KENNEDY: Irwindale Speedway Gets Back To Racing

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Tim Kennedy

IRWINDALE, Calif. – Racing at Irwindale Speedway returned Saturday for the first time since Feb. 1 with a six division, eight main event program for competitors and pit crews.

The event excluded fans in the grandstand because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that halted racing in mid-March.

The local economy gradually restarted in late May using precautionary measures such as wearing masks and proper social distancing. Management recreived permission from local authorities to conduct the event by adhearing to currrent federal, state and local guidelines. No grandstand tickets were sold. Persons in the grandstand were spotters and members of pit crews. The entire event was televised live by SPEED SPORT TV affiliate Low Budget TV on irwindalespeedwaytv.com. The June 13 Irwindale event will be re-telecast on MAVTV on a date to be announced.

To avoid using the speedway lighting system, the event was conducted during daylight hours. Pits opened at 9 a.m. with the pit meeting at 10:30 a.m. Practice ran from 11:20 a.m. to 1:40 p.m. and the drivers meeting was 1:50 p.m. Qualifying started at 2:30 p.m. in sunny, mid-70s weather. Opening ceremonies started at 4:25 p.m. with 255 scheduled racing laps to be completed by approximately 7:30 p.m.

The welcome return of short-track racing to southern California was the NASCAR Advanced Auto Parts All-American Series point season opener. It was postponed from March 14 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Drivers utilized an open practice session Friday from 4:00 to 7:30 p.m. They also had two practice sessions per division mid-day Saturday before time trials.

The event Saturday attracted 67 entries, including 15 first-time Irwindale racers. Six female drivers — two each in late models, legends and enduros — raced. Numerous teenage drivers competed. Drivers came from five states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma — and one from Japan.

Divisions racing on the progressively-banked half-mile were:

  • LKG Pick Your Part Late Models – (18 entries) with two 35-lap main events.
  • Lucas Oil Race Trucks (five entries) and You Race LA Spec Late Models – (seven entries) in a combined 40-lap race that awarded points in both series.

Divisions that used the four-degree banked third-mile oval were:

  • INEX Legend Cars – (12 entries) with a pair of 35-lap features.
  • Tucker Tire Enduro sedans – (17 entries) with two 25-lap mains.
  • Progressive Paint Super Stocks – (eight cars) with a 25-lap feature.

There were twin main events for three of the divisions and separate winners in the truck/spec late model race. The enduro cars had winners in both races in the super and stock divisions of the series. Thus, there were 11 main event winners in the eight features conducted.

FEATURE WINNERS:

Trevor Huddleston, 24, won both 35-lap late model features that were the first and last races of the day. As second fastest qualifier to teammate Dean Thompson, Huddleston started second in the first 35 lapper and led all the way. He started 10th in the second race that inverted the top-10 finishers from the first race. The three-time track and California NASCAR champion increased his Irwindale feature victory total to 53, fifth most in track history.

The second 35-lap feature started at 7:10 p.m. Huddleston passed Nick Joanides for the lead on lap 20. The race concluded with a red flag on lap 32. Cars three and four wide from second through sixth were lapping a pair of cars exiting turn four. Cars made contact and several cars received damage. Fourth-place Dylan Garner spun broadside at speed into the third-mile turn one wall attenuator, which shattered. He walked away uninjured from his totaled, self-built No. 97. The race was terminated at 7:23 pm for safety reasons because of the destroyed attenuator. The official finish reverted to the lap 31 running order.

The two winners in the spec late model and truck 40-lap race were two-time spec late model series champion Kenny Smith, 73, and his grandson Andrew Porter, 26, in the No. 7 truck. Porter placed fourth overall. It was the 15th Irwindale victory for grandpa and 10th Irwindale triumph for his grandson. Interviewed together at the finish line, Smith remembered his wife Marylou, who succumbed to cancer months ago.

“We were married 55 years and one day,” he told promoter Tim Huddleston via the pit mic.

Third-mile winners were:

Legend Car: Brent Scheidemantle, the Irwindale 2014 series champion, led the final 10 laps of the first race. Jordan Holloway, 16, one of the teenage visitors from Las Vegas, was the third leader of the second race. He led the final 11 laps after finishing third in the first 35 during his first competition at Irwindale.

Enduros: The first 25-lap main went to Rodney Argo, a 46-year-old former 410 sprint car feature winner at Ascot and Perris. He started last in the 17-car field, led all but the first nine laps and captured the sport class victory. Robert Rice started fourth, led nine laps and finished second overall in his Honda Accord. His stock division triumph was his 55th at Irwindale.

The second enduro 25 lapper also went to Argo in his Honda Prelude and lifted his Irwindale feature victory total to 26 in three years of enduro racing. Chris Voight started his Honda Accord on pole, led 18 laps and finished second overall and first in the stock class.

Super Stocks: Seven of eight cars present started. Three drivers waged a close battle during the final 10 laps. Back row starter Bryan Harrell, 58, led the final 15 laps in the No. 94 Sampson Camaro. It was the 29th victory at Irwindale for the 2006 and ’08 super stock track champion. Reigning champion Rich De Long III, the winner of all eight series races last season, took second from early leader Jim Verrmillion on lap 22. He trailed Harrell by 1.083 seconds, with Vermillion 1.934 seconds back.