McGHEE WINS 3 IRWINDALE LATE MODEL MAINS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Sept. 4-5 – Christian McGhee, 17, became an instant star during NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing Series Friday/Saturday night competition at the Irwindale Speedway banked half-mile. The Claremont High School senior drove his No. 71 Chevy late model stock car, owned by his father Loyd, to a “hat-trick” three main event victories. A strong 21 car field raced in the track's premier Seidner's Collision Centers NASCAR Late Model Series.
McGhee had won two late model features at IS prior to the special Friday night 8:30 pm 50-lap make-up date for a July 18 rain-out. As second fastest qualifier he started sixth in the 21-car field. He chased pole starter Sean Woodside, a veteran NASCAR West Coast stock car champion, for 28 laps. McGhee executed an outside pass in turn four and led laps 29-50 over Woodside, who tried to regain the lead but finished 0.300 back. Fans were admitted for $5.00 to the first turn pit grandstand (which was almost full). They also had free parking for the makeup race night.
A day later, on the scheduled Saturday Night of Destruction event, 5,920 spectators attended the combined oval racing and destruction events. McGhee doubled-down by setting fastest laps on both of his late afternoon qualifying laps. He started on the pole in the first of the twin-30 lap features at 5:00 pm and led every lap. Woodside, in only his fourth race this season, again finished second, 0.658 in back of the winner.
The second late model twin-30 main was more challenging for McGhee. As fast timer on his second timed lap (that determined the race two starting lineup) he had to start tenth in a 20-car field. Woodside started second and led the first 12 laps. Then ninth starter/series point leader Trevor Huddleston, a 19-year old third generation driver, led laps 13-21. On lap 22 McGhee made an inside pass of his friend Huddleston from turn four to the starting line. He pulled away during the final nine laps to beat Huddleston by 30-yards (1.443 seconds).
McGhee's triple-header victories now have his late model career victories count at five, including one last year and four of the last seven features at Irwindale. He moved from eighth in points to sixth at 558, only two digits from fifth. Huddleston, trying to follow in the footsteps of his three-time IS late model champion father Tim, now has 752 points. He has a 92-point lead over second place after 16 races. Twin-30-lap mains are scheduled for Saturday, September 19.
McGhee's recent success has come in a season of problems and upheaval. He was the 2013 Irwindale Race Trucks rookie of the year when he finished fourth in points and followed with second in final IRT points last year. He became the 2014 NASCAR late model rookie of the year at IS after finishing third in points. This year he has missed four of 16 races and had crashes in two events that cut into his point scoring for those races.
On May 16 in the first of twin-30 mains, McGhee was in P. 2 on lap 21 when contact from behind got his car airborne and into the third turn crash-wall at the right front of the car. The engine erupted into flames from a cut fuel or oil line. McGhee climbed out but was sore. An ambulance took him to a nearby hospital in Arcadia where he was examined and released. He was absent for the second main that night.
On July 4 McGhee finished fourth in the first 30. In the second 30-lap feature he was fifth on lap 24 when he went to the pits to check the cause of a vibration. His Jackson Race Cars crew could not immediately locate the cause. McGhee returned to the track before the green flag. A broken left rear hub caused that wheel to come off and roll into the infield as McGhee's car spun up into the fourth turn wall. He was unhurt but the right front of his car was damaged again as it was May 16. He finished 18th for a mere 16 points.
The car was not ready and McGhee did not race in twin 30s on August 1. During the No 71 car's absence, McGhee's father changed personnel. He replaced Jackson Race Cars with Up Front Motor-sports. Both father and son said the change has paid dividends as his recent record shows. McGhee has finished in P. 1, 2 on August 15, P. 2 and 3 on August 29 prior to his three consecutive triumphs on September 4-5.
SUPER STOCKS: The other series that used the banked half-mile Saturday was the Pick Your Part Super Stocks. A season-low five cars were present, so the field raced 20 laps instead of 30. Reigning champion Zack Green, from Long Beach, led all 20 laps in his Camaro. Fastest qualifier Gary Frankovich was second on the final lap when P. 3 Gary Read tried to pass him on the inside in the third and fourth turns. Read's Camaro rode up the left side of the Chevy Impala SS and tore off the LF fender and hood. Both cars spun onto the turn four infield grass and neither finished. Greg Crutcher and Bobby Dezarov placed second and third in a seven-minute event.
Other winners in the Night of Destruction portion on a warm evening included Dean Ekas, of Sherman Oaks, in a 30-lap Enduro on the third-mile oval for foreign and domestic four-cylinder cars. The course had a K-rail marked jog into the infield before cars returned to the third turn. Father/son drivers Val Cummings, from Victorville, and son Tony, from Hesperia, started Toyota sedans on the front row and exchanged the lead early. Tony led laps 1 and 12; Val led laps 2-11. The race had an intermission after 15 laps so cars with co-drivers could make the switch. Nine the 31 cars used two drivers.
Ekas, who won the last Enduro in the same orange No. 32 Dodge Neon, came from the back row this time and used traffic expertly to take the lead on lap 13. He held it to the finish and won by eight seconds. Robert Rice finished second in his Honda Accord by 0.553 via a white flag pass of Val Cummings in traffic. Twenty-two of 31 starters finished the 17 minute endurance contest. Winner Ekas was the 2008-09 crew chief for the No. 18 truck driven at IS by Max Britton.
SKID PLATERS: The Seidner's Collision Centers skid plate cars 20-lap feature on the third-mile oval had another exciting finish. Tony Cummings used his same No. 02 polka dot 1993 Toyota Camry LE with metal skid plates on the rear wheels instead of four tires cars used in the Enduro. He led laps 3-17, but got trapped at turn three by three slower cars. Mike DiGregorio, 26, led the final three laps for his seventh skid plate cars career triumph. His brother-in-law Sean Brennan, 25, leads with eight SPC victories in 41 races run since the first in 2009.
The winner drove a Honda Accord from 25th starting spot in a 29 car field. The all-green light race lasted 12 minutes and had 23 of 29 starters still racing at the conclusion. The top five drivers finished 20 laps. Second through fifth were: Robert Rice, Tony Cummings, Sean Brennan and Robbie Salcido. Cars included Honda (Accord and Civic), Toyota (Camry, Corolla and Tercel), Acura Integra, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Geo Metro LSI, Kia Spectra, Mazda 626LX, Chevy Cavalier, Ford Tempo and Nissan Altima GXE.
The final two events in the five division, seven main events show were the usual destruction events that NoD fanatics crave. As usual, fans of all ages cheered wildly at the on-track crashing and bashing again this time. Afterwards, debris littered the third-mile oval and infield. A 12-car demolition derby resulted in the final two cars immobilized after a head-on collision on the watered infield battleground. Technically, it was a tie between Jeffrey Best, the Low Budget TV racing video-grapher, and Adam Ditto. They wanted one winner and agreed to a vote of spectators. About 60% of the votes went to Best and 40% to Ditto so that is how they are listed in official results.
TRAILER RACE: A 14-car trailer race ran 20 laps on the third-mile and created even more debris. Veteran NoD driver and past trailer race winner Cheryl Hyland, from Glendora, won. She drove a pink station towing a pop-up trailer that remained attached to her car throughout the event. Second place went to “Master of Mayhem” Robert Rice, who drove a Chevy Suburban towing a large boat. Adam Ditto drove a small flatbed truck with a cargo trailer to third place. He drove many early laps with a shredded wooden trailer covering his hood and windshield.
FRIDAY LM 50: The 21 late models present practiced from 5:00 pm and then qualified at 7:35. Trevor Huddleston set fastest time of 18.498 (97.308 mph) in the almost dark, cooler than the usual 4:00 pm qualifying time. He almost beat the IS one-lap late model track record of 18.455 (97.587 mph) set by Brandon Davis on June 25, 2011. The No. 90 Chevy of Toni McCray broke a rocker arm during practice. Her crew, led by past IS driving champion Rip Michels, changed engines. She took several practice laps prior to qualifying and set sixth fastest time, earning the outside front row starting position next to Woodside, whose crew chief is Kevin Harvick's father Mike.
Spectators were admitted to the first turn pit grandstand for $5.00 and watched cars line up as usual in two by two formation on the front straight. The turn one bleachers seemed to be full of fans and pit crews. The 26-minute race ran from 8:38 to 9:04 pm. Woodside led the first 28 laps as McCray faded gradually with the replacement engine to fifth by lap 10. On lap 13 the 18th place car of Val Cummings “rear end locked up” and sent his car nose-first into the turn two crash-wall. He was unhurt.
Cars circled on the third-mile oval during the second turn clean-up work. The P. 8 car of late model rookie/top ten driver Lacie Price, 21, had a deflating RF tire from debris. She dropped out to the infield. McGhee passed Mike Johnson for second on lap 15. At lap 25 crossed flags, Woodside barely led McGhee. Huddleston, past track champion Nick Joanides (in his first LM race since 2011), rookie Riley Herbst, 16, Blaine Perkins, 15, McCray, Johnson, Ricky Schlick, 19, and Kyle McGrady, 22, comprised the top ten.
With Woodside using the inside groove, McGhee used the outside to measure and then pass him on the outside in turn four on lap 29. McGhee then took the high groove; Woodside attacked from the inside. At lap 46 Woodside trailed by one length, but McGhee prevailed by a length and a half (0.300). Huddleston finished third (-1.318 seconds). Herbst, Joanides (in Joe Nava's No. 88), Perkins, Johnson, McCray, Schlick and McGrady completed the top ten. Seventeen drivers finished and 14 completed all 50 laps. Woodside's 19.127 (94.108 mph) while leading was the fastest lap of the race.
SAT. 1ST 30: McGhee used his FQ time (18.689) and pole starting spot to lead all 30 laps. McCray's team changed carburetors to improve her engine performance. The first twin-30 main started at 5:03 and finished 22 minutes later. This race had three yellow flags for crashes or spins during the first seven laps. A lap 4 skirmish on the front straight involved Joanides, Price, Billy Helgeson and rookie Jarid Blondel, 19. The latter two drivers spun out together at the starting line infield. Other drivers received broken fenders that required repairs before the second 30.
McGhee led Woodside by ten yards at the lap 15 halfway mark. Huddleston ran third from lap 8 to the finish and was 2.223 seconds behind the winner. Perkins, Johnson, Herbst, ninth starter McCray, Schlick, McGrady and Dennis Furden finished in P. 4-10 respectively. Sixteen of 21 starters finished, with 15 drivers on the lead lap. McGhee's 19.061 (94.434 mph) was the quickest race lap. The usual autograph session for fans on the front straight from 5:45-6:30 was held in the pits this week, allowing fans to also watch teams work on cars.
SAT. 2ND 30: An inverted starting lineup number of ten put McGhee (18.858 on Q lap 2) outside in row five. McGrady was on the pole and Woodside alongside. Woodside led the initial lap. Schlick and McGrady traded second position three times in close racing among drivers in the front half of the field. Huddleston and McGrady dropped McCray to fourth. With cars racing three and four wide at times a violent crash occurred on lap 8 entering the third turn. Cars of Herbst and McCray made contact with McCray's car veering up into the wall hard at the front end. Cars of Jeff Williams and Blondel also stopped. Other cars received minor damage. No drivers injuries resulted. The badly damaged McCray and Williams cars were towed to the pits.
Fourteen of 19 starters continued. Outside-running Woodside led the first 12 laps. Huddleston shot past him on the backstretch during lap 16. Teens Huddleston (high) and McGhee (low) ran in close formation to lap 22 when McGhee made his winning pass leaving turn four. He opened a 30-yard advantage by the lap 30 checkered flag. Joanides finished third, 1.443 seconds in back of the winner. He joined his two teenage proteges for finish line interviews over the pit mic.
TOP 3 SPEAK: Winner McGhee said, “Three wins in a row. This is an amazing weekend. The car and fan-base are great. When the red flag came out I knew I had my work cut out for me. I put my head down and just raced. Thanks to these guys (Huddleston and Joanides) for racing me clean.” He also thanked his new crew and father Loyd. Runner-up Huddleston stated, “That was awesome racing. I never heard my spotter say 'four-wide' so often.” Joanides spoke to fans and thanked car owner Joe Nava “for letting me come out and play again. These young guys are really something. I remember them as youngsters (in Bandoleros). Christian is my protege. I'm so proud of him.”
Woodside, Perkins (using an inside slide job pass leaving turn four racing to the checkers), McGrady, Johnson, Schlick, Herbst, Furden and Rodney Peacher followed in that order. Twelve drivers were racing at the finish. Only one driver was lapped in the 14-minute event. McCray and Johnson are now tied for second with 660 points. Usual post-race technical inspection took place in the pits for top finishing cars. The third place No. 88 of Joanides was disqualified and not classified in the official finishing order. The cause was use of non-spec valve springs according to IS Racing Director Mike Atkinson.