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VARGAS TOPS LT MODELS + “N of D” MAYHEM – By Tim Kennedy

 

Irwindale, CA., Sept. 2 – Impressive Ryan Varegas gave himself a 17th birthday present three weeks early Saturday on the Irwindale Speedway half-mile oval. The high-school student from La Mirada in his second late model season drove his family-owned No. 23 Chevy from third starting slot in a 20-car field. He led all 50-laps in a dominant performance during the NASCAR LKQ Pick Your Part late model feature.

The featured late model race was the third event on a busy seven main event program on a balmy mid-90s night. It was still 102-degrees at 6:30 pm when the 45-minute autograph session for fans on the front straight concluded. Time trials at 4:00 pm were a second off the track record because of the mid-afternoon heat during So Cal's current heat wave. 

The popular with fans “Night of Destruction”, presented by LKQ Pick Your Part and Seidner's Collision Centers, attracted 6,150 spectators and almost filled the main grandstand. The other half-mile oval race, event one at 7:00 pm, was the Robertson Solar Southwest Tour Truck Series. Another teenager, Zack St. Onge, 15, from Upland, also led every lap in the nine-truck, 30-lap race. 

Another oval race, event two, was the Seidner's Collision Centers Enduro for four-cylinder sedans. It used the third-mile with a tire-marked jog onto the half-mile at the starting line, making it a five-turn course instead of the usual third-mile oval. Some 38 cars started and 27 (61%) finished. The almost 11-minute race had one red flag to remove two stalled cars. Bory Molina started second and led every lap in his No. 71 Honda. 

MAYHEM EVENTS: Starting at 8:15, four fan favorite mayhem events followed the three oval contests. The final four events used the third-mile and infield. Starting fields were: 

   > 16 cars in a 20-lap Figure 8 race through the infield intersection; 

   > 23 cars in a 20-lap skid plate cars race on the same course used for the enduro race; 

   > 14 cars for a 15-minute demolition derby that had only two cars still mobile at the checkered flag; 

   > 11-cars in a 16-minute trailer race on the same five-turn “R-oval” course used by other events. The trailer race had only three vehicles still circulating when the checkered flag flew at 10:56 pm. Fan applause determined the winner based on showmanship and hitting. 

LM 50: The 20-car NASCAR Whelen All-American Series race for track and national points had five Irwindale regulars who ranked in the top 47 drivers in Whelen national points. Irwindale Speedway 2015-16 champion and 2017 point leader Trevor Huddleston, 21, was only one point behind Lee Pulliam, of North Carolina, in national points in the latest weekly rankings of the top 500 drivers with Whelen points. 

Huddleston set fourth fastest qualifying time in late afternoon qualifying and started fourth with a seven car inverted starting lineup. Vargas, the fifth fastest in qualifying, started third and grabbed the lead on the first lap. He extended it to 30yards by crossed flags at lap 25. Huddleston, aboard his No. 50 HPR Chevy, took second on lap 8, but he could not cut into Vargas' advantage. Huddleston hoped for a caution flag and resultant double-file restart to have a chance at passing fleet Vargas. It never happened. 

Vargas, ranked third in Irwindale points, won the all-green light race with half a straightaway lead (4.007 seconds) over Huddleston, winner of 11 Irwindale features this season. The 17-minute race averaged 86.981 mph and had 17 of 20 starters racing at the finish. Vargas clocked the fastest lap of 90.122 mph. It was his second feature triumph this season, but the first time he raced under the waving checkered flag first. When Vargas won the second 30-lap main on April 8 he did so because the car of the apparent winner did not pass post-race tech inspection. This week tech inspectors checked carburetors of the first five finishers and all passed. 

Huddleston, whose father Tim is a three-time late model champion at IS, extended his 2017 lead to 76-points over fastest qualifier Dylan Garner, 18, who finished eighth Saturday. The first 13 finishers, including all four rookies, completed 50 laps. Three-time IS champion Nick Joanides, 47, started sixth in a Joe Nava Chevy and finished third, 7.484 seconds off the lead. Lawless Alan started fifth and finished fourth. 

KAYLA IMPRESSES: Kayla Eshleman, 15, was the only driver unable to post a qualifying time because of a broken rear end. Her family-owned team borrowed needed parts from car owner Joe Nava and started last (20th) in the feature. The 2016 IS Bandolero champion worked her way forward quickly past veteran late model drivers. She was 11th on lap 12 and eighth on lap 21. She exchanged P. 8 with past champion Sean Woodside on laps 25-26. She was seventh on lap 30, sixth on lap 35, and passed fellow rookie/pole starter Ryan Schartau on lap 40. 

Eshleman trailed winner Vargas by 9.012 seconds. All four IS late model rookies finished in the top 12 positions Saturday and all four rank in the top 11 in track points. Schartau, 14, placed sixth, Matt Johnson eighth, and Jagger Jones, 14, twelfth. Woodside and Andrew Porter finished ninth and tenth. The IS late model schedule has twin-30-lap main events scheduled for September 9 and September 23—the final weekend to accumulate Whelen national points. 

SWT TRUCKS 30: Fourth fastest qualifier St. Onge started second and won his third SWT series feature at Irwindale this season, his first year racing on a half-mile. It was the sixth of seven SWTT races at IS this season. He drove the rented No. 26 Dodge Ram owned by driver Jeff Williams to his three victories. St. Onge beat point leader Ron Davis, Jr. by 0.429 in an all-green light 10:30.287 event that averaged 85.675 mph. 

July 15 winner Dustin Vandermooren and 2013 SWTT champion Neil Conrad waged a contentious duel for third position that Vandermooren took for good on lap 23. Mike Kelperis started from pole position and placed fifth, 18-seconds in back of the winner as the final driver on the lead lap. All nine starters were running at the conclusion. 

ENDURO 20: Second starter Bory Molina, from Glendora, led every lap and beat runner-up Eddie Howell by 1.906 and became the fourth different enduro winner in four 2017 races. Robert Rice, Jr., 22, finished third, 8.395 seconds back. Danny Queener, Rodney Argo, Steven Belling and Travis Mooney finished all 20-laps in that order. P. 8-17 completed 19 laps. P. 18-24 completed 18 laps; 27 cars were racing at the finish. Howell ran the fastest lap of 21.343. The race had ten first-time enduro racing participants. One driver even had a helmeted and secured in place rider in his passenger seat. There were four female drivers in the race. 

FIGURE 8s 20: Rodney Argo, of Gardena, started sixth in his two-tone (cowhide color) 1995 Honda Accord and led laps 3-20. He became the fifth different winner in five F-8 races this season. It was his first main event victory at Irwindale Speedway. Argo is a long-time 410 cu. in. sprint car driver and winner of the 1998 Oval Nationals at the half-mile clay Perris Auto Speedway. 

Robert Rice, Sr., 51, and pole starter/laps 1-2 leader Troy Anderson finished second and third. J. Queener, from Mira Loma, and Todd Paperny, from Hollywood, also completed 20 laps in fourth and fifth positions. The all-green light race took 7:18.955 and averaged 61.838 mph. Numerous near misses took place this week at the X-intersection and had spectators yelling throughout the race. 

SPC 20: Mike Di Gregorio, from Menifee, started 16th in a 23-car field. He took the lead on lap 8 and won the 20-lap skid plate car main in his black No. 18 Honda Accord that he has used since 2013. It was his record-breaking 15th SPC victory, one more than his brother-in-law Sean Brennan, who won the last four SPC features dating back to last December. It was the 56th Irwindale SPC event since the popular event started in 2009. So the brothers-in-law have won 52% of all SPC events at IS.

Robert Rice, Sr., who made the original metal skid plates in 2009 for use instead of rubber tires, finished second in his Honda. Steven Belling and Austin Lee were the only other drivers who completed all 20 laps. P. 5 Brennan was the first of four drivers down one lap. The all-green race took 11:26.397 and averaged 52.448 mph. Di Gregorio ran the fastest race lap of 31.871 (56.478 mph). 

DEMO DERBY: A season-high 14 cars lined-up in a watered section of the infield near the finish line. Four female drivers participated in the car-bashing to determine the last car running and hitting other cars. When the checkered flag flew after 15-minutes only two cars were moving slowly. Jonathon Destefano won over Dan Pachella and newcomer Christian Burks. He became the fourth different DD winner in four events this season. 

TRAILER RACE: Eleven starters towed boats, a small house trailer, a jet ski and other assorted cargo. The 16-minute race victory for the second time this year went to the No. 7 Chevy El Camino driven by Robert Rice, Sr. His boat was still intact and reusable. Robbie Salcido's sedan and boat earned second. Robert Rice, Jr., in his Chevy El Camino and jet ski, received third place. The infield and third-mile resembled a tornado debris field at the conclusion.