IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY “NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS” - By Tim Kennedy
Monrovia CA., Feb. 6 – Irwindale Speedway and Irwindale Drag-strip competitors enjoyed their annual “Night of Champions” awards banquet/awards presentations Saturday with 170 persons present in the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel ballroom in Monrovia. Honorees included four first-time NASCAR oval track champions and two three-time track champions during the 2015 season. Four NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Series competitors on the eighth-mile drag-strip also received their championship trophies.
Track announcers Bruce Flanders and Gordon Stewart served as co-emcees. Drag-strip announcer Bob Beck handled the straight-line award presentations. Low Budget TV videos by Tommy Mason and Jeffrey Best preceded the introduction of each oval division track champion. According to the printed banquet program, 289 drivers participated in the 91 NASCAR and NHRA racing events at the 63 acres racing facility. The multi-million dollar facility built by Jim Williams opened in March 1999; he ran the facility through 2011.
Competitors received their trophies from trophy presenter Jannie Atkinson. Valley Trophy Co., in Covina, made 54 trophies for the occasion. A 6:00 reception with complimentary red wine, was followed by catered dinner of salad, chicken and roast beef, potato, vegetable, coffee and cake dessert. Awards ceremonies started at 8:25 and concluded at 9:45 pm. Dancing to recorded music followed. Champion spoke about their 2015 seasons, thanked family members and sponsors, and spoke about their 2016 racing plans.
Crowd counts were good during 2015 in the third year of racing under track leaseholder 211 Entertainment and CEO Jim Cohan. There were two Saturday night rain-outs. The oval (half and third-mile tracks) added races, including an increase to five of the fan-popular “Night of Destruction” events. Track management added an oval racing series event to those nights to also expose aficionados of mayhem to exciting oval racing.
The track property was sold a year ago to a firm with plans to develop the site as an outlet mall. However, 211 Entertainment signed a one-year lease to continue racing through 2015. It extended that lease recently to continue racing through July 2016. The first IS race this year was held January 13; there are 12 remaining Saturday night races. Drag-strip racing on Thursday nights continues and there will be six NHRA Summit Series races from March to July.
> Sportsman Division: Jack Swanson missed the first event but won four of the final five events. He beat the runner-up by 25 points.
> Pro Division: 2014 champion Marvin Roles scored well in every event and his consistency gave him a 53-point title-winning margin. His wife Diane preps his car and accompanied him on-stage.
> Super Pro: Don Mehling won five of six races and compiled a lopsided 215-point victory margin as he repeated his 2014 series championship. He drove a Mopar 1971 Duster.
> Pro Bikes: Dave Miller was one of only two riders who scored points in every race. He won by 61-points over the runner-up.
Also honored with appreciation plaques during the ceremony were key track employees. They included: Doug Stokes, VP Communications; Bob Klein, VP Operations; Mike Atkinson, competition director; Sarah and Jannie Atkinson, scorers; Manny Gonzales, facilities manager, and all track firemen/safety workers. Also recognized were media members Keith Lair, a Los Angeles Newspaper Group reporter, and Tim Kennedy, internet websites and IS website writer.
Six oval divisions received IS track points during 2015, down by one division from 2014. The super late model class was not run at IS after the 2014 season. Top ten drivers in Seidner's Collision Centers Late Models, Irwindale Race Trucks, and INEX Legend Cars received trophies. Trophies also were awarded to the top eight mini stock drivers, the top five in Pick Your Part super stocks, and top four in INEX Universal Studios Hollywood Bandolero points. Many trophy recipients were absent because of racing events in Las Vegas and Tucson.
> Late Models: Trevor Huddleston, a 19-year old third generation driver from Agoura Hills, became a first-time late model champion after 19 IS races. He won five features and defeated veteran Mike Johnson by 34 points. Trevor also won the NASCAR Whelen Weekly Auto Racing Series California State Championship. He also set the IS all-time one-lap track record during qualifying for the final race of 2015. His new mark is 18.406 (97.794 mph).
The new champion, who started in Bandoleros seven years ago and advanced to S2 Cars, drove the RCF-built No. 50 High Point Racing, Justice Brothers, Racecar Factory Chevrolet. It is the same number used by his father Tim, a three-time IS Late Model champion and 44 main event winner. Trevor thanked his sponsors, family, Jeff Schrader, team members, girl friend and the audience for singing the “Happy Birthday” son to his mother Lisa. He said his 2016 racing plans are not yet complete, but he will try to repeat his 2015 IS late model driving title.
0ther awards presented to late model drivers included: late model rookie of the year – to fifth place driver Riley Herbst, from Las Vegas, in the No. 19 Toyota Camry, a former Ryan Partridge IS championship ride. A special youth achievement award went to four-time feature winner and tenth place in points, 17-year old driver Christian McGhee. He missed numerous races following a crash. Five drivers won IS late model features of 30 to 50-laps; 38 drivers scored point on the IS half-mile oval.
> Irwindale Race Trucks: Champion Riley Herbst, 16, won his first truck series championship and the series rookie of the year title as well. He also won RoY in the IS late models. He was unable to attend the banquet because he was in the east. His father Troy bought the 2014 IRT championship Toyota Tundra that Ryan Partridge drove to the IS 2014 championship. Herbst won the ten race IRT series by 24 points over early season point leader Ken Michaelian. Three drivers won the usual 30, 40 or season-finale 50 lap features; 25 drivers scored points during the series that used the IS half-mile.
> PYP Super Stocks: Zack Green, from Long Beach, won seven of nine features yet beat runner-up Gary Frankovich by only 40 points. He followed in the footsteps of his father Jeff, the IS two-time super stock champion 2000-01. He drove the family No. 21 Camaro. Three drivers won the nine main events that usual were 25 or 35 laps. Fifteen drivers score series points on the half-mile.
> Mini Stocks: Ryan Bragdon, 23, from Beaumont, won the scrappy, four-cylinder mini stock class that raced on the third-mile. He became a first-time IS champion and beat 20-year old Aubree Porter by 28 points. The series ran nine events and 33 drivers participated. Three drivers won the usual 35 lap main events Sixteen drivers scored points.
> INEX Legend Cars: Chad Schug, 28, from Oak Hills, became a three-time champion in the series (2010-11 and 15). He outlasted his friend and two-time IS Legends champion Darren Amidon, 30, by 14 points. The series ran nine events on the third-mile. Three drivers won the usual 35 lap features and 33 drivers raced in the series.
> INEX Universal Studios Hollywood Bandoleros: California State Bandolero Champion Mckenzie Eshleman, 16, from Twin Peaks, became the first ever IS female and California State Champion. She won ten (including eight in a row) of the 20-lap main events run on Fridays and Saturdays on the third-mile. She defeated Zach St. Onge, 13, by 28 points. Five drivers won the 20 features and 16 drivers scored points in the Briggs & Stratton-powered cars. Third place driver Kayla Eshleman, 13, was named most improved Bandolero driver. She is a first cousin of the champion.
RACE DATES: IS oval track race dates are: March 12 and 19; April 2, 16 and 30; May 7, 14 and 28; June 11 and 25, and July 2 and 16. NHRA Summit Series dates at the ID eighth-mile strip are: February 28, March 6, April 10 and 17, May 15 and July 24.