MENTOR & PUPIL SPLIT IRWINDALE LATE MODEL TWIN 30S – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Apr. 2 – Mentor Nick Joanides, 45, and his pupil Christian McGhee, 17, dueled in twin 30-lap features Saturday during Irwindale Speedway's 17th regular season opener for NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing late models. The duo split victories on the banked half-mile in front of 3,390 spectators after McGhee set the fastest qualifying time (96.722 mph) in a 15-car field during 5:00 pm qualifying.
Opening ceremonies at the finish line included “olde England” period costumed participants from the “Irwindale Renaissance Pleasure Faire”at Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area, a mile east of the speedway. The Queen and her royal court gave the “Drivers start your engines” command via the infield microphone. Jay Cohen, the official trumpeter at nearby Santa Anita Park for 29 years, mounted the IS starters' stand in full horse racing formal attire and top hat. He played the traditional “Call to Post” on his long, silver trumpet prior to the first Pick Your Part Late Model feature.
The three hours racing program also included a 40-lap feature on the half-mile for Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks, a 35-lap INEX Legend Cars race on the third-mile, and a 20-lap INEX Bandoleros main on the third-mile for the youngest drivers. A 20-lap Seidner's skid plate cars race on the third-mile oval concluded the racy evening.
LATE MODEL 1: The first late model main used a straight-up start with teens occupying the front row. Fastest qualifier McGhee had the pole with 19-year old Trevor Huddleston, the 2015 IS and California State late model champion, alongside. Row two contained veterans Mike Johnson, 57, and three-time track champion Joanides. Row three had impressive late model rookies Ryan Vargas, 15, in a Dave Eshleman Chevy, and Dylan Garner, 17, in the HPR No. 56. Vargas was the 2014 IS Bandolero champion and a 2015 Legends racer. Garner was a 2015 rookie in SRL S2 cars and winner of three of four S2 mains at IS last season.
McGhee led lap 1 over Huddleston, Joanides and Johnson. Joanides took second from Huddleston on lap 2 and chased his former Loyd McGhee team pupil (Bandoleros, Legends S2, late model and super late model series) to a lap 26 caution. Debris from Dennis Furden's broken drive-shaft littered turn one. On a two by two restart Huddleston cut low at the starting line to turn one and took second from Joanides. The top three remained unchanged to the lap 30 checkers. McGhee won by 0.493 with Joanides 0.901 in back of the winner. Johnson, Kyle McGrady, Vargas, Josh Soto, Garner, Alec Martinez, 17, and Rodney Peacher completed the top ten; all logged 30 laps. Twelve drivers finished the 17-minute race.
LATE MODEL 2: The second 30 two hours later had seniors Johnson and Joanides in row one with teens McGhee and Huddleston in row two based on qualifying lap 2 times. Outside-running Joanides shot into the lead in Joe Nava's No. 77 King Taco Chevy. He led every lap despite intense pressure from inside-running McGhee's No. 71 Chevy to mid-race. Then Joanides pulled away to a 15-yard (0.856 second) victory margin over McGhee. Huddleston was 0.870 off the lead pace. In fact, the RF fender of Huddleston's No. 50 HPR Chevy nudged the LR of McGhee's car as they neared the finish line. Contact caused McGhee's car to wiggle and almost get into the crash-wall. Huddleston was half a length (0.014) back at the finish.
McGrady and Garner followed the top three and were four and five seconds in back of the winner. Nine of 14 starters finished and all logged 30 laps. The 21-minute race had three caution flags, including one on lap 5 when second place Johnson's car was hit and turned into the turn two wall, ending his run. Joanides' 18.951 (94.982 mph) was the fastest race lap. The top three finishers stopped for interviews. Joanides told fans, “I'm an old guy. I still get it done. I have to drink Red Bull.” His second feature victory of 2016 raised his career total at Irwindale to 44, tying three-time late model track champion Tim Huddleston (Trevor's father) for third place all-time at IS. Runner-up McGhee stated, “My tires wore out after the first main event.” P. 3 Huddleston said, “It was a pretty rough race on my part. I drove everyone pretty hard.”
IRT 40: Fourteen Irwindale trucks started with a four-truck inversion. That put fast timer/2011 series track champion Connor Cantrell outside in row two. Andrew Porter, 22, started from pole position in the No. 7 Quikpick Motor-sports Toyota Tundra owned by his grandfather and fellow driver Kenny Smith, 69. He started ninth in the team's backup No. 71 Chevy S-10. Porter led the first 16 laps in a tight, four-truck pack. Cantrell took second on lap 7 and made an inside pass for the lead exiting turn four on lap 17. He retained his lead through lap 37 and held a steady ten-yard advantage.
Then the caution flag flew after the P. 5 truck hit P. 4 Ken Michaelian's truck and sent it spinning hard into the third turn crash-wall. He was uninjured, but his truck was removed to the pits with extensive damage. On the lap 38 restart, Porter's truck stuck well on the outside through the west and east turns and he narrowly led the final three laps. Cantrell trailed by 0.198 at the finish. His two second place finishes gave him 96 points and kept him tied for first place in points with third place finisher Lucas McNeil, the first race winner on January 23.
Porter told spectators, “I would not have won without the yellow flag near the end.” Dennis Arena and Lawless Alan finished fourth and fifth. Grandpa Smith, the winning truck owner, finished eighth and watched his grandson win the first truck race of his career from 1.805 seconds behind him. Porter had won a pair of Bandolero mains on the third-mile and three features on the half-mile during 2011 driving his grandfather's No. 43 S2 Car. All ten finishers completed 40 laps in a 38-minute event. Arena's 19.804 (90.891 mph) was the fastest race lap.
LEGENDS: Sixteen starters had an eight-car inverted start that put Darren Amidon, 30, outside row four and second quickest qualifier Parker Steele, from Peoria, AZ., alongside. The race had five leaders—Mike Brosius (L 1), Chad Schug (L 2-6), October 2015 first-time feature winner Jordan Hyland (L 7-18), Amidon (L 19-23) and second year legend car driver Steele (L 24-35). Steele, age 14 and 11 months, showed his dominance in his No. 5 coupe by following Amidon through the field to P. 2 on lap 19. He used an inside pass leaving turn two and on the backstretch during lap 24 for the point.
Steele gradually opened a 15-yard winning margin over two-time (2007 and 15) series track champion Amidon and three-time (2010, 11, 15) track champion Schug. Not only did Steele win his first Legends feature at IS, he did so with champion drivers who won 10 of 11 IS Legends main events last season trailing closely. The 20-minute race had two caution flags. Hyland and Donny St. Ours finished fourth and fifth. Ten of 11 finishers ran all 35 laps. Two mini stocks present ran a six-lap match race on the third-mile. Ryan Bragdon led every lap and Mike Colato dropped out on lap 4.
BANDOLEROS: A six-car field of Briggs & Stratton-powered cars raced on the third-mile. Drivers were three females and three males and all ranged in age from 9 to 15. Fastest qualifier Allison Gay, 15-year old daughter of former stock car driver Danny Gay, led all the way. The race ended prematurely a lap short of the usual 20 laps. Kayla Eshleman, 13, sister Madison Gay, 12, rookie Dalton Collie, 14, and Zachary Ginn, 9, followed. Johnny Dressler, 13, spun out on lap 3. The season-opener Friday night during the 5 to 9 pm open practice for all divisions also went to fastest qualifier A. Gay. Eshleman, M. Gay and Collie followed in a four-car field. The winner averaged 57.490 mph and ran the fastest lap of 65.955mph.
SKID PLATE CARS: The third-mile oval (without a dogleg) was the setting for the third skid plate 20-lap race of the season. The four-cylinder cars use metal skid plates instead of tires on the back wheels. Three drivers led the race. Ken Palmer started on the pole and led two laps. Steven Belling led laps 3-15. Back row starter Mike DeGregorio, from Temple City, led the final five laps in his No. 18 Honda Accord. It was his track record 12th SPC victory in the 46 series races held at IS since the first in 2009. In fact, he won his sixth consecutive SPC feature dating back to September 2015. It was his eighth victory in the last nine SPC features. “I've used the same Honda for all 12 victories. I just knock the dents out between races.”
Second place Belling trailed by 30 yards at the 10:14 pm checkered flag. P. 3 Robbie Salcido's Honda was one length behind the second place car at the finish. Robert Rice finished 20-yards in back of P. 4. Palmer and Ron Schmitt followed and ran 20 laps with 14 of 19 cars at the start still circulating at the conclusion. The next oval race at IS will be Saturday, April 16 with a similar multi-division card topped by late model twin-30-lap main events and the touring S2 spec late models.