KENNEDY: Irwindale Opens With Sunrise Ford Showdown

Tim Kennedy

LOS ANGELES – The Irwindale Speedway second annual Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown, presented by the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, showcased Spears Manufacturing Southwest Tour Super Late Models, Spears Pro Late Models, and Spears Modifieds on Feb. 6.

Two days of practice from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. preceded practice, qualifying and racing Saturday. A pair of 25-lap B-mains for pro late models and modifieds began at 5:30 p.m.

Los Angeles County health regulations allowed only competitors to attend. Everyone had to wear face masks as a precaution during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Fans at home were able to watch all racing for $24.99 via the live telecast with track announcers Tommy Mason and Jeffrey Best calling action. MAVTV Network taped the racing for a delayed telecast.

The inaugural Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown on Feb. 1 attracted about 5,500 spectators in the main grandstand with 67 cars present in the same three divisions. Without the pandemic restrictions, attendance likely would have topped 6,500.

The car count increased from 67 in 2020 to 105 this year — with 23 modifieds (up from 13), 38 pro late models (up from 22), and 44 super late models (up from 33 last February). All three Spears racing divisions awarded 2021 championship points in the first of 10 scheduled events.

Feature winners earned trophies containing bundled stacks of new $20 bills encased in a locked glass base. Winners of each trophy received keys to access their first-place reward after their winning cars passed post-race tech inspections.

This year, co-promoters Tim Huddleston and Sunrise Ford owner Bob Bruncati increased prize money by awarding the SLM winner $30,000 instead of $25,000; while the pro late model winner received $15,000 instead of $10,000. The first-place modified driver again received $5,000.

The Southern California paved track opening race, on a sunny, mid-70s day, proved the increased cash attracted competitors. Some towed 20 to 24 hours to compete. The popular new showdown reprised the annual 2003-11 Toyota All-Star Showdown for NASCAR regional touring divisions.

Last year drivers came from 10 states. Super late model drivers lived in eight states, pro late model drivers resided in four states and one came from Japan, while modified drivers came from four states.

This year drivers came from 13 states — 10 states for super late models, four for pro late models and six for modifieds. States represented in the 105 entries present were: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

This year 23 drivers competed at Irwindale for the first time. Seven newcomers at Irwindale were in the modified division, nine raced in the pro late model class, and seven were super late model drivers.

Ambitious Jeremy Doss raced in all three divisions and had 450 potential laps of racing ahead of him. He won the first two of the three features and failed to finish race three.

Winners in all three divisions of the inaugural Sunrise Ford All-Star Showdown returned this year to repeat. Multi-time Spears champion Derek Thorn, from Bakersfield, again drove his No. 43 super late model and was one of three leaders before dropping out.

Indianan Cole Willians, in a pro late model from Bakersfield, returned in the same car this year. Owner/driver Travis Thirkettle again drove his RCF-built modified.

Modifieds and pro late model racing used the third-mile oval, while SLM raced on the progressively banked half-mile. Drivers in all three divisions set new one lap track records during mid-afternoon single car qualifying.

In the modifieds, Doss ran 15.040 to break Eddie Secord’s 15.493 (77.377 mph) mark set on Sept. 19, 2020. Doss’ 15.025 run in his pro late model eclipsed the 15.221 (78.760 mph) record by Robby Hornsby on Feb. 1.

First time Irwindale racer Casey Roderick, from Georgia, ran 17.035 to break the 17.055 (105.541 mph) standard set by Dylan Lupton on March 23, 2019.

All 40 super late model qualifiers ran 17-second laps from the 17.035 fast time to 17.601 by the 40th-fastest qualifier. The field was so competitive that drivers raced three wide and lapping did not occur until lap 35.

There was frequent passing for position throughout the field and only one brief caution flag flew for a two-car tangle on lap 71. There was a 10-minute intermission after 100 laps and crews were allowed to make adjustments after all cars stopped on the front straight. No tire changes were allowed.

The super late model field had nine rookies and eight started the 200-lap feature. Four rookies finished in the top 11. Thirteen drivers finished on the lead lap, with seven non-Californians in the top 10.

There were 25 of 35 starters still racing when the checkered flag flew at 10:26 p.m. after 177 laps because of the strict track curfew. Winners of all three divisions passed post-race inspections and collected their trophies and bundled cash.

Prominent stock car and modified car builders again this year included: VanDoorn, Fury, Rowdy, Hamke, Senneker, Farre P1, Racecar Factory, STR, Port City, Five Star Bodies, Jackson, and Pathfinder.