IRWINDALE SPEARS SWT TRIPLE-HEADER & CELEBRITIES RACE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA, May 20 – The second of three scheduled 2023 Spears Mfg SWT triple-headers and the first celebrity race at Irwindale Speedway since pre-COVID years took place Saturday. Drivers came from eight states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah. Eight Netflix movie and TV actors and a pair of KTLA channel 5 news personalities raced 20-laps on the half-mile prior to the Spears triple-header for modifieds, pro late models, and super late models. The live-streamed event attracted 4,500 spectators and raised $65,000 for TSC Alliance, a charity dedicated to finding a cure for tuberous sclerosis complex. Co-promoter Tim Huddleston’s college-age daughter has battled the affliction since age five.Ten celebrities qualified and raced spec late models built by Racecar Factory. Six competitors raced in the track’s driving school cars and four used privately-owned cars. IS winning drivers Ryan Partridge and his brother Andy trained celebrities individually in weeks prior to the race. Celebrities qualified in the 21 to 24-second bracket–(83 to 74 mph). The track record is 19.721 (91.273 mph. Celebrities started two abreast with fastest qualifiers in front. The caution-free race had close battles and several position changes.
Actor/producer Thad Luckinbill qualified second fastest in Robert Arevalo’s No. 20 and led all 20 laps. The 48-year old father of an IS junior spec late model rookie repulsed frequent passing attempts by fastest qualifier/stuntman Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, a veteran of prior IS celebrity races. Marsh, in the school’s No. 56, trailed by 0.501 at the finish. Actors Steve Howey, D. B. Sweeney. and actress Anna Faris, who was lapped in the final turn with the checkers waving, followed. They were within 16 seconds of the winner. Actors Adrian Pasdar, Cristo Fernandez, and Amanda Righetti finished 19 laps. KTLA meteorologist Mark Kriski and morning news anchor Frank Buckley placed ninth and tenth.The race took 7:17.726 and the winner averaged 83.290 mph. Best lap by the winner was 21.151 and the runner-up ran a 21.166.
The ten celebrities sat at a table near all the parked race cars during the 5:00 to 5:45 pm autograph session for fans on the front straight. They posed for photos and autographed color 5X7 cards containing photos of all ten celebrities. The celebrities came to and from the autograph session aboard an open trailer towed by a pickup truck. The April, 2015 celebrities race had eight participants. Actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar, of “Hill Street Blues” fame, won the 20 lap main driving the HPR spec late model No. 50 Chevy.
The featured Spears super late model race on the half-mile was the “R. J. Allen, Inc. 100” presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse of San Dimas. Spears format had the eight fastest qualifiers in a 15-car field draw their starting positions for the first four rows. Fastest qualifier/series point leader Jacob Gomes, from Manteca, drew eight. Second year SLM drivers Jake Bollman, 16, and Austin Herzog, 20, drew the front row and traded the lead early. A lap 4 multi-can crash and wall-contact tore the left rear and back off the No. 42 driven by Oregon’s Kole Raz and resulted in the first red flag for clean-up work. IS legend cars graduate Bollman, 16, was a Spears series rookie last season. The Huntington Beach resident drove his family-owned No. 71 and while leading ran the fastest lap of the race at 100.340 mph. New father Buddy Shepherd, 23, came from tenth slot to lead lap 5 while dueling Spears SLM veterans Andy Allen and Dan Holtz in a tight front half of the field. On lap 45, a five-car crash on the front straight caused the second red flag and eliminated front-running cars of Holtz, Allen, Shepherd. Bollman and Cale Kanke.
Eight cars restarted and two laps later the third of three red flags flew after two cars collided in turn two and hit the crash-wall. Only six cars restarted and raced the final 56 laps. Seventh quickest qualifier/fifth starter Dylan Zampa, a 19-year old series rookie from Napa, led laps 45-100. It was the fourth SLM race for the NASCAR pro late model veteran. He held off pole starter Herzog for 20 laps as Herzog battled Gomes to retain second. Two-time series champion Gomes, 29, used an inside pass leaving turn four on lap 66 to secure second. Gomes’ Ron Del Osso-owned VanDoorn chassis No. 16 Camry battled Zampa’s Rick Hedrick No. 29 Apache Rental Group Camry intensely from lap 70 onward. Their duel captivated spectators and they raced without contact during their side-by-side and nose-to-tail. Gomes had won all three of the touring series 2023 races, including the 200-lap All-Star race at IS in January for a $25,000 payday. Zampa, the 2022 Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program champion, wanted to collect the $7,500 first place award from a $37,750 purse for his first big payday. With six cars on the track all eyes were on the P 1-2 duel. Inside-running Gomez was almost alongside Zampa on lap 98, but trailed by 0.320 at the checkers and settled for $1,500. Herzog received $1,250 for third. Coloradan Nick Cooper earned $1,000 for fourth, 2.749 off the lead. John Moore and Scott Sanchez, the only other finishers, completed every lap in the 41-minute Spears race with the most crashes and car carnage in memory.
Following the SLM race, 21 Spears pro late models used the half-mile for a 60-lap race. The eight fastest qualifiers drew starting spots and fastest qualifier Linny White (No. 55 Chevy) drew seventh. Sean Woodside, from Westwood, led 31 laps from the pole. White reached second on lap 24 and took the lead on lap 32 with an outside pass in turn four. IS all-time feature winner (80) Trevor Huddleston, 26, took second from Woodside on lap 56 and trailed White by 3.408 at the finish. The winner received $2,500 and the runner-up earned $1,250. White earned $10,000 in the same car for winning the Spears Pro LM All-Star 100-lap race shortened by curfew to 55 laps at IS on January 21.
Past NASCAR western touring series champion Woodside, now from Westwood, finished third, just 0.574 behind Huddleston. Nevadan Tyler Reif, 15-year old winner of the ARCA Menards 150 on the Phoenix mile two months ago, placed fourth, 4.988 from the lead. He drove a Fury chassis No. 41 Ford owned by Chris Lowden and wrenched by SoCal’s Tony Jackson. Scott Youngren, from Fallbrook, started 11th and finished fifth, 6.694 behind the winner in the Tim Cash No. 45y. Double duty Spears driver Holly Clark, from Colorado Springs, raced in her second race of the night. The 16-year old, a 2021 Spears modified rookie, started 14th and finished sixth in her No. 17 pro late model. She trailed the winner by 6.905. Parker Malone, Nick Joanides (with a new engine), legends graduate Christian Bazen, 17, and Nash Youngren, 20, completed the top ten. All 16 finishers were on the lead lap in a 26-minute event with three yellow flags. Jeffrey Peterson, in the Wooster No. 90 that White drove last season,was sixth on lap 23 when he retired to the infield pits with ignition failure. White, 45, drove the last Hamke-built chassis now owned by San Bernardino’s Clay Wooster and called a Hamke-CRF. He has won all four 2023 Spears mains, two at Bakersfield and two at Irwindale, including the January 21season-opening 100-lap All-Star race. He has used the same new for 2023 car to win four of six NASCAR pro late model features at Irwindale. White, from Colton, also sits atop NASCAR series IS points. Huddleston won the other two NASCAR mains this season in Irwindale.
The first Spears event was a 60-lap modified main on the third-mile track with nine starters. Second generation driver Travis Thirkettle, 44, started seventh, took the lead on lap 31 and won his third consecutive 2023 Spears modified main at three speedways. It was his 43rd IS feature triumph in several divisions and solidified his eighth place ranking all-time at IS. He extended his Spears series point lead with his 0.310 victory over runner-up Stephen Brucker, 18. Third went to Eddie Secord, the first 30 laps leader who clocked the fastest lap of 78.368 mph. The 20-minute race had two caution flags. Holly Clark, 16, started and finished fourth. Kevin Vossen, from Redding, was fifth. With fastest qualifier Jimmy Sloan, from Indio, sixth. All nine starters completed 60-laps.
The first race of the night was a junior spec late model 25-lap race with seven starters on the third-mile for young drivers in a new IS series. They use cars owned by and rented from IS co-promoter Bob Bruncati. Karting veteran Charlie Carty, 12, started third and led all 25 laps for his fourth consecutive victory. He won by 0.952. The all-new cars use RCF-built chassis with Mustang or Camaro bodies. The nine-minute event had a solo caution flag for a spin. Keagan Kaminski, 13, Mikey Killen, 16, Logan Chambers, 14, Rowe Luckinbill, 15, Ryan Schank, 13, and Johnie Stamps, 12, followed. The usual IS ten-minute aerial fireworks show concluded the busy evening.