IRWINDALE – “NofD” SEASON OPENER – By Tim Kennedy
IRWINDALE, Calif.., Jan. 25 – Irwindale Speedway opened its 21st season Saturday with the first of seven scheduled “Night of Destruction” events so popular with fans of mayhem. A near capacity crowd of 6,500 attended on a mid-50s evening following a mid-70s afternoon. They watched the usual destructive events presented by LKQ Pick Your Part. Spectator cars were still entering the speedway parking lot in two lanes at 7:30 pm, half an hour after the scheduled first race. A CBS crew from Channel 2 was present early to document the opening.
Robert Rice, Irwindale’s “master of mayhem”, dominated. The gray-haired 50+ year old resident of Hawthorne won a track record four main events on the six racing event program. No other driver in two decades of IS oval track competition had accomplished that feat. He began his Irwindale career racing NASCAR late models after the speedway opened in 1999. He drove his usual orange No. 7 Pick Your Part-sponsored four-cylinder single overhead cam Honda Accord in two of his four victories.
Rice finished eighth overall in the combined SOHC (stock) and DOHC (sport) enduros 35-lap opening event. Rice received the P.1 trophy and 50-points as the stock class winner. Rodney Argo, a former 410 ci sprint car driver, won the faster sport class first place trophy and 50 points. The event on a six-turn “r-oval” course used parts of the third and half-mile ovals with a backstretch jog into the infield and another onto the half-mile front straight across the starting line.
Rice won his second victory in a 15-lap RV Figure 8 race driving one of seven bulky RVs, an orange No. 7. His third victory (aboard his No. 7 Honda) came in event four, a 14-car, 25-lap Figure 8 race. His fourth triumph came in a 15-lap skid place race on the six-turn “r-oval” course. He drove the all-pink No. 3 Honda Accord usually driven by friend Cheryl Hyland, the “mistress of mayhem”, at IS. She had bronchitis and did not race.
Rice facilitated the skid plate cars division at IS in 2009 by making all metal skid plates, which replace rubber tires on the back axle. His record four main event victories Saturday boosted his total Irwindale feature victories from 48 to 52. He moved from fifth to fourth all-time in total triumphs at IS and now trails third place (late model past champion Nick Joanides) by only three victories.
Tucker Tire Enduro 35: A 19-car field started all ten SOHC sedans in front of the faster DOHC sport class cars as usual. IS newcomer Mike Miller, 63, started his 1995 Honda from pole position and led the first 18 laps. The Barstow resident and recent enduro champion at Orange Show and Willow Springs tracks led comfortably until passed by 16th starter R. Argo on lap 19. Argo’s Honda Prelude led to the lap 35 checkers. He posted his 23rd career IS victory. Joseph Bereiter trailed by 0.834. Miller finished against the first turn crashwall after contact with another car on the final lap and escaped injury. The red flag flew with 15 of 19 starters on the track and eight on the lead lap.
RV Figure 8: Rice started his No. 7 RV from inside row two. He took the lead on lap 4 from early leader James Bolinas, a versatile enduro veteran. Rice won the eight-minute event easily over Robbie Salcido, from Perris. All seven RVs lumbered around the F-8 course and completed the event without incident at the X intersection. Bolinas, the last driver on the lead lap, placed third.
Flag Pole Race: Nine enduro cars used the same “r-oval” course with a flag centered in a huge tire placed between the third-mile fourth turn and the starting line on the half-mile. Drivers had to circle the flag pole/huge tire while evading oncoming cars using the same pavement. Joseph Bereiter started sixth in his No. 27 1998 Acura Integra and led all ten laps. He won by 35-yards over closing Joe Labrosciano’s No. 95. The all-green light race took 5:42.951. Ex-USAC midget owner/driver Kirk Kubik finished third. Rice was fifth in an orange No. 9 Honda. Six of eight finishers completed all ten laps.
Enduro Figure 8: Rice started fourth in his familiar orange No. 7 Honda. He led laps 12-25.after passing pole starter/early leader Bereiter, who stopped briefly at the X intersection to avoid two cars racing for position. The all-green flag race took 8:49.594 and averaged 64 mph. Rick Conti trailed by 0.369, with Labrosciano third, 0.899 off the lead. Bereiter finished fourth, John Beard fifth and R. Rice, Jr. sixth as the last lead lap driver.
Skid Plate: R. Rice started the 17-car, 15-lap race from pole position in the pink No. 3. He led the first eight and last two laps. He edged fast-closing 12thstarter Mike DiGregorio, the leading skid plate feature winner, by 0.430. Robbie Salcido was third, 5.2 seconds behind Rice. Past winner Austin Lee, the laps 9-13 leader, was slowed severely in a turn by a slower car and lost the lead. He “messed up” trying to catch Rice and dropped to fourth place, -6.9 seconds. Wayne Lee, the last lead lap driver, was sixth, 43-seconds off the lead. Rice averaged 39.908 mph. DiGregorio ran the fastest race lap at 43.773 mph.
Trailer Race: A fan-popular trailer race started 15 vehicles (sedans and pickup trucks) towing boats, jet-skis and various cargo on trailers on the third-mile oval. They ran 20+ unscored laps and tried to destroy trailer contents and parked old motor coaches in an entertaining manner to win favor with grandstand spectators, who voted for the winner by their cheers and applause. After 19+ minutes only five vehicles were still moving when the checkered flag concluded destruction. The top three as voted by spectators were R. Salcido, R. Rice and Andy Schoening (No. 3-16).
Other attractions during the “NofD” three plus hours were a jet-burn-down of an old sedan by the J-10 aircraft jet engine mounted on the back of the PYP “Inferno” pickup truck. As usual the fiery exhibition took place in the infield near the backstretch lightpole. A 12-minute aerial pyrotechincs show, launched from beyond the backstretch, kept fans in their seats until 10:23 pm.
The next IS event will be the inaugural Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame on Saturday, February 1. Spears Mfg SWT super late models will race for $25,000 to win and Spears Mfg modifieds will race for $5,000 to win also on the half-mile. Pro late models will race for $10,000 to win on the third-mile oval. More than 60 cars have pre-entered the event to date.