IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY “NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS” - By Tim Kennedy
Monrovia, CA., Jan. 28 – The Irwindale Speedway and Irwindale Drag-strip “Night of Champions” awards dinner/championship awards ceremonies took place Saturday evening here. It honored champions and top finishers in four oval track and four eighth-mile drag-strip racing divisions. The site as usual was the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel main ballroom. It marked the fourth year that track lessee/promoter 211 Entertainment, LLC presented the event. About 140 persons attended with cocktail hour at 6:00, three course catered dinner at 7:15, and awards ceremonies from 8:15 to 9:15 pm.
Master of ceremonies/chief track announcer Bruce Flanders opened the awards ceremonies. He gave a brief history of NASCAR from the late 1940s and the Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series, a national championship for stock car short-track competitors. Irwindale Speedway has been a member track since it opened in March, 1999.
Flanders and co-emcee Jason Galvan, from Bakersfield, interviewed champions individually while seated next to the stage. Some champions opted to use the lectern on stage to thank sponsors, families and crew members. As usual, track scorer Jannie Atkinson, daughter of IS Racing Director Mike Atkinson, presented trophies and posed for photos with each recipient on stage.
OVAL TRACK: Four oval track series competed for Irwindale Speedway points in 2016.They were: Pick Your Part Late Models and Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks on the half-mile, plus INEX Legend Cars and Bandoleros, driven by the track's youngest drivers, on the third-mile. Super late models, super stocks and mini stocks did not compete at IS during 2016. With double-points available at the season-ending event for each division, all championship battles came down to the final night of racing.
PYP Late Models: Trevor Huddleston, a third generation driver and 20-year old college sophomore from Agoura Hills, won his second consecutive NASCAR Late Model championship. It is the premier racing series at IS and tallies points for the NASCAR Whelen national short-track title. He drove the Racecar Factory-built No. 50 Chevy for his father Tim, a three-time IS late model champion. Trevor edged the runner-up by 28-points (1,046-1,018). He won ten of the 21 main events and finished second six times. He also won the NASCAR California State Championship and finished high in Whelen national points. He plans to pursue that title in 2017 by racing at both Irwindale and Bakersfield.
Other top late model drivers in points were: nine- feature winner/past track champion Nick Joanides, 45, and two-feature winner Christian McGhee, 18. S-2 Spec Late Model graduate Dylan Garner, 17, drove the No. 56 Chevy for Huddleston, and placed fourth in final track points. The Yorba Linda resident garnered series rookie of the year title in a close contest with IS 2014 Bandolero champion Ryan Vargas, 16, who placed fifth in points. All four honorees accepted their trophies in person. Forty drivers scored series points.
Trucks: Connor Cantrell, 25, won his second track championship at IS driving his family-owned No. 9 Chevy S-10. The 11-race season ran from January to October. Connor, from Valencia, won the same championship in 2011 when it was known as the super truck division. He earned the 2016 title by a mere four points (568-564) over early-season point leader and five-time feature winner Lucas McNeil 23, from Saugus. Their title chase literally came down to the final lap of the final race. Connor won five features, including the double-points season finale. Seventeen drivers scored series points. Fifth place Zack Green, from Long Beach, won the series rookie of the year award.
Legends: Darren Amidon, 31, from Lakeside, captured his third INEX Legend cars track championship. He drove his new No. 33 coupe to the title. His 2007 and 2013 IS championships came in his sedan-body No. 33. He won two features in the ten race season from April to September. He also recorded five second place finishes, two thirds, and a fourth in ten outings. Title-runner-up Chad Schug trailed by 52-points (524-472). He won the championship in 2010-11 and 2013.
Forty Legend drivers from California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon raced at least once in the IS series. Second year Legends driver Parker Steele, from Arizona, won four main events and finished third in points despite not racing in the double-points final race. The 15-year old driver trailed Amidon by 94-points.
Bandoleros: Kayla Eshleman, a third generation Eshleman racing family member from Fontana, won her initial INEX Bandolero crown. She won four of the ten 2016 races conducted at IS on Friday/Saturday nights. Five drivers won features. Kayla won four consecutive mains from June-August. The blonde 14-year old became the second female track champion at IS by succeeding her first cousin Mckenzie Eshleman,16, when she won the 2015 “Bando” championship.
Madison Gay, 12-year old daughter of late model driver Danny Gay, set a new track record in time trials and won the season finale. She trailed Kayla by only 14 points and also accepted her trophy in person. Fourteen teens and pre-teens raced in the Bandolero class at IS during 2016.
Personable Kayla told the audience she will be moving up to the PYP Late Model series in 2017 in a No. 09 Chevy owned by her grandfather, Dave Eshleman, former mayor of Fontana. She is reversing her former car number (90) for 2017. Her racing idol, Toni McCray, uses 90 on her late model. Kayla said she has practiced in her late model at Irwindale on Thursday nights recently and raced it at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu, AZ in 2016.
Irwindale Speedway does not award points to the wild “Night of Destruction” classes that packed the grandstand at all six appearance in 2016. Trophies to the top three finishers are their reward. Some 80+ individuals, male and female, competed in one or more of these entertaining automotive endurance contests in low-cost, high-mileage four-cylinder enduro sedans. Some “NoD” drivers even raced in late model or other oval series.
The four page printed banquet program given to persons at the award ceremonies recognized and thanked“NoD” competitors for the continuing success of wild nights at Irwindale. They provided thrills and excitement for themselves and fans in the stands. They were called: skid plate stars, destruction derby drivers, enduro enthusiasts, flagpole race fanatics, auto soccer stars, trailer race troopers and Figure 8 faithful.
DRAG STRIP: Some 138 drivers competed in the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Series on the eighth-mile Irwindale Drag-strip. The series produced champions in four classes—sportsman, pro, super pro and pro bike. Two of the four 2016 drag-strip champions were present to accept their trophies and awards.
Pro: Two-time sportsman ID champion Willie Hoefer, of Yucaipa, won by 20-points (496-476) with the third place driver at 475 in a close three-way contest. A total of 59 drivers raced for the 2016 pro title. He accepted his awards in person.
Super Pro: Alex George, from Huntington Beach, won his title by 67-points over the runner-up. Drivers in this class made runs down the strip in eight seconds or less. Twelve drivers raced in this “serious racer” competition. He also accepted his awards in person.
Sportsman: John Wise, of Mission Viejo, won by 43-points and scored his first win and victory in the sixth and final event. There were 61 drivers in this class during 2016.
Pro Bike: Dave Miller, from Whittier, repeated his 2015 championship in this motorcycle division. He won three of the six races and placed well in two of the other three events. He won the two-wheel class by 169-points over the second place rider. Only six riders raced in this “all-in” serious racing division.
Irwindale Speedway officials, firemen and track safety personnel also came to the stage for presentation of appreciation plaques to each person. They posed for group photos. They exhibited great camaraderie and plan to return to their duties this season.
The Irwindale half-mile hosted touring racing series as usual during 2016. Stock cars of NASCAR K & N West (once), and Spears SRL Southwest Tour (twice), plus Lucas Oil Modifieds (once), Racecar Factory Spec Late Models (six times), and Robertson Solar Southwest Tour Trucks (five times) raced at IS in 2016. SWTT had five feature winners in five IS events. On December 3, Zack St. Onge, 14, became the youngest main event winner ever on the IS half-mile with 14 trucks competing.
A full season of racing from March to December has been announced by continuing track lessee 211 Entertainment under CEO Jim Cohan. The on-site race driving school is operational as usual. Concluding remarks by emcee Flanders included the reminder that IS opening night will be Saturday, March 11 with the final oval race set for November 11. Irwindale open drag-strip racing on Thursday nights continues year-round weather permitting. Check the track website or the track social media for latest updates.