KENNEDY: California Coast

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LOS ANGELES — Racing locally commenced in earnest during March. Half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway in Riverside County began its 22nd season on March 4 with a three division, all sprint car program.

The USAC-CRA 410 sprints headlined with a 22-car, 30-lap feature. Richard Vander Weerd led every lap in an all-green flag race. Five-time series champion Damion Gardner finished second and R. J. Johnson third.

Two PAS 360 sprint car divisions raced. Richard McCormick, 58, started eighth in an 11-car field and won a 20-lap PAS Senior Sprints (age 45+) all-green main. First time sprint car driver Ariel Biggs, a petite 22-year-old from Washington was a first-time driver at Perris. She raced quarter midgets since age six and Ford Focus midgets in the Northwest since age 14.

Last year she raced a Zach Daum midget 15 times in the POWRi Series. She started third in a five-car PAS Young Guns (ages 14-25) 15-lap main and won impressively in a car owned by Ventura businessman Steve Watt.

Runner-up was 14-year-old Joel Rayborne. It also was his sprint car debut. He was USAC HPD midget western rookie of the year two years ago. Two-time PAS Young Guns feature winner Hannah Mayhew, 25, led laps 13-14, but she mistook the white flag for the checkered flag. She slowed and crossed the finish line fourth and then realized her mistake.

The next sprint car event at PAS will be April 1. Non-wing USAC-CRA 410 sprints will be joined by the winged World of Outlaws 410 sprints. The 360 PAS Senior Sprints and Young Gun series will make the event a four-division, all sprint car extravaganza for the second year in a row.

Irwindale Speedway opened its 18th NASCAR stock car racing season on March 11 with a standing-room-only crowd. All 6,500 tickets were sold. Vehicles lined up east and west on Live Oak Ave., to enter the parking lot for almost an hour after the scheduled 7 p. m. starting time. The NASCAR late model stock car feature was the second event run.

The first of six scheduled “Night of Destruction” events, plus a 10-minute aerial fireworks show at 10:15 p.m., attracted casual spectators.

Three-time track champion Nick Joanides, 46, won a 19-car late model 50-lap feature by 0.891.

Trevor Huddleston, 20-year old 2015-’16 NASCAR Whelen All-American Racing Series track and California champion, led lap one and finished second. A three-way battle for third went to Ryan Vargas, 16, over Dylan Garner, 18, and past track champion Toni Marie McCray. They traded third spot at least five times.

Joanides clocked the fastest lap of 92.516 mph in a 27-minute race slowed by two cautions for spins. It was his 52nd Irwindale feature triumph, breaking his tie with current NASCAR K&N West contender Ryan Partridge, 28, for second all-time in Irwindale victories. Rip Michels leads with 67 victories prior to his retirement in 2014 to become a crew chief.

Four NASCAR rookies with kart, HPD midget, INEX Legend Car or Bandolero experience made their debuts in a late model and on a half-mile. Three of the rookies are age 14. Jagger Jones, 14-year old grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones and son of two-time Indy 500 starter P.J. Jones, raced one of three HPR Chevrolet entries. The owner is three-time Irwindale late model champion Tim Huddleston, Trevor’s father.

Jagger’s grandparents Parnelli and Judy Jones were present, as was his mom Jolaina. She drove with Jagger from their Scottsdale, Arizona home for a late week IS practice session. Jagger’s dad P.J. was racing Saturday-Sunday at St. Petersburg, Florida in Robby Gordon’s Stadium Off-Road Truck Racing Series.

Jagger started 13th and finished ninth, 6.015 seconds in back of winner. He beat tenth place rookie Matt Johnson, 37, by three seconds. The other two 14-year old rookies also raced well. Second-generation racer Ryan Schartau, the seventh fastest qualifier, was eighth on lap 18 when he dropped out with an engine problem.

Third-generation driver Kayla Eshleman, 14-year old IS 2016 Bandolero champion from Fontana, set ninth quickest qualifying time. She finished 12th.

The second event on Irwindale’s March to December 2017 racing calendar will be March 25. It will feature two prestigious western states traveling stock car series. More than 40 race cars are expected to occupy two separate pit areas.

NASCAR K&N West Series will race twin 150-lap mains, races three and four of the 14-race series. The Spears Manufacturing SRL Southwest Tour Series will race in a 2017 championship 100-lap feature, the first of nine point races.

 

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Tim Kennedy
Tim Kennedy is a veteran motorsports journalist. He worked as the CRA sprint car publicity director for 11 years beginning in 1968 and his Racing Scene column has been a motorsports staple since 1979.