KING OF THE WING 410/360 SPRINT CARS @ IRWINDALE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Nov. 22 – Dazzling speed with abundant passing was on display Saturday at the banked, asphalt half-mile Irwindale Speedway. The first appearance of a formal racing event for winged sprint cars powered by 360 and 410 cu. in. engines with restrictor plates worked. A field of 27 sprinters was divided evenly between 360 and restricted 410s. The inaugural King of the Wing (KOTW) season, organized and promoted by 11-time Indianapolis 500 driver Davey Hamilton, attracted 4,273 spectators. Many of them were lured to the event by a three-car winged sprint car demonstration 10-lap race during the November 1 event. Ascot and Perris dirt track sprint car racing fans, curious to see winged sprints on a fast paved track, also increased the turnstile count.
Jo Jo Helberg, from Rohnert Park (near Santa Rosa, CA.), used his 2012 Beast chassis with a front end he built and Mopar engine. He dominated practice, qualifying, heat race and the 40-lap feature. He blistered the 14-year old fastest qualifying lap in track history during 5:20-6:00 pm time trials. The former all-time track record--15.154 (118.781 mph)--was set by Troy Regier in a super-modified on April 1, 2000. Five drivers had beaten that mark with six faster laps. Then 14th qualifier Helberg obliterated the old record on his first lap with the NTR—13.781 (130.520 mph). He backed up his first lap with a 13.829 on lap two and was the only driver to qualify in the 13 seconds bracket. Ultimately 14 drivers ran 18 laps faster than the old record. Aaron Pierce, from Anderson, IN, ran the second fastest lap of 14.149. Ten drivers qualified in the 14 second bracket and 14 of 27 drivers beat the old one lap mark.
The touring KOTW series, with $25,000 purses and $3,000 to win 40-lap main events, raced its first three events in early July at Toledo, OH, Winchester, IN and Morris, IL. Helberg won two of the three events and became the first KOTW Midwest champion. Six of the top ten drivers in Midwest points raced at Irwindale. The three race KOTW California Shootout Series started Friday, November 21 at the third-mile Madera Speedway with 29 cars. Crawfordsville, IN veteran Jacob Wilson, 24, won the Madera feature. Irwindale Speedway was stop two, with the two-year old Kern County Raceway Park banked half-mile in Bakersfield the final KOTW race Sunday.
KOTW SERIES: The 2014 California high-points KOTW champion will receive a $5,000 bonus. Combined Midwest and California points yield another $5,000 bonus for the overall six-race 2014 champion. Hamilton hopes to expand to a 12-race KOTW series next season with three February races in southeastern states. Three more in the Midwest around the July 4 weekend will follow. Three events in the Northwest/Canada will precede three California races on successive days to cut travel expenses for race teams.
The Irwindale KOTW 40-lap feature started all 27 cars and used an eight-car inverted lineup based on qualifying times. That put Helberg outside row four next to former USAC sprint car driver Aaron Pierce. Wisconsin driver David Byrne ( a USAC 2014 Silver Crown winner on July 24 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana) started third and led the first 12 laps. Helberg was third on lap 5 and took second from Jacob Wilson at lap 10. Helberg took the lead on lap 13 and opened a 40-yard advantage as he easily lapped slower cars. It seemed he only feathered the throttle in the turns with the top wing providing tremendous down-force. Third quickest qualifier Wilson dropped out on lap 13 with a broken rod.
TWO CHECKERED FLAGS: The yellow flag flew on lap 29 after lapped Alan Beck's top wing folded back on the cage and extended over the tail. Track safety workers checked the track and collected debris as the scoring pylon continued counting laps. The KOTW announcer said caution laps counted and when the field took the green flag only two green laps were run before the KOTW starter waved the checkered flag. The top three finishers stopped at the finish line for interviews as other cars exited to the pits. Fans began booing the loss of 13 green flag laps. Many spectators, thinking racing had concluded, walked to cars in the parking lot during the confusion. Others remained seated to see what would happen.
KOTW officials consulted with series leader Davey Hamilton, who dropped out with handling problems on lap 14. He quickly corrected the error and ordered scoring to revert to 27 completed laps. Cars were allowed to refuel for the additional green flag laps and spectators applauded that decision. The original checkered flag flew at 9:43 pm. The green flag for 20 remaining cars unfurled at 10:12 pm with two lapped cars separating the two leaders.
The P.2 duel between Pierce and 22-year old veteran 360 sprint car driver Sierra Jackson (unrelated to the late driver Rebel Jackson) occupied fans attention. She was the fourth fastest qualifier and passed second fastest qualifier Pierce on lap 25 with a swift inside move in turn three. She held that $2,500 position to the finish in her 2013 Diablo chassis (built by former driver Dave Steele in Florida). Jackson, a winner of features and championships in northwestern states, used the same 360 engine to finish a closing second to winner Wilson (2013 Diablo/410 Claxton Chevy) a night earlier at Madera. Drivers quickly raced 13 green laps and the official checkered flag came at 10:16 pm.
Helberg won his third KOTW main event of 2014 and improved on his third place in the Madera main a night earlier when he used a 410 Chevy engine. He had three lapped cars and 2.136 seconds between his No. 7 Beast and runner-up Jackson, from Meridian, Idaho. She held off pressing third finisher Pierce by 0.135. He earned $2,000. Massachusetts based Bobby Santos III, the 2008 USAC Turkey Night Midget GP winner at Irwindale, finished fourth for a $1,500 payday. Northeastern super-modified veteran Santos was 7.096 seconds in back of the winner. Canadian Ron Larson (-15.459 seconds) also completed all 40 laps for sixth and earned $1,000.
Seventh through 12th place finishers were down a lap. In order they were: pole starter Tim Skoglund, from Fresno, Tim Barber, now from Petaluma, 17-year old Davey Hamilton, Jr., a high school senior in Jamestown, IN., Canadian Matt Mansell, Eric Humphries, from Chowchilla, and Rick Brown, from Oregon. Nineteen drivers finished after Alan Beck slammed into the second turn outside wall with the right side of his car as the winner received the checkered flag. Beck was unhurt, but a wrecker towed his car to the pits and it was questionable for Bakersfield Sunday.
TOP THREE: Winner Helberg told spectators, “Paved track sprint car racing is changing and this is how it is now. We put on pretty insane races and break track records. I get it that sometimes race tracks have mistakes. I'm glad everyone stuck around. I thought it was suppose to be eight laps (on the restart). I think we did 50. I'm glad my tires held up, but they were good. It was more laps than we planned for. Lapped traffic wasn't bad. I got through.” He added, “I'm glad my whole family was here tonight. I don't get to race in California much anymore.”
Runner-up Jackson received appreciative applause for her strong run. “It's great to have so many supporters in California. I couldn't do it without you all. I've been racing since age six,” she told the crowd. Third place Pierce had to replace his engine after Madera and had an inner tire on his trailer blow out en-route to Irwindale. He said, “I hope you all enjoyed it and come back. These are the fastest winged cars on the planet. Jo Jo has raced here a lot (with USAC 360 non-wing sprint cars in 1999). I don't know about Sierra, but she goes well wherever she races.”
Helberg's winning speed was 112.577 mph. He ran the fastest race lap of 14.628 (123.052 mph). Three generations of Hamiltons raced in the main event. Grandfather Ken, 73, son Davey, 52, and grandson Davey, Jr., 17, raced KOTW winged sprints at IS. They equaled the Gilliland family, who also had grandfather Butch, son David and grandson Todd race in the same NASCAR late model feature this season at IS on July 19. Grandsons were the highest finishers in both family duels.
Connor Cantrell, 24-year old 2011 Irwindale Race Truck champion, made his Irwindale debut in a sprint car he rented from Ken Hamilton. He said he watched the three-car winged sprint car heat race November 1 and said it looked like fun and wanted to try it. He arranged to drive Hamilton's Doker/360 Chevy to 18th place (- two laps) in a 24-car field at Madera using his traditional number 9. At Irwindale Cantrell qualified at 16.205 (111.077 mph) for 23rd quickest of 26 drivers with times. He started 23rd and was lapped on lap 20. He dropped out on lap 24. Current IS late model and truck racer Andrew Porter, 20, was present as part of the stock car contingent watching sprint cars compete on their home track. He said he also would like to race winged sprint cars.
HEATS: KOTW drivers raced in four seven-car, eight-lap heat races with the fastest qualifier in each heat starting sixth. Helberg won heat one, leading laps 4-8 for a 1.768 second victory. His fastest lap was 14.504. Pierce came from P. 6 and led laps 3-8 to win heat two in a NTR time of 1:59.231. His fastest lap was 14.220 (126.582 mph); he won by 7.452 seconds. Heat three winner Santos started fifth and led laps 7-8 to edge early leader Matt Mansell by 0.978. His best laps was 14.984. Heat four winner Sierra Jackson started sixth and amazingly led every lap. She won by 6.719 seconds and ran the best lap of 14.585 (123.414 mph).
KOTW drivers represented 11 states with three drivers hauling south from British Columbia, Canada. USA drivers by states: California-seven, Indiana-five, Idaho-three, Washington-two, and one each from Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon., Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin. Nine different chassis makes were in the 27 car field. Beast and Diablo tied with nine cars each. Eagle and Jack Elam's J & J had two cars each. Dawker, Doker, Dynomite, Hurricane and Stealth had single cars.
TRUCKS: The Southwest Tour Truck Series had nine trucks present for a non-points feature as the support division. Recently crowned SWT Truck champion Zack Green, from Long Beach, set fastest qualifying time at 4:00 and won the 35-lap feature. He drove the No. 27 Ford F-150 he rented all season from past champion Jeff Williams.
The 2013-14 IS super stock track champion started seventh and became the third leader on lap 16. His winning time in the all-green race was 12:19.843 (85.153 mph). He ran the fastest lap of 20.748 (86.255 mph) and beat laps 2-15 leader Cecil Phelps by 1.085. Ed Cutler, Ron Nava, past SWT champion Neil Conrad, Al Rizzone and James West finished in P 3-7 and also completed 35 laps. Two trucks did not finish.
NOTES: The three KOTW races in California were recorded by the MAVTV Network. Air date for the Irwindale race is scheduled for Christmas Day December 25. ... Some KOTW teams stayed overnight in Madera and arrived at Irwindale Speedway as late as 3:00 pm. Many teams drove south on the 99 freeway to Lebec (south of the I-5 Grapevine) and stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express. They drove the second part of the trip south to IS Saturday about 9 or 10 am and made the early one hour practice. ... Helberg ran the fastest lap of 14.816 (121.490 mph) on his third lap in the first practice session at noon. Sierra Jackson was second at 14.851 on her 11th lap as 23 drivers ran up to 20 laps. ... Helberg was fastest again at 14.247 (126.342 mph) in the second session at 4:00 pm as 26 cars practiced. Pierce was second quickest at 14.714 and Jackson's 14.900 was the only other sub-15 second lap. KOTW teams towed back to their hotel in Lebec Saturday night to break the trip to Bakersfield for the late Sunday afternoon/early evening final 2014 race for the series and track.
The No. 3F Ted Finkenbinder Beast/410 Chevy had Geoff Ensign, of Sebastapol, CA as driver/crew chief. When Ted's son-in-law Tim Barber became available he raced Ted's No. 3F. Barber formerly lived in San Francisco and Sonoma but now resides in Petaluma. Ensign, the 20011 USAC Western Classic Sprints champion, picked up a KOTW ride at Irwindale in the backup No. 98N Dawker/Chevy for Michigan's Kevin Feeney, who raced Marv Carman's No. 61 Diablo/410 Chevy. Ensign did not get any practice laps and dropped out of the feature after 18 laps. ... Drivers Richie and Ron Larson are brothers from B.C, Canada. ... Davey Hamilton had Big Red (a beverage) sponsorship on his 2013 Diablo/410 Losworth Chevy. ... Bob East (Beast race cars) was in the IS pits for the KOTW event.
The all-time (world) record run for a winged 410 sprint car on a paved half-mile oval was televised October 1, 2011 at the high-banked, concrete Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Michigan-based Must See Racing Xtreme Sprint Series veteran Brian Gerster (No. 50m) ran a 12.742 (150.585 mph). That mark was lowered to 12.6 in May 2012. The same Bristol half-mile was covered with clay for World of Outlaws winged sprint car point races in 2000-01. Sammy Swindell on June 8, 2001 ran the fastest time of 13.98 (137+ mph). The NASCAR Sprint Cup lap record at Bristol was set by Ryan Newman in March 2003 at 14.908 (128.709 mph).
KOTW awards points to the top ten in qualifying on a sliding scale of 10 to one. Each heat race awards points 6-5-4-3-2-1-1-1-1-1. B-mains transfer the top four to the feature so points commence with P. 5 at 21. P6 and lower get 20-19-18-17-16 and 15 to all other drivers. A-mains pay 50-48-46-44-42-41-40-39 and one point drop-offs to 23 for P. 24. ... Purse payoffs in addition to the top five dollar amounts noted above are: P. 6-$975, with $25 drop-offs per position to $750 for P. 15-24. P. 25 and below pays $500. For more information check the KingoftheWing.com website.
MADERA TOP TEN: Wilson, Jackson, Helberg, Skoglund, Brian Warf, Hamilton, Jr., Byrne, Kyle Edwards, Rick Brown, and Eric Humphries. P. 11-24 were: Santos III, Richie Larson, Cody Gerhardt, K. Hamilton, Whitney Nolan, Ensign, Anthony Simone, Cantrell, Randy Dubois, Mansell, Thorne, Pierce, Robert Beck and Ron Larson. Madera also ran a ten-car B-main.
The KCRP-Bakersfield KOTW fastest qualifier Sunday, November 23 was Helberg, who set a NTR of 14.296 (125.909 mph) at KCRP. Four heat race winners were: Helberg, A. Pierce, S. Jackson and K. Edwards. The 40-lap feature finish was: Helberg, Pierce, Santos III, Byrne, Jackson, Gerhardt, Feeney, Wilson, K. Hamilton, Ronnie Larson, Richie Larson, D. Hamilton, Jr., Tom Paterson, DNF-Humphries, Edwards, R. Beck, Skoglund, Mansell, Dubois, Simone and D. Hamilton. Note: Rick Brown crashed on the backstretch and was checked at a hospital for minor injuries.
Unofficially, Helberg is the three race California KOTW series champion with two victories and a third place in three main events. He also is the combined KOTW Midwest and California points national champion based upon his four victories in the six 2014 feature races.