IRWINDALE, California — The two final main events in a five series Pipe Trades Night program Saturday had the winners take completely different routes to their second feature victories this season on the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale half-mile. Mike Johnson, of Covina, led every lap from pole position aboard his own Race-car Factory-built Chevy in a 40-lap Auto Club Late Model race. He also drove the Jet Connect-sponsored car to victory in the SPEED-Network televised 47-car, 55-lap late model non-point preliminary race to the January 24 Toyota All-Star Showdown. Jeremiah Wagner, a 16-year old Las Vegas resident, won the scheduled 75-lap Verve ASA Speed Truck Challenge Series feature and did not lead a lap. The ASA series first time winner on May 30 at Irwindale was a close third on the final lap when the leaders swapped the point in turn one and again at turn three. Then the second place driver hit and spun the new leader and crossed the finish line first with the checkered and yellow flags waving at 10:27 pm.
Officials of the ASA touring truck racing series, based in Upland, CA, conferred and dropped apparent winner Cale Cabrera to last place among 17 truck racers running at the surprising conclusion. Likely winner Randel King, who spun and stalled in the third turn after being nailed at speed by Cabrera, was scored sixth, the first driver a lap down. Scoring reverted to 74 laps and only five drivers logged that total. Rookie King, a 2008 NASCAR Super Late Model rookie at Irwindale, entered the race as the ASA Speed Truck point leader. He was about to win his first truck main event and become the sixth different ASA Speed Truck 2009 feature winner in six races at five different tracks when he had victory snatched from him by Cabrera's surprising inside move.
The other feature winner on the half-mile was Vista Paint Super Stock point leader Larry Cerquettini, the fastest qualifier who started last (11th) in the fully inverted lineup. He took command on lap 10 and won by a straight-away (5.421 seconds) in the all-green flag 12:24.391 race. The undefeated driver this season has now won all five VPSS mains in his new Five-Star Bodies Chevy Impala SS. The 42-year old three-year VPSS veteran had never won a main event before this season. He used an engine borrowed from 2008 VPSS champion Bryan Harrell for the second race in a row. His own engine threw a rod Friday night during the open practice session for all series.
A pair of main events used the third-mile track. The 21-car Legends field ran 35-laps and had three leaders. Fastest qualifier/pole starter Tom Landreth paced the first six laps, but he dropped out of third position on lap 15. Ryan Reed, 15, started third, passed Landreth on the inside entering turn one on lap 7 and led through lap 30. He endured heavy pressure from 15-year old Donny St. Ours all the way. St. Ours made a Reed-like inside pass entering the first turn on lap 31 and won by 30-yards (1.207 seconds). Series title-contender Reed lost three positions during the closing laps and finished fifth. The 30- minute race had an unusually high number of caution flags—six. The classic stocks (called pure stocks through 2008) ran a 30-lap race with nine of ten drivers present starting. The exciting race for American factory-built stock cars had three different leaders and seven lead changes. When the exhaust fumes settled, Ken Michaelian, 20, enjoyed his sixth victory this year in seven features at Irwindale. He won a pair of mains (on the oval and Figure 8 course) during the series March 28 season opening night. The second-generation driver led the final six laps in his Petty-blue 1975 Dodge Dart. The all-green flag event took 9:02.503 to complete.
LATE MODELS: With a strong 22-car field present, drivers qualified from lowest in 2009 track point standings to highest order from 7:03 to 7:24 pm. Three-time track champion Tim Huddleston set the quickest time and then saw the single large inversion dice roll a two, giving him the outside front row starting spot. Johnson, the only other 18-second qualifier, had the pole. During the earlier on-track autograph session confident Johnson predicted that he would win the feature because his car was perfect and fast even on old tires. His older son Matt, 29, called him and said he won his Charger Series main at the Las Vegas three-eights mile track. That gave him motivation to make it a Johnson-family double and he accomplished his victory by 0.492 of a second (10-yards) over Huddleston. Third place Nick Joanides, the ACLM point leader, trailed Huddleston by 0.049 (one length) and saw his point lead cut from eight to six points (360-354). Johnson is third in points (322) after adding a victory to his three runner-up finishes, a third and a fourth this year. Huddleston's Justice Brothers High Point Racing Chevy Monte Carlo rookie teammates Dallas Colodny and Beau DeBard finished fourth and fifth. CHP-sponsored Travis Irving, Miles Copenhaver, rookie Kenny Smith, 21, Travis Motley and HPR Chevy rookie Cassie Gannis, 17, completed the top ten. She took tenth on the final lap at the checkered flag by less than a length. Seventeen of 22 starters finished and all ran 40 laps in the competitive field.
The 26-minute race had two yellow flags. The most serious incident was a lap 26 two-car crash on the backstretch involving cars in 11th and 12th positions. They were in a six-car pack from ninth through 14th place when cars came together. Trevor Schlundt, a 19-year old Madera Speedway veteran making his debut at Irwindale, and Ray Robinson veered right together into the outer wall just past the track entrance from the backstretch staging area. Schlundt had started 14th and was 11th after passing Robinson a lap earlier. Both of their cars suffered body and suspension damage and had to be towed to the pits, but both drivers were uninjured. A lap 36 solo spin by 11th place George Atkinson in turn four collected 14th-running rookie Kyle McGrady, 16. Both drivers restarted; McGrady finished 13th and Atkinson 17th.
ASA TRUCKS: Twenty of the touring truckers were present including 2003-04 ASA series champion Lee Hatch, who was returning after a two-year absence from racing for family and career reasons. Teenagers and rookies predominated again this week as they did two weeks ago when ASA truckers staged their first of three visits to TS@I this season. On May 30 they ran arguably the most competitive and exciting race of the season. A nine-truck inverted start had fastest qualifier Randel King, 17, starting ninth, with a second quickest Cole Cabrera, 15, gridded eighth. Teammates Josh Goshen, 15, and Jamie Bennett, 18, started from row one. Bennett led the first five laps. King sliced through the field to third place by lap 3 and was first on lap 6 via an inside pass of Bennett in turn four. Cabrera was second by lap 12 and 30-yards in back of King. The first of three yellow flags flew on lap 53 when Cameron Jocelyn, 15, spun to the second turn outer wall. Cabrera trailed King by a steady 15-yards as they lapped up top eighth place by the first caution flag. At the lap 53 green flag, Cabrera dived low entering the first turn and forced King up the track a bit as he took the lead. King stayed close to Cabrera's bumper to lap 75.
As the two leaders received the white flag, King shot to the inside and made a perfect, contact-free slide job pass between turns one and two. King led on the backstretch and into turn three. Then Cabrera made his dive-bomb inside passing attempt at speed, but he contacted King's truck, which spun and stalled in mid-turn three. Cabrera beat third place Wagner to the yellow and checkered flags by about 20-yards. Cabrera pulled to the finish line for trophy ceremonies, as did King and other top finishers. ASA officials in race control conferred and assessed Legends veteran Cabrera, from Exeter, a major rough driving penalty. Wagner, who started fifth, took third place on lap 25 and inherited his second consecutive victory and his second at Irwindale. The finishing order behind Wagner was Bennett, for a career-best second, Joey Licata, 17, third, Todd McLauchlan fourth and Goshen, 15, fifth. They were the only drivers with 74 laps. King was down a lap in sixth, followed by Taylor Cuzick, Chris Birdsong, Lee Hatch, and rookie and former Bandolero driver Jack Madrid, 14, who was making his half-mile track debut. Seventeen of 19 starters finished. Legends driver and ASA rookie Race Liberante, 14, did not start.
SUPER STOCKS: Cerquettini's last to first in the VPSS 35-lapper was not unexpected in his Five-Star Bodies Impala SS. However, senior driver Gary Frankovich, the slowest qualifier, started his new 2009 Five-Star Body Impala SS on the pole and led the first nine laps. Cerquettini arrived in second place on lap 6 and pressed the leader until lap 10 when he made his winning pass on the inside in turn four. Frankovich, from Barstow, held on for his career-best second place that beat his prior best result of “fourth or fifth”. Gerrit Cromsigt, a 1999 season late model driver at the track, came from seventh in a Camaro to place third in a tight battle with Rich DeLong III, in an Impala SS. Kenny Brown passed fellow Camaro driver Eric Sunness for fifth at the checkers. Cerquettini thanked past VPSS champion Bryan Harrell for the use of his No. 55 Camaro engine for the second week in a row.
CLASSIC STOCKS: The story of the classic stocks 30-lap event on the third-mile was the seven lead changes among the top three drivers. Fastest qualifier Mike Colato, Jr started second and led the first 13 laps and lap 16. Ken Michaelian came from row five and led laps 14-15, 23 and 25-30. Fourth row starter Tommy Agosta led laps 17-22 and lap 24 as the estimated 1,800 spectators watched in amazement. Agosta made his lap 17 pass for the lead in three-wide racing through the third and fourth turns. He came from third to first exiting turn four. Dennis Ivarsson set second quickest time during qualifying, started on the pole and was the lone retiree after an oil leak caused his lap 26 exit.
LEGENDS: The Legends race started 21 cars on the third-mile. Talented teens again ran up front, with a pair of 15-year old, second-year Legend Series drivers vying for the victory hardware during the closing laps. St. Ours led the final five laps and won by 30-yards (1.207 seconds) over Brent Scheidemantle, 16. The runner-up and third place Chad Schug were the co-stories of the race. Sixth starter Schug got into the back of fourth starter Scheidemantle on the first lap entering the third turn, spinning both drivers. He later apologized for the miscue. Jordan Hyland took evasive action and hit the outer wall hard at the RF end, causing his disabled car to be towed to the pits. The two spinners started at the back of the field and charged forward quickly and reached second and third during the final four laps. Point leader Brandon Toy, 17, earned fourth after winning the last TS@I main. Disappointed Reed was fifth. Gary Scheuerell, Michael Smith, Ken Maler, Jr., Mark Iungerich and rookie Austin Reed, 14, completed the top ten with 14 cars running at the end. Papa Jim Painter, 63, spun across the finish line on the white flag lap and received “the 720 award” at the finish line.
The first race of the night was a trophy dash for the six fastest ASA truck qualifiers. Cabrera led all six laps and edged McLauchlan and fastest qualifier King, the pole starter. Wendy Westbrook, the former track marketing director and pit-side track announcer, returned from Texas for a visit and did all infield driver interviews. She also drove the red Toyota Tundra pace truck all night with Gordon “Lugg Nuttz” Stewart, of the Speed Freaks show, moving topside to handle announcing duties from the booth. Hard charger $100 gift certificate winners by series were: Legends – A. Reed (P. 18 to 10); VPSS – DeLong (P. 9 to 4), and ACLM – Tim Smith (P. 20 to 11). Fastest qualifiers by series were: (third-mile)--Legends – Landreth, 16.681 (71.866 mph); Classic Stocks – Coleto, 17.387 (68.948 mph); (half-mile)--VPSS – Cerquettini, 20.719 (86.877 mph); ASA Trucks – King, 19.781 (90.996 mph), and ACLM – Huddleston, 18.882 (95.329 mph).