Irwindale race notes 2003-04-12

Irwindale, CA., Apr. 12 - Mike Price got the monkey off his back Saturday following a less than desired result on opening night two weeks ago. The veteran driver from San Pedro took a stuffed "rally monkey" mascot along for a ride and victory in...

Irwindale, CA., Apr. 12 - Mike Price got the monkey off his back Saturday following a less than desired result on opening night two weeks ago. The veteran driver from San Pedro took a stuffed "rally monkey" mascot along for a ride and victory in his Chevy Monte Carlo during the NASCAR Auto Club of Southern California Late Model main event on the banked half-mile Irwindale Speedway.

Price figured that if the famous "rally monkey" could help the Anaheim Angels win the 2002 major league baseball World Series last October he would use the same angle. Price, again using an iron block instead of the "spec engine" he blew March 29, beat a field of 33 and a heavy-drizzle that made the track too wet for racing. Officials concluded the scheduled 50-lap feature after 34 laps with waving yellow and checkered flags from starter Jason Overley.

Defending series champion Todd Burns finished second after dueling Price intensely for the lead for many laps until the final caution flag appeared. He settled for second place. Jess Flores was third. Dave Hessing finished fourth and point leader ScottYoungren, the opening night winner, was fifth. Point leader Youngren now leads Hessing by two points (92-90) after two of 18 events.

Intermittent light to heavy drizzle started at 8:45 p.m, following the fourth multi-car crash of the race. Three yellow flag incidents and one red flag collision on lap 23 made the race a car owner's nightmare. The lap 23 crash started when fastest qualifier Tim Huddleston, the pole starter and race-long leader, blew second gear as he exited the fourth turn and took the green flag following a caution for a stalled car.

Second-running Price cut hard to the left and avoided Huddleston's car, but cars following Price hit Huddleston's car and each other near the starting line. Eight to ten cars were involved. Some cars restarted with body damage. However, Huddleston and three other drivers--Doug McComb, Deryk Ward and Jerry Woods II--were unable to restart following the red flag for track cleanup. No drivers were injured.

The scheduled five-feature evening commenced with a 32-car Vista Paint Super Stock 40-lap main event. Lee Ladd, 65, drove his Camaro from third starting position into the lead at the green and led all the way. It was the second consecutive victory this season for the series 2002 rookie star and past IS Mini Stock track champion. His 0.538-second victory over Greg Benner gave Ladd a 12-point lead over Benner (100-88) following two of 13 scheduled races. Eric Sunness received the hard charger award for starting 14th and finishing fifth.

The 29-truck Ultra Wheel Super Truck Series scheduled 50-lap feature formed on the grid after the drizzle abated somewhat. However, the drizzle turned into light rain after trucks began a pace lap on the half-mile so officials canceled the race for safety reasons. The enthusiastic crowd of 5,859 cheered loudly when track announcer Bruce Flanders said the scheduled Pick Your Part Figure 8 race and Demolition Derby events in the infield would be run next despite the light drizzle.

Tom Smith led all but the first lap of a 13-car, 20-lap Figure 8 race for a $1,000 payday. He drove for the first time the winged Figure 8 Special normally raced by Steve Stewart, who was absent on business. The hardest collision in track history at the X-intersection occurred during lap four and caused a red flag. Second place James Altman's Camaro and the 11th-place Camaro of Eddie Conna collided at the X and spun out. Altman, the track defending Figure 8 champion, was shaken, but he did not require medical attention. Rusty Stewart dueled the winner closely from lap four to the finish, but he trailed by 15 yards at the conclusion.

As the drizzle varied from heavy to light to none at all, the 13-car Demolition Derby pulled into the marked square in the third-mile infield, which is normally soaped and watered for the motorized mayhem. The 11-minute event concluded at 10:05 with the 1976 Cadillac Coupe de Ville of many-time IS Figure 8 winner Robert Rice, aka Steve Cook, the $1,000 winner over Kevin Van Arsdall. Female competitors Julie Paez and Kim Smith, in a pink car, earned third and fifth respectively. With four of the five scheduled features in the record book, fans streamed out of the grandstand in a light drizzle that soon ended, yielding a dry, semi-warm 60-degree evening.

A poignant ceremony before the first race of the evening honored the fallen heroes of the war in Iraq before the National Anthem at 7:00 p.m. Viet Nam era veteran Ed Lopes, owner of Villa Roma Sausage Co. and sponsor since 1999 of the No. 4 Late Model driven by Todd Burns, donated $27,500 to families of our fallen military heroes from Southern California. A special banner in front of the grandstands listed the names of ten military servicemen (nine USMC and one USN) who lost their lives during combat in Iraq.

A color guard from the 40th Infantry Division (Mech.) Support Brigade, California State Military Reserve participated in solemn ceremonies on the track at the starting line. Family members of USMC PFC Francisco A. Martinez Flores, from nearby Duarte, stood on the front straight with Lopes and received a portion of the donated funds. Lopes gave the money in appreciation for the ultimate sacrifice suffered by each family. The Martinez Flores family, including his mother Martha, sister and brothers, had attended a funeral Mass attended by more than 1,000 persons in nearby Monrovia earlier Saturday.

The late 21-year old was born in Mexico and received his U.S citizenship posthumously. He and four fellow soldiers lost their lives March 25 when their tank plunged off a bridge during a severe sandstorm and landed upside-down in the Euphrates River.

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About this article
Series NASCAR , Stock car
Drivers Steve Cook , Tom Smith