IRWINDALE NASCAR NIGHT & MOTORHOME MAYHEM – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA, Jun. 12 – Irwindale Speedway advertised Saturday night of action as “Motorhome Mayhem / NASCAR Night” on the half and third-mile ovals. With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions eased, more spectator tickets were available. All 4,100 tickets were sold on line before race night. “Race sold out” was posted on the IS website Friday and signs on Live Oak Ave. advised arriving fans no tickets were available. It was the most spectators in the 6,500 seat grandstand since the February, 2020 Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown.
The event Saturday attracted 111 racing vehicles in ten series, including two traveling series, and two divisions with separate class winners in the same race. The racing schedule was so full that three preliminary main events took place between 5:00-6:00 pm shortly after spectator gates opened. The So Cal heat wave was into the 90s earlier during time trials and still 88 degrees when features started.
The first of two Tucker Tire enduro 18-car features opened racing at 5:09. It ran in the usual counter-clockwise direction on the third-mile and completed 30-caution-free laps in nine minutes with four leaders. All ten slower stock sedans started in front of eight faster (OHC) sport class cars. Overall winner Rick Conti (1999 Acura Integra) started 13th and led the final 15 laps after lap 4-15 leader Rodney Argo pulled into the infield with a mechanical failure. Robert Rice (Honda Accord) won the stock class after starting sixth and placing fourth overall. It was his 61st IS main event triumph, moving him to third place on the list of most IS victories.
Then at 5:25 a season-high 15 mini stocks ran 25-laps on the third-mile. There were seven first-time IS drivers who usually race at Orange Show Speedway. Three drivers—Joe Perez, Henry French and Austin Edwards—led. Edwards, a 16-year old former bandolero and junior late model driver from Mentone, started the Jim Mardis No. 51 Ford Pinto sixth and led laps 5-25. He beat former modified driver Kyle Clyne by 40-yards. All 13 starters finished with nine on the lead lap. The only yellow flag in the 12-minute contest flew on lap 19.
The third event was the new Bill McAnally Racing Drivers Academy race using Toyota Camrys on the half-mile. The four drivers present also ran a 35-lap event at 8 pm during Friday night practice for all divisions. Cole Moore, from Nor Cal, won that event over Gabe Sommers, from Wisconsin, Amber Balcaen, from Canada, and Jolynn Wilkinson, from Alabama. Moore won the first eight races in the series at Roseville from March 26 to May 15. Academy drivers also raced road courses in Willows and Sonoma during May. The June 11-12 Irwindale races were events 11 and 12 of a 30 race schedule at five California speedways.
Sommers, 17, set the fast time of 18.967 Saturday and started second. Second quickest Balcaen, 29, started on pole. Moore, 23, and Wilkinson, 16, started in row two. The second BMRDA 35-lap race started at 5:44 and concluded at 5:59 with two stage breaks after 10 and 25 laps. A yellow flag flew to signal all four cars to reposition two by two for the green flag. Sommers led all 35 laps for his first victory in the series. There were no passes. Balcaen, Moore and Wilkinson finished second through fourth. Sommers won the 15:17.180 race by 4.021 seconds. Moore was 5.288 off the lead and Wilkinson trailed by 6.934 seconds.
Following the National Anthem at 6:45, the touring Spears Mfg Modified Series raced 60 laps with 14 cars. The series competes at three California speedways and has nine races booked from February to October. After racing on the IS third-mile twice this season, the modifieds used the half-mile this time.
Fastest qualifier Jeremy Doss, from Upper Lake, drew sixth grid position after the eight quickest qualifiers drew starting positions. At 6:53 second FQ/P. 2 starter Travis Thirkettle led 24 laps by as much as 35 yards. Then a yellow flag flew after two cars spun. Third place Jim Mardis’ engine was smoking, causing him to slow; he pulled into the infield.
A two-by-two restart had Doss, who took second on lap 8, inside and hometracker Thirkettle, 43, outside in his RCF-built No. 5T. Doss, 24, took command on lap 25 and defeated Thirkettle by 2.104 seconds at the 7:24 pm checkers from Spears series starter Neil Dawson. William Guevara, modified rookie Andrew Anderson, and Travis McCullough completed the top five. Ten drivers finished the 31-minute event with eight on the lead lap.
Point leader Eddie Secord (655) placed sixth. Entering the event Doss ranked second in points (648) despite winning two series features this year. McCullough, also a two-time winner, had 639 and Thirkettle 625 in the close battle for the championship. Doss now leads with 828. Secord has 805, Thirkettle 795, and McCullough 794. Doss has three wins (two at IS and one at Bakersfield). McCullough, from Lodi, scored victories at IS and Roseville.
1ST PYP Pro Late Model 30: Twelve cars started at 7:34 on the half-mile in qualifying order. Fast timer Trevor Huddleston, 25, led all 30-laps from the pole in a caution-free 10:05.598 race. He averaged 89.168 mph. It was his 66th Irwindale feature victory, second only to 67 by retired Rip Michels. When interviewed at the finish line by his father Tim (pit announcer/promoter) he said his dad celebrated his 51st birthday a day earlier and can no longer say he is his son’s car number 50.
Three RCF-built HPR Chevy team cars took the top three positions. Fourth starter Dean Thompson, 20, trailed by 0.330. Second starter Jake Drew, 21, was third, 2.346 seconds from the lead. All three HPR drivers raced in a 22-car ARCA West race at the Sonoma road course a week earlier. Ryan Schartau started fifth and finished fourth, 0.123 in back of Drew.
Third starter Lawless Alan, 21, placed fifth. The 2018 IS late model champion is now a University of Alabama junior majoring in business administration. Series rookie Cody Kiemele, 14 years and 11 months, started and finished sixth. Past champion Nick Joanides also completed 30 laps, as did Lucas McNeil and Dustin Vandermooren. Three drivers logged 29 laps. Huddleston clocked the fastest lap of 92.555 mph.
Next up was the second Tucker Tire enduro that ran 20 laps with one brief caution for two spinning cars. The event switched directions and cars ran the third-mile in a clockwise direction. Chris Voight started second in a Honda Accord and led every lap for the overall and stock class victory. Robert Rice, from tenth, was 2.150 behind Voight and second overall. Ian Rotundo (2001 Honda Prelude) came from 11th grid position to third overall and first in the sport class. He edged sport class reigning champion Bobby Ozman (1998 Acura Integra) by 0.173. John Beard’s stock Honda Accord placed fifth overall with 14 of 17 starters still racing.
Event six started at 8:06 and was the combined spec late model/Irwindale race trucks scheduled 35-lap race. Six cars and five trucks (that have similar race times) started..The FQ in each division started in rows two and three. Polesitter Jacob McNeil put his truck out front for nine laps. Truck point leader Andrew Porter, 27, took the lead on lap 10 as spec LM point leader Andy Partridge, 31, climbed to P.3.
On lap 28 the cars of Kenny Smith and Partridge collided entering turn three. Partridge’s Robert Arevalo No. 21 shot up the track, slammed nose first into the wall, briefly got airborne.and swapped ends before stopping at the crashwall. Smith’s Joe Nava No. 77 slammed into the crashwall on the right side and stopped against the wall at turn four. The No. 30 car and No. 3 truck also received damage and stopped at the scene. There is a 3:42 video of the crash on YouTube.com titled “Terrifying Crash at Irwindale Speedway June 2021”.
All involved drivers were talking thanks to mandatory use of a HANS device. However, an ambulance took Smith, the 74 year old oldest-ever series champion at IS, to LA County-USC Medical Center for tests and overnight observation. He was released Sunday and returned home. The red flag and track cleanup work and removal of heavily damaged cars consumed 36 minutes. The race was called complete after 27 laps. Finish–Porter, McNeil, Troy Andersen, rookie Dylan Interlicchia, Dennis Arena, Niko Mongenel, first -time racer/YouRaceLA driving school graduate Robin Andrews. P 8-11 were: Partridge, Smith, Nevin Iwatsuru and L. J. Billings.
Racing returned to the third-mile at 8:57 for the INEX Legend Cars scheduled 30 lap race. It was cut to 20 laps because of the lengthy red flag. A season-high 15 cars started with a five-car inverted lineup by qualifying times. Tyler Hicks led lap one from the pole. Then late model vet/third starter Lawless Alan paced laps 2-13 with the top three cars nose-to-tail.
Fastest qualifier/rookie Evan Garvy, 20, from San Juan Capistrano, took second on lap 5. He took first from Alan with an inside pass entering turn three. He won by 0.200 over Alan, with Hicks 0.780 back. Mike Vanderlip and rookie Jim Andrews followed. It was Garvy’s first triumph. He used the Ricky Schlick-owned No. 33 sedan, the former IS championship car he bought from Darren Amidon before he moved to North Carolina.
Nine of 13 finishers were on the lead lap. A pair of first-time 15-year old racers were Gavin Ray, from Las Vegas, and Nathan Quella, from Yorba Linda. They finished eighth and tenth respectively after error-free runs. Quella is the great grandson of Danny Quella, a famous Indy Car chief mechanic (1950s-70s) for DA Lubricants Specials.
Street stocks had the scheduled 25 lap main on the third-mile reduced to 20 laps because of time constraints. The race ran from 9:26 to 9:41. Ten cars (primarily Camaros) started with fastest qualifier Jay Henson outside row three. It was still 72 degrees and the humidity was 44%. Jim Vermillion’s Chevy Monte Carlo led the first three laps from the pole. Henson’s Camaro led laps 4-13; recent winner Craig Rayburn paced laps 14-20. However, a lap 15 caution and warning to Rayburn from the starter for jumping the restart a second time resulted in his car not being scored after lap 14. He finished ninth.
Henson, who ran the fastest lap of 72.356 mph, won by 0.313 over Kevin James. Lloyd Wren, a 37-year old from Bakersfield, placed third in his No. 87 Camaro. It was the first IS race for the Bakersfield Speedway veteran driver. Vermillion, Kirk Kubic (who is selling all three of his race cars because of his cancer), Tyler Gallup, and Rod Proctor claimed P. 4–7. The first dropout leaked oil in several turns that required use of oil dry and about 15 minutes for track sweeping.
Action returned to the half-mile for the second Pro LM 30 lapper which was cut to 25 laps because of earlier delays. The first eight finishers from the first LM main were inverted, placing L. McNeil and Joanides on the front row and winner Huddleston outside row four. McNeil (No. 78) paced the first seven circuits. Thompson took second on lap 3 and executed an inside pass exiting turn four on lap 8 for the lead he retained to the lap 25 checkered flag. He won by 40-yards (2.069 seconds).
Impressive series rookie and junior late model graduate Cody Kiemele started third and finished second. He is the almost 15-year old son of LM driver Rob Kiemele, of San Bernardino. McNeil, Drew, Alan, Joanides and Brian Pannone all completed 25 laps and placed fourth through eighth. The race had one lengthy caution flag after a four car crash in turn three and took 26 minutes. McNeil ran the fastest lap of 91.538 mph.
The lap 2 four car grinding crash entering the third turn involved the cars of Schartau, Huddleston, Vandermooren and Andersen. All four cars were damaged too heavily to continue. Drivers all escaped injury, but the red flag flew for 18-minutes as wreckers removed cars and for track cleanup. Time lost because of the two red flags and an oil spill totaled about 70 minutes.
With the late model checkers at 10:27, management moved the ten minute aerial fireworks show forward a spot in the program. Track lights were dimmed and the eagerly anticipated pyrotechnic show was launched from beyond the backstretch from 10:30 to 10:40. The temperature was still 70 and humidity was 48%.
The patient crowd remained in place and watched the final event—14 mini RVs or motorhomes towing trailers with boats compete in a 20-lap Figure 8 race. It ran from 10:53 to 11:03 pm. Drivers were enduro sedan racers, Their lumbering RVs negotiated the infield X-zone with no major crashes. A glancing blow to a trailer removed one trailer wheel. So all 14 RVs prepared by IS “master of disaster” Robert Rice should be ready to race again next month. Rice led all 20 laps and only lost the lead briefly for part of a lap.
IS will be racing on three consecutive Saturday nights–July 3, 10 and 17. Following the June 15 California reopening for business and full capacity crowds at sports events edict by government officials, IS management expects complete sellouts for those dates. They advise fans to buy tickets early to secure a seat.