Irwindale, CA., Apr. 10 – Irwindale Speedway welcomed back a limited number of spectators with pre-purchased tickets to witness Saturday afternoon / evening Spears Mfg Series and NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series competition. Los Angeles County pandemic regulations as of April 1 allowed up to one-third of seating capacity to attend sports events and required wearing of masks.
Approximately 1,700 fans arrived early and remained throughout six hours of racing action on the half and third-mile ovals. The unprecedented gigantic IS event offered eight racing divisions and ten main events as an incentive to entice fans back to the speedway. There were 465 main event laps raced. All available on-line tickets were sold by Friday according to track co-promoter Tim Huddleston
The second of three scheduled Spears Mfg 2021 events at IS had all three Spears divisions in action. Spears modifieds and Spears pro late models used the third-mile and Spears SRL Southwest Tour super late models used the half-mile. Augmenting that usual “ Spears Night”, five local NASCAR series also used both ovals. They were: LKQ Pick Your Part pro late models, INEX Legends, Tucker Tire enduro sedans, street stocks, and the combined YourRaceLA spec late models/Irwindale race trucks.
The three Spears touring series had 65 cars. Five NASCAR divisions at IS added 64 racing vehicles for a total of 129. Pro LM had 11 cars, Legends 14, enduros 18, street stocks nine, and spec LM/trucks 12 (six cars and six trucks). Expanded pits stretched from beyond turn two to behind the grandstand and almost to the administration building east of turn four. Starters were Noel Dawson for Spears events and the usual IS starter for NASCAR races.
Drivers came from seven states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. All divisions practiced Friday from 3:00 to 9:30 pm. Saturday practice for Spears divisions ran from 9:30 to 11:15 am. IS divisions had practice and group qualifying from 11:15 to 12:55 pm. Spears cars qualified from 1:25 to 3:00 pm with two individual laps per car and the temperature in the upper 70s. No track records were set.
Opening ceremonies took place at 3:15. Racing started at 3:30and concluded at 9:37 pm. Spears divisions were the third, fifth and seventh races. The entire racing program was televised live to subscribers by Low Budget TV with commentary by IS track announcers Tommy Mason and Jeffrey Best. Racing was taped and will be telecast on the MAVTV Network on a date to be determined.
SPEARS SWT SLM presented by Earnest Perfomrance 100: Twenty-nine drivers practiced and 28, including seven series rookies, started the 100-lap feature with no scheduled mid-race break. Fastest qualifier Brandon Farrington, a 24-year old rookie from Tucson, started sixth after the eight quiickest qualifiers drew for starting positions one through eight. Series rookie Buddy Shepherd, 21, started on pole and led to lap 55.
Seventh starter Derek Thorn passed Spears February 6 Irwindale feature winner/Las Vegas resident Preston Peltier, the point leader, for second on lap 8. Thorn, 34, dueled outside-running Shepherd closely for more than half the race. Thorn used an inside move exiting turn four to take the lead from fellow Bakersfield resident Shepherd after tapping and moving his car up the track. Thorn could not be caught and opened a two-second lead as Shepherd’s No. 22 faded with a problem and was sixth by lap 60.
Tenth starter Jacob Gomes, the 2015 series champion, was third by mid-race and at times ran faster laps than the leader. He trailed Thorn by 2.403 seconds at the finish and recorded his best finish at Irwindale. Rookie Kole Raz, from Oregon, started fifth and finished his career-best third, 6.075 seconds off the lead. Long-time IS driver Christian McGhee, started and finished fourth, 7.490 back. Second generation driver Cale Kanke came from eighth starting to fifth and recorded his career-best result in the top Spears touring series.
Peltier, Farrington, Shepherd, Carlos Vieira and Oakdale’s Blaine Rocha completed the top ten in a 54-minute event. Jimmy Parker, Jr, Andy Allen, and Keith Spangler also completed all 100 laps. Twenty-four of 28 starters finished. Peltier, who logged the fastest race lap of 17.638 (102.052 mph), was fourth at a lap 17 red flag for a crash that totaled uninjured Dean Thompson’s car. Peltier and three other drivers went to the infield work area behind K-rails for adjustments under the red flag and had to restart at the back.
Thorn, a five-time Spears SLM champion, tied now retired series champion M. K. Kanke with six IS SLM victories. It was his record-increasing 51st victory in the series. He is an annual Snowball Derby SLM contender for victory in fields exceeding 35 skilled national drivers at Five flags Speedway in Pensacola, FL. He drove his usual Byron Campbell-owned Five-Star Bodies No. 43 with a Camry body to a $5,000 IS victory. The top five finishers stopped at the finish line for interviews. Thorn told spectators, “Shepherd had a really great car. I had to go when the opportunity arose. This thing was on rails. It’s great to have fans back in the stands. Love. it.”
SPEARS MODIFIEDS Optima Batteries 75: Series point leader Jeremy Doss, 24, fell short of his own one-lap track record and started eighth in a 16-car lineup. He intended to repeat his third-mile victory at IS on February 6 in the modifieds season-opener aboard the same No. 75 Eddie Wilcox-owned STR chassis. However, Travis McCullough, 35, had other ideas. The seventh fastest qualifier from Galt started fifth and was second by lap 5. He pressed second starter Travis Thirkettle, the first 11 laps leader.
Following a two-by-two restart after a caution flag, McCullough used the outside row to power into the lead on lap 12 entering turn one. He extended his lead as Doss passed Thirkettle on lap 20. He maintained his ten-yard advantage over Doss and won by 1.225 seconds. He earned $1,500. Runner-up Doss collected $1,000. Eddie Second started sixth and passed Thirkettle on the inside during the white flag lap to earn $800 in his own RCF-built No. 84. Thirkettle settled for fifth and $650 aboard his own No. 5T, which Jeff Schrader also built in his Irwindale RCF shop only blocks from IS.
Sam Jacks, a 20-year old series rookie from Las Vegas, placed fifth in a Pathfinder chassis. Veteran racing champion and crew chief Bill Sedgwick, 66, came from ninth to sixth. Andrew Anderson, a Spears rookie and 2011 IS S2 division champion, was seventh in his own new RCF No. 4. William Guevara, Jerry Toporek, and Jeff Longman, from Lehi, UT, completed the top ten. All 16 starters finished the 39-minute race with nine cars on the lead lap. Thirkettle logged the fastest lap at 15.614 (76.777 mph).
SPEARS PRO LATE MODELS presented by Sigma Performance 75: Doss, from Upper Lake, CA., made up for his P.2 in the modified feature by getting into the Spears pro late model No. 75 owned by his father Mike. He won $3,000 in a 32-minute contest also on the third-mile. Doss started fifth in a 19-car field and dueled with a pair of teenage brothers during the contest. The Reif and Zampa brothers, from Las Vegas and Napa, CA respectively, provided stiff competition despite limited experience at IS.
Tanner Reif, 15, started No. 43 on pole and led six laps over his 13-year old brother Tyler (No. 7). Tyler executed an inside pass in turn two and led laps 7-39. In a lap 40 three-way battle for the lead, Doss shot into the lead over Tyler R with No. 92z Dylan Zampa lurking in third. After three laps Tyler retook P1 and led laps 43-44. Doss used an inside fourth turn pass on lap 45 and took the top spot for good.
Zampa and Reif traded second on laps 48, 66 and 67. Doss won by 1.484 seconds over Dylan Z, 17, with Tyler R 2.882 back. Bakersfield’s Seth Wise, 16, was fourth and Logan Zampa, 20, fifth in a second No. 92 owned by dad Joey Zampa. Tanner Reif faded to eighth with 15 of 19 starters racing at the finish and 13 on the lead lap. Tyler R ran the quickest race lap of 15.542 (77.133 mph).
Doss, who won $20,000 at IS by winning two of three Spears features on February 6, stopped with the top five finishers and spoke to spectators. “I’m glad to be back here. I had a really good car on long runs. We’re three for three in this deal this year… (he also won at Stockton on March 13). Racing two cars makes me a better driver.” He thanked his dad and crew. All five drivers appreciated racing with spectators again in the grandstand.
LKQ PYP PRO LM: Twin 30-lap mains on the half-mile were the first and ninth mains. In the first 30 Ryan Schartau, 18, started third and led the final ten laps. Polesitter Jake Drew led the first 20 laps and dropped to fourth on lap 22. Dean Thompson and Lucas McNeil placed second and third. Dustin Vandermooren was fifth, 3.622 seconds off the lead. All ten starters finished and completed 30 laps. Drew turned the fastest lap at 91.879 mph while leading.
Second LM 30 (+ 5 laps): With the lengthy program running on time officials added five laps to race two. Drew, 21, made up for his miscue in race one by starting fifth and leading all the way in race two. Thompson took P2 from race-long runner-up Nick Joanides on lap 34 and trailed his HPR teammate by 3.102. Joanides was 4.673 behind Drew. Nevadan Tanner Reif, who skipped the first 30 and raced his No. 43 to P8 in the Spears main, joined the second NASCAR main. He started last in the 11-car field and placed fourth. McNeil was fifth. Polesitter John Sereika was sixth and the last lead lap driver.
An opening lap multi-car crash entering the first turn damaged several cars from wall contact. Schartau, Vandermooren and Kevin Furden cars were sidelined. All drivers escaped injury in the third red flag incident of the evening. Drew ran a 92.025 mph lap for fastest lap honors.The karting instructor, stock car 2020 IS rookie of the year, said, “I let one slip away in the first race. I owe so much to Bob Bruncati (IS co-promoter) for getting me this ride.” He also thanked Tim Huddleston and his HPR team.
Enduros (events two & eight): The division used the third-mile oval, not the usual six-turn “r-oval” course through the infield, and had 18 participants. Ten stock class and eight faster sport class sedans raced with separate points and winners. All stock class cars started in front of sport class cars.
First 25: Cheryl Hyland started on pole in her pink No. 3 Honda Accord and led three laps. Chris Voight led laps 4-6 as faster sport sedans worked through traffic. Former sprint car driver Rodney Argo came from 13thstarting to lead laps 7-13 in his 1999 Honda Prelude. Bory Mlina started 16th and led lap 14-23 in a Toyota Celica after passing two lapped cars and Argo on the outside in turn two. On lap 24 Argo returned to the lead in traffic on the inside exiting turn four and led the final two laps. He won by 1.424 over Ian Rotundo. Molina was third and Voight fourth. Stock class winner Kirk Kubik placed fifth with all 18 starters on track at the checkers. The all-green flag race took 7:53.190 and averaged 63.336 mph. Molina ran the quickest lap at 18.411 (65.113 mph).
Second 25: All 18 drivers returned for round two just before 8:00 pm. Poleman Joe Labrosciano led 11 laps. Rotundo (2001 Honda Prelude) started 15th and led laps 12-25 for the victory. Runner-up Argo came from 18th to second, 2.320 behind Rotundo. Rick Conti was third, 6.303 behind the winner. Labrosciano (Honda Accord) placed fourth overall and first in the stock class. Sport class 2019-20 champion Bobby Ozman was fifth as 17 of 18 drivers finished with ten on the lead serial. Molina ran the fastest lap at 18.181 (65.937 mph). He was second on the final lap when he crashed into the third turn wall with a lapped car and finished 11th.
Street Stocks 30: Nine primarily Camaro street stocks used a seven-car inverted starting lineup. FQ Craig Rayburn came from seventh in his Camaro and led the final 21 laps. Pole starter Robby Harryman (Camaro) led early and finished 30-yards behind Rayburn. Jay Verduzco started and finished third. Jim Vermillion and veteran Harry Michaelian (1973 Dodge Dart) completed the top five. All nine starters were running at the finish of a 12-minute contest with eight on the lead lap. Rayburn’s 16.786 (71.417 mph) was the quickest circuit.
INEX LEGENDS 30: With 14 Legends present, 13 took the green flag in event six. Saugus resident Christian Bazen, 15, stated eighth and took command on lap 13. He battled Chad Schug, a past track champion and first 12 laps leader, in a five-car lead pack. A two-car crash on lap 24 involved series veterans Schug and Tyler Hicks. Both returned and finished sixth and seventh.
Bazen retained the lead and won his first main event by 0.206 over newcomer Evan Garvy. Jordan Holloway, Mike Vanderlip, and Ethan Nacimento, from Ripon, CA, followed. Bazen’s 16.492 (72.690 mph) was the fastest race lap in a 1934 Ford replica coupe (No. 43). He told spectators it was awesome to win his first feature at Irwindale on a Spears Mfg race night because his father has worked for decades at Spears.
Race Trucks / Spec Late Models 35 (+ 5 laps): Race nine concluded before 9:00 pm so officials added five laps to event ten, making it 40 laps. There were six trucks and six spec late models in the combined lineup. Both series have similar race times. Separate points were awarded and there were two winners. The fastest qualifier started in row three. Trucker Jacob McNeil led laps 1-7 from the pole. Andrew Porter drove his truck from fifth to second by lap 4 and traded the position with spec LM driver Andy Partridge, who took the lead on lap 8. He had to relinquish the lead because of a caution flag.
Porter then drove his No. 7 truck from third to first and held P1 to the finish. Partridge trailed by 1.897 seconds and they each scored 50-points for class victories. Truckers Dennis Arena, Nico Mongenel and L. J. Billings completed the top five in a 36-minute event. A red flag on lap 2 for a two-car crash in the third turn sidelined 2019 spec LM champion Kenny Smith, 74. Other crashes eliminated four of the six spec late models. McNeil’s 20.499 (87.809 mph) was the fastest race lap.
The next Irwindale Speedway competition on Saturday, May 8will be another NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Racing Series event with the usual five divisions in action.