IRWINDALE LATE MODEL TWIN 30S & MORE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jul. 30 – Eighteen NASCAR Whelen Series drivers ran a pair of competitive Pick Your Part Late Model 30-lap features on the Irwindale Speedway banked half-mile Saturday. The four division, five main event program attracted 2,720 spectators despite hot, 80+ degree temperature and humid conditions. Hard fought victories went to past IS late model and super late model track champion Nick Joanides, 46, and 2015 IS late model champion Trevor Huddleston, 20.
It was the sixth late model feature victory this season for Joanides and ninth in 17 races this season for Huddleston, a third generation driver. Joanides now has 48 main event victories and ranks third on the list of all-time winners at IS. He trails only leader Rip Michels (67) and Ryan Partridge (51). Joanides drove Joe Nava's No. 77 Chevy and Huddleston steered his dad Tim's Racecar Factory-built No. 50 HPR Chevy.
The other half-mile event had ten Seidner's Collision Centers Irwindale Race Trucks log 40 laps with three leaders. Fastest qualifier Connor Cantrell, 25-year old series 2011 champion, started sixth and led the final 26 laps. It was his third feature win after eight events this season. He drove his usual No. 9 Cantrell family-owned Chevy S-10.
The third-mile oval had INEX Legend Cars begin racing with a six-car, six-lap trophy dash for cars that qualified sixth through 11th fastest in a season-high field of 22. All 22 cars ran in a 35-lap main. Fastest qualifier Parker Steele, from Peoria, AZ, started fifth and was the third/final leader. The second-year driver at IS scored his fourth victory in eight races this season.
The final race was a Seidner's Collision Centers Skid Plate Cars 20-lap race with a 16-car field of foreign and domestic four-cylinder sedans. A standing start enabled alert Sean Brennan, a career nine-time SPC feature winner, to start in row eight and charge into the lead immediately. The 26-year old Yorba Linda resident built a half lap lead by lap 15 when he pulled into the first turn infield with a mechanical problem.
Brennan's brother-in-law Mike Di Gregorio, driving his same black No. 18 Honda Accord, inherited the lead. He won by 19 seconds and received the checkered flag at 9:44 pm. It was his track-best 14th career victory. Only 49 SPC races have been run at IS since the series started in 2009. It was his fifth triumph in six events this year. Brennan won the other SPC race on July 2.
LC DASH: The fully inverted dash went to back row starter Gary Scheuerell. He was second after a lap and led laps 2-6. He edged sixth starter Cale Kanke, son of past SRL stock car champion M. K. Kanke. Pole starter/first lap leader Tyler Hicks placed third. With his late model crew on vacation, Lawless Alan raced his legend car for fun. He set eighth fastest qualifying time and finished fourth in the dash. Bandolero graduate Austin Farr and Colton Page followed. The winner averaged 70.284 mph.
1ST LM 30: A straight-up starting lineup was based on first lap qualifying times during single-car late afternoon qualifying runs. Huddleston had pole position with second quickest Joanides alongside in row one. Huddleston led lap 1. Joanides took the lead with an outside pass on lap 2 in the fourth turn. The two rivals were seldom more than a length apart during their fan-captivating duel. Inside-runner Huddleston made his move on lap 28 in turn four and led lap 28 narrowly. Determined Joanides charged back and on lap 29 at turn four used a slide job to retake the lead. Joanides led the white flag lap and took the checkers 0.109 in front of Huddleston.
The all-green flag race took 9:46.218 and averaged 92.116 mph. Christian McGhee finished third, 2.753 seconds back. When the top three drivers stopped at the finish line for awards and interviews, Huddleston hustled from his car and went to the window of Joanides' car and expressed his ire about the way Joanides had passed him. Over the pit microphone Joanides told fans, “It was a hard race. At least I won one of the two races tonight.” Huddleston said, “I raced him clean for 28 laps. I guess he hasn't learned anything.” P. 3 McGhee said, “I don't know what I have to do to catch those guys.” Twelve of 18 starters were racing at the finish with ten on the lead lap.
2ND LM 30: With everyone anticipating a rematch between Joanides and Huddleston, the second 30 started 90-minutes later. As the two fastest qualifiers, they were slated to start alongside in row five with a ten-car inversion. Outside row two starter Billy Helgeson was a no go because of overheating, so Q-lap two fastest qualifier Joanides moved up a row and started eighth. Pole-sitter Jeff Williams led two laps. McGhee came from row two to lead laps 3-14 in hopes of winning his third 2016 feature on his 18th birthday.
Determined Huddleston carved his way forward from ninth starting slot and was fifth at lap 3, fourth two laps later and third at lap 8. He caught and cleanly passed Joanides low in turn four on lap 12 for P. 2. Three laps later at crossed flags Huddleston stormed past McGhee on the inside exiting turn four. He opened a 35-yard advantage by lap 25 and beat McGhee by 2.590 seconds. Joanides placed third, 3.834 off the lead.
The all-green light race took 9:30.097 and averaged 94.721mph, 2.6 mph faster than the first feature. Impressive rookie Ryan Vargas, 15, drove Dave Eshleman's Chevy to close fourth place finishes in both mains. He raced IRT trucks on the half-mile as a rookie in 2015 and finished seventh in IRT points. He was the dominating Bandolero IS track champion in 2014 after winning 11 of 12 features. NASCAR late model rookie/SRL spec late model veteran Dylan Garner, also from La Mirada, finished fifth in both features. Vargas said he learned a lot in both features racing with veterans.
TRUCKS 40: Winner Cantrell avoided trucks scattering in turn two on the first lap. Second starter Niko Mongenel banged his right side on the crash-wall and slowed with smoke pouring from the back. A caution flag ensued. Mongenel exited the track and parked in the pits. A three-truck duel from lap 4 onward evolved into a P 1-4 nose-to-tail battle from laps 12-15. Cantrell passed Lucas McNeil for second on the outside at turn four on lap12. On lap 15 Cantrell took the lead from lap 3-14 leader Dennis Arena in turn two.
The top five order was set from that point forward. Cantrell, from Valencia, won by 20-yards (1.828 seconds) over McNeil. Arena (-6.211) was third and Ken Michaelian fourth (-6.491). Pole starter/truck rookie/2013-15 super stock champion Zack Green placed fifth (-13.436). Rookie Jacob McNeil was the only other finisher and trailed the winner by 20 seconds.
LEGENDS 35: A season-high 22 competitors from four states (CA, AZ, NV and OR) raced, including three first-time legend drivers. Youngest was Kole Raz, 13-year old Lake Oswego, OR resident and brother of touring NASCAR K & N West driver Gracin Raz (No. 27 Jefferson-Pitts Ford). Claremont's Nick Fusco, 14, raced the ex-Mike Cohee Orange Show Speedway car, a replica 1933 Ford sedan. Kayla Eshleman, a 14-year old Bandolero veteran and three-time feature winner in June 2016, raced her family-owned No. 14 coupe for the first time.
Drivers raced their usual 35-lap distance. Fast timer Parker Steele, 15, started fifth and was the third leader from laps 15-35. Lawless Alan led the first three laps before a flat tire sent him to the pits for a replacement under caution. He returned to finish tenth. Two-time series track champion Darren Amidon led laps 4-14. The race had three caution flags for solo spins on laps 2, 4 and restarted lap 4. On lap 8 in the fourth turn cars 44, 14 and 97 collided while racing in positions 15-17. Kayla Eshleman's coupe rode up a spinning car and rolled once onto its roof next to the fourth turn wall. The red flag was in effect 19 minutes.
Rescuers arrived quickly and the track ambulance crew attended to the driver for about 15 minutes. She was taken on a gurney into the ambulance beyond turn three. Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics arrived and assessed her possible injuries. The evaluation of contusions resulted in her transport by ambulance to a hospital in nearby West Covina. Her grandfather Dave Eshleman later revealed Kayla was in good condition, but X-rays and a possible CT scan would be taken for precautionary reasons.
The other two cars involved restarted. Steele made his winning pass of two-time track champion Amidon on lap 15 in turn four. He won by 35-yards (1.964 seconds) over three-time track champion Chad Schug, who took second from Amidon on lap 30. Hard-charger Tyler Fabozzi drove his No. 16 coupe from last starting position (22nd) to fourth place, 6.594 seconds from the lead. Scheuerell was fifth. Raz set 12th quickest qualifying time on his first visit to IS and raced from 14th to eighth place, 13-seconds behind the winner. Eleven of 16 finishers completed all 35 laps.
SPC 20: The 16-car field lined up in eight rows as usual but used a standing start into turn one. Sean Brennan, from Yorba Linda, led by half a lap and was poised for another victory with six laps to go. Then he pulled to the first turn infield and parked it. That gave leading all-time series feature winner Mike DiGregorio a shot at his 14th victory and he delivered. He used his usual Honda Accord in which he won five of six races this season. Robert Rice, 50-year old SPC “godfather”/originator/builder of the metal skid plates that replace back tires, finished second. His No. 7 Honda Accord trailed by 19 seconds. Robbie Salcido was 30 seconds in back of the winner in another reliable Honda Accord.
The best duel of the night was between Salcido and two-time SPC feature winner Todd Browne, a Jet Blue Airlines pilot from Glendora. Browne used a No. 86 1998 Toyota Celica to win SPC mains in October, 2013 and April, 2014 before taking a year off from racing. He returned this month in a No. 84 1994 Acura Integra with 154,000+ miles on the odometer. He recently bought the car for $600. from Craig's List.
After starting tenth, Browne retook fourth from Salcido on lap 5 after Salcido passed him on lap 2. Salcido recaptured P. 4 on the inside during lap 8 as they lapped a slower car in the first turn. Browne passed Salcido on lap 10 to reclaim P. 4. Leader Brennan lapped both fourth place battlers on lap 11. Salcido retook fourth on lap 12. When Brennan retired his car on lap 15, Salcido and Browne were back on the lead lap. Salcido remained on the lead serial although he was about to be lapped at the checkered flag. Winner DiGregorio lapped P. 4 Browne on the white flag lap.
Temecula's Michael Brennan, 23, made his second SPC start. He must have learned valuable lessons from his older brother Sean because he drove a borrowed No. 17 Honda Accord from 15th to finish fifth, one lap down. He had the name 'URNHART” at the top of his windshield. The all-green flag race had 11 cars racing at the finish. The race lasted 10:53.394 and averaged 36.695 mph. DiGregorio ran the fastest lap of 29.308 (40.904 mph).