Side-by-side racing was common Saturday night in a five division racing card before a season-high 5,768 spectators at Irwindale Speedway. Todd Burns drove his Villa Roma Sausage Chevy Monte Carlo to a 1.135 second victory in the featured Auto Club of Southern California NASCAR late model 50-lap event.
Burns' 23rd career main event triumph enabled the Riverside driver and race car fabricator to tie T. K. Karvasek, a super stock and Figure 8 driver inactive this season, for most main event victories at the four year old track.
Burns, the fastest qualifier, started fourth and became the third and final leader on lap 42. He used lapped cars to race under laps nine-41 leader and third starter Tim Huddleston-the main event winner a week ago. Runner-up Huddleston raced a Pontiac Grand Prix built by Burns at the Race-Car Factory.
Third finisher "Big" Brian Kelley, racing on seven cylinders, was 6.309 seconds behind the winner. Pole starter Dave Hessing, the defending track Late Model champion, led the first eight laps. He finished fourth with Mike Price fifth. Twenty-seven of the 29 starters were running at the finish. Ten drivers completed all 50 circuits.
The closest battle of the night occurred in the 35-lap NASCAR Grand American Modified 16-car feature. Former track champion Rod Johnson crossed the finish line first, only five yards in front of Roger Carufel, Jr. The pair had swapped the lead several times with Johnson in front on laps one-24 and 30-35. Carufel led laps 25-29.
Eddie Ernst joined the duo in an exciting three-way close duel that had Ernst in second place on lap 33. Carufel was back in second position during the final two laps. Carufel's runner-up finish became a victory for him when Johnson, whose last triumph was in 2000, lost his apparent first place trophy via disqualification. Post-race technical inspectors ruled that Johnson's shocks were illegal. It was the first disqualification in a regular track series event during the current season.
Darren Cheek came from seventh starting spot to record his fourth victory in four races this year in the Vista Paint NASCAR Super Stocks 40-lap main event. He took second on lap 10 and chased race-long leader "Gentleman" Lee Ladd until making the winning pass on the backstretch during lap 15. Cheek's Camaro edged Andrew Phipps' Camaro by 0.557 seconds. Ladd was 1.144 seconds back in third. Myan Spacerrelli and Will Cottrell completed the top five. Twenty-nine of the 34 starters finished, with 20 drivers on the lead lap.
The initial appearance of the new USAC Ford Focus Midget Series produced an eight-car field in the fourth race for the series that competes on both paved and dirt tracks. Fastest qualifier Todd Hunsaker used his still eligible TQ Midget to win his second feature in the series. He started fifth and took the point on lap four to record his 5.679 second (one straight-away) victory in a 20-lap feature on the third-mile track. Red flags stopped the 12-minute race twice because of flips.
After an Irwindale Speedway Ford Focus pace car led the eight-car field to the line, 17-year old rookie and 2001 quarter midget champion Garrett Hansen paced the initial three laps. Ken Wiley rolled his car in turn four on lap five for the first red flag. Fourth place Robert Owens spun and rolled his car onto its side in the fourth turn during lap 10. Neither driver was injured. Six of the eight starters finished and five drivers ran all 20 laps. Jon Wilcox, J. J. Ercse, Phil Goodwine and Wayne McCormick completed the top five.
The 13-car Pick Your Parts Figure 8 20-lap $1,000 to win race went to fourth starter Tom Smith, from Long Beach, in his Camaro. He defeated James Altman by a straight-away. With an open date in his SCRA sprint car schedule, Mike Kirby made his first start at Irwindale. He came from tenth on the grid to finish third. Nine of the 13 starters finished; the top four ran all 20-laps in an 11-minute race.
George Ruark hit the crash-wall in turn four on the final lap of the Late Model main. His car veered to the infield where he stopped in some discomfort. Track rescue workers had to cut out part the top of his car to extricate him. Ruark was conscious and talking when he was removed on a backboard. He was transported to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in nearby Baldwin Park for precautionary medical tests and released.
When he was interviewed by media members, Late Model winner Burns said, "It (his second feature victory of 2002) was fun." The point leader now has two firsts, a second and a third in four races. Burns added, "I don't think I would have had a chance to win without the lapped traffic." Huddleston disagreed and said Burns had the best car tonight; he added that he enjoys the clean racing with his friend and car builder Burns.
AUTO CLUB of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LATE MODELS: Fast Time: Todd Burns, 19.348. Dash: Brian Kelley, Kevin Wood, Burns, Dave Hessing, Andy Bargaehr, Tim Huddleston. Main: Burns, Tim Huddleston, Brian Kelley, Dave Hessing, Mike Price, Wood, Mike Johnson, Andy Bargaehr, John Lathrop, Craig Rayburn, Barry Karr, Scott Youngren, Todd Conrad, Rob Chaney, John Cran, Jess Flores, Dan DiGammarino, Tim Harris, George Ruark, Brian Rock, Pat Ackley, Johnny Butler, Dave Lowenstein, Mike Rinehart, Juan Gonzalez, Mike Haney, Ron Schartau, Jim Conklin, Nick Conti.
PICK YOUR PART FIGURE 8s: Main: Tom Smith, James Altman, Mike Kirby, Rusty Stewart, Steve Stewart, Jeff Marguet, Eddie Conna, Don Rogers, Chris Christenson, Brad Pescheck, Ron Chaney, Henry Miles, Tony Curtis.
USAC FORD FOCUS MIDGETS: Fast Time: Todd Hunsaker, 14.665. Main: Hunsaker, Jon Wilcox, J. J. Ercse, Phip Goodwine, Wayne McCormick, Garrett Hansen, Robert Owens, Ken Wiley.
VISTA PAINTS SUPER STOCKS: Fast Time: Andrew Phipps, 21.896. Main: Darren Cheek, Phipps, Lee Ladd, Myan Spacerrelli, Will Cottrell, Dan Fitzgerald, Steve Gilmore, Shawn Garrett, Brian Harrell, Brad Billings, Julianne Seeley, Greg Benner, Don Helgeson, Henry Miles, Kris Marquis, Larry Sampson, Jim Appleby, Jr, Greg Crutcher, Don Rogers, Mike Gilmore, Scott Corrigan, Chris Houwen, John Arlotti, Rich Paez, John Cappi, Fred Brown, Pat Riley, Dave Sheppherd, Jay Henson, Ken Brown, John Uccellini, Greg Bratschie, Joe Martinez, John Uribe.
GRAND AMERICAN MODIFIEDS: Fast Time: Steve Luecht, 18.437. Main: Roger Carufel, Jr, Eddie Ernst, Travis Thirkettle, Chad Daly, Craig Baker, Tim Morse, Dennis Schlarbaum, Robert Rice, Mike Trottochau, John Watkinson III, Dennis Eckert, Luecht, Charlie Wahl, Richie Altman, Mike Knapp. Disq.- Rod Johnson.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Author Tim Kennedy has covered motorsports since 1968, when he was elected Publicity Director of the California Racing Association by the CRA Board of Directors. He performed those duties for 11 consecutive years and edited six yearbooks for the sprint car sanctioning body. Additionally, Tim did pre-race CRA publicity for race promoters and post race CRA stories and columns that appeared in numerous racing newspapers. Since 1979 Tim has done freelance work in motorsports and has assisted several race tracks on special events. His racing results stories and Racing Scene column appear every week in RACING WHEELS-an all-motor racing newspaper based in Vancouver, Washington. His column and racing results stories currently appear in MOTORACING, a monthly racing newspaper based in Northern California. He also covers racing events such as the annual Thanksgiving USAC Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway for NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, which is based in North Carolina.