HUDDLESTON & AMIDON – 2016 IRWINDALE CHAMPIONS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Sept. 10 – The annual “First Responders Night” at Irwindale Speedway Saturday had 20 emergency vehicles with red lights flashing during a parade lap prior to the first race. NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series competition had five divisions and five main events totaling 195 laps. Trevor Huddleston, 20, won his second consecutive Pick Your Part Late Model Championship in the final race. Darren Amidon captured his third Irwindale INEX Legend Cars IS championship. Both season finales carried double points.
Six local police departments, Los Angeles City Police and LA County Sheriff's Department personnel participated. Irwindale Police Department provided the IS pace car driver an active patrol car to pace all five main events. Track management offered free admission to all first responders (police, fire and medical) with appropriate identification. Also, their family members were admitted for one-third off the usual $15. general admission. The 7-10 pm event attracted 2,884 persons.
An automobile was given by the Recycled Rides Program to a family needing reliable transportation. Seidner's Collision Centers, Southern California Auto Club, and the LA County Sheriff's Youth Foundation were involved. The LA County Youth Organization nominated a number of eligible needy families. The surprise presentation to Melanie Garcia was made by Steve Seidner at the starting line when a tarp was removed from the trucked-in car.
LATE MODEL 50: The fifth and concluding feature was a 16-car, 50-lap race on the half-mile for double-points and a three-way fight for the title. Fastest qualifier/third generation driver Huddleston, a ten-time 2016 feature winner, started his dad's No. 50 HPR Chevy on the pole. Primary championship challenger, Nick Joanides, 46, was alongside as second quickest qualifier. Huddleston led the first three laps over Joanides, who led the final 47 laps in Joe Nava's No. 77 King Taco Chevy.
Joanides, a three-time IS series champion in NASCAR super late model and late model series, won his ninth 2016 late model feature and his 51st at Irwindale. His latest victory tied Ryan Partridge, a current NASCAR K & N West touring series driver, for second place all-time in total main event triumphs at Irwindale.
On lap 15, fourth starter Rod Johnson, Jr., a past feature winner at IS, took second from Huddleston with an inside pass entering the first turn after a caution flag. P. 8 Billy Helgeson had spun into the first turn wall after contact by the ninth place car. Johnson cut into Joanides' lead and was a car length back as the two leaders approached two-wide slower cars. Johnson, driving in his first late model race all year, moved inside leader Joanides in turn four on lap 49. However, a yellow flag negated that passing attempt after a deflating tire caused Christian McGhee to spin out low.
Ironically, Johnson is McGhee's brother-in-law and he was driving McGhee's SRL (super late model) car. On the lap 49 green flag and a two-by-two lineup, Johnson had charged under Joanides for the lead by turn two on the first restart. Leader Joanides switched to the inside lane for the green, white, checkered finish to block Johnson's strong inside run. His tactic worked. Joanides ran the final two laps out front and beat Johnson by 0.295.
Huddleston, concentrating on his second championship, finished third, 0.547 behind the winner. Jeff Williams took fourth. Three teenage late model rookies—Ryan Vargas, 15, Dylan Garner, 17, and Alec Martinez, 17—finished fifth through seventh after running numerous laps in close proximity. Garner, in the No. 56 HPR Chevy, finished fourth in 2016 points. He won the rookie of the year title by 76 points over Vargas, who missed a night with two 30-lap features. The 28-minute race had three caution periods. Joanides ran the fastest lap at 94.792 mph. Eleven of 16 starters finished with the top nine drivers on the lead lap. The top five drivers after 21-main events in the 2016 series were: Huddleston 1,046, Joanides 1,018, McGhee 962, Garner 892, and Vargas 816. Forty drivers scored points.
WHELEN POINTS: Prior to the main event, Huddleston ranked third in NASCAR Whelen Weekly Racing Series national points. His 637 points were only 37 points behind the leader, Matt Bowling (35 starts at seven tracks, 11 wins-31%, 27 top 5s, 33 top 10s for 657 points). Huddleston was 36 behind second place Keith Rocco (35 starts at three tracks, 12 wins-34%, 22 top 5s, and 30 top 10s for 656 points. Huddleston had 20 starts at Irwindale only with 10 wins-50%, 19 top 5s, 20 top 10s for 620. He had the highest winning percentage in the top nine.
Joanides and McGhee ranked seventh and 13th respectively in national points despite racing only at Irwindale. Joanides totals were: 8 wins-40%, 18 top 5s, 19 top 10s and 584 points. McGhee had 2 wins-10%, 19 top 5s and 19 top 10s for 548 points. NASCAR counted the premier local series only (late model or modified) at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks. Huddleston captured the NASCAR Whelen California State Championship over Joanides and third place McGhee. Participating California speedways were Irwindale and Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield.
INEX LEGENDS 40: Fourteen legend cars raced in a double-points season finale. Point leader Parker Steele, a 15-year old second year legends driver from Peoria, AZ, was not present, reportedly because of a family emergency. He made the long tow from Arizona for the prior nine events. His absence made the three-way battle for the 2016 IS series championship a two-way contest between a pair of past multi-year IS legend car champions—P. 2 Darren Amidon and P. 3 Chad Schug.
Schug, set fastest qualifying time and started sixth. Amidon started fourth and finished second, 2.606 seconds in back of winner Ricky Schlick, 19. Cale Kanke, son of SRL stock car driver M. K. Kanke, started second, led 14 laps and placed third. Schlick passed Kanke on the inside leaving turn two on lap 15 and pulled away steadily for his second legends feature victory of 2016. The all-green light race took 11 minutes and averaged 72.108 mph. Fifth through eighth finishers were: Colton Page, Tyler Hicks and pole starter/Bandolero graduate Austin Farr. All completed 40 laps in the only race on the third-mile oval.
Final points showed Amidon, 31, won his third IS Legend cars championship by 52 points (524-472) over three-time series track champion Schug, 29. Steele slipped to third place with 430 points. He had a two point lead over Amidon prior to the race. Schlick, despite missing one event, finished fourth in points with 412. Hicks was fifth at 360. Thirty-nine drivers earned points in the ten race series.
SEIDNER'S COLLISION CENTERS RACE TRUCKS 40: Fastest qualifier Connor Cantrell, who celebrated his 26th birthday a day earlier, started fifth in a 12 truck field. He gave himself a belated birthday present by leading laps 25-40 in his No. 9 Chevy S-10. It was the fourth feature victory in ten races this season for the 2011 series track champion. The second-ranked driver in points now trails only point leader/five-time feature winner Lucas McNeil by six points (474-468). One race remains on October 29.
Ken Michaelian again used a truck borrowed from Sean Vincent. It was the 2013 IS championship No. 62 ride of now retired Darren Cheek. Michaelian started his No. 40 second and was part of a nose-to-tail five truck lead pack that changed positions frequently. He was fifth at lap 25 and third on lap 31. Michaelian took second from lap 1-24 leader Dennis Arena on lap 39 with a clean inside move in the fourth turn. He trailed Cantrell by 1.275 in a 25-minute race with one yellow flag. Arena finished third, 1.691 back. Ken Brown and Andrew Porter completed the top five. All eight finishers were on the lead lap.
McNeil and Porter were racing for third on lap 31 when they tangled on the front straight. The right side of Porter's truck rode up and over the hood of McNeil's truck. Both trucks drove away, but the hood of McNeil's No. 78 quickly fell onto the track, just past start/finish. Both drivers restarted at the back. On the first green flag lap, McNeil's damaged truck had a mechanical failure and turned right on the backstretch, smashing into the wall and spinning. McNeil almost contacted the passing truck of Porter's grandfather--Kenny Smith. A wrecker towed the heavily damaged McNeil truck to the pits.
ROBERTSONS SOLAR SWT TRUCKS: The touring truck series formerly called West Coast Pro Trucks had 14 trucks present. Drivers raced a 35-lap main and produced a fourth different winner in four 2016 races at IS. FQ/feature winner Dustin Vandermooren, 29, started sixth and won the first main event of his career in the No. 71 Chevy Silverado formerly driven by his dad, Bob. He passed lap 10-14 leader Ronnie Davis, Jr. on lap 15 and pulled away to a 0.673 victory. An impressed spectator later came to the pits and agreed to sponsor the 71 truck with his Color Paint of Long Beach firm.
Alec Martinez, a 17-year old late model rookie, double-dipped in the trucks. He started and finished second in Jeff Williams' rental No. 27 Ford F-150. Zach St. Onge, 14, drove Williams' No. 26 Dodge Ram from fifth to third, 2.009 seconds off the lead. Davis was fourth and Cecil Phelps fifth. Past IS winner Ron Nava and Dan Coburn were the only other finishers with 35 laps. Eleven trucks finished the 21-minute race.
The only yellow occurred on lap 26 when second-running St. Onge tried to take the lead. St. Onge, in his first season racing on the IS half-mile, moved under leader Vandermooren in the fourth turn, lost traction and spun out low. He restarted at the back and raced back to a podium spot and post-race interview.
RCF SPEC LATE MODELS: Seven touring Racecar Factory-built spec late models (formerly called SRL S2 Cars) raced at IS for the sixth time this season. Fastest qualifier Robby Hornsby, the 2013 Irwindale mini stock champion in his No. 61 Ford Pinto, started seventh in a fully-inverted field. The 24-year old Yucaipa resident became the third leader on lap 12 and won the 30-lap race by 1.509 seconds. Craig Yeaton led the first lap and Todd Conrad paced laps 2-11.
Sixth starter Johnny Butler passed Conrad on the inside leaving turn two on lap 19 for the final top three positions change. The all-green race took 10:22.155 and averaged 86.795 mph. Ed Cutler, Joe Meehan, Yeaton and Robert Arevalo finished fourth through seventh. Point leader Hornsby, a spec late model rookie driving Kenny Smith's No. 43 Chevy, won his third consecutive main event at Irwindale in the sixth IS race this season.
The next Irwindale Speedway oval track racing will be Saturday, October 29 with a Seidner's Race Truck oval race and the usual “Night of Destruction” events popular with so many spectators.