Irwindale race report 2002-03-23

Automobile Club Of Southern California Late Models warm up a chilled crowd as Lathrop gets first win. Irwindale, Calif. - - It was Riverside drivers 1-2 in Saturday night's season inaugural for the NASCAR Auto Club Late Models with...

Automobile Club Of Southern California Late Models warm up a chilled crowd as Lathrop gets first win.

Irwindale, Calif. - - It was Riverside drivers 1-2 in Saturday night's season inaugural for the NASCAR Auto Club Late Models with Johnny Lathrop putting a last-lap pass on Todd Burns for his first win at Irwindale Speedway. Cold, cloudy, wet weather kept the crowd count down (4,250) on Saturday night at the Speedway, but those hearty fans who came out were well-rewarded with a barn-burner of a Late Model race that saw great driving, multiple lead changes, and a final lap that had them all on their feet and screaming.

Johnny Lathrop, a driver who cut his teeth on the dirt circuits at Ventura, Adelanto, Ascot, and Corona, got his first win in the highly-competitive Late Models after qualifying in tenth place with a lap of 19.485. While other contenders had their problems, like San Pedro's Mike Price who won the Dash and then had a shift linkage let go while he was running a strong third place in the main. The problem required him to pit for a quick couple of strategic cotter pins, but dropped him back to twenty-seventh place on lap 19.

Out in front, Lathrop only battled the track for the first 29 laps of the 50-lap event. Then, on lap 30 Todd Burns, who had brilliantly raced his way up to second from his fourth-row starting slot, wrested the lead away from Lathrop. On the final turn, Lathrop used some of his dirt track experience to put a ^Óslide job^Ô on Burns, coming in low, going under Burns, and coming out wide and in front of the hustling Burns and hard late lap charge from the series' 2001 champ Dave Hessing of Canyon Country.

The Auto Club cars are scheduled for a ^Óreturn match^Ô this coming Saturday (March 30) and everyone who saw the March 23 race just can't wait for the race.

In the Vista Paint Super Stocks, Darren Cheek, the pride of Phelan, made it two in a row with his win over one of Simi Valley's favorite sons, Andrew Phipps. The two drivers put on a great show for the crowd with Greg Benner of Whittier finishing up in third behind the super-quick pair of Chevy Camaros.

The NASCAR Modified 4's first race of the season was won by Terry Limberopoulos from Bellflower in his venerable Renault. Steve Rodgers' #3 Pinto was second, with Greg Tucker's Pinto third. Rogers hails from Glen Avon and Tucker rolls in all the way from Ojai where the $6,000,000 woman once lived.

The Figure 8 Cars were also on their first run at Irwindale for 2002, and they were more than ready for the show. Fourteen Figure 8 phenoms took to the twisted Irwindale track with Chris Christensen coming home with the most intact bodywork and suspension stuff after 20 laps of on-your-feet, holding-your-breath excitement. The San Bernardino driver got his first-ever Irwindale win over James Altman of Wildomar and Ron Chaney of nearby Glendora.

A well-run evening of full events concluded its on-track activity early which gave the fans in the stands a chance to get warmed up with a short walk over to the Pit Area for close-up look at the racing cars and a handshake or pat on the back for their favorite driver(s).

The night might have been a cool one, but the fire of great driving on a showcase short track warmed the hearts (and hands!) of everyone in attendance.

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Series NASCAR