IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY SEASON OPENER ATTRACTS SRO CROWD
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 11 – The 18th Irwindale Speedway oval-track season opener at the NASCAR-sanctioned track attracted a standing room only crowed of 7,000+ Saturday night. It was the seventh opening night sellout in track history. Headline attractions were a 50-lap Pick Your Part Late Model stock car feature on the half-mile oval, plus the first of six-scheduled “Night of Destruction” fan-popular events on the third-mile oval and infield.
Vehicles of persons arriving for the event were lined up on Live Oak Ave. in both directions to enter speedway parking lot until almost 8:00 pm, an hour after the scheduled starting time. The exit from the 605 Freeway was bumper-to-bumper in the exit lane to Live Oak during the National Anthem at 7:00. Tickets were sold out early and late-arriving fans stood several deep at the top of the main grandstand.
The 50-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing PYP Late Model field of 19 had four rookies making their first half-mile starts. Three of the drivers are age 14, the minimum age to race on the half-mile. They were: IS 2016 Bandolero champion Kayla Eshleman, Ryan Schartau and Jagger Jones, grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones and son of 2004 and 2006 Indy 500 starter P.J. Jones, 47. Kart veteran Matt Johnson, 37-year old son of IS late model feature winner Mike Johnson, inherited driving duties of his family No. 17 Chevy with the retirement of his 61-year old father.
The four rookies practiced during recent open practice sessions and all raced well. They qualified in positions seven, nine, 11 and 13th fastest in high 70s heat during 4:00 single-car time trials. All turned quick laps of 19.5 to 19.7 (92.2 to 91.0 mph). Fastest qualifier Trevor Huddleston, the 2015-2016 series track and California state champion, set a best lap of 19.183 (93.833mph). The one-lap track record is 18.406 (97.794 mph).
The late model feature was event two on the full-moon, warm 70-degree evening. It followed a 20-lap race for four-cylinder cars on the third-mile. The opener started at 7:08 and had one red-flag incident on lap 6 after a female driver rammed a K-rail and stopped abruptly without serious injury. Spectators were still filing into the speedway as the opening race concluded at 7:23.
LM 50: A NASCAR field of 19 started 18 cars straight-up based on qualifying times. Huddleston, a 20-year old Moorpark JC student, third-generation stock car driver, started on pole in his No. 50 HPR Chevy, the 75th Racecar Factory-built car. The ten-time 2016 IS feature winner led the opening lap over nine-time 2016 series main event winner Nick Joanides, 45. The two rivals raced closely all 50 laps before Joanides won the event by ten yards (0.891) over Huddleston.
Joanides, a three-time Irwindale track champion (2009 late model & 2009-10 super late model) made an outside pass from turn four to the starting line on lap 2 and retained the point to the finish. He drove the No. 77 Joe Nava Chevy. It had blown the engine two nights earlier during practice. He only had time for about eight laps during Saturday practice before setting the second quickest time. The winner survived a pair of two-by-two restarts with Huddleston alongside by choosing the outside lane.
Joanides, from Woodland Hills, broke his 51 IS feature victories tie with Ryan Partridge, who is currently racing in his third season with the touring NASCAR K & N West Series. Joanides now has 52 including a skid plate cars triumph on May 29, 2010. He now ranks alone in second place on the list of all-time IS feature winners. Retired Rip Michels tallied 67 victories in three series prior to 2014 when he became a stock car team hired crew chief.
The best position battle of the race was a three-way duel for third among teenage/second-year late model drivers Ryan Vargas, 16, and Dylan Garner, 18, plus past feature winner Toni Marie McCray, who returned to IS racing after a one year hiatus. Vargas and McCray exchanged third on laps 16, 23, 31, 32 and 47, when Vargas made an outside pass leaving the fourth turn to take third for good. Garner had used an inside starting line pass to drop Vargas to fifth on lap 44 for a lap before Vargas retook P. 4 and then shot past McCray into third three laps later.
Vargas trailed the winner by 1.831. Garner was minus 3.519 and McCray 3.825 seconds back. Fifteen drivers finished with 14 on the lead lap in a 27-minute race with two cautions for solo spinners. It concluded at 8:20 pm, about the time all late arrivals had entered the grandstand.
Three of the four rookies finished. Kart and INEX Legend Car veteran Jones came from 13th starting to ninth at the checkers. His grandparents, Parnelli and Judy, and mother Jolaina were present at IS. His dad PJ was racing at St. Petersburg, FL in Robby Gordon's Stadium Off-Road Series. Rookie Johnson started 11th and placed tenth. Kayla Eshleman started ninth and finished 12th, 10.7 seconds off the lead in her L/M debut. Rookie Schartau started seventh and was in P. 8 on lap 18 when he pulled Kevin Bowles' No. 7 Chevy into the infield with an engine problem.
SEIDNER'S COLLISION CENTERS ENDURO 20: Forty sedans started and ran the third-mile oval with a jog into the backstretch infield, making the course a five-turn “r-oval”. Steven Belling and Todd Paperny started from the first row and traded the lead in early laps. Belling's No. 25 Acura Integra led the final 17 laps and won by 0.658 over Andy Schoening. Jason Young's No. 27 Ford Probe, Kevin Zanit's No. 22, and Tony Cummings' No. 02 yellow/polka dot Honda station wagon followed.
Eleven drivers finished all 20-laps. Twenty-seven of 34 starters were still racing at the finish with seven drivers down one lap, three down three laps, and two down a pair. On lap 6 Maida Barios, from Commerce, drove her pink No. 62 Honda into the inside turn four K-rail in heavy traffic, causing a red flag. The wife of the No. 187 driver was shaken but uninjured.
SEIDNER'S FIGURE 8: Eighteen used four-cylinder enduro sedans participated in a 20-lap F-8 race on the third-mile and the criss-cross X-danger zone in the center of the infield. Robert Rice, 51, a 30+ main event winner of various “N of D” events, started from row two. He led every lap, despite late charges by Hollywood resident Todd Paperny and Mira Loma's Jeremy Queener—the P. 2-3 finishers. Jarod Johnson and Tony Cummings followed and were the final drivers on the lead lap.
The F-8 race brought oohs and aahs from fans after numerous near-misses and one collision at the X that sidelined a car that had just taken the lead. The race took 7:40.551 to complete and had 13 finishers. Demonstration runs followed on the front straight by the PYP “Inferno” pickup truck powered by a J-10 aircraft jet engine. Fire-belching jet exhaust bursts and smokey output amazed spectators.
SEIDNER'S SKID PLATE CARS 20: Only four of 38 four-cylinder enduro sedans entered in the skid plate car race scratched after problems in earlier events. Teams raced on the third-mile oval in a clockwise-direction instead of the usual counter-clockwise route. A friendly “family-feud” developed between brothers-in-law and all-time IS skid plate winners Sean Brennan, 27, and Mike Di Gregorio, 28. Di Gregorio led laps 1, 13 and 17 in his same black No. 18 car since 2013—a 1995 Honda Accord. Austin Lee led laps 2-3. Brennan's black No. 33 1992 Acura Integra led laps 4-12, 14-16, and 18-20. He won by 30-yards (3.840 seconds) over Di Gregorio. Lee was third with Honda Accords of S. Belling and Robbie Salcido the only other drivers on the lead lap and 28 of 34 starters still circulating.
Leader Brennan hit a spinning car entering turn one on consecutive laps (L8 and 9) and stopped briefly. P. 2 Di Grigorio also stopped to miss Brennan's back bumper. Brennan continued without losing first place. The all-green flag race took 12:16.246. It was the 53rd SPC main event since Robert Rice introduced the popular event at IS in 2009. Brennan now has 12 SPC victories to 14 by Di Grigorio.
DEMO DERBY: Five drivers took part in an eight-minute demolition derby with enduro cars on a watered section of the start/finish infield. Shayla Zins won in a Honda. Her Low Budget TV video-producing friends Jeffrey Best and Tommy Mason earned second and third positions.
TRAILER RACE: Eighteen vehicles (sedans, pickup trucks, station wagons and three Chevy El Caminos) towed trailers with jet skis, camper shells and/or house trailers of various sizes. They ran 30 or more laps counter-clockwise on the watered third-mile oval. Drivers used motorized mayhem and tried to smash trailers of others and score “entertainment value points” to delight fans. The track quickly became littered with debris. Michael Avrick's pickup truck won over Robert Rice and Jeffrey Best after 22-minutes. There was one brief red flag to extinguish an engine fire.
The advertised ten-minute aerial fireworks show launched from beyond the backstretch wall. It lasted to 10:23 pm and kept nearly all spectators in their seats. The next racing event at IS will be on Saturday, March 25 with a pair of prestigious touring stock car series present. NASCAR K & N West Series teams will race a pair of 100-lap main events. The Spears Mfg Southwest Tour Series will race one feature between the two K & N West mains.