FF: Irwindale Thanksgiving Day race report

IRWINDALE, Calif., Nov. 28 - Todd Hunsaker started sixth and became the third and final race leader of the season-ending USAC Ford Focus Midget Series 20-lap main event during lap 19 with an inside pass entering the third turn. His winning move ...

IRWINDALE, Calif., Nov. 28 - Todd Hunsaker started sixth and became the third and final race leader of the season-ending USAC Ford Focus Midget Series 20-lap main event during lap 19 with an inside pass entering the third turn. His winning move Thursday night on the third-mile track at Irwindale Speedway earned him victory in the first of three features at the annual Agajanian Promotions Lucas Oil Thanksgiving Grand Prix. Point leader Hunsaker, 38, became the first USAC Ford Focus Midget champion by 101 points after a 17-race inaugural season conducted at six speedways in California. Eight drivers won main events in the series.

Hunsaker's five main event triumphs were the most by any driver in the new USAC FF series. He won four of his five features at Irwindale. Hunsaker, from Chino Hills, drove his own Stealth chassis with a four-cylinder, 178 horsepower Ford Focus Zetec engine providing power. Hunsaker, a TQ-Midget racing veteran, finished third in point standings during the final USAC TQ-Midget campaign last year. USAC allowed TQs to race in the FF series this season only and three Honda-powered TQs competed for the final time in USAC.

Tyler Brown came from seventh starting position and led laps eight through 18 before he yielded the point to Hunsaker. The teenager from Norco was trying to win his first USAC main event in the Troy Brown TCR/Ford Focus. However, Brown finished ten yards (0.539 seconds) behind the winner for his best showing in the series.

Ray Neveau started fourth and finished third aboard his Edmunds/Ford Focus. He was 0.836 seconds behind the winner. Outside front row starter Walt Johnson, the 2001 USAC-TQ Series champion, finished fourth in the Cynthia Welcomer Johnson/Honda. He was 3.070 seconds back. Wayne McCormick came from ninth to finish fifth in his Stealth/Ford Focus.

Blake Mallory, a sprint car driver from Joshua, Texas, competed in a FF Midget for the first time and placed sixth in Keith Iaia's "for sale" Beast/FF house car. Iaia, the long-time proponent and father of the new cost-effective Midget racing series, said he has built and shipped 23 of the new $7,500 Ford Focus engines. USAC recently expanded FF Midget racing to the Midwest for a new FF series there next season. Rounding out the top ten finishers were Bobby East (Beast/FF), October 19 Irwindale feature winner Jon Wilcox (Beast/FF), Phil Goodwine ((TCR/FF) and 17-year old high school senior Garrett Hansen (Stealth/FF). A season-high count of 17 cars competed in the race; all 17 were racing at the finish, with 16 cars on the lead lap.

Pole starter Steve Davis put his TCR/FF into the lead at the start and paced the first seven laps as Hansen pressed him for the point. On lap eight Hansen's car hit the back of Davis' car, spinning Davis into the infield. Hansen continued and led that lap, but USAC officials penalized Hansen for spinning Davis and sent Hansen to the back of the field with Davis for the restart. Third running Neveau assumed the lead for the restart, but Brown passed him at the green flag and led the next 11 laps. Hunsaker took second from Neveau on lap 18 and became the race leader a lap later.

In late afternoon time trials, three drivers lowered the Ford Focus Series one-lap track record of 14.527 established by Hansen on October 19. Brown, the first qualifier on the clocks, ran a 14.445. Hansen, the fourth driver to qualify, reclaimed the record with a lap of 14.310. Hunsaker, the 13th of 17 qualifiers, then set the new mark of 14.249 (84.216 mph).

- Tim Kennedy -

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Series USAC
Drivers Bobby East , Blake Mallory , Garrett Hansen