GAY & JOANIDES TAKE IRWINDALE SLM TWIN 35s – By Tim Kennedy
IRWINDALE, California Toyota Speedway at Irwindale hosted its premier AC Delco Super Late Models Saturday in twin-35 lap features during NASCAR Whelen All-American Weekly Racing action on the progressively banked half-mile. The five division, six main event program attracted about 2,000 fans on USG-Family Night for races on the half and third-miles and on the Figure 8 course. Danny Gay, 35, won the first AC Delco SLM 35 after starting fourth in an impressive 22-car field that had a three-car inversion based on qualifying times. The second SLM 35 had a straight-up starting lineup based on finishing positions in the first 35. Point leader Nick Joanides, who traded the lead three-times with Gay and chased him home in the first race, started second and led all 35 laps in the second event. Gay scored his first career victory at Irwindale. Joanides' triumph was his 23rd at TS@I, tying him with Dean Kuhn for 11th place on the track's list of career main event winners at the 11 year old track.
Other winners: King Taco Super Truck victor Rod Johnson, Jr, 19-year old son of the track's 1999 SLM champion, turned the half-mile in a rapid 13:37.376 in an all-green flag contest for 18 trucks. Winners on the third-mile were Darren Amidon in a 35-lap Legend cars race with 23 starters and rookie Ryan Cansdale, 10, in a 14-car, 20-lap Bandolero race. Fastest qualifier Steve Stewart started and finished first in a Pick Your Part Outlaw Figure 8 race with eight starters. The final race of the night took 6:39.479 and was caution-free. Stewart streaked past the checkered flag at 9:59 pm.
1st SLM 35: Gay, a resident of Lakeside (San Diego area) won $1,250 for his initial TS@I victory. He has collected almost 100 feature first place trophies during his career with more than 50 victories alone at his home track—Cajon Speedway—which closed after 2004. He also logged winning efforts at tracks in San Bernardino, Tucson and Lake Havasu, AZ. His best prior TS@I finish was third place on April 18 in his own black and silver No. 01 Chevy. Gay missed racing in recent years because of a serious off-road crash that left him with one shorter leg following surgery and bone grafting. He had to work for his first victory all 35 laps by dueling Joanides, the hottest driver at the track this season. Joanides led the first two laps and lap 4. Gay shot from fourth to second on the initial lap. He passed Joanides on the inside at turn four and led lap 3. Joanides used an outside pass at the starting line to lead the fourth lap. Inside-running Gay retook the point on lap 5 and held it to the lap 35 checkers despite heavy pressure from Joanides, who said his car was “bottoming out” during the event. Gay jumped to the outside once he cleared Joanides Chevy and forced him to challenge from the inside groove. Pole starter Luis Martinez, Jr, 19, finished third. Quickest qualifier/third starter Rip Michels finished fourth after radioing to his team under a lap 16 caution that his car was “too free on top and OK on the bottom”. Dan Moore, 16-year old Bear Rzesnowiecky, David Ross, Travis Thirkettle, Ron Esau and Jeff Eshleman, second oldest of three racing sons of former Fontana mayor David Eshleman, completed the top ten. Seventeen of 22 starters (16 on the lead lap) finished the 18-minute race that had two yellow flags for one and two car accidents. Gay defeated Joanides by 0.232 with Martinez 0.757 back and Michels 1.498 in back of the winner.
2nd SLM 35: Following a 90-minute break between the two SLM mains, 21 drivers took the green flag for the second 35. Joanides would not be denied this time and he led all 35 circuits. He held off challenger Michels, the all-time TS@I feature winner with 57 triumphs, by 1.170 seconds. Moore started fifth and finished third, 1.958 back. When the top finishers met the media later, Michels said, “Nick is so solid right now I had nothing for him. I drove my butt off for 35 laps and couldn't catch him.” Winner Joanides stated, “ “We beat the king of Irwindale so I can't complain. First and second finishes, that's a good point night. The Jackson team gives me such a great car each week it's hard to screw up.” Red-hot Joanides, 38, now has won four of the six ACD SLM features this season, plus two of the four Auto Club Late Model mains this year in Loyd McGhee-owned, Mr. Crane backed Chevrolets. His 600 “batting average” has him atop the points in both top tier TS@I NASCAR weekly racing series. He won the 2008 SLM title and finished a close second to Tim Huddleston in the 2008 ACLM title-run.
Patrick Long, a 27-year old American LeMans Series sports car driver under a multi-year contract to Porsche, took time from his busy schedule racing a Porsche 911 RSR in ALMS races to race at Irwindale for the first time. He started 13th and finished 11th in the first 35. Long drove the Jackson Race Cars-built No. 21 Speed Wong Racing Chevy from 11th to a fast-closing fourth place finish in the second 35. He only needed a few more laps to gain a podium finish in his first night of TS@I competition. It was the first outing for the Speed Wong team this season. Long is a veteran of the LeMans 24-hour race in France and endurance race such as the Daytona 24 hours and Sebring 12-hours races in Florida. The southern Californian moved to Europe at age 17 and raced karts, British Formula Ford and British Formula Renault cars through 2002. he became a Porsche Junior team driver in 2003 and a Porsche factory driver in 2004. He speaks French, German and Italian. He currently lists Oak Park, CA (near Agoura Hills) and Clearwater, FL as his home bases. He said he has watched races such as the USAC Thanksgiving Night Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale. His opportunity to race a stock car at the track came after he trained a son of the Speed Wong owner how to handle his new Porsche 911. When asked if he would like to race one of their stock cars he jumped at the opportunity. He drove laps in the car Friday night during the TS@I regular open practice session. Long qualified 14th fastest Saturday in the 22-car field. His 18.426 (97.544 mph) run was only 0.340 slower than FQ Michels' 18.086. His busy April racing schedule included a pair of NASCAR Camping World East stock car races on April 11 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Greenville, N.C and at Hudson, S.C on April 25. He drove a Chevy to sixth in the Greenville 150-lap race with 29 starters and to fifth in the Hudson 165 lap race. Long currently ranks fourth in CW East driver points after two events. On Saturday April 18 Long and his co-driver Jorg Bergmeister raced the No. 45 Porsche 911 RSR to victory in the GT-2 class and eighth place overall in the ALMS Long Beach Grand Prix.
Following his impressive TS@I debut, Long told this writer, “My five racing heroes are Dan Gurney, Mark Donohue, A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones. What they have in common is winning in all types of racing—Indy Cars, sports and stock cars, and some even in off-road racing. I'd like to do that too, including racing in the Baja 1,000 mile race.” He added that he has even driven one of Cory Kruseman's Driving School sprint cars on dirt at Ventura Raceway and he has watched sprint car races at Perris. He values versatility and would like to try rally racing as well. When told that 2008 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Ryan Hunter-Reay raced twice at Irwindale in the Speed Wong No. 20 SLM stock car before he landed an IRL Indy car ride and an IRL victory, Long said he would welcome a chance to race in the Indy 500. He plans to continue his current contract with Porsche, which allows him to race other events to keep sharp. Long said he has four more Camping World stock car races on his schedule this year. They are road races at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, UT., the next CW West race in Irwindale, and at the combined CW West and East Series Iowa Speedway race in Newton, IA on a three-fourths mile oval. His ride will be Bob Bruncati's Sunrise Ford No. 9 Fusion that Auggie Vidovich raced in the January Toyota All-Star Showdown. Completing the top ten in the second SLM 35 were Ross, Brian Wong in the new RCF Speed Wong No. 89, Jeff Eshleman, Scott Dodd, Martinez and David Beat. All 15 finishers completed 35 laps. On the initial lap, third starter Martinez ran into the left rear fender of leader Gay's car, causing it to spin up the track and strike the left side of Bear Rzesnowiecky's passing Ford and setting off a five car crash. Gay went to the pits with a hole in his radiator and parked. Bear's No. 95 Ford scraped to a halt against the backstretch wall and had to be towed to the pits. Rickey McCray also was sidelined by the crash.
KTST: Rod Johnson, Jr, the fourth place driver in final 2008 points and series rookie of the year in super trucks, won the final two KTST features of 2008. He changed his truck number from 88 after the April 18 race to No. 15, the number his dad used in winning 16 TS@I features and the number his grandfather began using 42 years ago according to Rod, Sr. Joe Herold had No. 15 and he relinquished it when he retired after racing in the first two races this season according to Rod, Sr.. “So we did the paperwork and grabbed it to keep it in the family.” Pole-starter Grant Hebner, a 20-year old second year KTST driver, led the first 12 laps. FQ/third starter Johnson made an inside pass in the second turn on lap 13 and drove off to a 35-yard advantage by lap 30 of the 40-lap race. Point leader/double 2009 feature winner Pat Mintey, Jr passed Hebner on lap 20, but he could not reel-in Johnson, who won the third TS@I feature of his brief career and first with his family No. 15. Mintey trailed by 1.522 seconds after 40 green flag laps. Hebner tied his career best third-place finish and was 2.847 seconds in back of Johnson. Jeff Peterson was fourth and Ryan Partridge fifth. Andrew Anderson, a 16-year old Bandoleros frequent winner and Legends graduate of third-mile racing, made his first KTST and half-mile start. The Lancaster teen started eighth in the No. 71 truck and raced to a strong sixth place finish. Ron Peterson, an Irwindale 31-time winner and two-time series champion, Todd Cameron, April 4 winner Mason Britton and Kenny Smith followed. All starters finished and 15 drivers completed all 40 laps in the incident-free race. Ryan Fortier won the KTST trophy dash for the six slowest qualifiers. A first lap three-wide crash in turn four reduced the six truck field to four and cut two laps from the scheduled six-lap distance. Trucks driven by Robbie Ragains and Derek DiSarro were sidelined and unable to start the main event.
LEGENDS: With 23 starters and a five car inversion, third starter Amidon, 23, made an inside pass at the starting line and ran away to a 30-yard (1.929 second) victory. FQ Ryan Reed, 15, took second position on lap 22 and held it to the end. Pole-man Gary Scheuerell, 52, earned third. Brandon Toy, 17, Brent Scheidemantle, 16, Mark Iungerich, 63, five-time champion Tom Landreth (driving the No. 3 raced by his late father Bob), Josh Geer, 31, Cory Miles and second generation driver/rookie Kyle Neveau, 16, rounded out the top ten. Fourteen of 16 finishers ran all 35 laps. Chad Schug started second and tried to win his third consecutive feature this year in his third different car. After winning the opener in his own No. 29 sedan, it broke the drive-shaft at another track. He borrowed Miles' No. 148 coupe and won the last race. He collected first place points and plaque and half of the winning money. With Miles back in his 148 ride, Schug used the No. 37 coupe last raced by his now retired father, Rod Schug. He started second and slowed on lap 31 and dropped out of fifth place with a mechanical problem. The 24-minute race had three cautions, including a lap 19 turn four crash involving six cars. A lap 11 solo crash caused the first yellow flag when former Grand American Modified driver Zach Foster's throttle stuck and he hit the first turn wall hard. His car left skid marks as he pressed the brakes to the max without effect. Winner Amidon told the crowd via the infield PA microphone, “We finished this car at 1:30 today in the parking lot. This is my first win here since my 2007 Irwindale Legends championship season.”
BANDOLEROS: With a strong contingent of youngsters from age 8 through 13 in action, the 550-pound Bandoleros ran a 16-minute, 20-lap race with three cautions. FQ Ryan Cansdale, a karting graduate and Bando rookie, started and finished first. The 10-year old won by 25-yards (1.897 seconds) over fellow rookie Chancellor Tiscareno, 12. Jeff Gordon fan Ricky Schlick, 11, finished third with his No. 24 copy of Gordon's color scheme. Aaron Anderson, the 2008 Irwindale Bando champion, was second on lap 11 when he was hit from behind and spun in the second turn. He restarted at the back along with the former third place driver. Anderson charged back to fourth place. Rookie Graydon Smith, 10, was fifth. Mikael Lovas, 11, Blake Dunkleberger, 13, Matthew Davey, 9, Mexican karting champion Bernardo Lopez-Garcia, 10, “the Lion of Leon Mexico”, and Sammy de los Angeles, 8, followed. Lexi Moore, the championship runner-up last year, lost one of two cylinders on the Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 570cc, 30-horsepower engine and finished five laps behind the winner.
Bandolero teams also qualified and raced Friday May 1 about 7:00 pm in a separate points event during the regular Friday night open practice night. Friday night races have been added to allow local Bando drivers to compete for the INEX, 600 Racing national points championship. Thirteen drivers raced in the first Friday event. Cansdale gave a preview of his strong performance Saturday by setting fast time over Aaron Anderson and then beating him in a 20-lap main event. Dunkleberger, Christian McGhee, 10-year old son of Joanides' SLM and ACLM car owner, G. Smith, Schlick, M. Davey, L. Moore, de los Angeles, Lovas, Tiscareno, Ivan Gudmestad and Lopez-Garcia, in a brand new car for his debut, finished in that order. Eight drivers ran all 20 laps in the 8:06.965-timed race. The event beat a rain shower that ended on-track action about one hour early at 8:00 pm.
PYP FIGURE 8s: FQ and three-time Outlaw Figure 8 champion S. Stewart started first and led all 20 laps. He won the first place $1,000 money by 30-yards (2.526 seconds) over Billy Ziemann, the last F-8 feature winner. The series now has three winners in three events. Tony Curtis was the only other finisher on the lead lap. Seven of eight starters finished, including sixth place Robert Rice in the No. 17 Classic Stock Series “house car” raced by CHP Sgt. Mark Garrett in the C/S race last week. The all green flag race took 6:39.479.
Hard Charger $100 certificate award winners were: (SLM)--Jeff Eshleman and then Scott Dodd in the second main; (KTST)--Ryan Fortier; (Legends)--James Kennedy, 18-year old newcomer from Escondido. He and his father Pat had to replace a broken rear-end in their Lowes Motor Speedway (Charlotte, N.C ) raced car after missing time trials and the front straight autograph session. He drove his No. 8 1937 Chevy sedan from 23rd (last) to 11th. Fastest qualifiers were: (SLM)--Michels @ 18.086 (99.524 mph); (KTST)--R. Johnson, Jr. @ 19.820 (90.817 mph); (Legends)--R. Reed @ 16.686 (71.845 mph); (Bando)--Cansdale @ 18.542 (64.653 mph), and (PYP F-8)--Stewart @ 19.360 (70.103 mph).