Irwindale, Calif. - - Oak Hills' favorite son won a wild one on Irwindale Speedway's "Opening Night 2002". After qualifying second-fastest, and a consistent run from his fourth-row (invert) starting spot, young veteran Tony Green, won his...
Irwindale, Calif. - - Oak Hills' favorite son won a wild one on Irwindale Speedway's "Opening Night 2002". After qualifying second-fastest, and a consistent run from his fourth-row (invert) starting spot, young veteran Tony Green, won his first-ever Jani-King Super Late Model race besting a tough field that included the reining NASCAR Featherlite Southwest Champion and the 1999 Winston West Champ.
The fierce first race of the season, named the "Advantage Ford 100", was a scramble from the start with Chino's Tim Woods III taking the lead and holding it for the first 8 laps. A strong challenge on lap 10 from last season's Rookie-of-the-Year, Nathan Wullf got the Escondido driver into the lead which left Woods to fight off a challenge from the 23 car of the division's 2001 champ Sean Woodside (the Saugus resident who also happens to be NASCAR's 1999 Winston West Champion) and the 99 car of Santa Fe Spring's Brandon Loverock.
A strong challenge from Loverock put him into the lead and already lapping slower traffic by lap 40. Just behind, in third place, was a new car, number 50, driven by Craig Raudman, the Bakersfield driver/car builder who won NASCAR's Featherlite Southwest Series crown last season. A cut down right front took Wulff in the slow lane to an eventual 28-place finish. On lap 60 Raudman took the with Loverock and Woodside to following him through what seemed like an endless supply of only slightly slower traffic all skirmishing among themselves for better positions on the race track.
Laps 61 through 95 look very static on the lap chart with Raudman leading Loverock and Woodside all in a nice neat row. Just behind them was the 89 car of Tony Green. On the track the "show" anything but orderly and calm A flat-out battle for the lead with all manner of moves being tried everywhere, every lap by everyone on the race track. But especially that top three.
Suddenly Raudman, who had looked absolutely unassailable only scant seconds before, slid into the turn 2 crashwall, a de-rimmed (not cut as first suspected) right front sealing his fate for the night and shuffling the deck for a final green-white-checker scramble to the finish line.
Woodside jumped into the lead out of the green flag with Loverock only a foot or two behind and right beside. The two tangled coming off turn 2, both looking to be heading for disaster; Woodside spinning heading for the third-mile crash wall attenuators, and Loverock spinning high right back into the on-rushing pack. Disaster loomed large but both managed not to hit anything (or be collected by some very heads-up drivers bearing down on the lead two).
It would be understatement to say the cheering crowd was not at all concerned the coolness of the night at this point On their feet, and sceaming over the roar of the cars, they watched as Tony Green sucked it up and snuck through the scene with Brent Reynolds (another Escondido lad) in the 42 car and 1999 division champion Rod Johnson (Canyon Country) in his familiar number 15 car tucked in and graciously accepting the other two podium positions for this first race of 2002. Green's family team/crew did their own version of the Olympic 200-yard dash as they all raced each other out to the starting line festivities to see who could be the first to congratulate the jubilant Green.
On Monday, track officials announced that Loverock and Woodside were both put on one year probation for their actions.
In other news of the night, Dean Kuhn, the NASCAR Grand American Modified Champion for the 2001 season from Oceanside, started up right where he left off last year by winning the 35-lap race by a half-second over Saugus's Roger Carufel, Jr. while Rod Johnson wrapped up a pair of third place on the night in the fast Grand Ams.
Huntington Beach's Michael May won his first American Race Truck feature at Irwindale with a nice drive in these full-size spec trucks. An early-race accident saw Brett Carlson slam the turn 2 wall hard. On precaution, Carlson was transported to a hospital for observation and later released at about 9:45 PM the same evening. Val Cummings (West Covina) was second in the 40-lap affair, with truck-builder Josh Hulsebosch from Rancho Cucamonga third.
Darren Cheek, from Phelan, also won his first-ever NASCAR Vista Paint Super Stock race at Irwindale with a stirring drive in the stock-framed, but still very fast division. The youngster was chased across the line by Andrew Phipps (Simi Valley), and Julianne Seeley of Canyon Country.
The after-race rush to the Pits for autographs and photos was a strong one with hundreds of families taking braving what was, by now, a very cold night, to congratulate the winners and commiserate with the non-winners. In the end everyone agreed that it had been an exciting and eventful opening night, and in a few more ways than one!
It was truly a great start for Irwindale's fourth season of motorsports entertainment!