HUDDLESTON & JOANIDES SPLIT IRWINDALE LM MAINS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jun. 25 – Six series and seven main events entertained 2,270 spectators Saturday on Team 211 Entertainment Night at Irwindale Speedway. There were battles among teenagers and experienced veterans in several divisions. Five features used the progressively-banked half-mile and two series raced on the four-degree banked third-mile. Pick Your Part NASCAR Late Model twin-30-lap mains started 18 cars. Trevor Huddleston, 20, won the first race and three-time track champion Nick Joanides, 46, captured the final race of the night at 9:52 pm.
Veteran Ron Nava led all the way in the Robertson Solar Southwest Tour trucks all green light 35-lap main in a duel with 14-year old rookie and fastest qualifier Zack St. Onge, from Upland. It was Nava's first truck triumph at IS. He won a Spears SWT S2 cars feature at IS last year.
Series 2011 track champion Connor Cantrell, 25, captured the Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks 35-lap event. It was his second victory this season. He returned in the same No. 9 Chevy S-10 that was damaged heavily in a three-truck crash in the third turn during the last feature. Cantrell and Lawless Alan, 16, took separate ambulance rides after racing concluded for precautionary medical examinations. Both drivers were checked and released.
The Racecar Factory Spec Late Model 35-lap race was round five for the touring division formerly called Spears SRL S2 Cars for the last two seasons. Race car builder RCF in Irwindale took over the series this season and named Bud Budaveri racing director. The outcome this week was the same as June 11 when rookie Robby Hornsby, 24, won his first feature in the series in an 11-car field. The 2013 IS mini stock champion in a Ford Pinto on the third-mile had never raced on the half-mile until this season. He is the third different winner in five 2016 events at IS.
Hornsby, from Yucaipa, drove No. 43 to victory again this week. Car owner Kenny Smith, 69, was absent when Hornsby won for him. Smith underwent successful, but unexpected aortic valve tumor surgery when Hornsby won his first main on the half-mile in his car. Racing grandfather Smith, who won the California Quik Pick Lottery 20-years ago, was present in the pits this week. He said he picked Hornsby to drive his car because he liked how he raced. The RCF-built cars now leave home-track IS for five races at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield and two races in Las Vegas at the “bullring” during November.
Teenagers won third-mile features in both INEX Legend Cars and Bandoleros. Legends had the largest car count of 20 and used a three-car inverted starting lineup based on qualifying times. Past series champion Chad Schug led the first nine laps after starting on pole. Newcomer Cameron Morga, who turned 16 on June 3, debuted at the last race on June 11. He set sixth quickest time in a 21-car field, started sixth and finished a close fourth. The Las Vegas “bullring” veteran said he really liked the Irwindale oval.
The Albuquerque, N.M resident made his second start at IS memorable. He posted fifth fastest qualifying time and started fifth. He passed third-starting fastest qualifier Parker Steele, 15, for second on lap 7. The muscular teen took the lead from Schug on lap 10 with a strong inside move in the fourth turn. Steele took second from Schug on lap 15. Two caution flags for spins wiped out Morga's 15-yard lead. He had to show his two-by-two restart ability, which he did. Morga drove the Las Vegas-based black/red numeral No. 54 replica 1934 Ford coupe to an impressive 0.234 victory (two lengths) over Steele, winner of three of the seven IS mains this season.
Female drivers dominated the 20-lap mains both Friday and Saturday. Platinum blonde Kayla Eshleman, 14, backed up her first ever series victory on June 11 by winning both mains this weekend, She uses No. 90 in tribute to her role model Toni McCray. Briggs & Stratton-powered “bandos” are the smallest cars at the San Gabriel Valley track, which will conduct races at least through 2016.
LM 1ST 30: The 18-car main had one leader—Huddleston, the series point leader. The top four battle became intense after a lap 25 two-car crash in turn two. Huddleston, led Joanides, Christian McGhee and Sean Woodside, who passed McGhee for third on lap 26. The finish of the 20-minute race had P. 2 0.256 in back of winner Huddleston. Woodside was 0.907 back and McGhee 1.353 off the lead. Teenage series rookies Dylan Garner, 17, and Ryan Vargas, 15, completed the top five.
Twelve of 18 starters finished and all ran 30 laps, including Bandolero graduate Allison Gay, 15-year old daughter of late model veteran Danny Gay. It was the first LM race at IS for the Lakeside lass. She drove the light blue and pink No. 89, a former Speed Wong Racing car raced by Brian Wong years ago. Allison has raced it at Willow Springs Raceway and at Havasu 95 Speedway in Arizona. Huddleston ran the fastest lap at 94.927 mph.
LM 2ND 30: Woodside, 45, started second in his No. 45 Woodside-Tim Sweet-Mike Harvick-owned Port City chassis Chevy and led the first two laps. Fellow veteran Joanides came from fifth starting spot to second by lap 2 and then to the lead on lap 3. He opened a 20-yard advantage by lap 8. Huddleston took second from Woodside on lap 4 and closed within five yards of the leader by lap 15. With Joanides' No. 77 Joe Nava-owned Chevy outside and Huddleston's No 50 HPR Chevy inside, they began lapping at lap 16. It became a two-car battle for victory. Joanides won his fifth main of 2016 by 0.620 over seven-time series winner Huddleston. P. 3 Woodside was 5.766 seconds back. McGhee, 17, was 6.028 off the lead. So young guys and veterans again split the top four positions. The top two finishers split the victories. Woodside and McGhee duplicated their P. 3-4 finishes.
Rookie teenage stars Vargas, 15, and Garner, 17, switched their finishing positions in race two with Vargas fifth and Garner sixth. Fellow teen and LM rookie Lawless Alan, 16, earned seventh in both mains. He started late model racing a year earlier than planned after his No. 25 truck was destroyed in the June 11 crash with Cantrell. Jeff Williams took P. 8, 16-seconds back and the only other lead lap driver. Twelve drivers finished and Allison Gay again placed 12th, without making a mistake in her LM debut at IS. Joanides' 94.073 mph lap was the fastest in race two.
RCF SPEC LM 35: Carson Woods, the 2002 IS Super Trucks track champion,came out of a 12-year retirement to drive the second truck of his friend Toby Stanford. The Hesperia resident drove the No. 31 (ex-Lowenstein Racing No. 44) and Stanford raced his No. 33 (ex-No. 45 Lowenstein car). With a four car inverted starting grid by qualifying times, Woods started second and led lap 1 over eventual winner Hornsby. Woods finished second and trailed by half a straightaway in jus this second start in the car. Todd Conrad, a two-time 2016 series feature winner, started on pole and finished third, 3.022 second behind the winner.
Johnny Butler's No. 59 was crashed by actress Kelly Hu a week ago during the celebrity race. His May 14 feature winning car had a bent frame and needed a new back clip by original constructor RCF. Per agreement, Butler drove a loaner car (HPR No. 51) from Tim Huddleston. Butler drove it from row three to fourth place. Double-duty driver Dylan Garner set fast time in a ten car field and drove to fifth place in his family-owned No. 97. Actress Leah Remini raced it last week in the celebrity race. Craig Yeaton, Ed Cutler (in his own No. 4 repaired after an actor backed into a crash-wall), and Joe Meehan also completed all 35 laps. The all-green flag race took 12-minutes. Winner Hornsby ran the fastest lap at 88.054 mph and averaged 85.639 mph.
SWT TRUCKS 35: Ron Nava, from Encinitas, drove Jeff Williams' No. 27 Ford F-150 to a 1.522 second triumph over Zack St. Onge, younger brother of veteran racer Donny St. Onge. Zack became eligible to race on a half-mile when he turned 14 in December. He set fast time in a 14-truck field with Jeff Williams' No. 26 Dodge Ram. The teen started fourth and chased the second starter closely from lap 2 to the checkers. They lapped up to fifth place Mike Brooks.
On lap 27 the leaders lapped a group of five dueling drivers. At turn four Nava was high and now P. 2 Dustin Vandermooren was low in three-wide racing out of turn four with Derek Robertson in the middle. Inside runner Vandermooren, driving his dad's No.71 Chevy Silverado, and Robertson's No. 7 bumped, allowing St. Onge to reclaim P. 2. Vandermooren placed third, 2,280 seconds behind Nava. Double-duty driver Todd Conrad, the third driver of the No. 78 Chevy Silverado this season, started first and finished fourth. Vandermooren ran the fastest lap of 87.544 mph. The race average speed was 85.917 mph.
IRT 35: Dennis Arena started second and led five laps. Fastest qualifier Cantrell passed Arena's No. 34 on the inside in turn four and led the final 30 laps in an eight-truck field. Lucas McNeil, 23-year old four-time series winner in 2016, started first and ran as low as fourth at lap 5. He finished second, 0.356 back. On lap 33, P. 2 Arena spun leaving turn two and dropped four positions. Pomona resident Niko Mongenel, 19, started fifth and held on for third place—his best result to date. Arena placed fourth and super stock champion/truck rookie Zack Green was fifth. The 15-minute race had one yellow flag. Cantrell turned the quickest lap of 90.280 mph.
LEGENDS 35: Upset winner Cameron Morga told spectators, “My dad and grandpa are my only sponsors. This car is based in Las Vegas and I race it at the bullring there.” After finishing fourth in his Irwindale debut on June 11, he showed that run was not a fluke. All he did was beat a three-time 2016 winner/and fastest qualifier Steele, 15, from Peoria, AZ. He also beat a pair of IS Legends multi-time track champions/frequent feature winners in P. 3-4 drivers Chad Schug and Darren Amidon.
Bandolero graduate Johnny Dressler, 15, started second and finished fifth in the ex-No. 98 IS 2014 championship car raced by now retired Brent Scheidemantle. Three first-time IS legends drivers pushed the field to 20, one short of the season-high. All 20 cars finished with 14 drivers on the lead lap. The 17-minute event had two cautions after spins. Steele's 73.406 mph was the fastest lap of the race. Steele went from a narrow deficit to two-point lead (334-332) in current standings over Amidon after seven of ten scheduled races.
BANDOS: Lake Arrowhead driver Mckenzie Eshleman, 17, won the 2015 IS Bandolero championship and has not raced this season. She returned from a recruitment visit to the US Air Force Academy in Colorado to race a”bando” for the first time this season. She started second Friday and led the first nine laps before settling for second to her first cousin Kayla Eshleman, 14, of Fontana. Both teens are granddaughters of Dave Eshleman, a former Fontana mayor and NASCAR driver/car owner. The four driver field--all females—had FQ Madison Gay, 12, and Olivia Manke, 13, finish third and fourth respectively. The average speed was 64.656 mph for the 6:10.823-timed race. Kayla ran the quickest lap of 65.825 mph.
On Saturday the same four drivers plus Jesse Bowen, 14, raced in the initial race at 7:05 pm. Bowen led the first three laps before Kayla took command with an inside pass in turn two. She led the final 17 laps. M. Gay, Bowen, M. Eshleman and Manke followed and all completed 20 laps. The 6:12.096-timed race averaged 64.435 mph; Gay's 65.706 mph lap was the fastest.
Next Saturday, July 2 will be another fan-popular “Night of Destruction” event on the third-mile with enduro cars oval and Figure-8 races, auto soccer, skid plate car race, and a zany trailer race. A single NASCAR Late Model feature on the half-mile will kick off the busy evening. The annual Independence Day aerial fireworks show will begin after the final on-track event.