KENNEDY: All-Star Showdown A Big Success

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Tim Kennedy

IRWINDALE, Calif. – The inaugural Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame took place at Irwindale Speedway on Feb. 1.

It was a rousing success for co-promoters Tim Huddleston and Bob Bruncati. The ambitious event attracted almost 6,000 spectators and competitors from 11 states, plus a driver from Japan. Sunrise Ford owner Bruncati and Ken Clapp of the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame provided sponsorship funds.

The regional SPEARS Southwest Tour divisions (super late models and modifieds) sanctioned two of the three series involved. The super late model and modifieds raced on the progressively-banked half-mile. A new class – pro late models – raced on the four-degree banked third-mile inner oval. The inaugural event attracted many entrants from shorter tracks in the region who raced at Irwindale for the first time.

The ambitious All-Star Showdown was a rebirth of the Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale, originally run from 2003-11. That series featured top drivers from two NASCAR regional touring series – the ARCA Menards Series East and West – the NASCAR Elite Division’s four regions. Those $500,000 events attracted national television coverage and provided competitive short-track racing on the Irwindale half-mile. Later super late model and late model events replaced the Elite Division.

The winner of the 200-lap super late model feature received $25,000 from a $77,225 purse. Second paid $10,000 and third awarded $6,500. Tenth place received $1,150. The race paid $800 each to drivers finishing in positions 16-30. There were 38 cars entered and 32 practiced. Two cars did not race after crashes in time trials and Thursday practice. The 100-lap pro late model winner received $10,000. The event had 22 entrants and all raced. The 75-lap modified winner collected $5,000. All 13 qualifiers raced from a pre-entry field of 16.

The first-place trophy for the Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown, money and all. (Steve Himelstein Photo)
The first-place trophy for the Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown, money and all. (Steve Himelstein Photo)

First place money was distributed to the three winners in an innovative way. New $20 bills were stacked in neat piles inside the plexiglass bases of all three large first place trophies and secured by gold locks. Feature winners received keys to open the locks and count the money after their cars passed post-race technical inspections of the first five finishing cars. All three winners passed inspections.

Derek Thorn, a four-time Spears Southwest Tour champion, drove his usual No. 43 Five Star Bodies Toyota Camry owned by Campbell Motorsports to the 200-lap triumph. The 33-year old from Bakersfield is the 2013 and 2018 ARCA Menards Series West champion and a past Southwest Tour feature winner at Irwindale.

He praised crew chief Mike Keen for mid-race adjustments and said he planned to go to Disneyland to celebrate.

Cole Williams, from Borden, Ind., raced a California-based car owned by Gary Collins to the $10,000 victory in the Pro Late Model 100. It was his first race in Irwindale. The 23-year old two-year veteran of the CARS Super Late Model Tour is a two-time Nashville (Tenn.) Fairgrounds Speedway track champion. He also is a 2019 graduate of the Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program. He said the deal to race in Irwindale came together only days before the event.

Travis Thirkettle, a past Irwindale multi-series winner from Canyon Country, drove his own locally-built Racecar Factory modified to a convincing victory in the 75-lap event. The 41-year old son of multi-time NASCAR regional stock car champion Jim Thirkettle, won his 36th main event at Irwindale. He is tied for ninth place all-time in feature victories (including late models) at the track, which opened in March of 1999.

The first feature started 13 modifieds, with fastest qualifier Thirkettle’s No. 5 outside row two. He took the lead on lap 12 by passing second starter Eddie Secord. Jeremy Doss, the 2018 SPEARS Southwest Tour champion and Las Vegas Bullring modified winner last November, qualified fifth quickest. He took second on lap 19 and gradually reduced Thirkettle’s 30-yard lead until they were nose-to-tail. Doss battled Thirkettle side-by-side from lap 55 to lap 63 when their cars made contact exiting turn four. Doss’ Eddie Wilcox No. 75 bounced off the crashwall, slowed briefly and dropped to third.

Past modified series champion Dylan Cappello drove the No. 36c to second. He received the $1,000 hard charger bonus. Doss was a half-straight (4.315 seconds) behind Thirkettle at the finish.

Race two was the first pro late model race on the third-mile. The race was a surprise hit with spectators and drivers. It started 22 cars straight-up based upon qualifying times. Williams started fourth and led laps 34-88, 90-92 and 99-101 (one extra lap). The battle for the lead between Williams and Jeremy Doss was intense and entertaining. Doss started sixth and used the outside groove to lead laps 89 and 93-98 by less than a car length.

Doss appeared on his way to his first Irwindale victory as the leading duo raced side-by-side lap after lap. A lapped car in the low groove caused inside runner Williams to veer up the track to avoid contact. Williams hit Doss’ car, which spun in turn two. Williams slowed briefly and continued. Doss resumed racing so the caution flag did not appear, but the white flag waved a lap late.

Williams recaptured the lead when Doss spun and led laps 99-101. The stunning victory gave the Gary Collins No. 21 team from Bakersfield $10,000 cash. Williams said over the infield mic his dad and family in Indiana were watching the race on the internet.

The late model race had six yellow flags for spins and one red flag on lap 20 for a spectacular crash. Tegan Harlen, 14, started 22nd and experienced a stuck throttle on the backstretch. His car climbed and rode the third turn wall 15 yards with the front of his car. The impact broke the fuel pump and spilled fuel, causing flames to erupt in the engine and extended into the car. Harlen rapidly hopped from the car, which had the rear end atop the wall and the left front on the track. Track firemen quickly extinguished the blaze. Harlen escaped injury.

The final race featured SPEARS Southwest Tour super late models. The 200-lapper had a 10-minute break after 100-laps. Crewmen from the hot pits in the infield came to the cars stopped on the third-mile front straight and worked on cars. Changing tires was not permitted. Fastest qualifier and pole starter Thorn was the first of three race leaders and there were five lead changes.

Thorn paced the first 37 laps, laps 96-149 and laps 151-200. Coloradan Preston Peltier led laps 38-78 and lap 150 after dueling Thorn closely for the lead from lap 102 to lap 160. Then Thorn gradually extended his lead. Linny White led laps 79-95. He brushed the backstretch wall hard after contact on lap 150 as racing resumed following a caution flag. White’s No. 99 dropped from third to seventh.

Following Thorn across the finish line were Peltier, Tayler Riddle, Jack Wood and Dylan Lupton.

Post-race tech inspection of the top five cars resulted in Riddle’s third-place Van Doorn chassis Ford being disqualified for a left side weight distribution violation. He was listed as not classified. Only 29 cars were classified as finishers. The team, which towed 19 hours from Naches, Wash., lost $6,500 for the rules violation. The official third through 10th-place finishers were: Wood, Lupton, White, Logan Bearden, Eric Schmidt, Carlos Vieira, Austin Reed and Bobby Hodges.