IRWINDALE RACING, “N of D” & FIREWORKS = SRO CROWD – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jul. 2 – The annual Irwindale Speedway July 4 weekend aerial fireworks show, coupled with always zany “Night of Destruction” events, plus a 50-lap NASCAR Whelen Late Model race attracted the largest crowd in years Saturday. With all 6,500 tickets sold by 11:00 am, the track sold standing room only tickets that helped push total attendance over the 7,000 mark. It was the track's 32nd sellout since opening night on March 27, 1999 and the first for a weekly racing series night since October 26, 2013.
Traffic was bumper-to-bumper on the 605 Freeway inside lane and exit road to Live Oak Ave. from 6:00 to past 8:00 pm. Lanes on both east and west sides of Live Oak were bumper-to-bumper as vehicles used two lanes to enter the speedway parking lot. Traffic was still jammed after 8 pm, an hour after the advertised starting time. The first event was delayed to 7:15. Cars were still entering the 63 acre facility well after 8 pm. Late arrivals missed the on-track wedding at the starting line during the regular drivers autograph session for fans prior to the first race. Irwindale Drag-strip announcer Bob Beck and Peggy Theders wed for the second time each and later distribute frosted cupcakes.
The Pick Your Part NASCAR Late Model stock car race was event three and started at 8:25 pm. Track 2016 point leader and 2015 California and IS track champion Trevor Huddleston, 20, won his eighth main event in 15 races. That includes six in a row during April and May. He won five IS features last season. He drove his dad Tim's Racecar Factory-built, No. 50 HPR Chevy in an 18-car field. As second fastest qualifier, the Agoura Hills resident started on pole with a two-car inverted lineup.
Huddleston grabbed the lead immediately over fastest qualifier/outside front row starter Nick Joanides, 46, and led all 50-laps. He beat pressing Woodland Hills resident Joanides, a three-time IS champion in 2008-09 super late models and late models, by 1.375 seconds. The all-green flag race took 16:21.598 and averaged 91.687 mph. Huddleston ran the fastest race lap of 94.782 mph. Fifteen drivers finished and 12 completed all 50 circuits.
The best battle for position was for third place between eventual third finisher Sean Woodside, 45-year old IS 2001 NASCAR super late model track champion, and Christian McGhee, 17, from Claremont. They traded third spot four times including on laps 44, 46 and 47 when Woodside made his inside pass in the fourth turn stick. He beat McGhee by 0.099. They were only 1.8 seconds in back of the winner. It was Woodside's fourth night and fifth main event this season at IS.
A pair of 17-year old series rookies—Dylan Garner and Lawless Alan—finished fifth and sixth, with veteran Billy Helgeson seventh. Another captivating battle was for P. 8 among three drivers racing closely each lap without contact. Rookie Ryan Vargas, 15, won his duel with veteran Luis Martinez on lap 47 and finished eighth in the No. 23 Eshleman Chevy. Martinez trailed Vargas by 0.263.
Tenth place Julia Landauer, a 24-year old NASCAR K & N -West 2016 rookie from New York City, was impressive in her first Whelen Series late model start at IS. As seventh quickest qualifier, she started seventh in the No. 21 Kevin Bowles Chevy raced earlier this year by Dylan Lupton. She ran eighth during laps 3-28 when Martinez dropped her to ninth. She waged a close duel with impressive late model rookie Vargas, who passed her on the inside in turn four on lap 39. Vargas, the 2014 IS Bandolero champion and a 2015 IRT truck racer, then chased and passed Martinez.
Huddleston's victory increased his point lead to 24 points (724-700) over two-time feature winner
McGhee. Five-time 2016 winner Joanides is third with 674. Six races remain in the series with twin-30 lap mains on July 30 and August 13, plus single races on August 20 and September 10. Woodside, despite missing races because of his weekend work in the entertainment industry, has jumped to 18th position in points, with 35 drivers scoring 2016 points
Huddleston stopped at the finish line for trophy and interview. He exited the car, hopped the crash-wall, and climbed the protective fencing to celebrate his victory with the packed grandstand. He returned to his car a bit out of breath and spoke on the mic to fans. “Oh my god, tonight is an awesome crowd. This is one of my favorite wins. The car was fast. I'm tired and so out of breath. I'm not sure if it was the car or climbing the fence. Thanks to my dad, sponsors, fans, my girl friend and her parents who are here tonight,” he concluded.
ENDURO: The opening event at 7:15 was a Seidner's Collision Centers 30-lap (15 + 15) Enduro race for foreign and domestic four-cylinder cars on the third-mile oval. The course had a K-rail lined jog into the infield on the backstretch, making the course a five-turn “r-oval” to add complexity. A 37-car field, including four females, started. The field received the red flag after a lap. Contact caused Melody Scott to roll her car in turn four. Despite a caved in roof she emerged unhurt and wanted to restart.
The race had four leaders and a planned break after 15 laps to facilitate drivers changes. Few teams used two drivers. Jeremy Queener, a 30-year old Mira Loma resident, started near the back and took the lead on lap 27. He used a slower car as a “pick” and cut to the inside entering the fourth corner. The California Lightning Sprint winged sprint veteran drove his new unique entry—a light blue/white 1988 Toyota Corolla “Rally Wagon” No. 71 hatchback sedan. It was his first outing with the only such car entered.
At the finish, 23 of 37 starters were still making laps. Queener, whose father Danny and mother Doreen raced Figure 8s at Ascot in the 1970-90 era, won his first event at Irwindale by 2.396 seconds over lap 24-26 leader Robert Rice's Honda Accord. Lap 1-23 leader Tony Cummings, Neil Himes, Kevin Zanit, and lap 22-23 leader Dan Souto (who ran the fastest lap of 55.943 mph) completed the top six. Only 9.962 seconds separated first and sixth finishers. Retired USAC Midget feature-winning driver Shane Scully, from Encino, drove his friend Todd Paperny's No 89 from the back and finished seventh, 16-seconds back. P. 8 Mike Lindquist was the only other driver who ran all 30 laps.
AUTO SOCCER: Event two was the Pick Your Part auto soccer contest between usual winner Pick Your Part-backed orange enduro cars against the determined Low Budget TV crew, augmented by a reserve driver who entered the fray after a LBTC car became disabled. The track black and white ex-police car served as the referee car and nudged the round, metal tank (painted white and black to resemble a soccer ball) into play. Three cars per side tried to nudge the “ball” into K-rail marked goals at the east and west ends of the infield. After 12-minutes, PYP again won by a score of 4-0. Car 7 driven by Robert Rice and car 4 driven by James Bolinas each scored two goals.
FIGURE 8 & JET-TRUCK: The fourth event was a 15-lap Figure 8 race through the infield using 17 of the durable enduro cars. Tony Cummings led five laps, then San Diegan Dan Souto led laps 6-9. Sean Brennan came from mid-pack to lead the final six laps in his Acura Integra. Queener, the Enduro 30-lap winner, drove his No. 71 Toyota Corolla to a second place trophy, 7.631 seconds behind Brennan.
Cummings and Souto finished eight seconds behind the winner. Steven Belling, Robert Rice, Neil Himes and newcomer Kyle Steiner were the only other lead lap drivers. Sixteen of 17 drivers finished the all-green light race in 5:53.217 for an average speed of 57.636 mph. Souto's leading lap of 61.775 mph was the quickest. The candy apple red with yellow flames Pick Your Part jet-powered pickup truck named “Inferno” demonstration run on the front on back straights followed the Figure 8 race.
SKID PLATE CARS: The always entertaining Seidner's Collision Centers 20-lap skid plate cars race for enduro cars had a field of 38 entered, near the all-time record of 40. Only 31 raced after cars fell by the wayside in earlier events. This race also had four leaders. Yorba Linda resident Sean Brennan, 26, started 24th in his black Acura Integra and led the final eight laps by as much as half a lap. It was his second first place trophy of the evening. He won by 22 seconds over laps 3-12 leader Steven Belling.
Robert Rice, Wayne Lee, and Mike DiGregorio (-32.990 seconds) were the only other drivers on the lead lap. Some 25 of 31 starters were still circulating after the all-green flag 13:02.208 race that averaged 30.652 mph. Brennan ran the fastest race lap of 34.025 seconds (35.233 mph).
Brennan, who is second in all-time SPC main event victories at IS, now has won nine of the 48 SPC races run since the class debuted at IS in 2009. His brother-in-law DiGregorio leads with 13 SPC triumphs at IS since his first on July 6, 2013. Brennan ended DiGregorio's streak of seven consecutive SPC victories fating back to September 2015. DiGregorio has won ten of the last 13 SPC features at IS in his same reliable black No. 18 1995 Honda Accord. Brennan (two) and R. Rice (one) have the other two wins during DiGregorio's amazing winning run from February 15, 2015.
Robert Rice is the master of mayhem events and the father of skid plate car racing at Irwindale. He built and installed all the metal ski plates for back wheels of competitors. He attempted and accomplished something Saturday that no one had ever tried in 17 years of racing at IS. The now 50-year old Hawthorne resident competed in every event on the program Saturday. He had raced his late model Chevy 100 times over the years but ceased that competition three years ago. He kept his No. 26 Chevy and at times rented it to other drivers. He raced it himself Saturday.
After all six events were concluded Rice could sit back and smile. His record for the evening showed these results:
> Enduro oval 30-lap race – P. 2.
> Auto soccer – on winning team, scored two of four goals.
> Late Model 50-lap race – Started 16th, finished 14th with 48 of 50-laps completed.
> Enduro Figure 8s 15-lap race – P. 7 with 15 laps completed.
> Skid Plate Cars 20-lap race – P. 3 with 20-laps completed.
> Trailer Race – 20+ laps – P. 2 via applause/cheers from spectators.
Recap: Rice had one win, two seconds, a third, a seventh and a 14th and finished all six events. It's not the iron-man feat of racing in the Memorial Day weekend Indy Cars Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Charlotte 600 on the same day. However, it will suffice locally for racing versatility and stamina.
TRAILER RACE: The final on-track event was the wild and crazy trailer race for at least 20 laps on the watered third-mile. Various size sedans, trucks, El Camino and Suburban tow vehicles towed trailers with various cargo such as a ski-doo, various junk, small and large boats and house trailers. The 17 starters circled the track and tried to hit and demolish cargo of competitors to score “entertainment points” with spectators, who vote for the winner. The red flag stopped action twice to clear a jack-knifed vehicle/trailer on the front straight and for a small engine fire. The race ran from 9:48 to 10:12 pm. When the checkered flag flew only three competitors were still circling the track. Spectators applause/cheers/foot stomping determined Robbie Salcido (No. 16) had won for smashing into and through the most adrift house trailers and boats. A record amount of debris littered the entire track. Robert Rice and Cheryl Hyland's pink No. 176 placed second and third.
The annual IS aerial fireworks show followed the trailer race. Professional pyrotechnics technicians ignited fireworks from beyond the backstretch and kept the audience entertained from 10:17 to 10:31 pm. IS oval track racing will return on Saturday, July 30.