IRWINDALE – DIVERSE “FALL SPECTACULAR” + KOTW SPRINTS – By Tim Kennedy
IRWINDALE, Calif.. Nov. 10 – Irwindale Speedway presented a rare Sunday event–the inaugural “Fall Spectacular”–Sunday afternoon from 2:00 to 4:50 pm. It featured the national touring winged 410 ci sprint car King of the Wing Series in its eighth and final race this season. Sunday was the fifth IS appearance of the KOTW, which did not compete at Irwindale in 2016.
KOTW visited five states from April to November and crowned four regional champions. Bobby Santos III, from Massachusetts, won three of the four regional titles and $16,000 by winning six of eight main events. He did not race in two Meridian, Idaho events (September 20-21) that had 31 competitors present because he raced his NASCAR Modified at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Versatile Santos, 34, also races in the USAC Silver Crown and National Midget divisions and has triumphs in both divisions. He won the USAC Turkey Night Midget 98-lap GP at Irwindale Speedway in 2008. He won the KOTW $2,000 winner’s share Sunday and called Irwindale his favorite track. He also drove the same car to victory in a 20-car KOTW field at IS on November 3, 2018.
Santos, driving his No. 22a Richard Fieler Beast/Chevy, won the two event 2019 West Coast Region championship. He won the November 9-10 paved half-mile features at Bakersfield’s Kern County Raceway Park Saturday night 15-car main and Sunday’s 30-lap race. Five cars blew engines Saturday night, reducing the field from 17 to 12 at IS.
Eric Humphries, from Chowchilla, Calif., placed second at Bakersfield and Irwindale and won his second consecutive KOTW National Driving Championship. He drove the No. 15 HSI Beast/Chevy owned by Carl Mott and Dennis Bolding. He drove the same car to victory in Irwindale on November 18, 2017 in a 30-car field.
Humphries, 33, raced all eight events in Florida, Alabama, Colorado, Idaho and California and earned $13,200. He won the championship by 126 points (664-538) over Santos. He is the fifth champion in the KOTW series that started in 2014. Champions in order have been Jo Jo Helberg, Aaron Pierce, Davey Hamilton, Jr., Johnny Giesler, and 2017-18 champ Humphries.
This year 43 drivers earned KOTW points. Hudson Stanley, from Middleton, Idaho, received the KOTW 2019 rookie of the year trophy at Irwindale after finishing ninth. The 16-year old placed sixth in final points with 319. The 12 KOTW drivers at Irwindale came from six states as follows: three each from California and Idaho, one each from Massachusetts, Nevada, Utah and Washington, and two from British Columbia, Canada.
Santos set the fastest qualifying time of 14.597 (123.313 mph) in single car time trials at 12:30 pm. Helberg set the existing fastest qualifying lap in IS history with his 13.791 (130.520 mph) lap on November, 22, 2014 during KOTW qualifying. This year Humphries was second fastest at 15.016. Humphries and Santos started fourth in the pair of inverted six-lap heat races. Their winning averages were 117.596 mph and 118.215 mph respectively.
Twelve KOTW sprinters raced 30-laps on the half-mile and used a six-car inverted starting lineup based on qualifying times. Pole starter Justin Segura, from Idaho, led the first eight laps with Utah-based Monty Bergener following closely. A single car spin on lap 8 caused the first of two caution flags. On lap 9 leader Segura’s car began smoking heavily, causing the second caution. A broken valve cover bolt sidelined his car.
Bergener inherited the lead with Santos and Humphries in tow and led laps 9-13. Santos shot into the lead on lap 14 on the outside near the starting line. Humphries took second on lap 20 as lapping began. Santos extended his lead to a straightaway and won by 5.444 seconds over Humphries.
A. J. Russell, started fourth and finished third, with fellow central Californian Audra Sasselli coming from seventh to fourth in her Beast/Chevy. Canadian Ron Larson started third and placed fifth. Bergener was sixth and the last driver on the lead lap. Ten drivers finished the 16-minute race. Santos ran the fastest race lap at 15.159 (118.741 mph).
Other events on the diverse program that attracted about 3,000 spectators on a sunny, mid-70s day included INEX Legend Cars and four-cylinder enduro sedans. Both series used group qualifying starting at noon and raced scheduled 25-lap mains on a new road course laid out by driver Ryan Partridge and IS’s Will Kozak. The 12-turn course used portions of the half and third-mile ovals and the infield. Drivers and fans loved the competition on the rubber cones and blocks-marked course.
Ten vintage pre-1970s open-wheel midgets and sprint cars also staged a 15-lap exhibition “race” on the third-mile oval. An additional four vintage race cars, including a 1940s WRA track roadster raced by Sam Hanks, the 1957 Indy 500 winner, were on static display inside the front gate for arriving fans to examine.
Seven legend cars raced and 12-year old rookie Jake Bollman led all 15 laps. The Huntington Beach resident started fifth and won by half a lap. He won his first IS 35-lap main September 14 on the third-mile oval. Fastest qualifier Tyler Hicks was a close second on lap 4 when he retired with a mechanical problem. He had set the fastest qualifying time of 62.827 mph. A blown engine oiled a turn and with four cars remaining officials shortened the race by ten laps.
The 21-car four-cylinder enduro sedan race on the road course produced the closest race of the day. The first six starters, inverted by qualifying times, had fastest qualifier Kirk Kubik (38.610 – 46.620 mph) sixth. Bobby Ozman (Acura Integra) and Bory Molina (Toyota Celica Supra) traded the lead three times and captivated the crowd as they darted between lapped cars. Molina edged Ozman by 2.436 seconds after a lapped car interfered with Ozman’s plan for a last lap pass. Eight of 18 finishers completed all 25 laps.
The final event was the first ever RV Destruction Figure 8 race with nine starters. The Sunrise Ford Mustang 5.0 pace car, driven by IS co-promoter Tim Hudddleston, ran several F-8 mid-race laps for added spice. Robert Rice battled fellow front row starter James Bolinas early. Rice led the first 14 of 20 laps by a straightaway and avoided near collisions at the infield X. However, he tried to catch the pace car, overheated his engine and retired. Bolinas lapped the field by lap 16 but he also slowed on lap 17, allowing several RV drivers to unlap themselves. Bolinas barely edged closing Bill Altfather and Steve Cook.
Bakersfield (Nov. 9): Santos, Humphries, Audra Sasselli, Ron Larson, Cameron Neisinger, Anthony Quintana, Monty Bergener, Michael Anderson, Austin Carter, Richard Larson, Alan Beck, Justin Kawahata, Mike Straut, Justin Segura, A. J. Russell.
Irwindale (Nov. 10): Santos, Humphries, Russell, Sasselli, Ron Larson, Bergener, Richie Larson, Neisinger, Hunter Stanley, Beck, Anderson, Segura.