by Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Dec. 1 – Irwindale Speedway and LKQ Pick Your Part presented the 19th oval track event of the first season under co-promoters Tim Huddleston and Bob Bruncati Saturday. The seventh “Night of Destruction” full complement of popular events and the season finale for the touring Southwest Tour Truck Series attracted about 6,000 spectators dressed warmly on a cool, mid-50s evening.
Santa Claus, clad in a red Santa Claus outfit, made an appearance in the Chalet Village area seated in a big chair next to a gift-wrapped late model stock car. He listened to Christmas gift requests from children for hours prior to the first race. Children took turns talking to Santa and their parents took photos. A ten-minute aerial fireworks show concluded an entertaining evening of just under three hours at 9:55 pm.
Double points were awarded to competitors in both the SWT Truck Series and the NASCAR four-cylinder Enduro Cars Series that raced for track championship points for the first time. Six racing events on the half and third-miles and Figure 8 course were complemented by the PYP Chevy Silverado pickup truck named “Inferno” that used a truck-bed mounted aircraft jet engine to melt an old sedan in the infield amid flying metal.
TRUCKS: Point leader/fastest qualifier Dustin Vandermooren, of Cerritos, won the SWT Truck 2018 championship. He started sixth and led all 35 laps in a ten-truck field. He took the lead on the first lap in three-wide racing exiting turn four. The second-generation driver won by almost half a lap (8.730 seconds) in his No. 71 Chevy Silverado. The all-green light race took 11:55.569. Vandermooren, 31, averaged 88.042 mph. SWTT raced four times at IS this season. Vandermooren won the final three races on July 14, October 27 and December 1.
Retired Arcadia Fire Department Captain Neil Conrad started third, took second in his Chevy Silverado on lap 2 and held off Ron Nava by 1.669. Second quickest qualifier Ron Davis, Jr., the final driver on the lead lap, started fifth and placed fourth. Nine of ten starters finished. Vandermooren clocked the fastest race lap of 89.397 and averaged 88.042 mph during his championship ride.
ENDURO TITLE: The first track championship for four-cylinder enduro sedans was locked up by Irwindale rookie and point leader Daniel Hudson. The Garden Grove resident entered the evening with a 100-point lead over two drivers tied for second. The racing veteran at Orange Show Speedway and Willow Springs Raceway used his No. 17 1999 Acura Integra to dominate the series. He missed the opening race on January 27 but won eight of the next 13 features, including the $2,500 to win the inaugural 100-lap “Enduro National at IS on November 3.
Fourteen main events were run in 2018. Fours drivers won features, including December 1 winner Rodney Argo (three wins), Brad Stellman (two wins) and Eddie Howell (one win). Champion Hudson set fastest qualifying time five times and established the one-lap enduro car track record of 17.878 on April 7.
The season-finale highlight was a battle for runner-up position in final points between former 410 ci sprint car driver and Perris 1998 Oval Nationals winner Argo and the champion’s older brother Mike, from Buena Park. The duo entered the race tied for second in points. Mike Hudson set the fastest qualifying time in a 26-car field in his three-race old Honda Prelude that he bought for $600 from a Craig’s List ad. He started 20th after racing director Mike Atkinson fully inverted the 20 qualifiers based on qualifying times. Cars that did not post qualifying times started in positions 21-26.
Pole starter Robbie Salcido led the first six laps in his Honda Accord. Mike McIntyre led the next three laps. Argo, the 11th starter in a black 1999 Honda Prelude, took the lead on lap 10 and quickly opened half a straightaway lead on the third-mile. M. Hudson was flying through the field and was second by lap 15. He waged a close duel with Argo from lap 20 to the lap 35 checkers as they lapped cars each lap.
On lap 26 Argo shot between two slower cars entering turn one to keep challenger Hudson’s similar Honda Prelude behind him. He did the same thing on lap 30 entering the first turn to keep Hudson at bay. On lap 32 the red flag flew after Cheryl Hyland’s Honda blew the engine as it approached the starting line and flames shot from under the hood. She parked against the first turn crash-wall and exited without injury.
The restart for the final three laps had Argo ahead of not only M. Hudson, but his 2018 enduro series champion brother Daniel, who took third place on lap 25. Argo got a good start and held off M. Hudson by 0.657. D. Hudson was 10.146 behind Argo at the finish. Second was M. Hudson’s best Irwindale finish of the year. Joseph Bereiter (No. 27 Integra), Dewitt Jones, McIntyre, and rookie Bobby Ozman also completed all 35 laps with 24 of 26 starters racing at the finish.
Interviewed at the finish line, Argo said, “I just got out into the lead and did what I had to do.” Argo’s 65.933 mph lap was the quickest lap and he averaged 58.305 mph in winning his first of two features during the evening. It was Argo’s third enduro victory of the season. He also won five enduro F-8 mains this year giving him 12 feature victories during two years racing at IS.
SKID PLATES: Sixteen four-cylinder enduro sedans replaced back tires with metal skid plates on the back axle on their enduro cars. Some drivers used a second car with skid plates already mounted for the third race on the program. Fastest qualifier Austin Lee started fourth in the standing start and led all 25 laps for his second ever skid plate triumph. It was the 66th skid plate race since the event started at IS during 2009. Lee won his first SPC race in October 2017 in his usual No. 47 with a neon pole extending from the back. His father Wayne and sister Ashley Rice also were in the race and stopped at the finish line to celebrate his impressive victory.
It was the eighth skid plate main of the season and Mike Di Gregorio won all seven prior events this year in his No. 18 Honda Accord that he started racing in 2013. Di Gregorio, winner of a record 22 skid plate features during his six year career, started at the back and reached second position on lap 10. However, he could not reel in the fleet leader and trailed him by 27.762 seconds, almost a full lap.
The two leaders were the only lead lap drivers in an all-green flag race on a five-turn r-oval. Orange cones forced drivers to jog outward from the third-mile front straight to the half-mile track at the starting line. Third and fourth place Steven Belling and Robbie Salcido completed 24 laps. The winner’s dad Wayne Lee ran 23 laps and his sister Amber logged 22 laps for eighth place with 15 of 16 starters still racing at the conclusion. Winner Lee ran the fastest lap of 58.841 mph and averaged 54.989 mph for 25 laps.
FIGURE 8: Some of the enduro cars raced again in a $300 to win 25-lap Figure 8 race with 17 starters. Belling led lap 1 and Dewitt Jones paced laps 2-14 before fastest qualifier/11th starter Argo took command. Earlier, P. 5 Argo clipped the RR fender of P. 10 Todd Paperny at the X intersection. Both cars continued as spectators gasped after the hard contact. Argo’s electronic transponder failed and hand-scoring by a back-up scorer showed he took the lead from Jones on lap 16. Argo won by 40-yards over Jones.
Enduro 2018 champion D. Hudson started at the back in his first ever Figure 8 race and finished third, only 0.052 behind Jones in the all-green, nine-minute event. Only the first eight finishers were on the lead lap. D. Hudson ran the fastest lap of 60.927 mph. He told the crowd, “That was fun. It was my first Figure 8 race. Our enduro point season is over so it doesn’t matter if I crash the car.”
DEMO DERBY: Six well-used enduro sedans competed on a watered section of the third-mile front straight between large tires marking the smashing arena. After six minutes of bashing fenders and radiators to disable competitors cars, teenager Cole Schmitt outlasted five other drivers for his second DD victory of 2018. Four drivers won the five DD events this season.
TRAILER RACE: Fifteen entrants (14 starters) lined up on the front straight with contents of their trailers judged for originality by cheers from grandstand spectators. The winner of the $250 cash prize was No. 25 Steven Belling and his self-constructed “ginger-bread house” on a towed trailer. It was demolished by a direct hit by a fellow competitor early during the un-scored 20+ lap “race” on the third-mile oval.
After 14 minutes, only four vehicles were still circulating when the checkered flag flew at 9:36 pm. Five judges, picked from the grandstand and brought to the race control booth, selected the top three. Robbie Salcido became a two-in-a-row winner of the popular event. “Master of Mayhem” Robert Rice and “Queen of Destruction” Cheryl Hyland were second and third in voting by judges.
Track lights were turned off and a ten-minute aerial pyrotechnics show concluded the evening as the ambient temperature dipped from 59 degrees at 7:00 pm to 52 right before 10:00 pm. Fans indicated by their applause that they had enjoyed the evening.
The 2018 Irwindale Speedway Championship Awards Banquet will be held Saturday, January 12. Check the track website and Facebook for upcoming details about times and tickets. The 2019 IS racing schedule will be released soon.