Vargas & Huddleston Share Irwindale Spoils

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Ryan Vargas won the opening late model race of the season Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein Photo)

IRWINDALE, Calif. – Irwindale Speedway completed a six division, seven main event program Saturday despite the rainiest winter in recent SoCal history.

Three sunny days followed days of rain and permitted racing on City of Irwindale Night. Four races on the half and three on the third-mile entertained an estimated 3,000 spectators. They braved chilly (for SoCal) temps in the low 50s to watch 56 cars race in a show lasting two hours and 45-minutes.

Featured events were a pair of 30-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series LKQ Pick Your Part late model main events presented by Sunrise Ford on the progressively-banked half-mile. Those events bookended the racing program as the first and seventh main events. Thirteen cars started both events.

Fastest qualifier Ryan Vargas, 18, started on the pole in a straight-up start based upon qualifying times and led all 30 laps in the opener. He drove the No. 26 Alec Martinez Chevy rented for the evening. It was his No. 23 Vargas family car through the 2017 season when Vargas drove it to three Irwindale feature victories, including the 100-lap season finale. Saturday was the fourth late model victory at Irwindale for the former SoCal resident who relocated to Concord, N.C., in 2018.

Trevor Huddleston started third and battled Blaine Perkins for second until lap 26 when he took the spot. He trailed Vargas by .648 of a second. Perkins, from Bakersfield, Calif., and Jace Jones, in his late model debut, followed. Jones drove the HPR No. 55 Chevy that his brother Jagger, 16, drove during the past two seasons. Jace Jones is the son of versatile sports car, Indy car and stock car driver P. J. Jones and grandson of 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones. He celebrated his 14th birthday Feb. 22 to become eligible to race on half-miles.

All 13 starters finished the first feature with 10 drivers on the lead lap. The winner averaged 90.548 mph. Rookie Jones, from Scottsdale, Ariz., ran the fastest lap of 93.211 mph with his family and brother present to witness his strong showing.

The 13-car field used a 10-car inverted starting lineup for the second feature based on finishing positions in the first 30. That put Vargas and Huddleston in the fifth row. Two cars collided in the fourth turn and Rodney Peacher’s car nosed into the outside wall hard without injury. A 12-minute red flag ensued. Kevin Furden led four laps and Lucas McNeil led laps 5-20. The first six cars ran in a pack during early laps with passing plentiful.

Huddleston dueled with Perkins for second before making an outside pass exiting then two on lap 12. McNeil ran high and Huddleston low to lap 21 when the leading duo lapped two slower cars simultaneously in the third turn. Huddleston darted to the inside under McNeil and had the lead by turn four. He opened a 2.204 victory margin over McNeil.

It was Huddleston’s 44th Irwindale career feature victory. He is a three-time (2015-17) track and California State Whelen All-American Series champion. He moved into sole possession of sixth place in Irwindale Speedway feature victories with the triumph. The third-generation driver is one victory shy of tying his father’s 45 victories. His father Tim, also a three-time Irwindale late model champion, is co-promoter at the track with Sunrise Ford dealer and K&N West car owner Bob Bruncati. Huddleston, 22, is now racing a Ford for the second season in the K&N West Series for Bruncati.

Rounding out the top five in the second 30 were Perkins, Vargas and rookie Jones.

Fastest qualifier and 2018 Irwindale Race Trucks Series champion Lucas McNeil, 25, double-dipped on the half-mile. He passed early leader Andrew Porter and led the final 27 laps. He averaged 86.963 mph. Porter trailed by .966 of a second. The Spec Late Model 20-lap main, also on the half-mile, went to Kenny Smith, 72, the reigning series champion and oldest champion in Irwindale history.

Super stocks, INEX Legend Cars and four-cylinder enduro cars raced on the third-mile. Winners included Rich DeLong III, driving a Chevy SS, in a 25-lap super stock main. Former 410 sprint car driver Rodney Argo, the fastest qualifier in a 17-car field, drove a 1999 Honda Prelude to an eight-second victory in a 25-lap main. Thirteen cars finished. Cars this season are divided into two classes based upon power. Fourth place Brad Stellman won in the less powerful class with his Honda Accord.

Albuquerque, N.M., resident Cameron Morga, 19, set fastest qualifying time and started at the back of a nine-car INEX Legends field. He took the lead on lap four and won the 35-lap race by six seconds. He also won three years ago in the same car on his first visit to Irwindale. Ricky Schlick, series five-time champion Darren Amidon and Parker Stephens followed.