5 DIVISIONS, 7 FEATURES RACE @ IRWINDALE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Aug. 15 – Irwindale Speedway ran five divisions and seven main events Saturday on Horizon Solar Power presents Whelen Engineering and Speedway Illustrated Magazine Night. Racing was hot on and off the track on the hottest night of the season. It was 97 degrees at 6:30 pm just before racing commenced at 7:00. It was still in the low 80s when racing concluded at 9:55 in front of 1,995 racing fanatics. There even was a planned marriage proposal (accepted) at the start/finish line between races.
Karl Fredrickson, publisher of Speedway Illustrated and a race driver, was present Friday and Saturday nights to watch practice and racing at the state of the art Irwindale Speedway for the first time. The Epping, N. H. resident raved about the facility and on-track, three and four-wide competition. His daughter Karin, 15, waved the green flay from the elevated flag stand to start the second late model feature. Her dad stood behind her and used his cell phone to record her flag twirling technique.
The track NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series Seidner's Collision Centers Late Model Series had 18 cars qualify and race in a pair of 30-lap features. Christian McGhee, who turned 17 two weeks earlier, set fastest qualifying times on both of his qualifying laps. He started on the pole, led the final 20 laps, and won his first main this year. He won his first late model main on August 2, 2014.
Toni McCray, who started fourth, led all but the first lap in the second 30. It was her sixth victory in 11 late model mains run so far this season. She still ranks second in points because she had mechanical problems in both features during the April 4 season-opening night. She trailed point leader/three-time 2015 feature winner Trevor Huddleston, 19, by 62 points entering the August 15 double-header. Afterwards, she trailed Huddleston by 42 points after he finished fourth and ninth in the twin-30s.
Other racing on the half-mile Saturday included the Irwindale Race Trucks 40-lap feature, won by 16-year old Las Vegan Riley Herbst, a truck rookie. It was his second victory in the series aboard the Toyota Tundra raced to the 2014 track championship by 2015 NASCAR K & N West rookie Ryan Partridge, who finished second Saturday in the K & N 150-lap race at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington.
A pair of Pick Your Part Super Stock 25-lap main events went to fastest qualifier/pole starter Gary Frankovich, 57. The Apple Valley resident drove his own No. 66 Chevy Impala SS. Zack Green, the reigning series champion and fastest qualifier on his second lap, came from row four and won the second 25-lapper.
Racing on the third-mile track included the colorful four-cylinder mini stocks and a skid plate cars Figure 8 main on the third-mile oval and through the X-intersection in the infield. Robby Hornsby, 23-year old 2014 mini stock rookie of the year, made his first Irwindale start of 2015. He won a close contest with fast timer Ryan Bragdon by half a length (a narrow 0.068 officially).
The final event on the busy schedule was a Figure 8 race with 11 four-cylinder skid plate cars. Sean Brennan, 25, from Yorba Linda, did it again. The all-time leader in skid plate victories won for the eighth time in 40 such races at IS since the first in 2009. He drove his No. 33 1992 Acura Integra to a last lap, final turn inside pass for the exciting victory over the No. 18 Honda Accord driven by his brother-in-law and six-time skid plate winner Mike DiGregorio, 26, from Temple City. Brennan won by 20-yards (0.657 officially) despite receiving a solid hit during lap 17 at his right rear fender at the X-intersection en-route to his triumph. He spun but continued and lost only ten yards of track position.
LM 1ST 30: Second FQ Mike Johnson, from Covina, started second and led the first ten laps. Then McGhee made his winning pass on lap 11 and led the final 20 circuits despite the only caution on lap 13 for a stalled car. McCray started fourth and took second from Johnson, 56, on lap 16 with an inside move in turn four. McGhee beat McCray (“battle of the Macs”) by half a straight, 3.129 seconds. Johnson placed third. Trevor Huddleston started third and finished fourth after being part of the P 1-6 nose-to-tail battle to the lap 13 caution. Huddleston traded P. 2 twice with McGhee from laps 4-7.
Blaine Perkins, 15, started sixth and finished fifth. Veteran Sean Woodside, 44, made his first start of 2015 and set fifth quickest qualifying time in his usual No. 45 Chevy. The 1999 NASCAR K & N West and 2001 Irwindale NASCAR Super Late Model champion finished sixth. Riley Herbst, a double-duty driver (trucks and late models), finished seventh. Kyle McGrady, rookie Jarid Blondell, a 19-year old USAC midget veteran, and Logan Mainella finished in P. 8-10 respectively. Sixteen of 18 starters finished with 15 drivers on the lead lap. Johnson ran the fastest race lap of 19.064.
LM 2ND 30: McCray started fourth and was third behind lap 1 leaders Huddleston and Johnson after one lap. On lap 2 the two leaders made contact entering turn one. Back end bodywork flew off Huddleston's No. 50 HPR Chevy, causing a debris caution. A two-by-two restart had Huddleston and Johnson in the first row and McCray and McGhee in the second. At the green, McCray shot into the lead before reaching the backstretch and led all 29 laps to the checkers.
Huddleston's damaged car faded to P. 9 during the last half of the race. McGhee, the fastest qualifier and fifth starter, took P. 2 from Johnson on lap 6 and reduced McCray's 30-yard lead to 10-yards by lap 15. The two leaders opened a straight-away lead over P. 3 Woodside by lap 20. McCray expanded her lead to 30-yards (1.302) over McGhee by the finish of the 17-minute race. Woodside, from Valencia, earned an impressive third after starting fifth. Perkins, Johnson, McGrady, Ricky Schlick, Herbst, Huddleston and rookie Lacie Price, 21, completed the top ten. Sixteen of 18 cars finished and the first 14 drivers completed all 30 laps.
TRUCKS 40: Rookie Herbst, 16, started third and traded the lead with fifth starter Andrew Porter three times before winning his second truck feature of the season. Herbst led laps 1-3, 5-6 and 10-40. Porter drove the ex-Christian McGhee No. 71 truck. His grandfather Kenny Smith bought it a month ago from Loyd McGhee and renumbered it No. 7. Herbst had a 20-yard lead over P 2-4 trucks driven by Porter, 13th starter Joey Licata and fast timer/ninth starter Connor Cantrell. They raced three-wide and nose-to-tail. Porter and Licata made contact on lap 39 near the starting line, causing closely following Cantrell to spin to the infield. He returned to the back of the field.
On a 2 X 2 restart restart P. 2 Licata pushed high in turn one and dropped two positions. Porter, who ran the fastest race lap at 20.041, Lucas McNeil, Licata and Jeff Williams comprised the top five officially. Dennis Arena, sixth FQ/sixth starter Ryan Vargas, 14-year old truck rookie and 2014 Bandolero champion, Kenny Smith, second year trucker Nico Mongenel, 18, and restarted Cantrell followed. All 13 starters finished. Point leader Ken Michaelian finished 11th and lost his slim 2-point lead to Herbst (352 points) and McNeil (342). Michaelian (334) is third and 2014 champion Cantrell (312) is fourth.
SS 1ST 25: Pole starter Frankovich ran in front all 25 laps. Second starter Zack Green pressed him all the way but trailed by 0.954 at the finish. Camaro drivers Gary Read, Paul Howard and Greg Crutcher took P. 3-5. Ten of 11 cars present started and seven finished on the lead lap. Frankovich ran the fastest lap--20.997. It was his third Irwindale feature victory. His first came on June 7, 2014 and his most recent was October 4 last year.
SS 2ND 25: Green had the fastest qualifying lap on his second lap during afternoon time trials and started from the back row. He became the third race leader on lap 12 and won by half a straightaway (2.859 seconds). Bobby Dezarov led lap 1 before yielding to fourth starter Frankovich, the lap 2-11 leader and runner-up to Green. Howard made his first start of the year in his No. 47 that Green raced last season and finished third. Read and Crutcher took fourth and fifth. Frankovich again ran the fastest lap--21.304.
MINI MAIN: Robby Hornsby, from Rancho Cucamonga, drove his 1970s Ford Pinto from seventh grid position into second on lap 1. He took the lead a lap later and waged a torrid battle with fast-timer Ryan Bragdon's 1979 Ford Mustang II from mid-race to the finish. They were seldom more than a length apart. Third race leader Bragdon paced laps 20-24. Hornsby then made an inside pass in the fourth turn and led laps 25-35. Bragdon got inside Hornsby entering the third turn as they raced towards the white flag. Outside-running Hornsby held his ground and won by half a length over Bragdon, whose RF fender was adjacent to the driver's side door of Hornsby's Pinto. The winning margin was 0.068.
SKID PLATE F-8: The 11-car field of primarily foreign four-cylinder sedans raced 20 all-green laps in a time of 12:46.129. Sixth starter Mike DiGregorio led the first nine laps. Seventh starter Sean Brennan ran second during the initial nine laps. The two leaders lapped cars starting on lap 4 and were seldom more than five yards apart. Then Brennan made an inside pass to lead lap 10 and the next three laps in his Acura Integra. The leader spun 360 degrees on his own during lap 14 and resumed speed in P. 2. His brother-in-law DiGregorio, who has two children with Brennan's sister, led laps 14-19.
On lap 17 in the X-intersection, P. 2 Brennan received a hard hit at the RR fender from the No. 73 driven by Jim Bolinas. Both cars continued non-stop. Brennan came from 20-yards in back of DiGregorio on lap 18 to 10-yards back as they started the final lap. Brennan closed rapidly to the back bumper of DiGregorio entering the third and fourth right hand turns with the checkers waving. The dueling lapped No. 73 and No. 32 cars slowed both leaders. Brennan cut to the inside, closer to huge tires marking the course, and shot into the lead over his surprised brother-in-law. Brennan won by 20-yards (0.657) as fans stood and cheered the stunning conclusion of the entertaining race.
It was only the third skid plate Figure 8 race at IS. Absent Robert Rice, the father of skid plate racing at IS, won the first two skid plate F-8 races. Only third place Donny St. Ours finished on the lead lap in his No. 17 sedan. He was 41.912 seconds behind winner Brennan. All 11 cars finished. Robbie Salcido, Tommy Mason, Jeffrey Best, Cheryl Hyland, Dean Ekas (the June 20 enduro race winner in the No. 32 Dodge Neon), J. Bolinas and Brent Scheidemantle, the 2014 INEX Legend Cars track champion, rounded out the top ten. The winning race speed averaged 35.430 mph. The best lap time was 34.600 (39.225 mph) by DiGregorio while leading early before slowed by traffic. Winner Brennan said in the pits, “That crash at the X hurt. I'm going to be sore tomorrow.”