IRWINDALE 2021 NASCAR OPENER & 2020 SEASON AWARDS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 13 – Irwindale Speedway combined its outdoors 2020 track championship awards presentations and the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Series 2021 season opening race into a doubleheader Saturday. The unique double-bill for competitors only was at the speedway because of the pandemic. Families and fans at home watched via the internet. The event honored 2020 track champions in eight series that were able to complete nine race dates from June through October with competitors-only present because of pandemic restrictions.
Practice for all five divisions took place for two hours to 12:20 pm; qualifying started at 1:30. More than 100 competitors came from the pits and watched the 3:30 to 4:15 pm awards presentations hosted by speedway president/co-promoter Tim Huddleston in the main grandstand. They returned to the pits behind the main grandstand and prepared race cars and trucks for competition from 5:00 to 8:10 pm. (See championship presentations information at conclusion of this racing results story.)
Sixty-four vehicles competed in seven main events totaling 240 laps with ten winners. There were two classes competing in three of the main events. Two features for Tucker Tire Enduro four-cylinder sedans had two class winners in both 30-lap main events. The six-turn “r-oval” course used parts of both ovals and the infield. Fifty-points were awarded to each of the four enduro winners.
Irwindale Race Trucks and YouRaceLA Spec Late Models have similar speed so they competed in one 40-lap race on the half-mile with winners in both divisions. LKQ Pick Your Part Pro Late Model cars also ran two 35-lap features on the half-mile. INEX Legends and street stocks as usual used the third-mile oval.
Racing commenced after a minute of silence for long-time IS racing director Mike Atkinson, who died suddenly a month ago at age 63. His passing left a lasting void that management acted promptly to fill by appointing his daughters Sarah and Jannie to new positions. Sarah became the first female NASCAR racing director and Jannie now occupies Sarah’s former position as chief of timing and scoring. They served in those roles for the first time Saturday.
LATE MODELS 1ST 35: At 5:05 ten late models started straight-up by qualifying times with quickest qualifier Trevor Huddleston, 24, on pole. He led all 35 laps in his No. 50 HPR Racecar Factory Chevy. Ron Schartau (in the Bowles “sponsor needed” No. 7) started second, lost the spot twice, but reclaimed it on lap 31 and trailed the winner by 0.568. Dylan Garner, Lucas McNeil, and series 2020 champion Dean Thompson, 20, followed. All ten starters finished the race with nine drivers on the lead lap.
LM 2ND 35: The final race of the night at 7:57 inverted the first eight finishers from the first race. With P. 7-8 finishers on the front row, Kevin Furden, 29, started second and led the first 12 circuits. Eighth starter Huddleston, was third by lap 10. The three-time series champion and current NASCAR ARCA West driver shot from third to first with an outside pass entering turn three on lap 13. He led the final 23 laps and won by 0.596. His HPR teammate Thompson started fourth and ran second all 35 laps. Both HPR drivers had raced in the ARCA West 150 on the Phoenix, AZ mile a night earlier.
HPR driver Jake Drew, who placed fourth behind Schartau, also raced in the Phoenix/Irwindale double. Furden finished fifth in his best showing at IS. McNeil, Garner, Dustin Vandermooren, Nick Joanides, and Rodney Peacher finished sixth through tenth respectively. Huddleston ran the fastest lap of 19.572 (91.968 mph) and won his 63rd feature at IS. He now trails only 67-time Irwindale winner/retired Rip Michels for the title of most prolific feature winner at the track which opened on March 27, 1999. The all-green race took 11:44.541 and remarkably had all ten starters, including 72-year old Peacher, on the lead lap at the finish. It was still 52 degrees when racing concluded at 8:10 pm following a speedy program run without an intermission.
TRUCKS/SPEC LM 40: The always competitive two main events in one, which was suggested last year by driver Ryan Partridge, featured six trucks and six spec late models. The fastest truck qualifier started seventh and fastest car sixth. There were three race leaders. Trucker L. J. Billings paced the first two laps from row one. Fastest car qualifier Andy Partridge led laps 3-6. Fastest trucker Andrew Porter led laps 7-40 and won by 1.592 seconds over Partridge. Both drivers earned 50 points for their class victories.
Kenny Smith (Porter’s grandfather), Troy Andersen, and Jacob McNeil completed the top five. Trucks finished first and fifth; cars finished second through fourth. Will Browne, 17, rookie Dylan Interlicchia, 18, Dennis Arena, Billings, and first time racer Nevin Iwatsuru, 32, completed the top ten. Eleven of 12 starters finished a 13-minute all-green light race that featured three-wide racing and much passing throughout.
STREET STOCKS: The production cars class, now called street stocks instead of super stocks, raced for the first time at IS since 1999. It had a strong field of 13 for race one. Cars included primarily Camaros, with several Dodge Darts. The seven fastest qualifiers in a 35-lap race on the third-mile were inverted by speed. Rod Proctor, a Figure 8 veteran and former Orange Show Speedway racing promoter, started on pole in his Camaro and led four laps.
Fast timer and new one lap qualifying record setter Craig Rayborn, 57, executed an outside pass entering turn three. He led laps 5-35 for the victory and point lead in the reborn series. The all-green flag race took 12-minutes and averaged 58.211 mph. Figure 8 veteran Jay Henson, Proctor, Kevin James, and Robby Harryman completed the top five. All drove Camaros. Rayburn ran the quickest lap of 72.039 mph. He set the new street stock one lap record in 2:00 pm qualifying with his 16.352 (73.312 mph). The 1999 series record set by Mike Alexander was 18.161 (66.352 mph).
INEX LEGENDS 35: Tyler Hicks started fifth and led laps 4-35 in his coupe. He barely edged pressing past three-time series IS champion / fastest qualifier Chad Schug by 0.179 seconds. Rookie Evan Garvy, 20, started sixth in the ex-No. 33 Darren Amidon championship sedan now owned and rented by driver Ricky Schlick. Garvy finished third, 1.495 off the lead. Mike Vanderlip, rookie Joe Smith, and rookie Chad Hadlick, the first three laps leader, followed and also completed 35 laps. Skyler Meisenbach, 17, spun out on lap 20 in a 21-minute contest with three caution flags. Hicks ran the fastest lap of 71.741 mph.
ENDURO # 1: Twin 30-lap enduro races on the six-turn “r-oval” had 22 cars–11 stock and 11 sport (OHC). They lined-up with all stock sedans starting in front of the faster sport class. Joe Labrosciano led 14 laps from the pole in the first main. P. 6 starter Robert Rice led laps 15-21. Sport class star Ian Rotundo (No. 4 Honda Prelude) came from 12th starting slot and led laps 22-30 with an extra lap run before the checkers flew.
He beat Bory Molina by 3.074 seconds with fellow sport class drivers Rick Conti, Rodney Argo and Bobby Ozman following. John Beard, in sixth, was the stock class winner in his No. 35 Honda Accord and also received 50 points. The 17-minute race had one yellow flag to retrieve a loose RF wheel that sidelined Robbie Salcido. Winner Rotundo ran the fastest lap of 77.313 mph.
ENDURO # 2: Only 19 cars returned later to race in the second 30. Pole starter Rice led six laps in his Honda Accord. Molina’s Toyota Celica led laps 7-30 and won by 0.790 over first race winner Rotundo. Beard placed third overall and first in the stock class to sweep both races. Rice and fellow stock class vet Chris Voight completed the top five. Molina’s 77.571 mph lap was the fastest in race two.
Trish Rojas spun her Honda Accord on the first lap between turn two and the infield right hand third turn. With cars bunched tightly, three of the sport class racers—Conti, Argo and Ozman—piled into the spun car. All four potential overall race winners were sidelined. Ozman’s 1998 Acura Integra front end was smashed significantly.
The next Irwindale oval racing on Saturday, April 10 will be the popular touring Spears Mfg SRL Southwest Tour Series.The triple-header will feature super late models, modifieds, and pro late models. Track officials announced that with COVID attendance restrictions being eased this week, spectators up to 20% of maximum capacity, will be allowed to attend in the grandstand for the first time in 13 months. All tickets must be purchased on-line only.
2020 CHAMPIONSHIP AWARDS:
Afternoon awards presentations in the main grandstand for the 2020 season lasted 90-minutes. The event was transmitted live via the internet. Emcee Tim Huddleston handled microphone duties and dispensed plaques to the champion and top five drivers in eight divisions. Nearly all recipients were present to collect their hardware and gift bags from track sponsor Lucas Oil. NASCAR point fund checks were dispensed during December.
Robert Rice – (Enduros stock class); Bobby Ozman (Enduros sport class); Tyler Hicks (Legends); Robby Harryman (Super Stocks); Andrew Porter (Irwindale Race Trucks); Jake Drew, 20, (Spec late models) and rookie of the year; Dean Thompson (Late Models); plus Trevor Huddleston (Pro Late Models Interstate (AZ and CA) six-race series). The IrwindaleSpeedway.com website under points has the list of top ten drivers in each division.
The first Michael Atkinson “Humble Hero” Award in honor of late IS racing director Mike Atkinson, who died unexpectedly in February, was presented to his daughters Sarah Atkinson-Hancock and Jannie Atkinson. They were in the race control booth performing their new duties as IS race director and chief of timing and scoring respectively.
Huddleston concluded by thanking all loyal sponsors of the speedway. Racing since last June at IS was only for trophies and championship points from June through October because fans were not allowed due to COVID. Huddleston announced the speedway would pay the first five finishers in every IS point-paying series main event starting that evening.