IRWINDALE – 5 DIVISIONS, 6 MAIN EVENTS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA, May 14 – Irwindale Speedway presented five racing series and six main events Saturday night in the latest NASCAR Whelen All-American Series action on the half and third-mile ovals. Some 1,709 spectators braved a gloomy, overcast evening to witness some of the closest racing at IS this season. Four mains used the half-mile and two raced on the third-mile.
Point leader/fastest qualifier Trevor Huddleston, 19, won both twin-30-lap Pick Your Part Late Model features, which were the first and sixth races contested. He drove his dad Tim's Racecar Factory-built No. 50 HPR Chevrolet. The first green flag waved at 7:15 and the final checkered flag flew at 9:55 pm. The 2015 Irwindale and California State late model champion has now won five consecutive main events. Two other drivers won the other three events. Huddleston, a third generation driver, extended his 2016 point lead to 16 points (392-376) over Christian McGhee.
The Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks 40-lap feature had 13 starters and nine finishers. A grinding three-truck crash on lap 6 involved Lawless Alan, fastest qualifier Connor Cantrell and Nico Mongenel, the fourth, sixth and 11th runners respectively. A 25-minute red flag followed for track clean-up and spilled oil removal. Each truck received hard hits from each other or against the third turn crash-wall. Wreckers towed all three trucks to the pits. Drivers walked away. However, Alan, 16, and Cantrell, 25, complained about neck/body pains after the final race. They were taken in two ambulances to a hospital for medical tests and evaluation. They were released later to recuperate at home.
Lucas McNeil, 23, started sixth and and led the final 35 laps for his third 2016 victory in the fourth IRT event. All three of his truck career victories have come this season. Andrew Porter started and finished second in his “sponsor needed” No. 7. Ken Michaelian drove the ex-No. 62 2013 IRT track championship truck of retired Darren Cheek from seventh to third. After his No. 40 truck was destroyed in the last race, Michaelian borrowed Sean Vincent's idle truck and used No. 40 on it. Dennis Arena, Ken Brown, and pole starter Scott Dodd followed. Dodd led the first five laps. He missed a shift going from second to third gear on the lap 6 restart. He lost two positions before getting his transmission out of neutral.
The Racecar Factory Spec Late Model Series ran race four Saturday with eight starters on the half-mile. The former SRL S2 Series during 2014-15 began life in 2009 at IS and has been a stepping stone for drivers from trucks and legend cars. The series first five 2016 races are scheduled for Irwindale, followed by six in Bakersfield from July-October. The finale will take place on November 19 at the Las Vegas “Bulling”.
The all-green light 25-lap race had two leaders and took 8:44.597. Winner Johnny Butler, a 57-year old late model veteran from Arcadia, started on the pole as fourth fastest qualifier and led all but the lap 4. Sixth starter Todd Conrad, 55, led lap 4 after shooting to second on lap 2. The race for second position captivated fans. It changed hands seven times between two-time 2016 winner Conrad and Dylan Garner, 17, a three-time Irwindale feature winner last season as a rookie. At lap 15 the first four cars were within a half second in a tight, two-by-two formation.
The finish had Butler's No. 59, sponsored by the Crest Lounge-Restaurant in Temple City and Chicago Title, out front for the first time at an IS payoff. He won his first two series main events last season on May 9 and October 17 at KCRP (Bakersfield). On lap 21 Garner took second from Conrad for the final time and trailed the winner by 0.203. Conrad (-1.007), series rookie/2013 IS mini stock champion Robby Hornsby (-1,051) and Craig Yeaton (-1.340) finished third through fifth. Ed Cutler, rookie/LA Racing Experience graduate Robert Arevalo, and Joe Meehan followed. All completed 25 laps. The all-green flag race averaged 85.780 mph. Conrad ran the fastest race lap at 88.032 mph.
LEGENDS 35: A 20-car INEX Legend Cars field ran the third event Saturday and did 35 laps on the third-mile. There were four leaders before fastest qualifier/P. 7 starter Darren Amidon, 31, led laps 13-35 and won by 0.851. He became the fourth different feature winner in four IS races this season in what series drivers call the most competitive class at Irwindale. Runner-up honors went to fellow legends past IS champion Chad Schug, 29, from Oak Hills. Amidon, from Lakeside, took the LC point lead by six points.
The 17-minute race had three caution flags for spins. Schug ran the fastest lap of the race at 73.415 mph. Jordan Hyland (lap 2-7 leader) finished third. Cale Kanke, lap 8-12 leader Parker Steele, Colton Page, Ricky Schlick (lap 1 leader), Tyler Hicks, Matt Bowen, and rookie Hailee Deegan, 14-year old daughter of off-road racer/rally car driver Bryan Deegan, completed the top ten. Three female drivers competed. All 20 starters finished; 18 drivers completed 35 laps.
BANDOLEROS: The smallest cars on the schedule ran 20-lap mains on Friday evening during the all divisions open practice. The Briggs & Stratton-powered small cars averaged 65 mph on the third-mile. Ages of drivers ranged from 8 to 15 and four drivers are females. Seven Bandos raced Friday and nine Bandos competed Saturday. Recent KCRP Bandolero feature winner Kabe McClenny, 10, from Bakersfield, set fastest qualifying time both nights and won both main events. He led every lap Friday plus the first six and last five laps Saturday. He won his first IS feature last October.
The key duel Friday was for second place. Allison Gay, 15, and Kayla Eshleman, 13, exchanged the position three times before Eshleman edged the elder Gay sister. On Saturday, Eshleman and Gay dropped leader McClenny to P. 3 with inside passes in the third turn on lap 7. Fourth starter Eshleman led laps 7-9. Third starter A. Gay led laps 10-15 after the two leaders made contact in turn three, causing Eshleman to spin. She restarted at the back. Gay led laps 10-15 before McClenny returned to the lead via an inside pass leaving the second turn.
Finishes: (Friday)--Kabe McClenny, K. Eshleman, A. Gay, Madison Gay, 12, rookie Cody Kiemele, 9, Kale McClenny, 8, and 5' 10” 7th grader Olivia Manke, 13. (Saturday)--Kabe McClenny, A. Gay, M. Gay, Eshleman, Jesse Bowen, 14, Kale McClenny, Kiemele, Manke and Zachary Ginn, 10. Late model veteran drivers Danny Gay, John Manke and Rob Kiemele are parents of four Bando drivers.
LM 1st 30: Huddleston started on pole as fastest qualifier and beat second starter Christian McGhee to turn one. McGhee pressed him closely for 20 laps and then fell 20-yards back at lap 25. He closed to within ten-yards (0.715) at the lap 30 checkers. Nick Joanides started sixth and finished third, 2.362 seconds off the lead. Jeff Peterson, 24-year old son of 2004 & 06 IS truck champion Ron Peterson, drove Clay Wooster's No. 38 Chevy (ex-No. 90 T. McCray ride in recent years) to fourth (-2.685). Ninth starter Kyle McGrady took fifth (-3.233). Mike Johnson, rookie Dylan Garner, 17, rookie Ryan Vargas, 15, Josh Soto, and rookie Alec Martinez, 17, followed. Eleven of 17 starters finished. Huddleston's 18.856 (95.460 mph) was the fastest lap of the race.
LM 2nd 30: With a seven car inverted starting lineup by qualifying times, Huddleston started seventh in the second main. Peterson led the first four laps from pole over second starter Vargas. Huddleston took second on lap 3 as the first five drivers raced in a tight pack. On lap 5 Huddleston cut low in turn four and took command for good. He opened a 40-yard victory margin (-1.391) over McGhee, who passed Peterson on lap 20.
The captivating position battle was for third place between Peterson and series rookie Vargas, a 2015 truck rookie and 2014 Bandolero dominant champion. Peterson ran the outside groove, leaving Vargas the inside. They ran evenly lap-after-lap without contact. Vargas made a determined bid for the final podium position on the final lap coming to the checkered flag. However, the teen trailed Peterson by half a length (-0.012). Vargas won a 35-lap SRL S2 main in Las Vegas last November. He graduated this year to driving a Dave Eshleman late model. He ranks fifth in series points with 318, and is the leading rookie by six points over Garner.
Joanides, McGrady, Garner, Johnson, Soto, and Martinez occupied the top ten. Twelve of 16 starters finished and all were on the lead lap. The all-green flag race took 9:46.258. Huddleston's 94.607 mph lap was the quickest. Current plans by his dad's HPR team call for Huddleston to move up to the touring NASCAR K & N West Series in one of Bob Bruncati's Sunrise Ford Fusions next season on a standard two-year contract.
The next race at IS on Saturday, May 28 will be Armed Forces Night. It will feature late model twin 30s, touring SW Tour Trucks, Irwindale Race Trucks, touring RCF Spec Late Models (ex-S2 cars), and INEX Legend Cars.