LT. MODELS, N of D & JULY 4TH FIREWORKS = IRWINDALE FULL HOUSE – By Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA, July 4 – The headline tells the story. NASCAR late models, Night of Destruction fan-favorite events, and an almost 15-minute aerial pyrotechnics show attracted another full-house Thursday night at Irwindale Speedway. All 6,500 tickets for the seven event program were sold out before noon. Almost 7,000 persons crowded into the grandstand and pits to celebrate our nation’s 243rd birthday.
There was a surprise twist for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series LKQ Pick Your Part top division at Irwindale. Different lap distances were scheduled for the two late model features that awarded separate points towards track, state and national championships. The first main was 36-laps and the second feature was 40-laps. The combined total was 76 laps in tribute to the Spirit of 1776. The two late model races were the first and third events on the busy schedule.
The first late model race had 13 starters, including two female drivers. First-time Irwindale competitor Amber Balcaen, 27, is a Kyle Busch Motorsports developmental driver from Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. She now lives in Huntersville, No. Carolina. The veteran stock car driver and Canadian track champion drove a new Racecar Factory-built No. 56 HPR car badged as a Ford Mustang. She practiced Wednesday night and set third fastest qualifying time Thursday afternoon.
Balcaen started third and was in the middle of a three-wide battle on the backstretch and at the completion of lap 1. She was just outside the top ten when contact crossing start/finish caused her car to shoot up the track. It hit the crash-wall hard nose first just past the track exit opening. She was able to walk to the pits. Her badly damaged car was towed to the pits. Balcaen said she loved the IS track during the 5:45 to 6:30 autograph session for fans on the front straight.
LT MODEL # 1: The first late model main had series rookie Jace Jones, 14, on the pole after he set his third consecutive fastest qualifying time in the HPR No. 55 that his brother Jagger raced last season. His teammate Trevor Huddleston, now 23, started alongside in the HPR No. 50 owned by his father, IS co-promoter Tim Huddleston. The front row drivers dueled early, but Huddleston led all 36 laps. The third generation driver scored his 47th IS feature victory, which is the fourth highest total in track history.
Jones trailed by 20-yards at lap 11 when two cars tangled leaving turn two and caused the only yellow flag. Huddleslton, the series 2015-17 champion, doubled his lead by lap 20 and Jones was engaged in a second place battle. Eighth starter/April 13 winner Blaine Perkins, 19, from Bakersfield, took second on lap 27 with an inside pass on the backstretch.
Huddleston won his fourth IS feature this season (including a NASCAR K & N West Series March event) by 1.906 seconds. Jones settled for third, 3.192 seconds off the lead. NASCAR K & N East veteran Ryan Vargas, 18, past series champion Nick Joanides, 49, Dylan Garner, 19, Ryan Schartau, 16, Lucas McNeil, 25, Dean Thompson, 17, and veteran Kevin Furden completed the top ten. Jones clocked the fastest lap of 92.726 mph.
LT. MODEL # 2: Following his victory interview at the finish line, Huddleston spun the wheel to determine the car inversion for the second feature. The wheel stopped on EIGHT, so he would start outside row four in the second feature. McNeil and Schartau started from the front row. Schartau was making his first late model start of 2019 at IS after racing all season as a Spears Mfg Modified Series regular. He drove the same N. 7 Kevin Bowles Chevy in which he won his first IS late model feature at age 16 in April 2018. Schartau led all 40 laps and became the sixth different feature winner in ten late model mains completed this season.
Joanides, who won the first 35 lap race June 8, started fourth. He grabbed second on lap 2 and trailed the winner by 3.140 seconds. Perkins, rookie Jones, Vargas, June 8 second 35 winner Thompson, McNeil and Garner completed all 40 laps in third through eighth positions. High school vice principal Shannon Millen, celebrating her 50th birthday, logged 37 laps and was the only other finisher in the 12-car starting field.
First feature winner Huddleston started eighth and was seventh on lap 8 when he looped to the infield. He continued slower for a few laps before retiring his car to the infield on lap 13 with a mechanical problem. The all-green light race took 13:34.284 and averaged 88.421 mph. Winner Schartau set the fastest lap of the race at 90.992 mph.
TUCKER TIRE ENDURO 35: It was event two of the night and was run between the two late model features. A field of 24 four-cylinder enduro cars used the five-turn “r-oval” or as announcer Tommy Mason called it, “the kidney bean shaped” track. The race had three leaders. All stock engine cars started in front of twin-overhead cam equipped sport enduro division sedans. The two divisions both score points and winners in both classes receive first place trophies and points.
Joe Labrosciano started from pole position and led six laps. Stock division point leader Brad Stellman started third and led laps 7-16. Then the quickest sport division 1999 Honda Prelude of ex-410 sprint car owner/driver Rodney Argo, from Gardena, took command and led laps 17-35. Overall and sport class runner-up Joseph Bereiter was 3.005 seconds back in his No. 27 1998 Acura Integra.
Stock class winner Stellman placed third, 10.204 seconds behind the race winner. Robert Rice and James Bolinas completed the top five finishers. The 15-minute race had one brief caution flag. Seventeen of 24 starters were still racing at the finish.
FIGURE-8: Twenty cars signed-up for the Figure-8 race and 15 started the fan-favorite event. It had numerous near collisions at the X-intersection, but no car contacts. Rodney Argo started last in his same black No. 9 Honda Prelude and led laps 17-25 for his second victory of the night. He now has seven victories this season at Irwindale and 21 at the track since he started racing during mid-2017 in the economical and fun class.
Dewitt Jones led the first six laps and finished sixth. Robbie Salcido’s Honda Accord led laps 7-16 and placed second, 3.348 seconds in back of Argo. Ten of 15 starters finished with six cars on the lead lap in the 9:38.397 all-green gflag race. Argo’s best speed was 61.913 mph.
SKID PLATE CARS: Ten of 14 entrants survived prior races and came to the starting line to race 25 laps with metal skid plates instead of tires on the back axle. Argo, trying for his third $300 victory of the night in his same Honda Prelude, had a metal skid plate come loose right before the start. He drove to the pits and missed the race.
Steven Belling started third and led all 12 laps. He won by 33-seconds over Robbie Salcido. Third place Robert Rice was 39 seconds back and the only other led lap driver. Ken Palmer, Joe Labrosciano and Christopher Hriber were the only other finishers.
The next event featured the PYP pickup truck “Inferno” with an aircraft J-10 jet engine mounted in the truck bed. It torched and burned down an old enduro car in the infield near the flag pole. Metal sparks flew off the old car and black smoke rose from the molten mess for a few minutes before firemen from the fire truck parked nearby extinguished the blaze.
TRAILER RACE: Thirteen entrants towed trailers with various size boats on trailers or small campers attached to the tow bars or knobs. Steven Belling won the cash award for the best appearing trailer based upon loudest cheers from grandstand spectators. They were asked over the track PA system to select the best appearing trailer. The winner had a lighted USA flag upright on a flat trailer.
After a countdown to the green flag by spectators, competitors took off from a standing start and began littering the track with debris immediately. Drivers drove through an old camper trailer parked on the front straight and demolished boats knocked off competitors trailers. With only a few cars still mobile after more than 20 laps, the checkers flew at 10:11 pm.
Fans cheers produced first, second and third place drivers based upon cheers from the grandstand for the drivers who provided the most entertaining hits. Winner Steve Cook from Fontana, Robbie Salcido, from Perris, and Cheryl “Queen of Destruction” Hyland, from Glendora, were the top three in fans voting.
A ten-minute aerial fireworks show, run by a professional pyrotechnics team set up beyond the backstretch billboards, entertained the capacity crowd from 10:18 to almost 10:30 pm. It was colorful and loud. There was no connection to the So Cal large earthquakes of 6.4 (July 4) and 7.1 (July 5).
The next Irwindale oval track event will be Saturday night, July 13 with the usual NASCAR Night divisions in action on the half and third-mile ovals.