IRWINDALE, California — He did it! Nick Joanides started first and finished fourth in the first NASCAR Auto Club Late Model 26-car, 40-lap main event. He started fourth and finished first in the second 40-lap co-feature during Saturday Toyota Speedway @ Irwindale action on the banked half-mile. He entered the twin-40s with a 34-point lead over runner-up Tim Huddleston. Ironically, both 39-year old drivers were born in the same year (1970 ) and week (June 11 for Tim and 17 for Nick). Huddleston finished second in the first 40 and cut the point lead to 30. Joanides third ACLM victory this season gave him a 38-point (794-756) victory margin over fifth finishing Huddleston, the 2005, 07-08 ACLM track champion. Joanides also has 14 Super Late model 2009 victories, giving him 17 feature victories this year. His team tried unsuccessfully to sell the No. 77 late model and operated on a limited $10,000 ACLM series budget. They almost parked the car during the season, but main event purses kept the car in action.
Joanides, the 2008-09 AC Delco SLM track champion, became the first driver in track history to win championships in two track series in the same year. He did so in the top two TS@I divisions. That is an amazing accomplishment that may never be equaled. About 5,000 spectators, including the Alhambra High football team wearing their jerseys, attended on Ladies & Breast Cancer Awareness Night. Management also saluted pipe trades and big rig truckers, who displayed their rigs on the front straight and paraded them around the half-mile before racing commenced. Fans also watched two truck divisions race 40-lap features on the half-mile, followed by a women-only $2,000 demolition derby in the infield.
Fastest qualifier Rod Johnson, Jr., 20, started second in a 17-truck field and led all the way for his seventh King Taco Super Truck feature triumph this season. He tied point leader Pat Mintey, Jr. at 626 points after 14 of 15 scheduled races. Johnson, the 2008 KTST rookie of the year and a two-time 2008 winner, holds the tie-breaker advantage of seven series victories in 2009 to Mintey's four wins. Their championship showdown will come down to the 100-lap finale on October 24. All Johnson has to do is finish one position in front of Mintey to win his first track championship. His father, Rod, Sr., was the first NASCAR SLM Irwindale track champion in 1999.
Dalton Kuhn, another second generation rising star, came from fifth starting slot to lead the final 36 laps of the 15-truck Southwest Tour Truck Series 40-lap main. The 17-year old son of Irwindale's 2001 Grand American Modified champion and West Coast Pro Truck feature winner Dean Kuhn, has now won six of the seven SWT Truck 2009 TS@I features. Dad Dean, a chassis set-up expert and 23-time feature winner at Irwindale in GAM and WCPT, said he bought a late model and his son will race as No. 16 in the ACLM series for 2010 ACLM rookie of the year honors.
The final event on the cool evening was a hot all-women demolition derby that lasted 18-minutes, because a red flag was necessary to extinguish a brief engine fire in one of the nine participating cars. Christine Thiebert, 18, won $1,000 after the initial announced winner, Alisha Thiebert, her 21-year old sister, had her winning 1965 Plymouth Fury disqualified for using two front end reinforcement vertical metal bars. She was angry at the official's decision and said, “They inspected the bars earlier and we would have removed them if they wanted us to do so.”
ACLM 1ST 40: Fastest qualifier Mike Johnson promised another win. He delivered his sixth feature victory of 2009 (seventh including the televised late model preliminary during the January Toyota All-Star Showdown) in his Racecar Factory-built Chevy Monte Carlo. He started fifth in a five-car inversion, took second on lap 7, and made his winning pass from the fourth turn to the starting line on lap 29. Huddleston started in the front row, next to pole-sitter Joanides and led the first 28 laps. The three-time series champion finished second, 1.032 seconds in back of Johnson. Travis Irving, 24, started and finished third in his CHP-backed Toyota Camry. He took second from Johnson briefly by a fender with an inside pass on lap 14 at the starting line. Irving trailed the winner by 1.346 with Joanides fourth, 1.466 back in Loyd McGhee's championship Chevy Monte Carlo from Jackson Race Cars.
Travis Motley started fourth and finished fifth in one of Huddleston's five High Point Racing, Justice Brothers Monte Carlos. His ACLM rookie teammates—sixth starter Dallas Colodny, 20, and eighth starter Beau DeBard, 22—followed in sixth and seventh. Sean Bennett, series rookie Kyle McGrady, and Chris Johnson completed the top ten. Only two of the 26 starters failed to finish and 22 completed all 40 laps in a 24-minute race. There were two yellow flags for spins. Johnson praised HPR team owner Huddleston's generosity for loaning him parts to compete and for saying not to worry about it when Johnson spoke to him about payback for the parts. With 27 ACLM cars in action Saturday, the only driver who did not start in the 40-lap races was WCPT past feature winner/paraplegic Ricky James, who uses hand controls to race. He turned the third fastest lap on his third lap during the first practice session at 2:20 pm with 23 cars participating. Unfortunately, his car hit the wall leaving the second turn during that first session and received enough damage to park it for the day.
ACLM 2ND 40: First 40 winner Johnson rolled one large dice at the starting line and it stopped on snake eyes, making the second 40 inversion two. It put first 40 runner-up Huddleston on the pole with Johnson outside in row one. Third through 26th started in that order based on their first 40 finishing positions. Huddleston led the first six laps. Johnson led lap 7 and Huddleston paced laps 8-20. Joanides, from fourth, ran third for the first 13 laps, second from lap 14-20 and took the lead from his championship rival Huddleston with an inside pass in the fourth turn. Knowing the safest place to be was out front, Joanides quickly opened a ten yard lead as Huddleston, Irving and Motley battled closely for second. A three-car tangle and double spin on lap 24 in turn four brought out a caution flag. Under caution, leader Joanides radioed to his spotter, “I'm hearing noises.” He later said it sounded like it could be from the bell housing.” On the lap 24 restart, Huddleston made a slide job pass and came up in front of his title rival Joanides high in the second turn. Joanides braked and turned left as they exited the second corner and shot back into the lead. Huddleston slowed, regained control and fell to fifth place, where he finished. Motley, from Tucson, AZ, ran second from lap 24 to the end and Irving held third during those laps.
The red flag came out on lap 27 to clear damaged cars and clean oil from the track after fourth place Colodny and fifth place Johnson made contact exiting turn four. Colodny spun out in mid-track. Teammate DeBard, in seventh, collected Colodny's car and both HPR cars were eliminated with significant damage. On lap 37 rookie Kyle McGrady, 17, who started ninth, took fifth place from Huddleston with an inside pass through the third and fourth corners. He moved away from the three-time track champion and appeared a sure bet to record a career-best fifth place finish. A lap later ninth running Devin Cravens spun up into the second turn wall, causing the sixth and final yellow flag. A wrecker towed his car to the pits. Huddleston retook fifth from McGrady on the restarted lap 38 and Chris Holloway, 21, took sixth on the final lap. McGrady's seventh place equaled his ACLM career-best result. The impressive teenager, who drives his family-owned K & N Filters Chevy, climbed from ninth to eighth in final point standings and is the third ranked rookie in 2009 points. Colodny (P5) and DeBard (P6) finished ahead of him. Tim Smith, from Bakersfield, was the fourth top ten rookie at tenth position. Accidents reduced the 26-car starting field to 15 finishers and all ran 40 laps in a 34-minute event. Joanides received permission from car owner McGhee via radio to do burnouts; he did so in the first turn grass and on the front straight. “I figured it was best to win the thing. Going out and winning the race is the right way to do it,” Joanides told the media. He thanked car owner McGhee, the Jackson team, and new team sponsors, including Jan's Towing.
KTST: Rod Johnson's dominant victory (2.713 seconds) over rookie Matt Kimball, 19, from the front row was predictable. Kimball, from Mission Viejo, scored his career-best finish in his 14th race in his No. 55. The tenth-ranked driver in KTST points had a pair of seventh place runs in June 20 and August 22 races aboard the ex-No. 39 truck that Jeff Reid raced two years ago. Ron Peterson, 50, has won 31 KTST features and was the 2004 and 06 KTST track champion. He started fourth, one position in front of his 18-year old son Jeff, who spun to the backstretch infield on the initial lap. R. Peterson ran third all 40 laps and trailed the winner by 3.128 seconds. Todd Cameron and series leading rookie Ryan Partridge, 21, completed the top five. Point leader and KTST 2007-08 champion Pat Mintey, Jr. traded fifth position on laps 33 and 36. Partridge edged Mintey by 0.020, half a truck length. Dennis Arena, 63-year old past California Lottery winner Kenny Smith, 17-year old Andrew Anderson, and Jeff Peterson rounded out the top ten; 15 of 17 starters finished the 19-minute race with 13 drivers on the lead lap.
SWT TRUCKS: FQ Jeff Williams started sixth and led the first four laps. D. Kuhn, from fifth, ran second during early the laps before taking control to the checkers. Christian Copley, second in points to Kuhn, started fourth and took second from Williams on lap 14; he trailed Kuhn by 0.483 (10-yards) at the finish. Kuhn expanded his point lead over 17-year old Copley from 18 to 20 points (344-324) with the series finale on October 24. Williams finished third, 6.113 seconds back, with Ronnie Davis, Jr. and Neil Conrad fourth and fifth; 14 of 15 starters finished with eight drivers on the lead lap.
WOMEN'S DEMO DERBY: A nine-car field consisted of three station wagons and six sedans. Drivers included past DD winners April Shaw-Johns (Sept. 2008 all-female DD) and Shayla Zins (8-8-09 male & female DD). Other drivers included Angela DeFazio, daughter of TS@I VP/GM Bob DeFazio, and the Thiebert sisters Alisha, 21, and Christine, 18. They are daughters of Bill Thiebert, the 5/23/09 TS@I demo derby winner and the second place finisher in the recent Los Angeles County Fair demo derby in Pomona. After ten minutes of bashing starting at 10:10, a red flag stopped action to allow crews to extinguish an engine fire in Cheryl Hyland's car. Six more minutes of crashing involved Tammy Kalb's white No. 986 and the Thiebert sisters two black cars—Alisha's No. 8 and Christine's No. 14. At 10:28 the checkered flag waved and Alisha “won” over sister Christine, with Kalk third. Officials examined the relatively unscathed winning car and disqualified it for having a reinforced front end. Angry protests by Alisha and her dad were unsuccessful, so sister Christine took the first place $1,000. Kalb's second place earned her $500. Third through fifth paid S. Zins $250, A. Shaw-Johns $150 and C. Hyland $100.
Hard Chargers/Fastest Qualifiers: Scott Yeargin, the former No. 45 ACLM driver, came back from a one year absence and earned the RCF hard charger $100 in the first 40 for coming from 25th to 17th in Danny Renko's No. 12. Vito Ranuio, a first-time TS@I competitor from Stockton, received the HC money in the second 40 for racing from 21st to ninth. He said he heard good things about TS@I racing and enjoyed competing with talented TS@I drivers. KTST hard charger Kenny Smith came from 11th to eighth. SWT trucker Kirk Knostman started 11th and placed sixth. Fastest qualifiers were: (ACLM) – M.. Johnson, 18.837 (95.557 mph); (KTST) – R. Johnson, Jr., 19.748 (91.148 mph); (SWT) – Jeff Williams, 20.150 (89.330 mph).