IRWINDALE CHAMPIONSHIPS & FAN APPRECIATION NIGHT - BY Tim Kennedy
Irwindale, CA., Nov. 2 – The 15th and final week of 2013 racing at Irwindale Speedway Saturday was championship deciding time for six racing series and fan appreciation night presented by Toyota. More than 40 prizes were given throughout the evening to lucky fans in the announced crowd of 3,652. Championships were settled in five Irwindale divisions and one touring truck series. Only one point leader entering the evening lost his point lead to a challenger. A super-competitive truck series finished with a tie for first place in points. The championship was decided using the most top feature finishes by both drivers.
Irwindale Speedway champions for 2013 are: Rip Michels (super late models), Darren Cheek (Progressive Painting Race Trucks), Zack Green (Superior Engineering Super Stocks), Darren Amidon (legend cars), and Ricky Lewis (bandoleros). Neil Conrad won his first Southwest Tour Truck series championship by winning all five Irwindale main events after setting fastest qualifying time each night. This series, formerly called American Race Trucks and later West Coast Pro Trucks, also raced for series points at three other speedways. It uses a different point system that also awards points to the ten quickest qualifiers, to main event lap leaders and a bonus point to the leader of the most feature laps.
SLM 40: Fastest qualifier Michels started fourth in a 13 car field aboard his Pick Your Part Ford Fusion and won his all-time best 67th Irwindale main event. David Ross led the first 15 laps on the half-mile by about 15-yards. He might have won if a caution flag on lap 16 had not bunched the field. Michels was sixth at the caution. He used an extremely low groove past battling drivers into second position by lap 21. Ross and Michels waged an intense duel from lap 25 to the lap 40 checkers, with Ross outside and Michels inside. Michels went to the extreme outside in turn four and took the lead on lap 37. Ross switched to the inside and pressured Michels, but his car wiggled exiting the fourth turn on lap 39. That gave Michels breathing room and he won by a length (0.162 officially) over impressive Ross.
Toni McCray passed pole starter Linny White for third spot on lap 38 and trailed Michels by 1.921. White's No. 99 placed fourth (-2.618 seconds); Jeff Eshleman took fifth (-2.779). Dennis Furden, Andre Prescott and John Manke also completed all 40 laps in that order. The top three finishers stopped for post-race interviews and had a group hug for photographers. Michels won his fifth Irwindale series championship--2000 modifieds, plus SLM 2002-03-07. He has been mentoring younger drivers for racing teams in North Carolina and California. “The Ripper”, as he is known, won six of eight SLM races this season and totaled 396 points for his 2013 SLM title. McCray, who entered the race 20 points in back of Michels, finished second with 372. Prescott placed third with 282.
RACE TRUCKS: Seven drivers entered the eighth and final PPRT event with a mathematical chance of winning the 2013 title. Darren Cheek led Todd Cameron by two points. Ken Michaelian and Kenny Brown, 66, were tied for third, eight points off the lead. Dennis Arena was 14 back and truck rookie Christian McGhee 18 back. A win is worth 50 points with two points per position drop-off. Sixteen trucks started the 40-lap finale. Fastest qualifier Connor Cantrell, 23, led the first 22 laps from pole in a three-way dog-fight with 2013 late model champion Ryan Partridge and McGhee. The trio often went three wide; McGhee and Partridge traded P. 2 twice. Partridge took the lead on lap 23 via an inside pass leaving the fourth turn. McGhee dropped Cantrell to third place on lap 26 as drivers in P.4-10 traded positions frequently. At lap 35 a four-truck crash involved title-hopefuls Cameron and Lucas McNeil. Tom Stanton's truck hit the second turn inner wall and resulted in a precautionary red flag.
Trucks restarted with Partridge leading McGhee, Cantrell, Blake Dunkleberger, Cheek, Arena, Brown, and Andrew Porter. Suddenly leader Partridge slowed and stopped in turn four. He coasted his No. 48 Toyota to the infield and parked it with a broken coil. McGhee led lap 35 over Cantrell, Dunkleberger, Cheek and Arena. On lap 36 Brown hit the backstretch wall, causing a caution and sidelining his truck. On lap 38 P. 7 Porter slammed the backstretch wall with the right side and trailed sparks to turn four, but he drove to the infield to keep the track green. On lap 39 Cantrell took the lead from McGhee and led the final two laps over McGhee, Arena, Dunkleberger, Cameron, Cheek and Michaelian. Cameron passed Cheek on the lap 36 restart and would've been the champion if another truck did so, or if he finished one position higher. It was the second Irwindale title for Cheek, the 2002 super stock champion.
Championship contenders Cheek and Cameron tied for first place with 326 points. Using NASCAR's tie-breaking format, neither driver prevailed by scoring a 2013 feature victory. Comparing their second place finishes, Cheek had two in the first two races this season to one by Cameron. (The NASCAR Sprint Cup 2011 championship used the same tie-breaking system and Tony Stewart won the title with five victories to one by Carl Edwards.) Arena jumped from fifth to third in final points with 318. Fourth place also was a tie at 316 between McGhee and Michaelian. Series rookie McGhee earned fourth with one feature win to none for Michaelian. Brown was sixth with 306 points. McNeil remained seventh at 266 points. Cantrell missed two of eight 2013 races and tied for ninth with Partridge at 240 points. Cantrell won three times to Partridge's two victories.
SUPER STOCKS: A 12-car field raced 35-laps and new champion Zack Green, 23, led all but the first circuit in his No. 21 Camaro.. His father Jeff won the same championship at IS in 2000-01. Mark Whitson came from ninth to finish second, 1.016 back. Robert Dezarov, Greg Crutcher and Gary Read completed the top five. Read was the point leader by two points over Green prior to the race, but he saw his bid for his initial track championship fall short by six points (326-320). Crutcher (312) and Dezarov (300) finished third and fourth in points. A red flag flew on lap 16 after lapped Gary Quesada spun entering the backstretch. His spinning car collected fastest qualifier/P. 2 Steve Smith and third place Curtis White. Both contending cars were towed from the scene with extensive damage.
SW TOUR TRUCKS: New champion Neil Conrad, 56, had a 35-point lead before the race and only needed to start to earn his first championship. The retired fire department captain was the third race leader (laps 26 and 28-30). Zack Green, from Long Beach, jumped from his Camaro super stock into his Ford F-150 truck and led the first 19 laps. Then a deflating RF tire caused Green to slow gradually and finish ninth after going a lap down on lap 29. Ed Cutler (P. 2 in points) led laps 20-25 and 27, but trailed the winner by 0.237. Ron Davis finished third, 4.392 seconds off the lead. James West and Alan Rizzone rounded out the top five.
LEGENDS: Thirteen of the identical cars (frames, weight and 1,200cc Yamaha engines) raced 35 laps on the third-mile. Brent Scheidemantle used the borrowed No. 21 sedan instead of his own No. 98 coupe and led the first 18 laps. FQ Ricky Schlick set a new track record by 0.001 during time trials. He came from fifth on the grid to second by lap 5. Schlick,16, passed his teammate for the night on the inside entering turn one to lead lap19. He won by 2.137 seconds over Scheidemantle. Aaron Wells, Mark Iungerich, Brandon Weaver and 2013 IS Legends champion Darren Amidon followed. He won his second Legends title and first since 2007 by 26 points (276-250) over Scheidemantle. Nine of 13 finishers ran all 35 laps. The all-green light race took 11:14.946 and averaged 62.165 mph.
BANDOLEROS: Twelve Briggs & Stratton powered cars raced 20 lap mains Friday and Saturday. FQ Ryan Vargas led laps 1-4 and 13-20 Saturday for his second victory. New series champion Ricky Lewis, from Oxnard, led laps 5-12 and placed second, 0.389 off the lead. Both passes for the lead were made on the inside entering turn one. Rookie Levi Jones, Niko Mongenel and Ryan Dunkleberger finished third through fifth. On Friday, during open practice for all divisions, Mongenel won his second main event of the year over Jackson, Vargas, Lewis and Dunkleberger. Vargas, with five wins in ten races, won his first IS championship by 28-points (392-364) over newcomer Vargas.
A pair of Loan Mart sponsored $250 to win six-lap trophy dashes for the six quickest qualifiers were the first races run. They followed an on-track driver autograph session, opening ceremonies and the National Anthem. Third race leader Green won the SWT Truck dash after leading the final three laps. He won by 0.309, ran the fastest lap of 88.309 mph and averaged 86.411 mph. White started third, led every lap and won the super late model dash by 0.905. He averaged 96.678 mph.
Fan appreciation night awards included: $25 to $40 meals at six area restaurants; a VIP wing party at Hooters; five couples karting packages at K-1 Speed; four one-day passes at Universal Studios; two admissions to Medieval Times in Anaheim; one basket of Lucas Oil car care products; five packages of four tickets to Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park courtesy of So Cal Toyota Dealers Association; four VIP Adventure 20 from LA Racing Experience; five pairs of 2014 Irwindale Speedway season tickets; two tickets in premier level to NHL LA Kings hockey; two tickets to NBA LA Lakers; two tickets to NBA LA Clippers, and a pair of two night stays with breakfast for two and Sunday brunch for two at Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Monrovia.