IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY SEASON OPENER ATTRACTS ALMOST 6,000 – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jan. 23 – The 17th season of oval track racing at Irwindale Speedway kicked off the 2016 season Saturday night with the first of four scheduled “Night of Destruction” events presented by Pick Your Part. The 5,920 spectators also watched 14 Irwindale Race Truck Series drivers in a competitive 40-lap race on the half-mile. Then the wild and crazy-type events took center stage and littered the third-mile and infield to the delight of fans.
Irwindale Event Center President/CEO Jim Cohan released the IEC 2016 schedule through July earlier Saturday. Announcer Bruce Flanders read the 2016 schedule to fans over the PA system prior to the first race. Irwindale will host racing through July and has booked 33 Thursday nights of NHRA eighth-mile drag racing, a Thursday night drifting event, and 13 Saturday nights of oval track racing.
Specifically, 18 NASCAR Whelen late model stock cars (including twin-races), super and mini stocks, plus Irwindale Race Trucks, SW Tour Trucks, INEX Legends and Bandoleros, and Racecar Factory spec late models (formerly SRL S2 cars) reflect 2015 season scheduling. Special events include the March 19 pairing of two touring series--NASCAR K & N Pro-West stock cars and local series, plus the April 30 appearance of Spears SRL SW Tour stock cars and Lucas Oil Modifieds on the banked half-mile. RCF spec late models (S2) will be the third series in action that night.
Four Pick Your Part Night of Destruction events will be held with the remaining dates being March 12, May 7 and July 2. Final scheduled race dates are July 16 for the oval track and July 28 for the Irwindale Drag Strip. The opportunity to finish the full 2016 calendar year with oval and drag racing in Irwindale is undetermined at this time. The current IEC lease with the property owner is for six months.
ENDURO: A track record 38 four-cylinder front wheel drive compact cars opened racing Saturday two hours earlier than normal at 5:00 pm. They raced in a 30-lap Seidner's Collision Centers Enduro cars main event on the third-mile. K-rails lined a kink on the backstretch through the infield making it a five-turn course. A ten-minute break after 15 laps allowed teams to change to a backup driver if so desired. Five teams did so.
The 19-minute race had three leaders and four lead changes. Jeremy Queener led the first three laps. Matt Feron led laps four and five. Then 21st starter Ryan Partridge, the current NASCAR K & N West driver and past Irwindale late model and truck champion, made an outside pass for the lead. He led laps 6 through the lap 15 intermission. He held a half lap lead at the break.
Dan Souto, a newcomer from San Diego, started 25th and reached second position on lap 13. He ran the fastest lap of the race at 23.894 (50.172 mph). Partridge opened a straightaway lead by lap 20. Souto began closing quickly in traffic. On lap 26, Souto shot past Partridge on the inside in traffic leaving the final turn; he won by 20-yards (2.923 seconds). A surprised Partridge later said, “Where did he come from?” Robert Rice, newcomer/Long Beach resident Joe Furlow, in a Pontiac Sunbird, and Neil Himes rounded out the top five. All completed 30 laps. Queener, James Bolinas, Mark Thompson, Jeffrey Best and Travis Mooney finished sixth through tenth with 23 of 38 starters still racing a the finish.
IRT 40: Fourteen Irwindale Race Trucks used the half-mile oval in the second of five events. Fastest qualifier/2012 IRT champion Connor Cantrell, 25, started inside row three in a five-truck inverted lineup. Outside front row starter Andrew Porter led the first 16 laps. Then pole starter Lucas McNeil, 22, made an inside pass leaving turn four and led lap 17 to the lap 40 checkers. Cantrell saved tire wear early and ran in positions seven to nine. A two-truck crash on lap 25 involved P 9-10 drivers Nico Mongenel and Philip Lauck. Both drivers escaped injury but their damaged trucks were towed to the pits.
Cantrell took second position from Porter entering turn three on lap 31 and closed rapidly on leader McNeil. He made his final passing attempt on the inside leaving turn four with the checkered flag waving. Cantrell's effort fell half a length (0.065 seconds) short. Six-year veteran and first time IRT feature winner McNeil ran the fastest race lap of 19.965 (90.158 mph). The winner has finished on the podium numerous times. Ten trucks finished the 27-minute race and nine drivers completed all 40 laps. Porter, Dennis Arena, Ken Michaelian, Lawless Alan, Jeff Williams, Ken Brown and Kenny Smith completed the top nine.
SEIDNER'S SKID PLATE CARS: Twenty-six four-cylinder Enduro cars, using metal skid plates instead of rear tires, started the 20-lap race. Robert Rice, the 49-year old father of IS skid plate racing in 2009, started fourth and led the first two laps. Mike Digregorio, in his usual No. 18 Honda Accord, came from 18th starting slot in the two-by-two lineup and ran away to half a lap advantage. He won by 15.258 seconds over newcomer Joe Farlow's No. 39 Pontiac Sunbird.
Robbie Salcido's Honda started eighth and finished third, with his mentor Rice fourth. Fifth place Ken Palmer, from Los Angeles, was a lap down and earned fifth. Seventeen of 26 starters finished the all-green light, 14-minute race that averaged 27.260 mph. Digregorio ran the fastest lap at 38.882 seconds and scored his record tenth SPC feature triumph. That total is two victories more than the next best driver, Sean Brennan—his brother-in-law.
DEMO DERBY: A Pick Your Part demolition derby with eight Enduro cars took place between large truck tires on the watered infield and third-mile front straight. After smashing and bashing each other for 11-minutes, Jonathon De Stefano, of Glendora, triumphed over Jeffrey Best. Joseph Palmer placed third.
TRAILER RACE: The fan-pleasing, destructive 20+ lap final event was a 20-vehicle trailer race on the third-mile. Only a recent 21 vehicle trailer race topped the 2016 season opening total entries for the event. Doug “River Rat” White led the first lap. Cars towing various cargo, boats or mobile homes battered each other while making laps. Robert Rice led lap 2 on but at one point his car ran up and onto the empty trailer of Adam Ditto's No. 14 trailer. Rice's hood was obscured from view and he lost several laps. Then he backed off the trailer and resumed making laps with his boat still attached to his back bumper.
Drivers drove through loose boats and mobile homes to earn “entertainment value” points from laughing and cheering fans in the crowded grandstand. After 16 minutes the starter waved the checkered flag for the four remaining contestants. After two rounds of fan voting for the winner, loud cheers determined Jim Schoening's No. 60 1960-era Chevy Impala and trailer (loaded with long-gone empty cardboard boxes) was the winner. Robbie Salcido was second and other drivers were “also-rans”. Smiling entertained fans departed for home shortly after 8:20 pm.
The next PYP Night of Destruction will be Saturday, March 12, with SW Tour Trucks racing on the half-mile oval as part of the event. On Saturday, March 19 the NASCAR K & N Pro-West 150, Whelen late models and Racecar Factory spec late models (formerly SRL S2 cars) will be the three events on the half-mile.