Irwindale race report 2001-05-19

They were named "Twin 40's" ... Two 40-lap, full-points-paying races for Irwindale's Auto Club Late Model NASCAR Division. In truth, the two events were as unlike as any two could be. In fact, the only way that anyone who witnessed them both on...

They were named "Twin 40's" ... Two 40-lap, full-points-paying races for Irwindale's Auto Club Late Model NASCAR Division. In truth, the two events were as unlike as any two could be. In fact, the only way that anyone who witnessed them both on Saturday night would believe that they were related is if they were told that the first race was the "evil twin" of the second. And, therein lies a tale ... But first the supporting races, and good ones they were!

On an night that was presented by the fine folks at Villa Roma Sausages, Irwindale Speedway offered five feature races for four divisions of racing vehicles. Kicking off with a spirited Ultra Wheels Super Truck 50-lapper that saw Lake Elsinore's Frank Steiner hold off a late charge by Burbank's Dan Moore to take the treasured truck trophy. Dave Blankenship, of Stevenson Ranch finished third in the hard-fought battle with Escondido's Mark Laeger coming in fourth and Riverside's Bill Helgeson rounding out the top five. A substantial thirty-four Super Trucks were on hand at Irwindale to take part in the night's contest.

In the NASCAR Grand American Modifieds Division it was Dean Kuhn of Oceanside making it very interesting with a power pass on points co-leader Roger Carufel Jr. The young Saugus speedster finished just one place ahead of the guy that he was tied in points with going in, Richard Crow from Simi Valley. Steve Luecht from Chula Vista looked fast finishing in fourth, while second-generation racer Travis Thirkettle (Sylmar) slipped into fifth place in the 35-lap feature skirmish.

Will Cottrell missed the Alta Dena Milk Chugs autograph session because he was busy readying his car for the trophy dash. The Palmdale driver "apologized" by not only winning his dash race but buy winning the night's NASCAR Super Stock 40-lap main event over some tough competition. Cottrell, who lost his last S/S victory in the tech shed after the race, was pleased to bring this one home for his family and crew. Sylmar's Dan Fitzgerald finished third, Yagel Berkovitz of Burbank was fourth and fighting for every inch of the race track every lap, and Don Rogers from Simi Valley was happy with a top five finish in a tight and "super"-competitive 33-car field.

Auto Club Late Model Race One was, in a word, "ugly". Numerous and varying degrees of contact wreaked havoc on the field, wrecked cars, and at times the show looked more like a destruction derby than a NASCAR race. To put it in easy to understand terms, this 40-lapper, won by Canyon Country's David Hessing, took almost 40 minutes (39:47.603) to complete while the second race (same cars, same drivers, same track) took only a tick over 13 minutes (13:24.434 to be exact) to unroll.

Hessing lead the first race wire-to-wire, mostly (how could he not have noticed a red flag condition on lap 22?) unaware of chaos that was reining behind him. Two of the class leaders had awful races with last race winner Mike Price (San Pedro) and Riverside's Todd Burns (points-leader coming into the night) both finishing well down the list with seriously-wounded machines. John Lathrop, from Riverside finished second in the unseemly show, with Rick Miller of Palm Desert , Deryk "X-Man" Ward of Palm Springs, and Brian Kelly of Arleta coming home largely unscathed in third, fourth and fifth places respectively.

Race Two was the mirror image of Race One. Rick Miller took the lead away from Riverside driver Shaun Estes on lap three and held onto it for thirty-seven of the fastest, cleanest, and most exciting Auto Club Late Model racing lap seen lately at Irwindale. Miller certainly did his sponsoring Ronald McDonald House proud.

At the end it was Race One winner Hessing breathing down Miller's neck, but the personable first-time winner was not to be denied on that night. The X-Man also made himself known by running very hard in third place pro-actively watching for the slightest mistake from either foe ahead.

In fourth place was ... Todd Burns? Burns, who started the race in twenty-third place, gained one, two, three positions per lap on a charge through the field that was nothing short of stupefying. The young driver put on a passing show that had every one of the 4,494 fans on hand virtually mesmerized. Taking nothing away from Rick Miller for a fine drive, Todd Burns' drive in a hastily-repaired racecar had the normally august press box denizens cheering lustily and all but offering to dip into their own pockets for a special "Drive of the Day" award for that Burns boy.

In all the excitement Ward slipped his appropriately numbered "X" machine past Burns in the points battle for the 2001 series crown. With the season not even at the half-way point, the Auto Club Late Model races just seem to get more intense as they go. Stay tuned.

As any regular fan knows, Irwindale Speedway is always the catalyst for super-spectacular short track racing. Many patrons now just look at the calendar, check their watches, and then just jump in the car headed for Live Oak and the 605 Freeway with the certain knowledge that, "If its Saturday night ... there is bound to be some great racing going on at Irwindale." True fact.

Next time it's the NASCAR Food 4 Less Super Late Models, Super Stocks, Modified 4's, and the Mechanix Wear Speed Trucks all on a Saturday Night Memorial Day Week End card that's got to be the next best thing to a trip to 16th Street and Crawfordsville Road on Sunday morn. We'll see you right here!

-DS

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Series NASCAR Cup