Irwindale, CA., Mar. 30 – The first visit to Irwindale Speedway by the touring NASCAR K & N Pro Series-West in two years Saturday was followed by five LKQ Pick Your Part fan-popular events on “Salute to Saugus Speedway Night”. NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ron Hornaday, Jr. served as grand marshal. He briefly paced the ENEOS/NAPA NASCAR K & N 150 by driving the 1964 Galpin Ford NASCAR No. 97 Ford race car that his father Ron raced in the NASCAR Pacific Coast Division.
All the attractions Saturday resulted in the largest NASCAR racing crowd in years at the San Gabriel Valley speedway that opened in 1999. More than 7,000 spectators packed the grandstand, suites and pit grandstand to watch 22 NASCAR K & N West late models open the evening with a 150-lap feature on the progressively-banked half-mile. Veteran observers called the exciting race the best K & N West point race in track history. Fans and cars were still entering the track parking lot at 7:30 pm as the 150-lap race was nearing the halfway mark.
The 150-lap race had a ten-minute break at the 75-lap mark. Teams pitting in the fourth turn of the third-mile oval made adjustments and changed up to two tires, now supplied by General Tire. The entire race was a thrilling duel among three young drivers. All three of the front-runners led the race at some point and the finish was a two-car photo finish that captivated the attention of everyone. (NOTE: NBCTV Network recorded the race for telecast Monday, April 8 from 5:00 to 6:00 pm.)
Trevor Huddleston, 22, won the 150-lap race by 0.030 in a side-by-side, door banging duel on the final lap from turn four to the finish line. He beat rookie Tanner Gray, 19, from New Mexico, who was making only his second NASCAR K & N start and was racing at Irwindale for the first time. Gray, a third-generation NHRA drag racer, originally from North Carolina, won eight NHRA Pro Stock events and the 2018 NHRA Pro Stock championship.
Huddleston, a second year K & N West driver, experienced some transmission problems enroute to his initial K & N feature triumph aboard the No. 9 Sunrise Ford-sponsored Ford. He had a cut left rear tire send his car spinning into the first turn following the checkered flag. His car hit the crashwall on the drivers’ side and Huddleston said he briefly had “the wind knocked out of me”.
Huddleston, the 2015-17 Irwindale and California State NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion, keyed his radio and asked his long-time spotter Will Kozak if he had won. Assured he was the winner, Huddleston had his winning car towed by the track’s official towing service–Jan’s Towing–to the finish line for victory ceremonies. His father Tim Huddleston, also a three-time NASCAR Irwindale and California Whelen late model champion, handled PA mic interviews as usual during victory ceremonies.
Irwindale Speedway co-promoters had reason to rejoice in addition to warm weather in the 70s, 7,000+ standing room only attendance, an exciting race for all 150 laps, and thrilling photo finish. Car dealer Bob Bruncati’s race car won the 150 and his driver Trevor Huddleston is the son of co-promoter Tim Huddleston. It was Trevor’s initial K & N West victory after placing second in 2018 series rookie points driving a third Bruncati Sunrise Ford.
Bruncati’s second car (No. 6 Sunrise Ford) was driven by Jagger Jones, 16, a Huddleston HPR organization NASCAR late model driver for two years. Jones, from Scottsdale, AZ finished fourth in only his second K & N West race. The son of racer P. J. Jones and grandson of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones, ran up front all night.
The temperature was in the low 80s at 4:00 pm and still in the low 70s when the 3.5 hours entertaining evening concluded at 10:26 pm with a ten-minute aerial fireworks show. N of D fans normally come out 5,000 to 6,000 strong at IS for mayhem events. This week they also witnessed a classic NASCAR K & N West late model race as well. The pairing of NASCAR K & N West race and fan-popular Night of Destruction events was an experiment by co-promoters Huddleston and Bruncati that will likely be repeated in 2020.
TOP DUO: Winner Huddleston, a business major at Moorpark Jr. College, won his 45th Irwindale feature victory. He moved into a fourth place tie for most main event triumphs (including all divisions) in IS track history. His father Tim and Robert Rice also have 45 feature victories. Huddleston said he won as a birthday present for his girl friend Katie, who cheered him home. He held his impressive first place trophy and said he will give it to car owner Bruncati.
Runner-up Gray has raced micro sprints, outlaw karts, late models, modifieds and local track stock cars. Following his 2018 NHRA Pro Stock championship, Gray decided to switch from NHRA to NASCAR. This year he is contracted to race the No. 15 DGR/Crosley Toyota co-owned by David Gilliland in the NASCAR K & N East Series. He made his series debut during February and placed 12th in the New Smyrna, (FL) 175 lap race. Gilliland, an 11-time Irwindale feature winner in the early years of the track, moved to North Carolina and raced in all three NASCAR National Series. He was present in the pits at Saturday and advised his latest protege about chassis set-up and IS track conditions.
ENEOS / NAPA 150: The feature had 21 starters and ten were K & N series rookies. Six of the top ten finishers were rookies. The top five finishers represented an impressive corps of upcoming NASCAR talented teenage drivers in second through fifth positions. All are ages 16 to 19. Top finishers behind Huddleston and Gary were: Wisconsin-based Derek Kraus, 17, who is a third year NAPA Toyota driver for Bill McAnally, J. Jones, 16, and fastest qualifier Hailie Deegan, 17-year old winner of the 2019 K & N West season opener February 28 at the Las Vegas dirt half-mile.
Cole Cabrera, Matt Levin, rookie Brittney Zamora, 20, from Kennewick, WA, Irwindale late model veteran/K & N rookie Dylan Garner, 20, and Jack Wood completed the top ten. All logged the full 150-lap distance. P. 11 Todd Souza, finished 17-seconds off the lead, and was the final lead lap finisher. Twenty of 21 starters were racing at the finish. Deegan, from Temecula, ran the fastest lap of 96.951 mph.
The entire K & N field used group qualifying from 5:05 to 5:20 pm with three groups of seven cars qualifying simultaneously on the track. Cars were grouped together based upon practice speeds. Deegan’s 18.183 (98.994 mph) was fastest in the McAnally No. 19 NAPA Toyota. She barely edged her teammate Kraus’ 18.200 in the No. 16 NAPA Toyota. Gray, Huddleston, and Jones qualified third through fiifth quickest. Garner, in his K & N debut, was sixth fastest and occupied the outside row three starting position.
THE RACE: At the 7:04 pm start, Kraus shot into the lead and led Deegan, Gray, Jones, Huddleston, Wood, Zamora and Garner at lap 10. The top three were a tight pack as they began lapping on lap 10. At lap 25 Gray passed Deegan for P. 2 on the inside leaving turn four. He used the same move on lap 26 to pass race-long leader Kraus. At lap 50, Gray extended his lead to 0.645. Second-running Deegan had cut that to 0.545 when the half-time break red flag sent all cars to the pits in the fourth turn of the third-mile.
A two-by-two restart at lap 78 had Kraus shoot back into the lead over Gray, Deegan, Huddleston, Zamora and Jones. On lap 81 third place Deegan spun out low in turn two. She restarted at the back and charged forward to P. 9 by lap 86. Kraus continued leading and opened a 0.8 advantage over Gray. On lap 91 Huddleston executed an inside pass in the fourth turn and took second from Gray as Deegan charged to P. 6 with 11 cars on the lead lap.
At lap 100 Kraus led by 0.8 over Huddleston with Gray 1.7 back. On lap 112 rookie Joey Tanner spun in turn four, causing a brief yellow flag. A side-by-side restart on lap 118 had Huddleston inside and Kraus outside, with Jones and Gray in row two. On lap 119, Gray dropped Jones to fourth place and a lap later Gray took second from Huddlestonn with the top four cars racing in a tight pack. Deegan took fifth from Cabrera on lap 120 and a lap later passed Jones for fourth on the outside.
With 20 laps to go the position order was Kraus, Gray, Huddleston, Deegan, Jones, Cabrera, Levin, Zamora, Garner and Wood. Huddleston took second from Gray in the third/fourth turns on lap 140. On lap 144, leader Kraus lost his brakes and went high in the first two corners. Huddleston took his first lead on lap 144.
Gray passed Kraus for second on lap 145 on the inside at the third corner. He then cut into Huddleston’s lead using the inside groove. Gray trailed by one length as they started the final lap. He made a banzai charge on the inside out of turn four and the two leaders bumped there and again at the finish line. Huddleston’s car had half a front fender advantage at the dramatic photo finish captured from turn one by photographer Albert Wong.
N of D EVENTS:
A 25-lap enduro car race on the third-mile at 8:35 pm used a five-turn”roval” with a cone-marked jog onto the half-mile finish line. Joe Labrasciano led lap. Dewitt Jones’ 1992 Honda Accord paced laps 2-23. Back row starter Rodney Argo reached P. 2 on lap 20 and shot past Jones on lap 24 to win by 3.632 seconds over Jones. He collected $300 and Jones $200.
Enduro cars race for Irwindale NASCAR track points. This year the enduros have two classes—a sports class with 2.3 liter engines and slower stock class with 2.0 liter engines. Argo won the sport class and Jones won the stock class trophies. Bobby Ozman, Labrasciano and Rick Conti completed the top five with 11 finishers on the lead lap. The all-green flag race took 8:27.555. Former 410 cu. in. sprint car winner Argo ran the fastest lap of 18.324.
Figure 8: Next was an all-green light 25-lap F-8 race with 14 starters. It lasted 9+ minutes. Pole starter Robbie Salcido, from Perris, led every lap in his Honda Accord. Argo started last in his same Honda Prelude and charged to P. 2 on lap 13. At lap 20 he was pressing leader Salcido. Argo tried an outside pass entering turn three on the final lap, but he got loose and almost spun. He lost 30-yards and placed second. Labrosciano, D. Jones and Joseph Bereiter followed. Only near collisions occurred at the X-intersection.
SKID PLATE 20: A field of 15 enduro cars raced the five-turn “roval” with metal skid plates installed on the back axle instead of tires. It became a Lee family battle for the victory with father Wayne leading the first 17 laps. Son Austin Lee passed him and led the final three laps. He won his second SPC main in a row and fourth ever. Lee’s daughter Ashlee Rice started on pole and finished sixth, down a lap. R. Salcido and Mike McIntyre finsihed fourth and fifth and ran all 20 laps in the all-green flag 11-minute event.
Next event was the PYP GMC pickup truck with an aircraft jet engine mounted at the back. It torched an old sedan with jet thrusts in the infield near the light pole. The final event before the ten-minute pyrotechnics show was the always hectic and track-littering trailer race. Various cars and trucks towed trailers with large and small boats, various cargo, and small mobile homes. The object was to destroy as much as possible and entertain spectators to win their votes as the event winner. After 15+ laps the top position went to rookie trailer racer Jason Jonasson over past winners Cheryl Hyland, Robert Rice and R. Salcido respectively. Earlier, Hyland’s decorated boat won the fan vote for best appearing trailer.
The next Irwindale Speedway race will be Saturday, April 13 with a NASCAR night of races on the half and third-mile ovals.