KENNEDY: Irwindale Kicks Things Off With Destruction

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Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – Irwindale Speedway kicked off its 20th season Saturday with the first of seven scheduled Night of Destruction events that are popular with fans of mayhem.

It was the first of 19 weekly events on the Irwindale schedule. More than 6,000 spectators packed the grandstand for the season opener. Management delayed the 7 p.m. starting time by 20 minutes to allow more fans to enter the premises. Cars were lined up to enter the parking lot until about 7:30 p.m.

So Cal winter weather was a balmy 73 degrees at 6:30 p.m. and still in the low 60s when racing concluded at 9:39 p.m. with an always entertaining trailer race. The winner of that event was chosen by a panel of five male judges selected at random and escorted from the grandstand to the race control booth.

Racing events for four-cylinder sedans included a 35-lap enduro race on the third-mile oval, a skid plate cars 20-lap race, a 25-lap Figure 8 race, and a 20-lap infield flag pole race in which cars crossed paths. A Pick Your Part pickup truck called Inferno has an aircraft jet engine mounted at the back and entertained fans by torching an old sedan in the infield amid flying metal debris prior to the final event.

The final event was the trailer race so anticipated by fans. Eleven entrants lined up on the front straight two by two. Fans applause determined the winner of the best decorated float on a trailer. The unique Valentine’s Day float theme won many votes. At the green flag entrants started circling the third-mile from a standing start.

Entrants destroyed two parked mobile homes at the turn four exit and demolished trailers of other competitiors as they vied for entertaining hits. Laps were not counted and judges looked for entertaining hits by competitors. After 20 minutes only four drivers were still circulating the debris-littered track when the stareter unfurled his checkered flag to end the carnage.

Judges determined the black and white checkered pickup truck driven by Cole Pearlstein was the winner. It was his first victory at Irwindale. Michael Avrick’s pickup truck was second. Robert Rice’s Chevy El Camino, towing a boat, received third place.

Another first-time Irwindale feature winner was veteran enduro driver Joe Labrosciano in a 1991 Honda Accord. He started the 20-lap flag pole race 11th in a field of 17 and chased Robert Rice’s Honda Accord for five laps. On lap six he used an inside pass at the flag pole and passed Rice easily in traffic congestion. Labrosciano quickly opened a lead of 2.2 seconds. Rice cut into his lead at lap 18 in traffic and was only ten yards back at the white flag lap. Labrosciano negotiated his way past a slower car entering the final two corners and beat Rice by .732 of a second.

ENDURO CARS: The opening race was a 26-car, 35-lap enduro sedans race on the third-mile. A 10-car inverted starting lineup, based upon afternoon time trials, put ex-410 sprint car driver Rodney Argo outside in row two. The Gardena resident, ranked second in final enduro 2018 Irwindale points, shot into the lead at the rolling start and led every lap in an Acura Integra. Argo opened a straightaway lead by lap 20 and won by 9.140 seconds over Bory Molina’s Toyota Supra.

Fastest qualifier Mike Hudson came from 10th starting slot to third by lap 15, but he trailed Argo by 14 seconds. Top five drivers Dewitt Jones and Mike McIntyre were lapped by Argo during the final two laps. The all-green light race took 11:05.332. Twenty-four starters were racing at the finish.

SKID PLATES: Fourteen enduro sedan drivers installed metal skid plates on the back wheels instead of tires. They ran 20 quick laps on a five-turn course that had cars jog from turn four to the finish line on the half-mile prior to angling to the first turn of the third-mile. Ashley Rice started on the pole next to her father, Wayne Lee, and led the first lap.

Her brother Austin Lee started 15th and passed his sister on lap two. He led through lap seven. Sixth starter Steven Belling paced laps 8-14. On lap 12 in turn four a car spun and Belling smashed into it but continued with damage. On lap 15 Belling spun out at the starting line and Argo’s car spun into it. Both drivers continued, but A. Lee had taken the lead and won by a full lap over Robert Rice.

Belling lost second place to Rice on the 20th and final lap, but he held on for third place. McIntyre, A. Rice and Robbie Salcido also completed 19 laps in positions four through six, respectively. The winner averaged 52.811 mph. Thirteen cars finished the 11-minute race. It was Lee’s third career skid plate car victory and second in a row. He also won the final races of 2014 and 2018.

FIGURE 8s: Event three was a 16-car Figure-8 race through the infield. Argo started ninth in his second car, a Honda Accord, and led laps three and 5-25 for his second $300 victory of the night. It also marked his 14th Irwindale triumph since he started fun-racing three years ago.

Joe Labrosciano drove his second 1991 Honda Accord from fourth starting spot to lead the first two laps and lap four. He chased Argo closely to the checkered flag and even nosed into the lead briefly in traffic, but he trailed winner Argo by 1.005 seconds at the finish. Dewitt Jones was third, with Robert Rice and Robert Rice Jr. next at the finish. Eight drivers ran all 25 laps and 12 cars finished. The all-green flag race took 9:52.232. Argo averaged 57.292 mph.