IRWINDALE WINNERS — NEW & FIRST-TIME, LONG-TIME – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Jun. 8 – NASCAR Night presented by Whelen Engineering at Irwindale Speedway Saturday on a 70-degree evening had six divisions, seven main events and a stunt driver in an ex-police car leaping off a ramp in the infield onto a line of old cars. A ten-minute aerial fireworks show sent about 2,700 entertained spectators home at 10:30 pm.
Winners of main events were a collection of first-timers and first-time in a long-time winners. The track’s premier division for NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series national points is the LKQ Pick Your Part late model series. It opened and closed racing with a pair of 35-lap main events on the half-mile for the 12-cars present.
Nick Joanides, 48, won the first 35-lap race and earned his first feature victory since July 29, 2017 when he won his third late model victory that season. The Woodland Hills resident drove the same No. 77 Joe Nava-owned King Taco Chevy to victory Saturday. It was the 55th IS feature victory for the three-time track champion (2008-09 super late models and 2009 late models). He ranks third all-time in IS feature triumpsh and trails only Rip Michels (67) and Ryan Partridge (60).
The second 35 lapper went to second-year late model driver Dean Thompson, 17, from Anaheim Hills. He started third in the No. 51 High Point Racing Chevy and led all the way. He had to fight off passing attempts by two drivers for his first career victory at IS. The teenager made his late model debut in April 2018 driving for track co-promoter Tim Huddleston’s HPR team. Thompson is not related to the late CRA 410 sprint car five-time driving champion with the same name.
Another return to victory lane Saturday was by John Watkinson, 61, from Canyon Country. He drove his own spec late model in the You Race LA Spec Late Model and Lucas Oil Irwindale Race Trucks combined 40-lap event. First place trophies and points went to the top finishers in both classes. It was Watkinson’s first feature victory since 2006.
Watkinson won all three 2006 Grand American Modified Irwindale mains in the final GAM season. He also won three GAM IS championships (2002-03 and 06). He got the itch to race again last season and bought the No. 41 spec late model from Todd Conrad and put his GAM No. 98 on it. He has improved steadily and raced past strong-running competition Saturday to score his impressive 30-yard victory.
In keeping with the theme of new and first-time in a long-time winners, the truck portion of the combined spec late model and truck main had a first-time truck winner of the trophy and 50-points. Dennis Arena led the race from laps 3-35 and earned second place overall. He was 0.753 in back of first-time spec late model winner Watkinson. Arena, who fields two trucks, won the 2017 IRT track championship without a victory. He has not collected first-place 50-points since the track reopened in 2013 under new management.
Of course, frequent main event winners in their divisions would not be shutout and returned to the top spot on the podium. Darren Amidon, the second fastest qualifier in a ten-car INEX Legend field, started ninth and led laps 3-10 and 12-35. The five-time series track champion edged fastest qualifier/lap 11 leader Ricky Schlick by 0.347 on the third-mile. He has won three of four series main events at IS this season.
Fastest qualifier/sixth starter Rich De Long III, from Castaic, started sixth in his No. 84 Chevy SS and led the final 27 laps of a six-car Progressive Paint-sponsored super stocks race on the third-mile oval. Three De Long drivers, father Rich and sons Jason and Rich III, all led the race in Chevy SS mounts. Dad led two laps before Jason passed him and led a lap. Older son Rich III, the IS 2018 S/S champion, took over and dominated for his fourth consecutive victory this season.
The Tucker Tire Enduro Division had 19 four-cylinder sedans raced a 35-lap main on the five-turn “r-oval” that used the third-mile oval and a rubber cone-marked jog across the finish line of the half-mile. Fast timer Rodney Argo started last in his 1999 Honda Prelude and won by 2.981-seconds. He carved his way through the field quickly and led laps 14-35. He won the faster sport class 50-points for the fifth time in six races this season. It was his 19th victory since he started racing enduro cars in mid-2017.
All nine of the less-powerful stock class enduro cars started in front of the ten sport class that had metal plates marked “Sport” mounted on the back of each car. Dewitt Jones started ninth in his prior stock class winning Honda Accord and placed seventh overall. He earned 50 first place points towards the championship. IS is awarding track championship points for the first time in 2019 in both sport and stock racing classes.
Prior to the second late model feature and the fireworks show, stuntman “Dr. Danger” from the America’s Got Talent TV show, used an old black & white police car and performed a jump off a burning ramp onto the roofs of eight old enduro cars lined up in the infield. His car nosed into the roof of a car midway in the line and rolled off. His car landed overturned on its roof next to the line of cars. After a few minuted he emerged uninjured and waved to spectators.
A Saturday, June 15 “Summer Motorsports Mayhem—Stunts & Pyrotechnics” program at IS has a night of stunts, a motorhome Figure 8 race, and other unique events. “Dr. Danger” and Robert “Master of Disaster” Rice will be unleashing their event ideas. An aerial fireworks show will conclude the evening.
1ST LM 35: Fastest qualifier/series rookie Jace Jones, 14, started from outside row one. Pole starter Joanides got the jump and led all 35 laps. Jones remained a few lengths back to lap 20. Joanides soon opened a steady ten-yard advantage over now second place Blaine Perkins, 19. Two yellow flags for solo spinners bunched the field.
Lap 30 had Joanides, Perkins, Ryan Vargas and Jones in a close pack. Vargas used an inside pass in the fourth turn and took second on lap 34. All ten finishers completed 35 laps with Joanides 0.881 ahead of Vargas at the checkers. Perkins, Jones, Lucas McNeil and D. Thompson comprised the top six. Joanides told spectators, “I’ve been trying to win again for a long time. This sure feels good.”
2ND LM 35: The first eight finishers in the first 35 were inverted on the grid for the second 35. That put Rodney Peacher and Kevin Furden on the front row. Third starter D. Thompson led all 35 laps but it wasn’t easy. Eighth starter Joanides was in second place by lap 9. The leading duo battled closely from laps 22-25 with Thompson outside and Joanides inside.
On lap 26 Joanides made an attempt to wrest the lead from Thompson in the fourth turn and score a doubleheader victory. Thompson pinched him down to retain the lead and after contact Joanides spun 360-degrees towards the infield grass. He lost four positions before quickly resuming speed in sixth position. Later he told Thompson, “I know you were going for your first win, but I really owe you one.”
J. Jones (No. 55 HPR Chevy) inherited second place when Joanides spun and then battled Thompson on the inside to the finish line. They were half a length to two lengths apart each lap. The teenage HPR teammates both were intent on winning late model victory number one at IS. Thompson edged Jones by 0.497. Vargas, L. McNeil and Joanides followed. The all-green light race took 11:51.946 and the winner averaged 88.490 mph.
SPEC LM/TRUCKS 40: The fourth combination of spec late models and trucks racing together for separate track championship points again proved exciting. Trucker Lucas McNeil led the first two laps. Then third starter D. Arena led laps 4-35 in a close pack of five vehicles. Arena led trucks of McNeil and Andrew Porter and the cars of three-time 2019 feature winner Kenny Smith, 72, and Watkinson.
The top five raced virtually nose-to-tail following a red flag on lap 7 to remove the heavily damaged No. 21 car of Andrew Partridge, who almost won the May 11 main event in it. He slammed into the backstretch and third turn wall at the right front and side after contact by thre No. 97 truck. He was uninjured but his car was towed to the pits in need of a new front clip.
On lap 28 Watkinson took fourth position from 2018 Spec Late Model track champion Smith. Four laps later he took third place from the No. 7 truck of Porter, who is Smith’s grandson. Watkinson’s No. 98 car took second from four-time 2019 truck winner L. McNeil on lap 35. Then he stormed past leader Arena’s truck on lap 36. He promptly opened a 30-yard lead before crossing the finish line 0.753 ahead of Arena. He and fans were thrilled by his late race surge to the front.
SS 30: Father Rich De Long led two laps. Son Jason led lap 3 and older son Rich III led laps 4-30. Jason spun twice on lap 22 and 26. On lap 28 entering turn three Jerry Toporek’s 1970 Dodge hit the back of dad DeLong car, which spun and collected other cars. Toporek spun in turn four. All six starters finished with Bridgette Shaw, 22, earning her career-best second in a Dodge Dart. Dad Rich was third, Toporek fourth and Harry Michaelian’s 1973 Dodge Dart a lap back. Rich III ran the fastest lap of 72.986 mph.
ENDURO 35: The race on the usual five-turn “r-oval” course had 19 starters and 15 finishers. Leaders were poleman Brad Stellman (lap 1), Todd Paperny (L 2-3), Toyota Celica driver driver Bvory Molina (L 4-13) and series point leader R. Argo (L 14-35). Argo averaged 57.003 mph in winning his fifth of six main events this season and 19th in his brief IS enduro career.
LEGENDS 35: The race became a two-car battle for victory between Amidon and Schlick by lap 3 of 35. They traded the lead once on lap 11 but Amidon took over for good on lap 12 and won. Third position went to newcomer Jake Bollmer. Three-time IS series champion Chad Schug earned fourth and Tyler Hicks fifth. All eight finishers ran 35 laps. The two retirees from Las Vegas were aunt Donna Gunther and her niece Cheyanne Schindler in their first starts at IS.