Irwindale, CA., Aug. 31 – Irwindale Speedway kicked off the Labor Day weekend Saturday with NASCAR late model twin 35-lap features plus another popular LKQ Pick Your Part monthly Night of Destruction events. The pairing clicked again with a capacity crowd of 6,500 in the grandstand and almost 7,000 persons present including the pits.
1ST LM 35: The first feature on the half-mile started all 12 late models. It took 25-minutes to complete one green flag lap. Several jump starts involving front row cars resulted in threats of repositioning front row cars to the back. Then the late models got the night of destruction theme off the an unplanned early start with a multi-car crash on the first lap in turn three. Front row cars of Christian McGhee and Ryan Vargas came together and Vargas spun tail first to the crash-wall. Following cars also collided and two cars were unable to restart.
When the field made a complete restart late model rookie/third generation driver Jace Jones found himself on the pole instead of inside row two. Ten cars restarted and raced 35 green flag laps. Jones, driving the No. 55 HPR Chevy, led all 35 laps for his initial Irwindale late model feature victory. The third generation driver became the youngest feature winner ever on the IS half-mile at 14 years, six months, and nine days.
Jones eclipsed the youngest IS late model feature winner record set by Blaine Perkins, who won an IS late model main on September 27, 2014 in the same No. 55 HPR Chevy at the age of 14 years, seven months. The youngest ever feature winner on the IS half-mile was Ryan Cansdale at 14 years, one month, 26 days when he won a limited late model (S2 Cars) feature on April 27, 2013. Perkins also won an S2 main event on August 2, 2014 at 14 years, five months, three days.
Jones built a 40-yard lead over teammate Trevor Huddleston, 23. Series current point leader Blaine Perkins, 19, took second spot on lap 6. Jones won by 2,241 seconds over Perkins. Christian McGhee, 21, came from the back row to third, 8.275 seconds behind Jones. Nick Joanides, Huddleston, Lucas McNeil, and Dean Thompson (minus hood and front fenders after the first lap multi-car crash) also completed 35 laps. Four cars did not finish and were unable to race in the second main, which was event three on the busy seven event program.
Winner Jones, from Scottsdale, AZ, drove the same Racecar Factory-built No. 55 that his brother Jagger drove to his first Irwindale late model victory on September 8, 2018 at age 16, one month and ten days. Jace won his first late model main earlier this season in the same car during April at the half-mile Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield.
Victorious Jones stopped at the finish line for the traditional PA interview with Tim Huddleston, his car owner and IS co-promoter. Jace said, “Thanks to all my sponsors, HPR, my mom and dad (P. J. Jones–a versatile driver of sports cars, stock cars, off-road trucks, and two-time Indy 500 starter), and to my grandparents (Judy and Parnelli Jones–the 1963 Indy 500 winner).” He added that once he found himself leading, he concentrated on being smooth and hitting his marks.
2ND LM 35: Eight cars started the second main and used a six-car inverted starting lineup based upon the first race finish. That put Jones outside row three and had McNeil and Huddleston in row one. Drivers ran 35 quick laps under the green light and finished the 11:51.278 race with a winning average speed of 88.573 mph. Huddleston led lap one. Fourth starter McGhee executed an inside pass at turn four on lap 2 and led the last 34 laps. Huddleston experienced a mechanical problem and gradually faded to fifth place, five seconds off the lead.
Jones took second on lap 3, but Perkins passed him on lap 9 and closed quickly on leader McGhee. The duo waged an entertaining dogfight from lap 15 to the lap 35 checkers with McGhee outside and challenging Perkins on the inside, trailing by a length or two. At the finish both cars came off turn four with the winner in doubt. McGhee edged Perkins by 0.170.
McGhee started at IS in bandolero and legend cars. He won his first half-mile main in 2013 driving an Irwindale Race Truck. He won two late model mains in 2015 and four more in 2016. He has been racing in the touring Spears Mfg SWT Series for super late models in recent years. He teamed with car owner Kevin Bowles and drove the No. 7 Chevy that Ryan Schartau drove to victory July 4 in the second 40-lap main.
McGhee, from Claremont, told the crowd via the PA mic, “Perkins ran me so incredibly clean all the way.” He thanked Irwindale Speedway for promoting the track and added, “That (victory) will make my dad (his former No. 71 late model car owner Loyd McGhee, who watched from a suite) and my sister proud.”
POINTS: Irwindale late model points before Saturday showed the top five as: Perkins (648), Vargas (624), Jones (608), Joanides (594) and McNeil (562). After both 35-lap races Saturday the new point rankings show a shake-up in postions two through four. Point leader Perkins, seeking his first IS late model championship, has 744 points. Jones jumped from third to second and has 704. Joanides climbed from fourth to third with 682. Vargas, with a P. 9-non-finish in the first 35, and a DNS in the second race, slipped from second to fourth with 658 points. McNeil is fifth with 640.
ENDURO 35: The second event sandwiched between the two late model mains was a 22-car enduro race with four-cylinder sedans divided into stock and sport classes. Separate points were awarded for each class. The race used a six-turn “roval” course on the third-mile with a mid-backstretch jog into the infield and a cone-marked detour to the finish line on the half-mile. All stock class cars started in front of the faster sport class cars.
Brad Stellman started second in his Honda Accord and led the first seven laps. Then sport class driver Bobby Ozman, the 14thstarter in his Acura Integra, led laps 8-12. Rodney Argo, the 20th starter in his No. 9 Honda Prelude, made an inside pass entering turn one and led laps 13-19. Ozman led laps 20-35 and beat Argo by 3.660 seconds for his first IS victory.
Mike DiGregorio and Stellman finished third and fourth overall in Honda Accords and were one-two in the stock class. Ian Rotundo was fifth overall in his No. 4 Honda Prelude and third in sport class points. Robert Rice (Honda Accord) finished seventh and was third in stock class points. Sixteen of 22 starters finished the 18-minute race.
FIGURE 8: Event four was a 25-lap Figure 8 race for 13 of the 18 four-cylinder sedans still able to compete. Former 410 ci sprint car owner/driver Rodney Argo, 46, from Gardena, drove his Honda Prelude and became the third race leader on lap 13. He won by almost a second over Robert Rice, the lap 4-12 leader. Rick Conti started second and led the first three laps.
Fans vocalized oohs and aahs and watched for close-calls at the infield intersection as drivers veered to avoid contact while gaining positions. Robbie Salcido, Conti, and Di Gregorio completed the top five with nine of 13 starters racing at the finish of a ten-minute race. Argo has won four of the six Figure 8 races this season. He has 23 total Irwindale feature victories in various enduro car events in two years racing at IS.
SKID PLATE CARS: Fifteen of the entered enduro cars started a scheduled 20-lap contest on the third-mile. Austin Lee, from Rancho Cucamonga, started on pole and led every lap. He won by a full lap over Mike McIntyre. R. Rice, R. Salcido and the winner’s sister Ashley Rice completed the top five. Eight of 12 finishers were down one lap in the 15-lap race that took 11:28.046.
The winner averaged 39.242 mph using metal skid plates on the back axle instead of tires. He has won three of the four skid plate races this season and has five total IS victories in the economical, fun-class racing series. He drives one of three identically painted dark red team cars with his sister and father Wayne in team cars.
The next event was the familiar Pick Your Part pickup truck “Inferno” with an aircraft jet-engine mounted in the truck bed. It again burned down an old enduro sedan in the infield near the light pole. Chunks of fiery metal and debris flew about 30-yards behind the the red, smoking hulk of metal. Track co-promoter Huddleston told spectators track staff collect all metal and recyclables for recycling after each N of D event.
TRAILER RACE: The always popular trailer race (the fifth of 2019) concluded on-track events. Eighteen vehicles towed jet skis, large and small boats, house trailers, and even a merry-go-round containing three pink cardboard elephants. From a two-by-two standing start on the third-mile, smashing and bashing began in earnest. Three drivers led the unscored event. Three old mobile homes/campers placed on the front striaght were demolished quickly. Drivers smashed trailers of fellow competitors and tried to earn the approval of spectators by providing the most entertaining action and spectacular hits.
One frightening incident occurred about midway in the 20-minute event and caused a red flag. The No. 09 sedan driven by Neil England erupted into flames at the engine. Flames quickly enveloped the sides of the car as it moved down the backstretch. The driver bailed out of the car and was not injured. All drivers are required to wear flame-proof uniforms.The fire truck stationed at turn four of the half-mile rolled to the scene quickly and extinguished the large blaze.
Steve Cook, of Fontana, won fans approval as the winner in a four-driver contest. He drove the small red No. 99 sedan to his second consecutive trailer race victory. He told spectators he started the race with no water in the engine and drove it until it expired. Spectators cheers voted Robbie Salcido, Cheryl Hyland, and Bailey Maywald as the second through fourth place drivers respectively. Prior to the destructive race spectators voted Hyland’s decorated boat as the best decorated trailer entry.
The final event of the busy evening was a 12-minute aerial fireworks show launched from beyond the backstretch billboards with most track lights turned off. The packed grandstand began clearing at 10:30 pm, after another entertaining night. The next IS event on Saturday, September 14will be another ‘NASCAR Night” using the half and third-mile ovals.