RACING IN THE RAIN @ IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 10 – First there was the 1952 movie musical “Singing in the Rain” starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. On Saturday Irwindale Speedway presented auto racing in the rain from start to finish for the first time in the track’s 20 year history. The 2018 regular season opening night, presented by LKQ Pick Your Part, was conducted by the new promotional team led by Tim Huddleston. Advertising for the “Night of Destruction” event proclaimed it would be run “rain or shine”.
With thousands of advance sale tickets sold, track management delivered as promised despite wide-spread rain in So Cal nearly all day and evening and temperature in the low 60s. Remarkably, 3,750 fans of automobile destruction events arrived at the speedway in rain gear with umbrellas. They watched six events from 7:00 to 9:15 pm. Light rain fell steadily at IS throughout the evening. It was the first IS racing event conducted entirely with rain falling although a few past races have concluded in light rain. Events were run on third-mile and infield courses.
The only scheduled event canceled by rain was the Sharky’s Spec Late Model 30-lap race. The initial “Irwindale Race of Champions” was to start eight spec late models. Drivers named were NASCAR K & N West 2018 rookie Hailie Deegan, 16-year old daughter of off-road racing star Brian Deegan, Bill Sedgwick, John Watkinson, Dennis Arena , Robert Rice, Kenny Smith, and a track racing school graduate. Those cars could not be raced safely on the high-speed half-mile. The planned demolition derby did not happen because there were no entrants.
Irwindale Speedway Grand Marshal for the evening was TV and movie actor William Fichtner, who co-starred in the 2018 movie “12 Strong”. The TV show “Mom” co-star drove the No. 0 spec late model at IS in a July, 2011 celebrity 15-lap race and won easily over fellow celebrities. He remained at the speedway and watched all the action from one of the 12 suites.
Most attendees in the grandstand used the top rows under the suites, press box and race control booth. They sat shoulder to shoulder sheltered from the rain while many fans sat in the lower grandstand and deployed umbrellas. PA announcements several times during the evening advised fans to save their March 10 admission tickets and present them at any IS oval track race this season for half-price tickets to a future event.
ENDURO 20: In the opening race, Rodney Argo started sixth and led the first 11 laps in a 26-car field of four-cylinder sedans. On lap 12, third starter Michael Hudson took the lead in his Acura and led to lap 16 when he sideswiped a slower car and spun across the starting line and continued in second place. He chased Argo to lap 19 when he passed him on the outside as they lapped a slower car. Hudson was the lap 19 leader but on the final lap he spun and backed into the second turn crash-wall. He continued but Argo, from Gardena, had retaken the point and won by a straightaway (-5.490 seconds) over Hudson in a seven minute race.
Daniel Hudson started fourth and finished third in an Acura. He trailed Argo by 7.014 seconds. Tenth starter Bory Molina trailed the winner by 18 seconds and was the last driver on the lead lap. Past enduro winner Eddie Howell, Tony Cummings, Robert John Rice, Robbie Salcido, Joe Labrosciano and Joseph Bereiter also logged 19 laps and rounded out the top ten.
Seventeen of 26 starters finished. M. Hudson ran the fastest race lap of 19.344. Argo, a former SCRA 410 ci sprint car driver and 1998 Oval Nationals winner at the half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway, added to his Irwindale feature victory total in enduro sedans. He won three times in enduro Figure 8 races last season and once in 2016. He also won a 20-lap enduro oval race in his No. 19 Honda Accord. Argo became the first-ever Enduro Series point leader by two points (50-48) over M. Hudson. It was announced a month ago that IS would award track championship points this season.
Event two was a 20-lap Figure 8 race with nine of 16 entrants able to start. Argo used his same Honda Accord and led every lap for his sixth enduro car triumph in his two seasons of IS racing. He battled Robert Rice, “the king of destruction” events, closely from lap 5 to lap 19. Argo extended his lead to almost four seconds as Rice had a deflating RF tire. Joe Labrosciano was third, 16-seconds back. Robbie Saklcido, Val Cummings, Joseph Bereiter and Brian Deegan (in his enduro debut) finished in fourth through seventh respectively and completed 19 laps in the eight minute all green-light contest.
Next on the schedule, with steady light rain continuing, was a 20-lap flag pole race with the same four-cylinder enduro cars. Drivers raced on a seven turn course on the third-mile and through the infield. All turns were to the left. They circled large tires with two flag poles in the center. Cars crossed paths at the same section of race track entering and exiting the flag pole turn. There were three race leaders—Tony Cummings (L 1), Robert Rice (L 2-15) and first-time winner Joseph Bereiter (L 16-20). Cummings placed second, 13-seconds back. Rice was third, 29 seconds off the lead, in a ten minute, all green flag race. Eleven of 14 starters finished.
The aircraft jet engine mounted on the back of the red pickup truck named “Inferno” then took a few minutes to amaze the crowd. The jet and the red-hot exhaust flame burned down an old sedan in the infield near the infield light tower. As usual, aluminum and metal sparks flew rearward towards turn three of the third-mile oval. It only took a few minutes to reduce the sedan to smoldering molten metal.
The penultimate event was a skid plate cars race with enduro sedans equipped with metal plates instead of tires on the back axle. It was the 60th SPC event since the initial event at IS in 2009. Seventeen starters ran 20 laps in 11 minutes in an all-green light race. Robert Rice, the originator of the event at IS, started third in his Honda Accord. He led laps 1-9, 11 and 14-16. Fourteen-time SPC race winner Sean Brennan led laps 10 and 12-13. The top three cars were nose-to-tail on lap 14 when contact with a lapped car caused leader Brennan to spin out high in the second turn. He restarted but lost three positions.
Brennan’s brother-in-law Mike Di Gregorio started tenth in his usual black No. 18 Honda Accord and passed Rice on the outside at turn three on lap 17. Di Gregorio ran off to a 3.924 second victory. It was the 17thSPC victory for Di Gregorio since he started racing the same Honda in 2013. He is the all-time Irwindale SPC winner by three over his truck racing partner and in-law Brennan. They bought an Irwindale Race Truck and started sharing the No. 33 truck ride at IS last season.
Robbie Salcido took second from Rice on lap 19 and beat Rice to the lap 20 checkers by 4.746 seconds. Brennan placed fourth, 15 seconds from the lead. P. 5 Austin Lee was 23 seconds back and the only other driver on the lead lap. Di Gregorio ran the fastest lap of 31.208. Skid plate races are planned for all upcoming “N of D” events.
The final event was a 25+ lap “Trailer Race” so popular with spectators. The event on the third-mile oval with a jog right to the half-mile start/finish line was run in light rain. Seven drivers raced sedans, station wagons or Chevy El Caminos with boats or jet-skis on trailers. They had destruction in an entertaining manner on their minds to impress a five judge panel of judges selected at random from the grandstand. They watched the event from the race control booth and they selected the winner, not the total laps completed.
After 25 or so laps and 16-minutes, the checkered flag waved action to a merciful halt with five entrants still circulating the wet and littered circuit. Judges voted frequent winner Robert Rice as the winner yet again. He gained valuable “action/entertainment points” by driving through an old house trailer placed at start/finish for demolition purposes. His El Camino and boat were undamaged and will be used in the next “N of D” event. Cheryl Hyland’s trailer-less station wagon was awarded second place. Steve Cook, the early laps race leader, received third spot. Fans headed home in light rain at 9:15 pm.
The next Irwindale Speedway racing event on Saturday, March 24 will feature NASCAR late models, Irwindale Race Trucks, legend cars, spec late models, junior late models, super stocks, and mini stocks. April 7 and 21 events will feature combinations of the divisions on the March 24 schedule. The next enduro cars point race will be April 7 with Figure 8s on the April 21 card. The next Night of Destruction event will be April 28 with auto soccer in the infield, plus oval track racing with mini and super stock divisions.