FF: Irwindale April 20th preview

New USAC Ford Focus Midget Series to make Irwindale Speedway debut Saturday April 20. Wild Pick-Your-Part Figure 8 Event On Card Too! Irwindale, Calif. - - In their first race at the track where a good deal of the original development work was...

New USAC Ford Focus Midget Series to make Irwindale Speedway debut Saturday April 20.

Wild Pick-Your-Part Figure 8 Event On Card Too!

Irwindale, Calif. - - In their first race at the track where a good deal of the original development work was done on the concept and design, the United States Auto Club Ford Focus Midgets will take to the Irwindale third mile oval on Saturday night ushering in a new era of affordable and exciting open wheel midget racing.

The "Focus Midgets" as they are nicknamed, are full midget frames powered by identically-prepared engines from the Ford Motor Company's best-selling Focus automobile. With only a few racing modifications, these double overhead cam 4-cylinder motors serve up some 170+ horsepower and belt out over 160 foot-pounds of torque.

Developed by Keith Iaia (www.focusmidgets.com) The Ford Zetec engine remains internally stock, and is sealed by S.C.R.E.A.M. to prevent modifications or tampering by unauthorized individuals. The valve train is of the new "100,000 mile" self adjusting type, and along with the rest of the internal components, should last at least a full season with no maintenance required.

Although no access is permitted to the Focus engine's internal components, The fuel, ignition and lubrication systems are available to competitors for maintenance and calibration. In that way, the competitor is encouraged to become familiar with the typical upkeep and tuning issues one would expect to encounter in any USAC division.

Even though the engine is "factory stock" internally, significant power gains have been realized through the development of high performance induction, exhaust, and ignition systems. In addition, more favorable power characteristics have been derived from the adaptation of a lightweight, aluminum flywheel. The end result of this development work has been an overall gain of almost 55 horsepower, from 120 to 174. In addition maximum torque output has been improved, to 167 lb./ft. These motors are available in ready-to-race form at around $7,500, a very reasonable price for such a package.

The basic idea of the Focus Midget package is to allow more drivers to enter competition at lower costs. This idea, the "spec" type racing class is nothing new, many top drivers have come up through the ranks of "spec divisions". Racing is always expensive and engines are almost always the most expensive component -- This series seeks to stabilize that factor and (you'll please pardon the pun) "re-focus" the racing on driver ability rather than on checkbook poundage.

Arguably the best of these open wheel "feeder" divisions is another Ford motor based class called "Formula Ford". Begun in England in the late 60's, that series produced a virtual tsunami of driving talent that still engulfs the racing world today -- Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser, Paul Tracy, Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk, Skip Barber, Scott Goodyear, Danny Sullivan, and Eddie Cheever all are alumni. World Champions Ayrton Senna, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mikka Hakkinen, Damon Hill, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Jody Schecter, Gilles Villaneuve, Michael Schumacher, and hundreds more all honed their driving talents in cars powered by identical 4-cylinder Ford motors "borrowed" from the company's regular street machines.

Of course the fledgling Focus Fords aren't the only cars on the Saturday night menu at the Speedway. The Auto Club-backed Late Models make a quick turnaround visit after a rousing race last week. Todd Burns from Riverside leads the Lates into competition with 146 points in the bank from his two seconds and one win in the first three races of the 2002 season. Right behind him is Agoura Hills David Huddleston with 142, and the Saugus-based Kevin Wood with 130. The season is still young, but everyone knows that putting points away now against that day when the worst happens is the way to a championship.

A tight points battle in the Grand American Modified division, with only 10 points separating the top three will be part of the action as well. Saugus' Roger Carufel, Jr. leads, with Steve Leucht from Chula Vista and John Watkinson of Canyon Country close (98,90,88 points respectively) behind.

In the Vista Paints Super Stocks Darren Cheek from Phelan comes in sporting Irwindale's only perfect record: three races, three wins 150 points. Covina's Greg Crutcher is second at 128, and Whittier's favorite son Greg Benner is right there in third place with 126.

Rounding out the show are the crowd favorites, the Pick-Your-Part Figure 8 cars with their own brand of heart-stopping criss-cross, high-speed intersection racing. Spins, speed, near-misses, and whacks are all part of the game when these wild racers get on the Irwindale 8 course -- Chris Christenson (San Bernardino) will the division into combat at Irwindale with 50 points.

The Speedway gates open to the public at 4PM on Saturday with a live band playing in picnic area and qualifying going on-track. Pre-race always includes an autograph session as well as a "Know Your NASCAR" audience-participation game for fun and prizes.

One added "early-bird special" this season is the opportunity for one lucky (and brave) fan to get a thrill ride around the half-mile banked oval in the Performance Race Training Center's 2-seat stock car. Fans arriving prior to 7PM will be invited to put their names into a drawing for the ride that runs right after the trophy dash. The question for fans is: "How long CAN you hold your breath?

There's more info. on the track website (www.irwindalespeedway.com) and by telephone (626) 358-1100. Tickets for any 2002 event (including this one) are available now by phone, in person at the box office, or on the web.

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About this article
Series Stock car , USAC
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Eddie Cheever , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Paul Tracy , Nigel Mansell , Danny Sullivan , Damon Hill , Emerson Fittipaldi , Skip Barber , James Hunt , David Hills , John Watkins