IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY ALL-STAR SHOWDOWN RETURNS – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Feb. 1 – The inaugural Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame took place at Irwindale Speedway Saturday, February 1. It was a rousing success for co-promoters Tim Huddleston and Bob Bruncati. The ambitious event attracted almost 6.000 spectators and competitors from 11 states plus a driver from Japan. Sunrise Ford owner Bruncati and Ken Clapp of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame provided sponsorship funds.
The regional Spears Mfg Southwest Tour Series (super late models and modifieds) sanctioned two of the three series involved, awarded 2020 championship points, and provided officials. Spears SWT super late models and modifieds raced on the progressively-banked half mile. A new class–Pro Late Models–raced on the four-degree banked third-mile inner oval. The first-time event attracted many entrants from shorter tracks in the region who raced at IS for the first time.
The ambitious 2020 All-Star Showdown was a rebirth of the Toyota All-Star Showdown at IS from 2003-2011. That series featured top drivers in points from two NASCAR regional touring serie–GN East and West and the NASCAR Elite Division four regions. Those $500,000 events attracted national television coverage and provided competitive short-track racing on the IS half-mile. Later super late model and late model events replaced the Elite Division.
PURSES: The winner of the 200-lap Spears SWT super late model feature received $25,000 from a $77,225 fature purse. Second paid $10,000 and third awarded $6,500. Tenth place received $1,150; the race paid $800 each to drivers finishing in positions 16-30. There were 38 cars entered and 32 practiced. Two cars did not race after crashes in time trials and in Thursday practice. The 100-lap Pro Late Model winner received $10,000. The event had 22 entrants and all raced. The 75-lap Spears Modifieds winner collected $5,000. All 13 qualifiers raced from a pre-entry field of 16.
First place money was distributed to the three winners in an innovative way. New $20 bills were stacked in neat piles inside the plexiglass bases of all three large first place trophies and secured by gold locks. Feature winners received keys to open the locks and count the money after their cars passed post-race technical inspections of the first five finishing cars. All three winners passed inspections.
WINNERS: Derek Thorn, a four-time Spears SWT champion, drove his usual No. 43 Five Star Bodies Toyota Camry owned by Campbell Motorsports to the 200-lap triumph. The 33-year old from Bakersfield is the 2013 and 2018 NASCAR K & N West champion and a past Spears SWT feature winner at Irwindale. He praised crew chief Mike Keen for mid-race adjustments and said he planned to go to Disneyland to celebrate.
Cole Williams, from Borden, Indiana, raced a California-based car owned by Gary Collins to the $10,000 victory in the Pro Late Model 100. It was his first race in Irwindale. The 23-year old two-year veteran of the CARS super late model tour is a two-time Nashville (Tenn.) track champion. He also is a 2019 graduate of the Alan Kulwicki driver development program. He said the deal to race in Irwindale came together only days before the event.
Travis Thirkettle, a past IS multi-series winner from Canyon Country, drove his own locally-built Racecar Factory modified to a convincing victory in the 75-lap event. The 41-year old son of many-time NASCAR regional stock car champion Jim Thirkettle, won his 36th main event at Irwindale. He is tied for ninth place all-time in feature victories (including late models) at the track, which opened in March, 1999.
STATES: Spears SWT super late models had 30 starters from eight states. There were 20 from California, two each from Arizona, Nevada, and Texas, and one each from Colorado, Oregon, North Carolina and Washington. The first three finishers after 200-laps came from California, Colorado, and Washington. Seven of the 30 drivers were first time racers at IS.
Pro Late Model drivers came from four states—18 California, one each from Indiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma, plus a driver from Nagoya, Japan. USAC midget driver/Broken Arrow, Okla. resident Holley Hollan, 18, made her stock car debut. Her ARCA Menards West car owner Bill McAnally arranged for her to race a car from central California. She qualified 12th fastest in the 22-car field and finished 16th after losing laps in the pits. Eight of 22 drivers, including several from the Madera Speedway young gun series, had never raced in Irwindale.
Spears Modifieds presented by Fluidyne High Performance drivers live in four states—California-nine, Arizona-two, and one each from Idaho and Utah. Three of the 13 drivers had never raced in Irwindale. Several spec modifieds from Bakersfield competed for the first time in the Spears touring series. All main events were televised live over the Spears internet using five cameras.
FEATURES: The first feature at 5:30 started 13 modifieds with fastest qualifier Thirkettle’s No. 5 outside row two. He took the lead on lap 12 by passing second starter Eddie Secord (No. 84). Jeremy Doss, the 2018 Spears SWT champion and Las Vegas Bullring modified winner last November, qualified fifth quickest. He took P. 2 on lap 19 and gradually reduced Thirkettle’s 30-yard lead until they were nose-to-tail. Doss battled Thirkettle side-by-side from lap 55 to lap 63 when their cars made contact exiting turn four. Doss’ Eddie Wilcox No.75 bounced off the crashwall, slowed briefly and dropped to third.
Past modified series champion Dylan Cappello, from Arizona, drove the No. 36c to second. He received the $1,000 hard charger bonus. Doss was a half-straight (4.315 seconds) behind Thirkettle at the finish. Secord, despite a broken clutch pedal, placed fourth, 17-seconds off the lead. Travis McCullough was 18-seconds back in the second No. 36 team car. The first seven finishers completed 75 laps. Thirkettle won by 1.761 and averaged 92.133 mph. Secord clocked the fastest race lap of 95.122 mph while leading the first 11-laps.
RACE TWO: Event two was the initial Pro Late Model race on the third-mile. The race was a surprise hit with spectators and drivers. It started 22 cars straight-up based upon qualifying times. Cole Williams started fourth and led laps 34-88, 90-92 and 99-101 (one extra lap). The battle for the lead between Williams and Jeremy Doss (driving his dad Mike’s No. 35),was intense and entertaining. Doss started sixth and used the outside groove to lead laps 89 and 93-98 by less than a car length.
Doss, from Upper Lake, Calif., appeared on his way to his first Irwindale victory as the leading duo raced side-by-side lap after lap. A lapped car in the low groove caused inside runner Williams to veer up the track to avoid contact. Williams hit Doss’ car, which spun in turn two. Williams slowed briefly and continued. Doss resumed racing so the caution flag did not appear, but the white flag waved a lap late. Williams recaptured the lead when Doss spun and led laps 99-101. The stunning victory gave the Gary Collins No. 21 team from Bakersfield $10,000 cash. Williams said over the infield mic his dad and family in Indiana were watching the race on the internet.
The winner added, “Traffic made it miserable. I don’t know what he (lapper) was thinking. He was in the racing groove. This is a great car and track. I love California.” Runner-up Mike Beiler, from Modesto, trailed by 0.578. Fastest qualifier (automatic NTR 15.221-78.760 mph) was Robby Hornsby. IS 2018 spec late model champion Hornsby, and IS late model and truck racer Lucas McNeil followed. The top four drivers finished within 1.764 seconds.
Second quickest qualifier Matt Erickson, the Orange Show Speedway champion, led the first 33 laps and placed fifth. He ran the fastest lap of 15.418 (77.753 mph) while leading. Kyle Meyer, from Highland, Rob Kiemele, Doss, Ryan Schartau, and IS three-time champion Nick Joanides completed the top ten. Fourteen of 22 starters finished with nine drivers on the lead lap. The race had six lead changes among three drivers. The hard charger $1,500 from K. Clapp went to Doss who started last in an attempt to win the bonus.
The late model race had six yellow flags for spins and one red flag on lap 20 for a spectacular crash. Tegan Harlen, 14, started 22nd and experienced a stuck throttle on the backstretch. His car climbed and rode the third turn wall 15-yards with the front of his car. Impact broke the fuel pump and spilled fuel causing flames to erupt in the engine and extended into the car. Harlen rapidly hopped from the car, which had the RR end atop the wall and the LF on the track. Track firemen quickly extinguished the blaze. Harlen escaped injury.
FINALE: The final race featured Spears SWT super late models. The 200-lapper had a ten-minute break after 100-laps. Pit crewmen from the hot pits in the infield came to the cars stopped on the third-mile front straight and worked on cars. Changing tires was not permitted. Fastest qualifier/pole starter Thorn was the first of three race leaders and there were five lead changes.
Thorn paced the first 37 laps, laps 96-149 and laps 151-200. Coloradan Preston Peltier (No. 48 Rowdy chassis Toyota Camry) led laps 38-78 and lap 150 after dueling Thorn closely for the lead from lap 102 to lap 160. Then Thorn gradually extended his lead. Linny White, from Colton, led laps 79-95. He brushed the backstretch wall hard after contact on lap 150 as racing resumed following a caution flag. White’s No. 99 dropped from third to seventh.
Three-time late model IS track champion Trevor Huddleston, 23, started 12th and was in ninth place at the lap 100 break. His crew changed rear end gears. He was sixth on lap 110, eighth on lap 135 and tenth after 163 laps when he dropped out with a broken rear end component. Following Thorn across the finish line were: Peltier, the Spears SWT feature winner at IS last March, first-time IS racer Tayler Riddle, Jack Wood, and Dylan Lupton, the Spears SWT one-lap track record holder.
Post-race tech inspection of the top five cars resulted in Riddle’s P. 3 Van Doorn chassis Ford being disqualified “for a left side weight distribution violation”. He was listed as not classified; only 29 cars were classified as finishers. The DQd team, which towed 19 hours from Naches,Wash., lost $6,500 by the rules violation. P. 4-10 gained one position. The official P 3-10 drivers were: Wood, Lupton, White, Logan Bearden, Eric Schmidt, Carlos Vieira, Austin Reed and Bobby Hodges.
The race took 1:43.09.062 and had four caution flags. There were 18 finishers in the 30 car field and ten drivers completed all 200 laps. Peltier ran the fastest lap at 102.582 mph. Keith Spangler earned the $2,500 hard charger cash award from K. Clapp after starting 29th and placing P. 14 officially.
Opening ceremonies began at 5:00 pm with the National Anthem, invocation, and a planned fly-over by three AT5 propeller WWII aircraft from Chino Airport. Racing started at 5:30 and concluded at 9:43 pm after 376 main event laps and a 12-minute aerial fireworks show launched from beyond the backstretch.
The event had two practice sessions for all three divisions on Thursday and Friday. Track management hosted a free BBQ for all wristband wearers from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Burgers, hot dogs, chicken, side dishes, and soft drinks were served in the track’s chalet village area.
Spears SWT and Modified Series drivers will return to IS twice during their ten race season. Dates are Saturdays April 25 and July 18. The next IS scheduled race will be NASCAR opening night on Saturday, March 14 featuring NASCAR late model twin mains, spec racing, super stocks, enduro sedans and legend cars.