IRWINDALE – NASCAR NIGHT – 280 LAPS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., May 8 – The latest NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series at Irwindale Speedway Saturday presented eight racing divisions on the half and third-miles. For the second consecutive month, Los Angeles County allowed only one-third of seating capacity attendance with pre-purchased tickets. Approximately 1,700 persons attended. Racing started at 5:20 and concluded at 9:01 pm after 280 laps of main event competition. A total of 85 racing vehicles participated, including many first timers at IS.
Highlights of the event included twin 35-lap feature triumphs in the LKQ Pick Your Part NASCAR late model series by third generation driver Trevor Huddleston, 24. That brought the total IS main event victories by the three-time series champion to 65, only two short of the all-time track record 67 by retired champion Rip Michels.
Mini stock car racing returned to IS after an absence of three years and nine cars participated. Ford Pintos had competed at Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino and Willow Springs. With no race dates scheduled mini stock teams sought IS races. Promoter Tim Huddleston obliged with monthly races during NASCAR nights. Five of nine mini stock drivers were first-time IS competitors, including James Teeten, 19, from Ramona. He started sixth, was the third leader and paced the 30-lap race from lap 6 to the finish.
Other winners included truck racer Andrew Porter, 27, and Andy Partridge, 31, in the combined IRT trucks and YouRaceLA spec late models 40-lap main on the half-mile. Both drivers won all three times they met in 2021 in the combined series events that started six trucks and six cars. Winners both received 50-points. Porter used his post-race interview to announce he and his girlfriend were engaged.
Both overall enduro class winners came from the slower speed stock class that started all 13 cars in front of ten faster OHV-equipped sport class sedans. This week stock class drivers in the first two rows ran away from faster pursuers who had difficulty passing two-wide competitors. Stock drivers also have been more competitive this season and finished 1-2-3 in the second 25 lap main.
Other memorable victories went to 15-year old INEX Legends driver Christian Bazen in a 13-car field. He set his second consecutive fastest qualifying time during the afternoon and won his second IS feature ever and second in a row. He thanked his family and wished his mom happy mother’s day one day early. In keeping with the dominance by track series point leaders, veteran late model and super stock driver Craig Rayburn, 57, set his third fastest qualifying time and won his third IS monthly street stock main in a Camaro.
Touring SW Tour truck series 2020 champion Ron Davis, Jr, from Whittier, did not post a qualifying time during mid-afternoon qualifying with seven trucks present. He started his No. 78 Chevy Silverado last. He had won the first two 2021 SWT races recently at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu, AZ. Starting last, he had to bide his time as trucks from second to fourth raced two-wide early. Then he pounced and led the final eight laps in a 25-lap contest on the half-mile.
Enduro winners were 2020 sport class champion Bobby Ozman, from 20th starting, for his first trophy of 2021, and 17th starter Ian Rotundo for his fourth victory of the season. Ozman drove a 1998 Acura Integra and Rotondo wheeled a 2001 Honda Prelude. Stock class winners in the two enduro mains were Robbie Salcido, from second, who led all the way, and John Beard, from fifth, who led the final 17 laps. The stock victors drove a Honda Accord and a 1990 Toyota Celica respectively.
Several new sponsors adorned hoods and sides of race cars in various divisions. They included the speedway’s roofer Everlast Roofing, of Glendora, on a SWT truck and a mini stock. So Cal-based “91 and Up” energy drink (signifying 91 octane type energy) was on George Perret’s former No. 77 SWT truck. He switched his truck number from 77 to 91
Other competitors who finished in the top five in their series offered prime locations on their cars/trucks for sponsorships such as tires, fuel, or even pit pass funds. Last season at IS during the pandemic fans were not allowed in the grandstand and teams raced for season point fund money only. They are doing so again this year and the track is also paying cash in each division to the first five finishers in every main event.
1ST PYP LM Main: The 13-car race was event one and started straight-up by qualifying times. Fast timer Huddleston, who will turn 25 on May 31, started his No. 50 HPR Chevy on pole and led all 35 circuits. Ryan Schartau, 18, started fourth in the sponsorless Kevin Bowles Chevy and ran second all the way. He trailed by 0.521. Dean Thompson started second in the RCF-built HPR No. 51 Chevy and placed third (0.789 back). Jake Drew, in the HPR No. 56 Chevy, was fourth and Nick Joanides fifth. Eight drivers finished 35 laps with only one non-finisher. The all-green event took 11:45.380 and averaged 89.314 mph.
The second LM feature was the final race and used an eight-car inverted starting lineup based on race one finishing positions. Eighth starter Huddleston was fourth by lap 5 and first on lap 6 via an inside pass entering turn one. He beat teammate Thompson by 0.633 with Schartau 3.059 in arears. Drew and Lucas McNeil completed the top five.
All 12 starters were on the track at the checkers. The race had two caution flags, including a lap 5 front straight spin by P.3 Dustin Vandermooren after contact. All cars avoided his broadside/stalled car. He returned to the race. Huddleston used his post-race interview by his dad to speak to spectators present and those watching on the internet. He said “happy mother’s day to all moms tomorrow and to my mom I love you.”
SWT trucks ran 25 all-green laps on the half-mile in 8:48.720 (85.111 mph). Ron Nava started second in series coordinator Jeff Williams’ Ford F-150 and led 17 laps. P 2-4, about 30-yards behind Nava, swapped positions and ran three-wide at times. Ron Davis, Jr. took second on lap 14 and closed ground quickly on Nava. He took the lead on lap 18 with an inside pass entering the second turn. He opened a 30-yard advantage by the lap 25 checkers. Fast timer Curtis Burns, from Arizona, took second from Nava on lap 20 and trailed by 1.536 at the finish. Nava, Michael Kelperis and George Perret followed and all ran 25 laps.
IRT Trucks/Spec LM 40: The combined series was the third event on the half-mile. Both divisions have similar laps times and the 12 vehicles (six trucks and six cars) raced for separate points and top five money. Trucker Dennis Arena led lap 1 from the front row. Fourth starter A. Porter led laps 2-40 in his No. 7 truck. P. 5 starter A. Partridge (No. 21 spec LM) ran second for the final 23 laps and trailed Porter by 0.719 at the end. Both received 50 points and added to their point leads.
Kenny Smith, Porter’s 74-year old maternal grandfather, started first in the No. 77 spec LM owned by Joe Nava, who offered it to him because Kenny’s own No. 43 received major damage at the last race. Smith diced early with his grandson and on the final lap almost took second from Partridge exiting turn four with the checkers waving. He trailed Partridge by 0.124. Truck fast timer Jacob McNeil was fourth, four seconds off the lead. Spec LM vet Troy Andersen, 25, placed fifth. Remarkably, all 12 starters finished 40 laps with 15 seconds separating first from last. The three-way battle for tenth involved two colorful cars (orange and turquoise blue) and a flourescent yellow truck that diced all the way for the final three positions.
> The mini stock race had all Ford Pintos and six of nine drivers were IS newcomers. Joe Perez, 58, who raced super late models at IS in the early years (1999 on), led three laps. Jim Snow led laps 4-5. Then sixth starter James Teeten, 19, took control and led the final 25 laps. He won by more than half a lap (12 seconds) over Snow. Final lead lap driver Perez was 13 seconds back. Greg Didoha, from Mohave, and Jason Young logged 29 laps. The 15-minute event had one caution flag.
> INEX Legends 35: A field of 13 raced 35 laps and Tyler Hicks led the initial 22. The 6-minute event had three yellows and a 15-minute red flag to clean a lap 17 oil spill in the third and fourth turns. The first five runners ran virtually nose-to-tail from laps 10-20 and exchanged positions. Teenager Bazen was in P.4 at the red flag. He jumped to second at the restart green and executed an inside pass of Hicks on lap 23 for the lead. He expanded it to ten yards by lap 30. Evan Garvy, 20, from San Juan Capistrano, charged to within 0.253 in the final two laps and almost caught Bazen. Legends vets Hicks, Chad Schug and Mike Vanderlip followed in P. 3-5. Eight drivers ran all 35 laps as 12 of 13 finished the racy event.
> Street stocks 30: Camaro drivers Tyler Gallup and Robby Harryman led opening laps before sixth starter Rayburn took command and won by 1.923 seconds over Covina’s Jay Verduzco. Gallup, 27, from Beaumont, began trailing smoke from the right side of his engine on lap 4 and dropped to P. 4 on lap 5. He continued and made it to the finish line four seconds in back of the winner. Harryman and Jim Vermillion also logged 30 laps; Kirk Kubik ran 29. The all-green race took 8:39.567 and averaged 69.219 mph.
> Enduro twin 25s: The two enduros were events two and seven on the eight divisions, ten features program. The series used its usual kidney-bean shaped six-turn course with jogs into the backstretch infield and onto the half-mile front straight at start/finish. Orange cones and large tires marked the course. R. Salcido started his Honda Accord second and opened a 40-yard advantage by lap 8 while lapping slower cars. He even lapped a pair of sport class cars in the closing laps as cars exchanged positions every lap.
Sport class reigning champion Bobby Ozman started 20th and took second on lap 23. He trailed the winner by 4.223 seconds in the all-green 9:55.246-timed race that averaged 75.599 mph. Former sprint car driver Rodney Argo placed third overall, 5.229 back and second in the sport class. Stock class champ Robert Rice was fourth overall and second in the stock class. Ozman set a new track record during 3:15 qualifying. His 23.190 (77.620 mph) broke his own mark of 23.430 set on July 28, 2018. Three others—Argo, Rotundo and Rice—also beat the old record with Argo’s 23.343 second best.
John Beard started the second enduro fifth and passed lap 1-8 leader Tony Price on lap 9. He began lapping on lap 9 as faster sport class sedan drivers experienced difficulty in getting through two and three-wide traffic. Fellow stock class driver Chris Voight and R. Rice finished second and third, 9.1 and 10.9 seconds back. Sport class winner I. Rotundo was 11.1 seconds back and fourth overall. Ozman was fifth overall and second in the sport class. Twenty of 21 starters finished with ten drivers on the lead lap. The all-green race took 9:42.521 and averaged 77.250 mph. Ozman’s 79.869 mph lap was the quickest of the race.
The next scheduled IS racing event will be another monthly NASCAR night on Saturday, June 12. Co-promoter Huddleston announced at the pit meeting that he expects grandstand attendance restrictions to be removed by LA County authorities before the big events scheduled for July, Another Spears Mfg tripleheader with super late models, modifieds and pro late models will be run July 17.