IRWINDALE SPEEDWAY – NASCAR SEASON OPENER – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Mar. 18 – Irwindale Speedway opened the 2023 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts season Saturday following a one week rain delay. There were 75 racing cars/trucks in the pits. More than 5,000 spectators attended in greater than expected numbers on a mid-60s evening. Two months of extensive rainfall in California helped ease the statewide drought and undoubtedly built demand to see racing action in person.
Eight main events, including a pair of 30-lap Pick Your Part NASCAR Pro Late Model features as usual awarded track and national points for both events. An RV-trailer Figure 8 destruction race concluded on-track activity. A ten-minute aerial fireworks show ended the three-hour entertaining evening at 10:00 pm. Low Budget TV, which is now affiliated with Speed SportTV, televised the entire evening live for a national audience and local residents unable to attend in person.
PRO LM 1st 30: The initial race at 7:00 had a ten-car field and used a straight-up lineup on the half-mile with fastest qualifier/reigning series IS champion Linny White, 45, on the pole. He drove the same No. 55 Clay Wooster-owned Chevy in which he won the January 21 Irwindale season-opening All-Star Showdown 200-lap race. The Colton resident won by 2.388 seconds over seventh starter Scott Youngren, from Fallbrook. Nick Joanides started and finished third in the latest Joe Nava-owned No. 77 Chevy. Trevor Huddleston, the three-time series champion (2015-17), came from sixth grid position to place fourth. Parker Malone started second and finished fifth, 5.418 seconds behind the winner. Jake Bollman, 15, and Christian Bazen, 17, followed and also logged all 30 laps. Eight drivers finished. The all-green light race took 10:00.537 and averaged 89.920 mph. White ran the fastest lap of 93.638 mph.
Pro LM 2nd 30: The same ten pro late models returned two hours later and concluded oval track action. The starting lineup used an eight-car inversion based on the finishing order of the first 30. Fourth starter Malone, 26, led the initial 15 laps as White raced forward rapidly. He was fourth by lap 3 and had the lead on lap 16. White built a comfortable half-straightaway lead by lap 25 and won by 3.897 seconds over Malone, an Orange Show Speedway winner, from Redlands.
Impressive Bollman, who also raced his legends car between his two LM stints, started and finished third. He beat Huddleston’s HPR No. 50 by 0.243 seconds. Youngren started seventh and finished fifth. Joanides, Dennis Arena (in his brand new RCF-built No. 4 Chevy), Ethan Cheek, and Bazen also completed 30-laps. The caution-free race took 10:02.876 and averaged 89.571 mph. Early leader Malone clocked the quickest lap of 92.614 mph.
YouRaceLA Spec Late Models/Irwindale Race Trucks 40: The only other race on the progressively-banked half-mile was the combined spec late model and race trucks that have comparable lap times. There were winners in both series and each received the maximum 50-points. It was the best race of the night. Nine cars and three trucks competed.
Andy Partridge started second and led 21 laps. Andrew Porter led lap 22 via an inside pass from the fourth turn to the start/finish line. Partridge was back in front from lap 23-34. On lap 35, Tanner Huddleston, 18, used an inside pass out of turn four to take command of the three-car classic duel. However, a spin by Shea Barkley in turn two caused a caution flag and the lineup reverted the field to the lap 34 running order. Partridge led lap 35 after a double-file restart and won by five yards (-0.463) over Huddleston’s HPR No. 50 and by 1.067 over past truck champion Porter, who is now driving the No. 43 car owned by his grandfather Kenny Smith. The top three cars were built in Irwindale by Jeff Schrader’s Racecar Factory in 2009 and initially were called S2 Cars. P.4 went to truck series winner/reigning champion Niko Mongenel, 25. The Pomona resident trailed the winner by 2.010 seconds.
Kevin Carter, a 51-year old off-road racer and first-time IS oval tracker, placed fifth in the HPR No. 51, one of four HPR cars in the event. The only yellow flag flew on lap 35 when first-time IS driver Andrew Chapman, 17, spun his fifth-place HPR No. 55 in turn four. Tenth-running Robin Andrews, from Los Angeles, rammed his HPR No. 56 into his teammate’s stalled car. Both cars were sidelined. Drivers escaped injury. Partridge, the youngest of three racing brothers at 33, ran the fastest lap of 88.753 mph in one of two cars owned by former driver Robert Arevalo.
Junior Spec Late Models: This new IS division debuted as the second race of the evening. Five of the ten planned spec late models built by RCF in Irwindale for drivers ages 12-17 use the third-mile. Fastest qualifier with an automatic new track record of 16.126 was Logan Chambers, a 14-year old second-season INEX Legends driver from Bakersfield. He started first and led six laps. Second fastest qualifier Charlie Carty, a 12-year old from Jamul, executed a bump and run inside pass in turn four and led the final 14 laps.
Third quickest qualifier Mikey Killen, 17, a second year enduro driver from LaVerne, took second on lap 8 and finished 1.112 seconds behind Carty. Chambers placed third—1.338 off the lead. Ryan Schank, 12, from Barstow, was 11-seconds back in fourth. Jayda Mack, 13-year old niece of Indianapolis 500 veteran George Mack, finished fifth. She was fourth on the final lap when she spun out in the second corner on the last lap as the winner received the checkered flag. The race took 5:29.623.
Up to ten cars will be competing during the season. The Junior late model class at IS during 2018 used late models and produced current successful drivers such as Jake Bollman, Cody Kiemele, 16, and IS 2018 Junior LM champion Kyle Keller. Las Vegan Keller, now 17, qualified fifth fastest in a 34-car field of Spears Pro LM January 21 in the Spears All-Star Showdown triple-header. A problem cost him four laps but he finished the scheduled 100-lap race. IS management hopes the crop of Junior Spec LM racers will produce more front running stars of the future.
Street Stocks 30: A 16-car field of street stocks and West Coast Pro Trucks had 12 cars and four trucks. Fastest qualifier with a 16.241 NTR was Moreno Valley resident Jim Vermillion in his 1988 Chevy Monte Carlo. Zack Green started alongside in row one in his black/gold Camaro and led lap 1. Vermillion led laps 2-19. Matthew Hicks Camaro led laps 20-30 after taking charge following the only yellow flag for a solo spinner. Truck series winner Mike Kelperis, from Whittier, came from 12th grid position to earn fourth, 7.866 seconds back. Robby Harryman’s Camaro was fifth with 12 vehicles on track at the finish.
INEX Legends 35: A strong 16-car field had fastest qualifier Jake Bollman, from Huntington Beach, start seventh in the partially inverted starting lineup. In afternoon time trials, he set a NTR of 16.198 in his No. 71 coupe to eclipse Chad Schug’s 16.220 (73.909 mph) mark established on June 1, 2016. With a rookie starting on pole, Bollman shot inside all six drivers in the first three rows and led all 35 laps. He won by 0.861 over 2020 Legends IS champion Tyler Hicks. Series 2022 rookie of the year Nathan Quella, 17, was a close third. Robby Hornsby, the 2017 IS Spec LM champion, made a rare legend car start and finished fourth. Four-time IS Legends champion Chad Schug placed fifth. All 16 starters finished with eight drivers on the lead lap. Bollman ran the fastest lap of 16.118, which was faster than his fastest qualifying lap of 16.198.
Enduro 35: Nine slower four-cylinder stock sedans occupied rows in front of the six faster sport sedans equipped with overhead cams. Drivers used the usual five-turn R-oval course that juts from the third-mile fourth turn out to the half-mile track start/finish line before jutting back the the first turn of the third-mile. Robert Rice led the first seven laps in his No. 7 Honda Accord. Bobby Ozman, 49, came from tenth starting slot in his No. 18 1998 Acura Integra and led the final 27 laps. He edged closing San Pedro driver Jason Woolcott by 0.249 in winning his 18th IS enduro main since 2019.
Mike McIntire, Tony Price, and former 410 cu. in. sprint car feature winner Rodney Argo completed the top five in sport class sedans. P. 6 Mikey Killen, 17, was the last driver on the lead serial and won the stock class 50-points. Killen passed stock class perennial champion Rice on lap 18. P.7 Rice was lapped at the end and earned second place in the stock class. He received 48 points. Thirteen of 15 starters finished the all green light race in 11:13.300. Woolcott clocked the quickest lap of 18.514. as he chased leader Ozman.
RV-trailers Figure 8: Ten RVs driven by the usual N of D drivers towed trailers and ran almost 20 laps on the F-8 infield course. No collisions occurred at the X-intersection. However, one RV and trailer flipped onto its left side after making the right-hand turn out of turn four. A red flag resulted briefly as the driver escaped from his upsended RV. A Jan’s Towing truck moved the rig, still on its left side, to the backstretch infield. Fans voted following the fireworks show and awarded victory to the No. 7 RV driven by Robert “master of mayhem” Rice.
The next IS oval track event will be Saturday, April 1 with the touring ARCA Menards West Series 150-lap race the featured event. It will be the first of two scheduled ARCA 2023 race dates at IS. Another RV-trailer destruction event and a fireworks show will complete the evening.