GARCIA, 16, AMAZES IN FANTASTIC IRWINDALE FINISH – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA. Jul. 20 – Irwindale Speedway and Green Earth Technologies presented NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series action on week eight of Irwindale Speedway season 14 Saturday night despite a gray, overcast sky. Scattered raindrops fell briefly during late afternoon qualifying. Skies brightened during the on-track autograph session at 6:00 pm and temperatures remained in the 70s. Almost 3,000 spectators present were happy that the full racing program was completed because the result was the most racy and entertaining night of the season.
Six racing divisions provided many leaders, close finishes and a wildly entertaining, smashing trailer race that sent fans home smiling. The 63 racing teams in the pits also enjoyed close competition and steady officiating by track officials. Three first-time Irwindale feature winners collected their initial Irwindale replica helmet trophies. Most stunning new winner was 16-year old Juan Esteban Garcia, from Bogota, Columbia. He made a thrilling last lap outside pass under the waving checkered flag of a 40-lap super late model feature. He scored his first Irwindale victory in only his fourth race of 2013 at the progressively banked asphalt half-mile. Garcia edged to a 0.030 triumph over the track's all-time leading feature winner—Rip Michels, who has won 64 main events, including the last three features this season in the SLM class.
Other new winners were: Kevin James, who drove a late model to victory on the third-mile in the initial open comp 20-lap race this year, and Trevor Huddleston, in the touring Spears SRL S2 Series. The 17-year old son of three-time Irwindale Speedway late model champion Tim Huddleston scored his first 30-lap victory on the track's half-mile. He had won Bandolero mains on the track's third-mile. The senior Huddleston has won 44 Irwindale features on the half-mile and ranks second to Michels in 14 years of racing at the track.
The Huddleston father/son High Point Racing teammates competed on the same track for the first time ever. “That is something Trevor wanted to do,” his dad/car owner said.Tim, 43, had not raced since the January 29, 2011 NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale. He did not finish that race and concentrated for the last two years on his role of car owner/mentor to numerous HPR young drivers.
Brandon Davis won Irwindale's 2011 Auto Club Late Model championship driving Huddleston's HPR Chevy. With Irwindale's track closed last season, Tim settled into his HPR mentor role at other tracks, including Madera and Las Vegas. This year his three late model teenage proteges include his son, Cole Custer, 15, and two-time Irwindale Bandolero champion Ryan Cansdale, 14. Cansdale has won three of seven SRL S-2 mains this season and is the point leader in that series. Huddleston filled in as driver of Custer's HPR Chevy this week because Custer was racing in NASCAR's K & N East Series. The HPR owner said the July 20 race will be his only race this year. The elder Huddleston set second fastest time in a field of 18 and placed fourth in the feature.
Past Irwindale feature winners who repeated were: Craig Rayburn in a 30-lap Superior Automotive Engineering Super Stock race that opened feature racing, plus versatile Robert Rice in a 15-lap Pick-Your-Part trailer race on the third-mile. Ryan Partridge, 25, led every lap of the Lucas Oil Late Model 40-lap main and increased his point lead to six. It was his third victory in five series features this season. He started second in Steve Latina's No. 48 Loan Mart Toyota Camry and upped his Irwindale career main event victory total in several divisions to 31. He also won an Irwindale truck feature this season for Latina's Loan Mart Toyota Tundra team.
The third-mile track was the setting for both the open comp race that replaced the low-car count Figure 8 series, and the second Pick-Your-Part trailer race of 2013. The open comp race had four open comp only qualifiers. They were joined by eight other racers who competed after racing in their own series. The open comp field represented seven divisions—SLM (1), late model (1), super stock (4), classic stock (1), SRL S2 (2), Figure 8 (2) and Southwest Tour Trucks (1). Winner K. James, from Yucaipa, started and finished first and led every lap in his No. 83 late model.
The seven minute PYP trailer race ran 15 laps and lived up to the pick your part name. Trailer contents and car/trailer parts littered the third-mile battleground. Four boats (one with cardboard pirate figures as passengers), large truck tires, and even a plastic wading pool filled with water were the targeted contents of trailers. Only winner Robert Rice's orange PYP 1970s Chevy El Camino and his orange boat escaped the carnage. He led all 15 laps and won by more than a lap over Shayla Zin.
LOAN MART DASHES: The first week of two new trophy dashes for two divisions selected by track racing officials kicked off racing at 7:00 pm. Both races were six laps for the six fastest qualifiers in the SLM and late model divisions with fully inverted starting lineups based on qualifying times. Finishing positions determined the starting order in the features and the winners each received $250 from Loan Mart, which proposed the dual dashes. If the fastest qualifiers won their dashes they would receive an additional $250 from Loan Mart for a $500 six lap effort. Sixth quickest qualifier Jeff Williams won the LM dash from the pole; FQ Andrew Porter placed fifth. Next, the SLM dash had second starter Juan Garcia lead the first five laps. Jeff Eshleman passed him on the inside at turn two and won by 0.388 over Garcia. FQ Michels ran sixth all six laps.
SLM: Twelve of the 13 super late models present started the 40-lap main. At the conclusion of the dramatic race, fans stood and applauded the top two finishers. Dash winner Eshleman, in his No. 33 So Cal Wraps Chevy, led the first 20 laps and held a steady 30-yard advantage over Garcia, who was 35-yards in front of P. 3 Michels. Eshleman most likely was en-route to his initial Irwindale feature victory if the race remained caution-free. A one-car spin on lap 21 ended that thought. At the green for lap 21 the top three drivers entered the first turn three-wide with Michels extremely low. Outside-running Eshleman led lap 21 by inches over Michels. Then in the first turn P. 4 Jack Madrid spun 360 degrees and continued. He sent up billowing clouds of smoke. The P. 9-10 cars of Billy Mitchell and newcomer Josh Soto collided and caught the first turn wall hard on the right side. Both cars were towed to the pits.
A two by two restart had Michels outside and Eshleman inside. Garcia, whose parents fly with him each time he races in the United States, leap-froged from P. 3 to the lead and led lap 22 over Michels. Eshleman dropped to fourth and then to seventh a lap later. Garcia and Michels were seldom more than a length apart to the finish. On lap 34 Michels took the lead exiting turn four on the inside. A lap later Garcia made an outside pass from turn four to the start/finish line and led laps 35-38. Michels led the 39th (white flag lap) via his inside pass from turn four to the S/F line. He appeared to be the winner until the fourth turn where rookie Garcia buried his foot on the throttle and edged past Michels on the outside by less than a foot with the starter waving the checkers above them. Third through eighth finishers (all on the lead lap) were: Toni McCray (-1.984 off the lead), Eshleman, Brandon Loverock, John Manke, Madrid, and Andre Prescott. Bakersfield's Ryan Reed was sixth on lap 13 when he retired to the infield.
When the top three finishers stopped for post-race interviews, sportsman Michels went over to Garcia and hugged him. He praised his young adversary over the PA microphone for his ability and clean racing. He was happy for Garcia but really wanted the victory for his own team. Ironically, Michels said when he worked last year as driver instructor for the Position One Motorsports team of Luis Martinez, Sr. he mentored then 15-year old Garcia at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway three-eighths mile Bullring oval Fall Classic. Garcia drove the Position One No. 30 late model and set third fastest qualifying time (15.840) in a 17-car field. His long-time karts racing friend Luis Martinez, Jr. was the fastest qualifier (15.702) in the No. 03 Position One team car. Garcia won the 100-lap feature and took home a huge trophy.
Following the 2012 season veteran K & N West car owner Joe Nava bought the Position One team from Martinez, Sr.. Nava retained the drivers and race headquarters in Baldwin Park, just a mile east of the track. Nava has a LM driven in 2013 by Martinez, Jr and one SRL S2 car. Garcia and his parents fly north to LAX for Friday Irwindale practice nights and stay at an Orange County hotel. They fly home on Sunday. Garcia from ages 9-11 was a three-time karting champion in Columbia. He said his goal is to race in the NASCAR touring K & N West or East circuits as soon as possible and eventually in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He was not entered at four of the eight Irwindale weeks this season. His results at Irwindale include three runs in late models with two non-finishes and a third place in the team's No. 77. On June 15 Garcia was third fastest qualifier, started and finished third in a 50-lap feature. He now has a sensational SLM victory to add to his racing resume.
LATE MODELS: In an 18-car field, Partridge dominated all 40-laps and won by 3.100 seconds, or half a straightaway. Toni McCray placed second and now ranks second in points in both the SLM and LM series with her pair of No. 90 black and pink cars. Her crew taped the LF and nose of her late model after contact in the trophy dash at turn four and a DNF. Rookie Andrew Porter, 19-year old grandson of driver Kenny Smith, finished third in Kevin Bowles No. 7. Tim Huddleston, Billy Helgeson, rookie Cansdale, Luis Martinez, Jr., Mike Johnson, Jeff Williams and Kyle McGrady completed the top ten. Trevor Huddleston was tenth on the final lap when he pulled into the infield and placed 12th with 39 laps. Seventeen of 18 starters finished the all-green light race that took 13 minutes and averaged 90.980 mph.
SRL S2: The ten SRL S2 Series cars, built by Irwindale's Racecar Factory, inverted eight for a 30-lap feature on the half-mile. Pole starter Bill Waters led the first two circuits. Then June 29 Madera Speedway S2 feature winner Anthony Giannone, a 17-year old from Colorado Springs, led laps 3-9 after starting fifth. Trevor Huddleston took command on lap 10 with an inside pass in the fourth turn. A lap later second place Giannone spun without contact in turn four. He restarted and climbed back to P. 7 by lap 25 when he pulled into the infield with a fluid leak.
Impressive Cansdale, in his dad's No. 37, took second place from March 16 Madera main winner Kenny Smith's No. 43 on lap 22 with an inside move in turn four. He trailed his SRL S2 title rival Huddleston by 50-yards at the end (-2.911). Third place Smith was 5.779 seconds off the lead. Tom Stanton, a truck racer from Glendora, rented the No. 77 Joe Nava car and brought it home fourth in his S2 debut. Daryl Scoggins, an Irwindale two-time mini stock champion, placed fifth. Waters, Chris Morrison, Dave Lowenstein and Craig Rayburn, filling in for owner Mike Colato, Jr., finished in that order. The first six drivers ran all 30 laps and the next three drivers logged 29 laps. Cansdale saw his point lead over his LM teammate Huddleston shrink from 50 to 40 points with the next S2 race set for Madera on August 3. Four races remain after that event.
SUPER STOCKS: Twelve super stocks ran 30-laps in an all-green 11:11.540-timed event for an average of 80.412 mph. Craig Rayburn, 50, started seventh in his Camaro and led the final 25 laps. He edged Greg Crutcher's Camaro by 15-yards. Newcomer Jesse Lawson, from San Bernardino, said he has only raced on dirt tracks in recent years. He started second, led the first five laps and finished third in his Irwindale paved track debut with his No. 88 Camaro. New series point leader Gary Read, Curtis White, and Robert Dezarov followed in Camaros. All 11 finishers completed 30 laps. Gary Frankovich was the fastest qualifier for the fifth race this season in his Chevy Impala SS. He started 11th in the fully inverted lineup and finished eighth.
OPEN COMP : The all-green light 20-lap event took 5:21.969. Winner Kevin James ran the fastest race lap at 77.417 mph and averaged 74.467 mph as he lapped five cars. He won by half a lap (8.911 seconds). Runner-up Jeff Williams No. 27 Ford SW Tour Truck started third and finished second in a race-long duel with third place Rayburn's SS feature-winning No. 18 Camaro. Stanton's S2 placed fourth with Smith's S2 fifth. The first six finishers completed 20 laps. Three drivers were down a lap and a classic stock Plymouth borrowed from Harry Michaelian was down two laps. The SLM of Rodney Peacher exited the track on lap 11.
The trailer race finish behind Rice and Shayla Zins was Tom Ryan, Ken Palmer, Tommy Mason and Jeffrey Best. Ryan's tow vehicle was a solid Ford Crown Victoria and Palmer's was a big Mercury Marauder. None of the other sedans could keep pace with or derail Rice's fleet Chevy El Camino that he uses frequently at Irwindale.
The next Irwindale Speedway NASCAR racing will take place on August 17. Irwindale Event Center will host the X Games live on ESPN from Thursday, August 1 through Sunday, August 4. Auto and skateboarding events were switched from downtown Los Angeles to the spacious Irwindale site for the first time.