Irwindale, CA., Jul. 3 – Irwindale Speedway welcomed the ARCA Menards Series West Saturday for the first of two appearances this season by the touring series (formerly called NASCAR K & N West). It has nine scheduled races at seven speedways in five states and an August 17 second race date at Irwindale. Spectators packed the sold out 6,500 seat grandstand to watch the popular LKQ Pick Your Part Night of Destruction as well. All tickets were sold by June 28.
Spectators arrived early to watch the ARCA 150-lap NAPA Auto Parts presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame feature on the progressively-banked half-mile. It was the opening race after the National Anthem. The race was recorded for a one hour telecast on Thursday, July 8 from 3:00 to 4:00 pm Pacific time on the NBC Sports Network. All ARCA Menards West and East races are shown on that network shortly after the events.
ARCA: A field of 18 cars (seven Toyotas, six Fords and five Chevrolets) used group qualifying from 3:30 to 4:45 pm with four or five cars on the track simultaneously. The temperature was in the low 90s so times were well off the track record. Drivers ran 591 total laps of practice/qualifying laps and averaged 33 laps. Two drivers ran only 11 laps to post their best lap and one driver ran 62 laps.
Drivers came from five states (11 California, and one each Arizona, Idaho, Michigan and Utah), plus two foreign nations (two Japan and one Canada). There were eight ARCA series rookies among the 18 drivers and three females, including two series rookies.
ARCA 150: Eighteen drivers started the race at 7:03 pm in qualifying speed order with fastest qualifier/ARCA rookie Dean Thompson, 20, from Anaheim Hills, on pole. He elected to start outside of fellow ARCA rookie/second fastest qualifier Joey Iest, 19, from Madera. Thompson shot into the lead aboard the HPR-Thompson Pipe Group No. 51 Ford. He led the initial laps over Iest, Trevor Huddleston, Todd Souza, and rookie Amber Slagle, 24, from Michigan, the fourth fastest qualifier on her first IS visit.
The first caution on lap 21 was for Slagle who contacted the fourth turn wall and slowed briefly. Jesse Love, the 2020 ARCA Menards West rookie of the year and series champion at age 15, started seventh in Bill McAnally’s No. 16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry was up to third place by lap 20. McAnally has an unmatched record of success at IS with numerous drivers in the series dating back to shortly after the track opened in 1999.
The lap 50 running order was Thompson by ten yards over Iest. They were followed by Love, three-time IS late model track champion Huddleston, Souza, ARCA rookie Jake Drew, 21, former Spears SLM champion/ARCA rookie Cole Moore, 24, Paul Pedroncelli, Jr., Johnny Borneman III, and Nick Joanides in the top ten.
Love, 16, from Menlo Park, used an inside pass exiting turn four on lap 65 to pass Iest for second position. The planned halfway break occurred at lap 75 and enabled all drivers to stop at their pit stalls located high and low on the third-mile in the third and fourth turns. Teams only were allowed to change two tires and add fuel.
Cars took the green flag two abreast on lap 82. Love executed an inside pass in turn four for the lead that he held two laps. Thompson, the 2020 IS late model champion, used the same move to reclaim the lead on lap 84. Drew, the 2020 NASCAR late model IS rookie of the year, joined the lead battle and made it a three-way battle. Iest took P. 3 from Drew on lap 96 and Drew retook third three laps later. At lap 100 Thompson led Love by 30-yards with Drew, Iest, Moore, Souza, Borneman, Huddleston, Amber Balcaen and Takuma Koga completing the top ten and the only drivers on the lead lap.
CRASH: On lap 118 the most serious crash occurred. Balcaen spun the NAPA No. 19 Toyota high in turn four and came down and struck Koga’s passing No. 7 Toyota, which veered up into the outer wall on the right side at the turn four exit and stopped. Bridget Burgess spun her No. 88 Chevy to avoid the wreck and backed across the grass infield and into the inside wall at turn four of the third-mile. All drivers escaped injury, but the red flag flew for ten minutes to remove two damaged cars. Burgess returned after lengthy repairs in the pits.
Thirteen cars took the green flag on lap 126. Thompson led by 15-yards over Love at lap 130. Positions three through eight drivers Iest, Moore, Drew, Souza, Huddleston, and Borneman were the only other drivers on the lead lap. Other drivers were down multiple laps after pit stops or running at a slower pace. At lap 138 Burgess returned to the race from the infield pits to log laps with 13 cars still on track. Thompson led lap 140 easily over Love, Iest, Moore, Drew, Huddleston, Souza and Borneman. On lap 142 Hiroyuki Ueno (No. 38) spun out low in the second turn. Five yellow flag laps followed.
Another two-by-two restart had Thompson select the outside row with Love to his inside for the lap 147 green flag. They raced side-by-side to turn four where Love edged ahead as they raced from turn four. Thompson fought to regain the lead. However, he ran second during the final four circuits and trailed Love by ten yards (0.633 officially) at the lap 150 checkers. Third place Iest was 0.748 in back of now four-time ARCA West winner Love, the third winner in three series races this season.
Fourth finisher Drew trailed by 2.126 seconds and P. 5 Moore was 2.214 off the lead. The second through fifth place drivers are all ARCA West 2021 rookies, but experienced racers in other series. Huddleston, in the Sunrise Ford No. 6 Ford, Souza,in his own No. 13 Toyota, and Borneman, in his No. 8 Ford, completed the top eight and all logged 150 laps. Nick Joanides lost three laps under green in the pits and ran 147 laps for ninth. P.10 Bobby Hillis, Jr. ran 143 laps with 14 of 18 starters still on track at the finish. The race time excluding stoppages was 1:03.39.643. Disappointed runner-up Thompson logged the fastest race lap of 18.824 (95.623 mph).
NIGHT of DESTRUCTION: The third-mile events started at 8:40 pm with a 19-car enduro sedan race on the six-turn “roval” course. It had cone-marked jogs into the backstretch infield and outward to the half-mile on the front straight. Fourteen stock class four-cylinder cars started in front of the five faster (OHC) sport class cars. Robbie Salcido (Honda Accord) led the first 23 laps. Fastest qualifier and last starter Bobby Ozman led the closing laps in his 1998 Acura Integra. He beat Salcido by 2.961. Chris Voight was third, 3.492 back. Joe Labrosciano and Jason Woolcott completed the top five with 15 cars still circulating. The 11-minute race averaged 50.356 mph.
Next up was a nine-car 15-lap Figure 8 race with enduro sedans. Labrosciano led ll laps from the pole in a close battle with Robert Rice (Honda Accord) during the final five laps. Rice took the lead on lap 12 at the infield X intersection and won by 0.276 over Labrosciano for his 62nd main event victory at IS (third most at IS). Rick Conti, Rodney Argo and Jamres Bolinas followed as all nine starters finished 15 laps after running 25 or 26 second laps and avoiding contact at the X crossing. Labrosciano’s 24.981 (54.329 mph) was the fastest lap. The 6:52.510 event averaged 49.352 mph.
A 20-lap skid plate sedan race on the third-mile oval followed. Thirteen cars used metal skid plates instead of rear tires. Austin Lee led all the way and won in ten minutes. All-time winningest skid plate racer Mike DiGregorio trailed by 19 seconds and was the only other lead lap driver. Robbie Salcido Wayne Lee (son of the winner), and Mike McIntyre followed with 11 cars on track at the end.
Next on the program was the 9:45 burndown of an old car near the infield light pole by the LKQ-PYP aircraft jet engine mounted on the back of a pickup truck called “Inferno”.
The fan-anticipated trailer race had sedans, pickup trucks and mobile homes towing trailers with boats, skidoos, and various cargo on the watered third-mile oval. Four old mobile homes were placed on the front striaght for drivers to plow thorough while trying to win spectators approval. The race started at 10:10 and ran 20+ laps until few cars were still moving after various contacts.
Prior to the race spectators voted with cheers and applause for the best appearing trailer. Tom Ryan, who drove an old Mercury Grand Marquis No. 5 sedan with matching trailered white boat, won. Following the race, spectators by overwhelming vocal cheers gave the victory to No. 99 Steve Cook for his many good hits on opponents and standing obstacles. The No. 185 entry of Jan Rubin was second.
The first maximum capacity crowd since February 2020 (because of the COVID pandemic) had a fan autograph session on the front straight prior to opening ceremonies at 6:45. All IS concession stands were open and the usual IS carnival-like specialty food vendors (baked potatoes, cotton candy, etc.) operated on the main concourse with lines all night.
Author/publisher Harold Osmer had a booth under the main grandstand next to his No. 51 1951 Chevy pickup truck. He sold many copies of his latest 144-page book about racing speedways and venues in So: Cal. Titled “Where They Raced-Turn 3” from 1900-2020. If you missed his booth in the crowd at IS it is still available for purchase ($30.) by contacting Harold (the annual USAC Turkey Night Midget GP program publisher) at https://www.hopublishing.com/wheretheyraced-turn3.html.
If you wish to get an autographed copy of the must-have book with hundreds of photos and maps racing enthusiasts may buy it in person from Harold Saturday, July 17 from 10 am to 2 pm at Autobooks, 2900 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank 91505. Harold will be selling and autographing his book for customers there. You will be surprised to learn how many speedways existed in Irwindale over the decades.
The final event on another busy night of action was the July 4 Independence Day aerial fireworks show from 10:31 to 10:44 pm. A pyrotechnic crew launched colorful projectiles from beyond the backstretch above the darkened speedway accompanied by patriotic music on the track PA system.
The three Saturdays in a row during July will have a regular NASCAR Night of late models, and other usual divisions on July 10. INEX Bandoleros are scheduled for the first time since 2017. The July 17 event will feature the traveling Spears Mfg tripleheader event with super late models, modifieds and pro late models racing for money and points in all three divisions.