LATE MODELS & NIGHT OF DESTRUCTION II @ IRWINDALE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jun. 20 – Irwindale Speedway on Saturday intermixed NASCAR Whelen All-American Series late models and the Seidner's Collision Centers Night of Destruction II presented by Pick-Your-Part. The result was the largest crowd of the season—5,998 spectators. Mixing competitive oval track late model stock car racing on the half-mile with zany smash and go events that thrill seekers enjoy introduced fans of each discipline to the attractions of the other. Track management hopes the result will be increased attendance for the balance of the season.
With all that action on the race track and in the infield, management also made an effort to salute all fathers in attendance on the eve of Father's Day Sunday. Upon entering the track, fathers submitted their names for prizes distributed to lucky winners during the evening. Gift certificates from numerous area name restaurants, the Courtyard/Marriott Hotel, K-1 indoor karting, IEC LA Racing, and IS were awarded to 15 fathers in attendance.
The only racing on the half-mile was the second of five events. The featured NASCAR Seidner's Collision Centers Late Models had 19 cars. They started the race with an eight-car inversion based upon qualifying times. Fastest qualifier Toni McCray, from Highland, elected to start tenth instead of eighth to gain three additional points in her effort to become NASCAR Whelen California State Champion. She said she plans to race at Irwindale, Kern County Raceway Park and possibly at Madera Speedway to pile up NASCAR state points in the premier series at each track.
McCray's goal to become Irwindale's late model champion took a hit at the season opening April event. Her No. 90 Clay Wooster-owned, Jimco Construction, Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse-sponsored Chevy had distributor problems in both halves of the twin-30 lap features. She earned only 30 points out of a possible 100 at 50-points for each first place. She was 17th in track points afterwards. Entering event five of 19 scheduled late model races at Irwindale she ranked seventh out of 26 drivers with points. She trailed point leader Trevor Huddleston by 68 points. Following the June 20 single feature McCray jumped from seventh to fourth in points and trails Huddleston by 64 points.
LATE MODEL 40: The late model main had Christian McGhee, 16, on pole. Riley Herbst, another 16-year old from Las Vegas, was alongside. McGhee led the first 27 laps in his No. 71 Chevy owned by his father Loyd. Herbst, a series rookie, ran second through lap 19. McCray's progress to the front was rapid using inside groove passes. The 38-year old daughter of former Orange Show Speedway promoter Rick McCray, was in P. 5 by lap 5, P. 4 on lap 8, and third on lap 15.
McCray took second from Herbst on lap 20 with an inside move entering the third turn. She gradually cut into McGhee's lead and trailed him by ten yards at lap 28 when the caution flag waved for a solo spin-out. A side-by-side restart followed. McGhee took the inside lane to thwart McCray's favored groove. She stayed even with him to turn four and took command for good on lap 28 with an outside pass at the starting line.
McCray gradually opened a 30-yard lead over McGhee and won her second consecutive main of 2015 and 11th at Irwindale by 1.456. McGhee beat third finisher Huddleston by 0.443. Huddleston, 19, increased his point lead from 30 to 38 points. Herbst placed fourth, 2.298 seconds off the lead. Another of the young rookie brigade, Bakersfield's Blaine Perkins, 15, started fourth and earned fifth. The top ranked rookie jumped from fourth to third in current series points.
Mike Johnson, Billy Helgeson, Ricky Schlick, 18, Jeff Williams and late model rookie Lacey Price, 21, completed the top ten finishers. Female drivers “book-ended” the top ten with Toni first and Lacey tenth. A third female driver, Michele Abbate, from Henderson, NV, battled closely with Price for tenth, but she placed 11th in Joe Nava's No. 88. She was 2.842 seconds out of tenth. Seventeen of 19 starters finished with 13 drivers on the lead lap.
The race took 22 minutes because of two brief yellow flags for fourth turns solo spins by the 53 car on laps 2 and 28. McGhee has advanced through the ranks at IS in Bandoleros, legend cars, trucks, S2 cars, and even SRL SW Tour cars. He ran the fastest race lap of 19.102 (94.231 mph) while leading early. McCray and Huddleston set the quickest lap times during the two afternoon practice sessions at 1:30 and 2:30. In 4:00 pm single car qualifying, McCray's best lap was 18.815 for quick time, with Huddleston a tick behind at 18.816.
ENDURO: The first event at 7:05 was a 30-lap “enduro” for a field of 32 four-cylinder cars. Cars raced on the third-mile and used a five-turn course with an infield jog between K-rails on the right and left. An intermission after 15 laps allowed teams to change drivers. Some drivers switched from one car to another and some drivers went solo all 30 laps in the same car. The standing start had four rows of cars eight-wide and resembled an Oklahoma land rush at the green flag. Steven Belling led the first lap in a Nissan.
The orange No. 32 Honda of co-drivers Dean Ekas and Burk Engin led laps 2-30 and won by half a lap (9.920 seconds). Both drivers shared the driving. Solo driver Robert Rice's Honda Accord finished second. Co-drivers Sean Brennan and his friend Mike DiGregorio drove the No. 33 1992 Acura Integra to third and were the last drivers to complete 30 laps. Their shared No. 18 Honda Accord dropped out and placed 23rd. The 22-minute race had 20 cars racing at the conclusion. Solo drivers James Bolinas and Robbie Salcido finished in P. 4-5 and completed 29 laps.
SKID PLATE CARS 20: Event three was a skid plate race with four-cylinder cars using metal skid plates instead of rear tires. A two abreast starting lineup had Robert Rice start sixth; he led the first seven laps. As lapping increased, back row starter Mike DiGregorio used an inside pass exiting turn four to jump from third to first in his Honda. He won by 35.500 seconds over Rice, the only other driver on the lead lap. DiGregorio ran the fastest race lap of 38.228 (31.359 mph) and averaged 28.296 mph in the all-green flag,14:07.338-timed race. Sean Brennan started 25th and finished third in his sturdy 1992 Acura Integra. Nineteen cars finished the fan-pleasing event.
DiGregorio scored his sixth skid plate feature triumph in the 39th such race run at IS since the first SPC race in 2009. He ranks second in total SPC victories and trails the leader by just one. Sean Brennan, son of past IS super truck racer Paul Brennan, leads all drivers with seven SPC victories. He used a 1998 Toyota Camry LE for his first two victories in 2013. Brennan used his current 1992 Acura Integra for his four SPC wins in 2014 and one this season.
COMPACT CAR DEMO DERBY: A field of eight cars entered. Seven cars actually competed on a watered section of infield to determine the last car running. Drivers included two females. Jonathan DeStefano won in his red, white, blue No. 87 Chevrolet sedan. He eliminated cars quickly and the contest took only five minutes. He was declared the winner “by TKO” in the most dominant demo derby performance in memory. Other rankings were: Chad Schug, Tommy Mason, Adam Ditto, Jeffrey Best, Kristina Rodriguez and Jason Lyndergaard. Shayla Zins did not start.
TRAILER RACE: The final event was16 vehicles towing trailers with diverse cargo. It was the most entrants since 17 in a 2010 trailer race. Competitors raced on the third-mile oval for 16 laps. Tow vehicles included two Lincoln Town Cars, a Chevy Suburban, a Utility Body pickup truck, the black & white ex-LA County Sheriff police car used for years at IS as an in-race officials' car, and 1970s Chevy Impala sedans. Cargo included boats, house trailers, the 500-pound metal tank used as a “soccer ball” at IS, and the most innovative trailer contents ever seen at IS. Jeremy Jones, from Long Beach, in the IS parking lot assembled a roped wrestling ring on a trailer and had mannequins as Mexican “ Lucha Libre” colorfully-masked wrestlers in the ring. He also put a bikini-clad mannequin as the round card girl on the trunk of his 1977 Chevy. As expected, they did not complete a lap intact.
The entertaining trailer race lasted from 9:19 to 9:37 with entrants trying to separate towed cargo and trailers. Debris quickly littered the third-mile and infield as drivers plowed into and through house trailers, boats and other cargo. Drivers tried to score entertainment value goodwill with spectators in the grandstand who voted for the official winner. Robert Rice and the No. 99 Lincoln led laps and Rice's orange No. 7 Suburban and towed boat escaped relatively unscathed. The checkered flag waved with only four cars still circulating. Fans voted for eight possible winners selected by IS Race Director Mike Atkinson. The almost unanimous winner was Rice, “the master of disaster” at IS and the father of skid plate racing. Cheryl Hyland in a pink station wagon, and “ring-master” Jeremy Jones placed second and third officially.
Next Saturday, June 27 at IS will be the first Lucas Oil Modifieds 75-lap feature of the season. Irwindale Race Trucks, touring SRL S2 Cars, Legends and Bandoleros will race as well.