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IRWINDALE “FALL SPECTACULAR” TRIPLE-HEADER – By Tim Kennedy

Irwindale, CA., Nov. 11 -”Youth will be served” is an old axiom that proved true Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. Teens Ryan Vargas, 17, and Kayla Eshleman, 15, finished first and second respectively in a $5,000 to win 100-lap LKQ Pick Your Part non-points, late model feature on the banked, half-mile. Third fastest qualifier Vargas, the fourth race leader, led the final 48 laps and earned his third career late model main event victory aboard his family-owned No. 23 Chevy. 

The $5.000 payday for the La Mirada High School senior and 2014 INEX Bandolero track champion, was his third triumph this season. It also was his second memorable success in four days. An announcement in Florida November 7 revealed Vargas had been named one of six drivers (ages 13 to 21) selected as Rev Racing NASCAR Drive for Diversity drivers for the 2018 season. Vargas was selected to drive one of three cars in all NASCAR K & N East Series races. The series ran 13 events in 2017. 

The other two divisions in action Saturday raced double-points season finales with IS championships on the line. Robby Hornsby, the 25-year old 2013 IS mini stock champion on the third-mile, led all 25-laps of the Sharkey's Spec Late Model (formerly called S2 cars) race on the half-mile. He also secured the season championship by 40 points (496-456) after winning seven of nine events on the IS half-mile. 

Ricky Schlick, 20, started sixth and led the final 24 laps of the 35-lap INEX Legend Cars main on the third-mile. It was his fourth feature victory this season in his own No. 24 1930s replica Ford coupe. The IS 2017 championship went to third finisher Darren Amidon by 20-points (568-548) over second finisher Chad Schug. Schlick placed fifth in final points because he missed three of 11 series races while racing a Spears SRL late model elsewhere. 

Now four-time series champion Amidon, 32, also won IS Legend Cars track championships in 2007, 2013 and 2016. Three-time series track champion Schug won the 2010-11 and 2015 IS track championships. Twenty-eight drivers earned points in the series this season. 

LATE MODEL 100: A 17-car field used a six-car inverted start with fastest qualifier/rookie Matt Johnson outside row three. Billy Helgeson and rookie Kayla Eshleman occupied the front row with three-time track and NASCAR California State Champion Trevor Huddleston and Vargas in row two. Second quickest qualifier Lawless Alan started from inside row three next to Johnson. 

The race had four leaders. Eshleman led the initial laps until Huddleston took command on lap 9. The reigning champion, who won 11 of the 21 series races at IS this season, began lapping back-markers on lap 22. On lap 26 Glenn Schwenger spun in the fourth turn. Huddleston turned right to avoid Schwenger's car and the right front of his No. 50 HPR Chevy hit the crash-wall, causing a yellow flag. Huddleston had to restart at the back of the field. 

With Huddleston's mishap, Alan's No. 25 had the pole for a 2 by 2 restart. He led over Vargas, who passed Eshleman on the first green flag lap. Three-time IS champion Nick Joanides was fourth and Johnson fifth. Alan and Vargas weaved through traffic together with Alan outside and Vargas inside to the lap 50 yellow flag for a 12-minute “half-time” break. Teams only were allowed to make adjustments, add fuel and change tire pressure. 

When racing resumed, Alan continued to lead and even touched fenders with Vargas in turn four at one point. Then Vargas used the outside to take command for good and opened a slight lead over Alan. Joanides took third from Eshleman on lap 54, with Johnson, Helgeson, rookie Ryan Schartau, Christian McGhee and Huddleston up to tenth. At lap 70 the running order remained the same. A lap 73 caution flag for debris caused another 2 by 2 restart. 

On lap 77 Lucas McNeil hit the second turn wall, causing a lengthy caution period. P. 5 Johnson hit the third turn wall hard on lap 80 and collected Schartau, who lost three laps for repairs. The restart at 9:47 pm had Vargas and Eshleman a close one-two. On lap 82 Alan spun in turn one. Helgeson and Kenny Smith were involved and all three cars were sidelined. Smith was driving his own No. 43 spec late model that Hornsby used to win the first race of the night at 7:30. 

At lap 89 Vargas, Eshleman and Joanides were in close formation. Eshleman tried to grab the lead by going very low in the third and fourth corners as the leading duo pulled away from Joanides. Eshleman made her final bids by driving deep into the third and fourth turns on the final two laps. She fell 0.414 of a second short of her initial late model victory. 

Third finisher Joanides, 47, trailed the winner by 4.076 seconds with Christian McGhee, a Spears SRL Series late model regular fourth, 4.507 back. Huddleston work his way back to fifth position, 5.596 off the lead. Rookie Jagger Jones, 14, took sixth (-5.718) with his grandparents Parnelli and Judy Jones present. Jeff Williams, Craig Yeaton, Lucas McNeil also completed all 100 laps. Scharetau also finished with 97 laps after losing three laps to repair accident damage. The race took one hour and 24 minutes. Huddleston clocked the fastest lap of 92.128 mph. 

Vargas told spectators over the infield mic, “This is the best day of my life.” Eshleman told her grandfather and backer Dave Eshleman, “Now I have a taste for how winning feels (in a late model).” She won four Bandolero mains last season on the third-mile en-route to her initial Bandolero track championship. 

SPEC LATE MODELS 25: A seven car field had a five-car inverted starting lineup. On the opening lap break Robert Arevalo went high in turn four and took out Ed Cutler's No. 4. Cutler entered the event second in points and dropped to third in final points. Hornsby, from fifth starting slot, led all 25 laps and won by 3.743 seconds. Kenny Smith started sixth in the No. 2 car owned by driver Craig Yeaton. Smith took second from John Watkinson on lap 3 and kept it over Watkinson to the lap 25 checkers. Watkinson trailed the winner by 13 seconds. 

Series sponsor Yeaton placed fourth, 14 seconds back, and finished second in final points. The 12-minute race averaged 59.284 mph including the opening lap mishap. Kenny Smith ran the fastest lap of 89.206 mph chasing the car he owns and driven all year by Hornsby. As expected, dominant Hornsby won his first IS championship on the half-mile. His mini stock title in 2013 came on the third-mile in his own No. 61 Ford Pinto. Fifteen drivers earned spec late model 2017 points.

LEGENDS: Twelve drivers raced 35 laps on the third-mile with a seven car inverted starting lineup. That put fast timer Cody Dempster, a first time IS driver from Parker, Colo., inside row four. Pole starter Colton Page, from Bakersfield, led the first eight laps. Then Amidon led lap 9 as Page slipped to fourth behind Schlick and Schug. Schlick trailed Amidon closely for two laps before taking command for good on lap 11. Schug and Page dropped Amidon to P. 4 as the top four drivers dueled closely. 

Schlick won by 0.462 over Schug, with Amidon -0.580 and Page 4.854 back. Austin Farr, newcomer Dempster, Tyler Hicks, Scottsdale's Jace Jones, 12, and Ricky Leigh also completed all 35 laps in P. 5-9. Troy Briesch and Mike Vanderlip logged 34 laps. Brad Harvey ran 20 laps and was a DNF. The 9:39.256 race averaged 72.434 mph, a near qualifying pace. Schlick's 16.279 (73.641 mph) was the fastest race lap. 

IS oval track race dates through December show Saturday, November 18 as the King of the Wing Series first appearance at IS since November, 2015. The fastest cars that ever raced at IS ran a best lap of 130 mph in their IS debut (November 2014). Super Stocks on the third-mile and a Figure 8 race also will race that night. 

December 2 will be the sixth Night of Destruction of 2017. SW Tour Trucks will race on the half-mile in a season-ending double-points event. N of D events TBD will complete the program. Several January 2018 events are planned for the IS oval prior to the conclusion of the 211 Entertainment, LLC lease and exit from the track.