IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY REOPENING A NEAR SELLOUT – By Tim Kennedy
IRWINDALE, Calif., Apr. 6 -- “Racers—Restart Your Engines.” That was the headline prior to the re-opening of Irwindale Speedway at the Irwindale Event Center. NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series competitors did so Saturday for the first time since November 26, 2011. The state-of-the-art speedway opened in March, 1999 and operated for 13 seasons. Then the original lease holder filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February 2012, so oval track racing in Irwindale went dark during 2012. Jim Cohan, President/CEO of Team 211 Entertainment, LLC, stepped forward and became the master leaseholder to bring back oval racing on the half and third-mile tracks.Under the name Irwindale Event Center, his organization also operates the eighth-mile Irwindale Dragstrip, LA Karting Experience, LA Racing Experience, and Advanced Driving Dynamics. Cohan brought in a management team of experienced and respected racers to run the revitalized racing mecca and spaced 15 Saturday race dates from April 6 through October 26.
“I can't believe this,” Cohan told the media. “It's full. I didn't expect it to be full.” A near sellout crowd, an estimated 6,300, responded and turned out to satisfy their need for speed. Social media contacts plus an Irwindale Speedway display at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana during NASCAR events March 22-24 got word of the Irwindale reopening to many new fans. Four racing series, with 59 cars competing, provided exciting on-track racing with lead-changes, a few crashes and close finishes. A smashing ten-car demolition derby followed the oval track races. Demo runs and bursts of power on the front straight from an aircraft jet-engine powered pickup truck also entertained fans. A ten-minute aerial pyrotechnics show that would thrill July 4th enthusiasts comprised three plus hours of entertainment. The track's varied and esteemed food court vendors did a brisk business all night as fans stayed through the final fireworks blast and left smiling.
Fans went onto the front straight after 6:00 pm for the traditional driver autograph session. Country singer Paul Scott (of NASCAR song fame) sang the national anthem. At 7:00 track management honored the 2011 ten oval track champions and four drag-strip champions and at the starting line presented them championship plaques. Nine of the 14 recipients were present. Each oval track series was recognized in the all-new track color program from The Program Guys. They will print a new race program for all 15 Saturday events. Photos of the champions, winning cars, and top ten in points for each series occupied eight of the pages in the 32-page program printed on glossy paper. To honor them further, the champions were given the use of one of the track's 12 suites for the night.
WINNERS: Feature winners were: Ryan Reed, from Bakersfield, in a super late model 40-lap main; Ryan Partridge, in a Lucas Oil Late Model 50-lap feature; Zack Green, in a 35-lap super stock race, and Ryan Bragdon, in a 35-lap mini stock event that opened racing at 7:10. US Marine Corps Sgt. Stan McDonald won the 12-minute demo derby that concluded on-track competition. Car counts were: 19 minis, 11 supers, 10 super late models, and 19 late models.
The track premises and original racing surface were in excellent condition. The mini stock fastest qualifying time was only 0.043 off the track record. Bruce Flanders, the booth announcer from 1999-2008, returned as chief announcer and Gordon “Lug Nutzz” Stewart returned as infield announcer. Just after 7:05 Flanders gave the welcome command, “Drivers restart your engines.” Track communications VP Doug Stokes waved the green flag from the starters' stand for the mini stock main.
SLM 40: A fully-inverted start put fastest qualifier Chris Clyne, from Las Vegas, outside row five with second quickest Reed alongside. Toni Marie McCray started fifth and led the first 33 green laps. Reed was a close second from laps 2-33. A lap 34 two-car collision in turn four caused a caution flag. On the restart Reed and Clyne both passed McCray in three-wide racing into the first turn. Rip Michels, the all-time Irwindale leader with 61 feature victories, and Dennis Furden dropped her to P. 5 a lap later. Furden contacted the wall and stalled on lap 38. At the green Clyne missed a shift leaving turn four and lost five positions. Michels, McCray and Billy Mitchell finished in P. 3-5 respectively. All ten starters finished and eight were on the lead lap. Fast closing Michels trailed winner Reed by two lengths (0.184) at the finish.
Reed, a 19-year old diabetic drove his No. 16 Drive to Stop Diabetes.org Ford Fusion in cooperation with the American Diabetes Association. The Roush-Fenway Racing developmental driver will return east to drive April 26 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond, VA. He told the crowd, “I can't tell you how much this track means to me. That race was short-track racing at its best. What a great turnout of fans for opening night.” Runner-up Michels has not raced regularly at Irwindale for three years as he worked in driver development for a Las Vegas team and moved to North Carolina for a year with that team. “I still had my old car so I will race it all season. It's good to be back at my home track,” the San Fernando driver told spectators. McCray had a 20-yard lead on second place at lap 34 with third place a straightaway back. She probably would have won her first Irwindale main event if the race had remained green all 40 laps. She had to rush off to get into her No. 90 late model at the backstretch staging area.
LATE MODELS: A nine car inversion put fastest qualifier Mike Johnson's Chevy inside row five. Third starter Ryan Partridge, 24, took the lead on the opening lap over front row starters Jeff Williams and rookie Andrew Porter, 19, who took second on lap 5. Partridge led all 50 circuits. It was his 28th feature triumph at Irwindale and moved him into a tie for 11th place on the list of most prolific feature winners at the track. Johnson took second on lap 19 and 15-year old rookie Juan Garcia claimed third a lap later. With only practice sessions on the Irwindale half-mile, the Bogata, Columbia native pressed 14-time late model feature winner Johnson for second. A flat tire under a lap 28 caution sent Garcia to the pits.
Garcia's Position One Motorsports teammate Luis Martinez, Jr. charged from tenth starting to third position. Third quickest qualifier Toni McCray was fourth. Inside-running Johnson closed to within five yards of leading outside-runner Partridge by lap 40, but he finished 0.666 back at the finish. McCray made an inside pass of Martinez on the final lap in the fourth turn to earn the final podium position (and her second third place of the night). She and fourth finisher Martinez were 4+ seconds in back of the winner. Travis Irving placed fifth with 13 of the 19 LM starters completing all 50 laps.
SUPER STOCKS: Eleven super stocks used a full-field inverted starting lineup with FQ Gary Frankovich at the back. The race had three leaders and four lead changes. Eric Sunness, from second, led the first three laps. Rich DeLong III started fifth and led laps 4-27 with P 2-8 cars in a tight pack, 15-yards in back of the leader. Zack Green, 22, passed DeLong on the inside during lap 28. Then a caution for leaking transmission fluid from DeLong's car caused a yellow flag; DeLong retired to the pits. At the green flag Sunness passed Green on the outside on the front straight. They waged a close battle with Sunness high and Green low. Green took command on lap 34 and paced the final two laps in his Camaro, edging Sunness' Chevy Impala SS by 1.319 seconds. Gary Read, Robert Dezarov and Frankovich completed the top five.
MINI STOCKS: The 18-car mini stock field used a four car inverted start that put quickest qualifier Ryan Bragdon outside in row two. Pole starter Steve Rogers led the first 11 laps in a Ford Pinto. On lap 11 Bragdon's 1979 Ford Mustang II body on a Ford Pinto chassis executed an inside pass in the fourth turn and took charge for good. Robby Hornsby's Pinto took second on lap 20 and held it to the conclusion. He was 0.696 back at the checkers. Jeremy Perez was third in a Pinto, 1.066 off the lead. Bill Smith and rookie Robbie Harryman placed fourth and fifth and also completed all 35 laps.
The next race at Irwindale Speedway will be a six division program in three weeks (April 27). Super late models, Irwindale Race Trucks, SRL S-2 cars, Legend Cars, Bandoleros, and the popular skid plate cars will be using both the half and third-mile ovals.