will be the final race for the truck and Cantrell until near the end of the season. Cantrell is working on an air-conditioning job in San Francisco; the truck owners are taking hiatus from racing for a few months.
ROBERTSON SOLAR SWT TRUCKS 35: The 13-truck field started 12 and ran 35 laps, also on the progressively-banked half-mile. Ron Davis, Jr. led lap 1 from outside row one. Fastest qualifier Zachary St. Onge, a 15-year old from Upland, led laps 2-35 in Jeff Williams' No. 26 Dodge Ram. He edged the Ford F-150 of second quickest qualifier Ron Nava, of Vista, by 0-.381. Both drivers lapped the entire field and were seldom more than two lengths apart. St. Onge, at age 14, won his first SWT Truck feature at IS in the final race of 2016.
Pole starter/series sponsor Derek Robertson slipped to P. 4 on lap 2 and traded third position with Hiroyuki Ueno, from Osaka, Japan, on lap 29. Ueno and Dan Coburn finished fourth and fifth. The 18-minute race had one yellow flag on lap 11. Nine of 12 starters were racing at the finish. Gary T. Howard, 17, and Katie Schlarblaum, 23, made their IS debuts and finished seventh and ninth.
LEGEND CARS: INEX Legend Cars started all ten cars present on the third-mile with fastest qualifier/point leader Darren Amidon, 32, outside row two. He passed laps 1-5 leader Colton Page, 17, on lap 6 and won the 35-lap main by 0.394 over fellow three-time series champion Chad Schug, 29.
Page, Austin Farr, 17, Tyler Hicks, and Ricky Leigh followed and also completed 35 laps. The only retiree (on L 18) was Denis Meyer, who rebuilt his fiberglass body replica 1934 Ford sedan after flipping it in the second turn during the April 8 feature.
SHARKY'S SPEC LATE MODELS: The formerly named S2 Cars had only four of the 16 cars built by Irwindale's Racecar Factory present. Seven cars raced on April 8. Fastest qualifier Robby Hornsby, of Yucaipa, started fourth and chased Ed Cutler for 15 laps before passing him on the outside at turn four on lap 14 of 20. The duo had raced side-by-side lap after lap from lap 5 with Hornsby inside and Cutler outside.
Todd Conrad, 56, finished third, less than a second from the lead and thanked his spotter/brother/retired SWTT driver Neil. Craig Yeaton, owner of new series sponsor Sharky's Scuba & Swim on Arrow Hwy in San Dimas, started on pole and placed fourth, a straightaway back. The all-green light race took 6:55.713 and averaged 86.598 mph. Winner Hornsby, the 2013 IS mini stock champion in his No. 61 Ford Pinto, won a series record fifth consecutive feature in the series including the last three main events of 2016.
JAN'S TOWING BANDOLEROS: The first INEX Bandolero race weekend of 2017 used a shorter, orange cone-marked oval through the infield inside the third-mile track. Some local Bandolero teams were absent and racing in the INEX Bandolero national points qualifier in Las Vegas.
Only two drivers, both IS rookies, competed Friday during the all divisions open-practice from 5.to 9 pm. Ryan Vargas, the 2013 IS Bandolero champion, set-up the new track, estimated at a fifth or sixth-mile. Kercie Jung, 11, from Bakersfield, won Friday by 2.043 seconds over Ethan Cheek, 12, from Highland, and son of three-time IS driving champion Darren Cheek. The new track record (13.493) stood for one day.
The same two drivers were joined Saturday by Zachary Ginn, 10, from Bakersfield. Cheek set a NTR of 13.232 during time trials. The three Bando drivers kicked off racing Saturday at 7 pm with a straight-up lineup. Miss Jung, a mini dwarf and one-time Bandolero winner on the KCRP track, led all 20 laps of the feature over Cheek. Both drivers lapped Ginn. The 20-lap main took 5:39.746. Jung's best lap was a sub-record 13.197 and Cheek topped that mark with a 13.163.
PIT NOTES: Van Dyne Engineering & Race Engines-Engines Systems Development, 17696 Metzler Ln., Huntington Beach, CA 926647 (Phone 714-847-4417) has just been approved as an engine builder for Irwindale Speedway. The firm builds 602 (trucks) and 604 (late models) GM sealed crate engines. They also offer complete engines, dyno service and machine shop services. Owners Stewart Van Dyne and his son Trace have been established engine experts for many years as USAC midget series engine builders (Van Dyne engines).
Ron's Rear Ends owner Ron Zajicek, 63, passed away March 6 while hospitalized with a deteriorating heart problem. His goal was to go home and he was to be discharged the day after he died. His family medical history included congenital heart murmurs and he had a mechanical valve installed about 20-years ago. Funeral services were held March 17 at St. Ferdinand's Catholic Church in San Fernando with cremation following. Survivors include his wife Wendy, their daughter Racheal and two grandchildren.
The small business owner of Czechoslovakian heritage had one employee and sponsored more than 20 race teams (cars and trucks) at IS. Ron's Rear Ends was on the back bumper of numerous racing vehicles. His goal was to keep as many racers on track as possible. He did so without concern for profits. Ron operated his rear end building business since 1998 from his home shop in Mission Hills. He provided gears to many now famous NASCAR drivers, such as Kevin Harvick, David Gilliland, and Ron Hornaday, early in their racing careers. He will be missed for his quality racing rear ends and his sponsorship of so many racing teams.
New IS drivers: In addition to the two Bandolero rookies, several other new drivers made their Irwindale debuts in other series. Irwindale Race Trucks had third generation driver Gary T. Howard, of Oak Hills, in the No. 97 truck. It is the ex-No 18 Austin Edwards Chevy Silverado. Gary T is the son of open-wheel drivers Gary W. Howard (midget/sprint cars) and Tabitha Howard (No. 12 Bob Meli-built TQ midget). There were numerous Gary Howard open-wheel drivers in California. Gary A. and Gary G. raced in So Cal, while Gary and Sparky Howard raced out of Nor Cal.
Racing teen Gary T. raced 360 sprints, VRA Ford Focus midgets for Cory Kruseman and was VRA 2015 Focus midget champion after finishing second as a rookie a year earlier. He has race dirt tracks in Ventura, Bakersfield, Victorville and Perris. He also raced go-karts from 2010-13 and quarter midgets. He qualified eighth fastest at 79.079 mph, only 2.392 off fast time.
Katie Schlarbaum, of Wickenburg, AZ, is a 23-year old Arizona State University nursing student and barrel-racer on quarter horses. Her father Dennis raced the No. 2 super late model and late model at IS a decade ago before buying a 40-acre ranch north of Wickenburg. Katie practiced Friday in her No. 24 Chevy Silverado, the ex-No. 07 Aaron Staudinger Chevy Silverado that has been idle for about ten years. All of her racing proceeds will be donated to the Racing for a Cure of Cancer Fund at the City of Hope in nearby Duarte. She qualified at 78.623 mph, ninth fastest of 11 with times and only 2.524 seconds off fast time.
A new entrant in the Seidner's IRT Series is Robin Castillo, a 35-year old Downey resident with no prior racing experience. He bought the ex-No. 21 Chevy S-10 from current late model driver Glenn Schwenger. The truck last raced in 2011 and now is a black primer truck with silver number. Robin only had five laps of practice Saturday and did not get a qualifying lap. He started tenth and ran 33 of the 35 laps for experience. He kept it straight, avoided trouble, gained valuable experience and reached the checkered flag in P. 11.
The next Irwindale Speedway race on Saturday, May 6 will feature late model twin-30s. Seidner's race trucks, spec late models, SWT trucks, Legends and Bandoleros (Friday and Saturday).