TONI McCRAY -- FIRST FEMALE TO SWEEP IRWINDALE TWIN-FEATURES – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jul. 5 – The annual Irwindale Speedway Independence day “Salute to America” and fireworks show had a jammed grandstand of 6,290 people. NASCAR Whelen Racing Series close competition and a post-racing aerial pyrotechnics show had people heading home before 10:00 pm thoroughly entertained. Four track series with five main events were topped by the Lucas Oil Late Model Series twin-30 lap features with 16 teams in action.
Toni McCray made track history in the 15th year of racing at the San Gabriel Valley banked half and third-mile ovals. She won both late model twin-30 lap co-features in the Jimco Construction No. 90 Chevy Impala SS owned by former driver Clay Wooster. Rip Michels, the all-time leading feature winner at IS with 67 wins in several divisions, serves as crew chief and chassis set-up master. Driving and set-up advice from Michels to McCray, 37, also has been key to her career year. She has won three late model and one super late model main this season, topping her two late model victories last year. She current leads super late model point standings after three races with finishes of third, second and first.
As one wag put it, Irwindale has a female driver who actually win races. She started the first 30 in eighth position. She jumped from third to first on lap 11 and was in front during the final 20 laps. She beat second generation driver Trevor Huddleston by 0.206. In the second 30 she started fourth and took command from point leader Ryan Partridge, 26, on lap 17 after several laps of side-by-side racing. She beat him by 20-yards (0.952 victory margin). She stopped at the finish line, removed her helmet and stood on the door sill saluting the large, appreciative audience with both arms raised in triumph. Partridge and McCray shook hands in mutual appreciation following their on-track close, clean duel.
Other main event winners on the six, nine and 12-degree progressively half-mile were: Joey Licata, Jr., 22, from Lake Balboa in the San Fernando Valley in a 40-lap Irwindale Race Trucks (IRT) feature; point leader Zack Green, 24, from Long Beach, won the 30-lap super stock main event in a borrowed Camaro. Point leader Brent Scheidemantle, 21, won a 35-lap INEX Legend Cars race that opened main event action.
LM 1ST 30: Sixteen cars lined up straight-up by qualifying times with fastest cars in front. FQ Trevor Huddleston, 18, led the first nine laps in a duel with fellow teen Christian McGhee, 15. The first of two caution flags waved at lap 10 after P. 5 Ryan Cansdale, 15, spun 360 degrees across the starting line. Officials sent P. 6 Travis Irving to the back for causing Cansdale's No. 51 HPR Chevy spin. In a double-file restart, Huddleston was outside and McGhee inside. They made contact at the end of the backstretch and McGhee became the leader despite a torn upwards rear deck that had to be bolted down for the second 30.
McCray was third when the teens came together and slowed a bit. She darted to the inside and passed both on lap 11 on the inside in turn four and led to the conclusion. Huddleston took second from McGhee on lap 12 and the fastest qualifier battled McCray to the end. She grew up in a family of racing drivers--grandfather, father, uncles, brothers--and works as office manager during the week for her father Rick's truck maintenance facility in San Bernardino. She said her car was tight and had her team free or loosen the car for better handling. She said she loves racing and is going after wins and the late model championship this year.
Huddleston was 10-yards from McCray at lap 25 and only a length back at the lap 30 checkered flag. Andrew Porter, 20, took third from McGhee on lap 14; Partridge took fourth a lap later. NASCAR touring series driver and 2001 Irwindale SLM champion Sean Woodside, making his first 2014 start, took P. 5 from McGhee on lap 27. Following sixth finisher McGhee across the line were two-time INEX Bandolero champion, legend car and S2 winner Cansdale, June 21 feature winner Mike Johnson, rookie Ricky Schlick, 17, and Curtis Burns. Fourteen of 16 starters finished with 11 on the lead lap. Huddleston ran the only sub-19 second lap of 18.998 (94.747 mph) on lap 8 while leading.
LM 2ND 30: A card drawn by a fan determined the inversion for the second 30 based on the second of two qualifying laps run by each driver. Huddleston's second lap also was the fastest second lap so he started fifth (the drawn number) in the second 30. McGhee and Partridge had row one, with Porter and McCray in row two. Partridge led the initial lap over McGhee and McCray, who took second on lap 2 with an inside pass approaching the starting line. Partridge (outside) and McCray (inside) battled side-by-side again lap after lap. On lap 17 Toni passed Ryan on the inside near start/finish and pulled away gradually after she moved to the outside in front of Ryan's Steve Latina-owned No. 48 Toyota Camry. She won her second late mode main of the evening over Ryan by 0.952.
As the two leaders dueled side-by-side in the first half of the race, so, too, teenagers McGhee and Huddleston battled alongside each other each lap for third place. They have raced each other at IS and other tracks since 2009 in bandoleros, legends, S2 cars and now late models. Huddleston went to the inside in the third turn on lap 15 and passed McGhee for third, which he retained to the end. Huddleston finished 2.771 seconds in back of winner McCray and McGhee was 4.285 back. April 19 winner Travis Irving returned from a DNF (non-finish) in the first 30 to place fifth, five seconds from McCray. Porter, Woodside, Cansdale, Billy Helgeson and Mike Johnson completed the top ten.
All 15 starters finished, with 12 drivers on the lead lap. The winning time of 9:52.901 average speed was 91.078 mph. Winner McCray logged the quickest race lap of 19.286 (93.332 mph). After three feature victories this season she still trails five-time late model winner Partridge by 18 points (478-460). Ten of 20 scheduled races remain. Cole Custer, 16, was tied for second in points with McCray prior to the July 5 doubleheader and trying to run for the IS championship. He even flew from Napa to El Monte Airports on a rented Sirius private prop airplane after racing in the K & N West road race at Sonoma June 21 to race in the IS twin 30s that evening. He was unexpectedly absent Saturday. His No. 55 HPR Chevy owner Tim Huddleston said NASCAR staff called him to a career development meeting in Daytona Beach, FL for upcoming drivers of the touring K & N East and West Series.
TRUCKS 40: As fastest qualifier, Licata started sixth in a six truck inverted lineup. He ran second to six-time 2014 IRT winner/double-duty driver Ryan Partridge by lap 3. The two leaders raced side-by-side, Partridge high and Licata low, from lap 8-17. Then Licata executed an inside pass from the fourth turn to the starting line and took command. He pulled away gradually. Partridge slowed on lap 23 and dropped to fourth place “with a dropped valve”. Licata held a straightaway lead on lap 29 when a four truck turn two crash occurred and involved Dennis Arena, Ken Michaelian, Partridge and Kenny Smith. Under caution Partridge and Michaelian came back from the pit area without their damaged hoods.
With a 2 X 2 restart, leader Licata chose the outside. An aborted start brought out a yellow after Licata started too early. The second restart passed muster and Licata continued leading double-duty driver McGhee, who trailed by 30-yards (3.797 seconds) at the finish. Licata's first IRT victory came aboard the No. 77 Dodge Dakota sponsored by Pacific Homework plus Diverse Machine & Fabrication. He has won three ASA Truck Series main events at Irwindale in 2009-10 when ASA operated as a separate series. It merged into IRT (formerly Super Trucks) last year. Later he added, “I have eight to ten ASA truck feature wins overall at Havasu 95 Speedway, Blythe and the Las Vegas “Bullring” three-eighths mile oval at LVMS.”
In another major step for a female driver, “Racy” Lacey Price, drove to a hard-earned first podium finish at IS. The Bellflower resident started third and dropped as low as sixth in early laps before charging forward. She took third place with a final lap inside pass in the fourth turn. She edged veteran Jeff Williams' Ford F-150 by 0.004. Lucas McNeil, rookie Blaine Perkins, 14, newcomer Kevin Bates, Arena, Cameron, Philip Lauck, rookie Nico Mongenel, 16, and Partridge's rough-sounding truck all completed 40 laps.
Actually, Price made a contact-free pass of Williams on lap 11 inside at turn four. On a double-file restart on lap 29 Williams passed her in turn one for third. Their battle for third from lap 29-40 captivated the huge crowd rooting for “girl power” in auto racing. The 20-year old UC Riverside junior drove the red-white-blue No. 22 Chevy S-10 owned by Jeff Lattimer and Larry Vannix. The truck is the winning No. 9 Connor Cantrell 2013 ride. Mike Price,1999 IS super stock champion and later a late model feature winner, rented the truck for his daughter. She had raced two seasons successfully in legend cars on the third-mile. She is now the leading IRT rookie. Cantrell went to Australia to surf in February and is due back home soon. Lattimer and Vannix said they are building Cantrell a new truck.
The IRT P. 7-12 fastest qualifiers ran a 6-lap Super Gen of Monrovia trophy dash at 7:10. Paul Cole awarded $150 cash to the winner of the dash he will sponsor at every IS race night with the racing series to be determined by track officials. Pole starter Michaelian led all the way and collected the cash. Arena and Cameron followed. Cameron drove a red No. 99 truck (ex-No. 11 ASA truck) that he bought during the week after seeing a for-sale ad in RacingWest.com. He said his spin into the front straight wall on the final lap of the June 7 main bent the frame of his white No. 99 Bowden Construction Chevy S-10 beyond repair. He caught the right front of his new truck against the wall leaving turn two in the main and bent the steering, so he was not a front runner this week.
SUPER STOCKS: Green, the 2013 IS super stock champion, started sixth in a full-field inversion of the seven car field. He again drove the red No. 47 Camaro loaned to him for the balance of 2014 by owner/driver Paul Howard. Paul and Green crashed together on June 7, damaging Green's No. 21 Ford severely. Green, 24, won the last SS main on June 21 in Howard's No. 47. He won in it again July 5 and now has won five of the six 2014 features. Row one starter Gary Crutcher led the first 11 laps in his Camaro before Green made his winning pass in turn four. Runner-up Crutcher finished 1.127 back. Henry Miles, FQ Gary Frankovich finished 3+ and 5+ seconds off the lead. Ken Cannata, Jimmy Sloan, the IS 2005 SS series champion, and Gary Read followed. The all-green race took ten minutes and averaged 82.838 mph. Sloan said he has not raced since 2007. He drove the No. 15 (the ex-No. 50 Johnny White driven Camaro from about six years ago). The current owner recently bought the idle car from the Cass family.
LEGENDS 35: Thirteen legend cars opened main event action at 7:15 with a five-car inversion on the third-mile. There were three race leaders and five lead changes. All leaders are past IS track champions. From pole, Chad Schug, 27, led the first nine laps. FQ Darren Amidon led laps 10-11 after taking the point low in turn four. The first five cars ran nose-to-tail lap after lap. After racing at numerous tracks for wins and not for IS track points, Brent Scheidemantle decided to race for the Irwindale championship this year. He now has won three of the four IS series 2014 features.
Scheidemantle started fourth as second FQ, took P. 2 on lap 11 and led laps 12-15. Amidon led laps 16-19; Schug paced laps 20-27 in a five-car pull away from the field. Scheidemantle led laps 28-35 and won by 0.263 over Schug, with Amidon third (-0.796). Aaron Wells and double-duty driver Schlick, 17, completed the top five as 12 of 13 starters finished. Nine drivers completed all 35 laps. Amidon's 16.475 (72.765 mph) was the quickest race lap. The 11-minute contest had one caution flag for a two-car spin in turn four on lap 21.
The next IS race on July 19 will have three generations of Gilliland drivers racing on the half-mile in the same super late model race. David, the current NASCAR Sprint Cup driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motor-sports Ford, started on the pole July 6 in the Daytona 400 and led the first four laps before one of many multi-car crashes caused his DNF and 35th place finish. David, 38, will race against his 1997 NASCAR West champion father Butch, 57, and 14-year old son Todd. The teenager/high school freshman won a NASCAR limited late model main event in his seventh start on May 2 at Ace Speedway, a 4/10-mile asphalt track in North Carolina.