IRWINDALE SPEARS MFG ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN – By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES – The fourth annual Spears Mfg All-Star Showdown triple-header took place January 21 at Irwindale Speedway and all races used the progressively banked half-mile. More than 5,000 persons attended and the event screened live nationally via pay per view. The super late model event was the first 2023 point race for the western states Spears SRL Series. It also was the first of eight SRL National Series point races at six speedways in five states from January through September.
The Spears All-Star Showdown continued the Toyota All-Star Showdown at IS from 2003 through 2011 under NASCAR sanction. Three Spears divisions practiced Thursday and Friday. After a rainy month in California, the sunny weekend had blue sky and 67 degrees for qualifying Saturday from 2:00 to 4:15 pm. It was still 52 degrees when racing concluded minutes before the 10 pm track curfew.
Super late models raced for $72,350 with additional Spears bonuses adding $12,950 for fastest qualifying time and other reasons. The feature winner received $25,000 cash. The pro late models winner received $10,000 cash, and the modified winner received $5,000 cash. All three winners received their money in unique glass trophies built by IS champion driver Ryan Partridge. Winners trophies were topped by a piston or rear end gear and contained visible packs of circulated $20 and $100 bills visible inside the locked glass trophy base. Winners received a key to open their trophy after cars passed tech inspection.
The event attracted 78 cars–29 super late models, 34 pro late models, and 15 modifieds. Drivers, including three females, came from 11 states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. One driver came from Canada. All drivers raced. The SLM started straight-up with fastest qualifiers in front. Pro late models inverted eight and modifieds inverted the four fastest qualifiers.
Modifieds opened the feature competition at 5:00 with a 15-car, 75-lap race without a mid-race break. Fastest qualifier Travis Thirkettle, 44, started fourth, passed early leader Travis McCullough on lap 26 and beat him by 0.680 in a 31-minute contest. It was his 42nd IS feature victory, eighth most at IS. Second generation driver Thirkettle won seven of the nine Spears Modified Series races last season, including all four races at Irwindale. He has won seven consecutive Spears modified features–four at IS and three at Bakersfield—since April 2, 2022. He drove his own Racecar Factory-built No. 5T. Fourteen drivers finished with 11 on the lead lap. McCullough ran the fastest lap at 93.960 mph. Andrew Anderson, Coloradan Holly Clark, 17, and Jimmy Sloan completed the top five.
The featured SLM 200-lap race had a mid-race break of eight minutes after all cars stopped at their infield pit at the third-mile oval. Teams could make adjustments and change four tires, one side at a time. Fastest qualifier Kole Raz, 19, from Oregon, led the first 100 laps in a Ford Fusion and had a 1.5 second lead at the break. Central Californian Jacob Gomes, 28, a three-time Spears SLM feature winner last season (including an Irwindale 100-lap race in May), started fourth and was second after 100-laps. In a double-file restart he shot the No. 16 Toyota Camry into the lead entering turn three and led the final 100-laps.
National SLM star Bubba Pollard, 35, from Georgia, started his own Phoenix Construction-sponsored No. 26 Chevy ninth and was sixth at the break. He moved into third at lap 105 with 19 cars still on the lead lap. He was third on lap 140 and sixth on lap 150. A two-car tangle with Texan Barrett Polhemus in turn four caused him to drop out after 171 laps. Blaine Rocha, 24, started second and ran second to lap 155 when he also retired.
Spears veteran John Moore, 59, started sixth and inherited second when Rocha pitted. He held second to the finish and trailed Spears 2022 champion Gomes by 3.548 seconds. Moore tied his best Spears career finish. He had Spears multi-champion Derek Thorn helping him in the pits and sharing his IS speed secrets. Thorn’s No. 43 from Bakersfield, with which he won the most recent Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL., was not entered at IS. Gomes ran the fastest lap of 17.683 (101.793 mph).
Past Spears SLM and modified champion Jeremy Doss, placed third, 7.662 back. Texan Chris Davidson, and Coloradan Darren Robertson (rookie of the race) completed the top five. Chris Eggleston, Andy Allen, rookie Sean Hingorani, 16, Jace Hansen, and Cale Kanke completed the top ten. Fourteen of 19 finishers ran 200 laps. Dan Holtz took second position from Moore on lap 178 and was 40-yards behind Gomes on lap 190. Holtz slowed on lap 196 out of fuel and continued slowly before stopping at the first turn infield with the checkered flag waving. He logged 197 laps officially and placed 17th in the two hours, four minutes race. Two red flags were required to clear the track of oil.
The final race at 8:40 pm was the 100-lap pro late model race with 34 starters and a break after 50-laps for adjustments and tires. Two caution flags for spins or crashes and a ten-minute red flag on lap 35 were necessary. Ryan Martin’s No. 57 spun down the front straight and its right rear climbed the K-rails protecting the infield. It struck photographer Tom Macht, knocking him to the ground. He rose quickly with only a sore shoulder. “I’m okay,” he told EMTs in the ambulance. It took ten-minutes to remove his car from its perch on the K-rail.
Sean Woodside started second and led seven laps. Linny White came from row three to lead laps 8-39 in Clay Wooster’s new No. 55 Chevy SS. His Wooster teammate Jeffrey Peterson, 31, started seventh and was second from lap 11 until lap 40 when he passed his teammate and led through the lap 50 half-time break. All drivers were told only five green flag laps remained because of the approaching track curfew.
The Wooster teammates battled for the lead and were joined by fastest qualifier Dylan Zampa with urgency to get the lead quickly. On lap 53 the three leading cars could be covered by a blanket. Contact occurred and a right front hit the left rear of Peterson’s outside running No. 90 (White’s former ride). Peterson’s car swapped ends and hit the crash-wall on the driver’s side. He was uninjured. As the top five drivers were being interviewed. an angry crewman rushed to the site and confronted a driver in the three-way dogfight. Wooster’s No. 90 team had “No comment” later in the pits.
A two-car crash at the turn three crash-wall on lap 56 and a collision between two more cars in turn four, required track clean-up work. So at 9:57 officials called the race complete after 55 laps because of the 10 pm curfew. White, 44, received the $10,000 cash. Woodside, 50, finished 0.928 behind him. Fastest qualifier/eighth starter D. Zampa, 19, from Napa, was third (-0.950). Nick Joanides, 52, and Trevor Huddleston, 26, completed the top five with 23 drivers on the lead lap. Zampa ran the fastest lap of 19.164 (93.926 mph). A ten minute aerial fireworks show followed at 10:00 pm.