Irwindale race report 2002-08-24

Rip Michels, from Mission Hills, California, won his third consecutive NASCAR Jani-King Super Late Model 75-lap feature of the season Saturday on the Irwindale Speedway half-mile. It was his seventh victory in 16 races; he has 12 top five finishes...

Rip Michels, from Mission Hills, California, won his third consecutive NASCAR Jani-King Super Late Model 75-lap feature of the season Saturday on the Irwindale Speedway half-mile. It was his seventh victory in 16 races; he has 12 top five finishes in those 16 events. The track's 2000 Grand American Modified champion and second year SLM driver increased his point lead from 38 to 62 with three races remaining.

Michels started seventh in his Ladco Chevy Monte Carlo, led the final 38 laps and won by 0.407 seconds. It was his 25th Irwindale main event victory, including 18 triumphs in the GAM division. Michels is now tied for most feature victories in track history with Todd Burns, who won his 25 mains in the Late Model division. Michels ranks second in NASCAR Dodge Weekly Racing Series regional points. He said he must win the three remaining races to collect the lucrative first place check in the regional point series. Michels beat 15 other drivers in the shortest field for the track's premier division since May 10, 1999 (16 cars).

Recent crashes, blown engines and depleted racing budgets for some teams have sidelined several front runners in recent weeks. Recent SLM point leader Tony Green was in the pits without a car this week. He said his Monte Carlo wasn't ready to race yet following his crash on August 17. However, Green said his car will return at the September 7 race.

The four-division event on Southern California Pipe Trades night attracted 4,926 spectators-the smallest crowd since May 4. Saturday night short track racing had to vie for spectators with the NASCAR Winston Cup Series popular Bristol, TN 500 night race on live television. Travis Thirkettle recorded his second 2002 and career GAM 35-lap main event victory on the half-mile. He moved from third to second in series points with his Speedway Engineering Chevy. He started fifth and led all but the first three laps to win by half a straight (3.456 seconds) over Rod Johnson.

Lloyd Mack, 21-year old brother of IRL rookie driver George Mack, finished third with Eddie Ernst fourth. It was the first race for GAM drivers since August 3 when six-time winner/point leader Roger Carufel, Jr refused an engine claim. He was disqualified for the season as a result of a post-race discussion with track officials. New GAM point leader John Watkinson III finished fifth.

Two divisions raced on the third-mile. Terry Limberopoulos led only one lap-the last-in the Modified 4s 35-lap main. His Renault tapped the back of point leader Guy Tripp, who led the first 34 laps, as they approached the waving checkered flag and simultaneously lapped a slower car. Only the winner got by the lapper. Tripp followed the winner and the lapped car by ten yards (0.787 seconds) after recovering his forward momentum.

Pole starter Tom Landreth, in a 1934 Ford replica, led all the way in the King Taco Legend Cars 35-lap feature. The all-green flag race started and finished all 25 cars and 16 drivers were on the lead lap. Landreth's third victory in nine features came after an intense 27-lap duel with five-time winner/point leader Ricky Wildman, the outside front row starter. Brent Jones made the lead battle a three-way contest on lap nine. He took second position from Wildman on lap 28 via an inside pass in the third turn. Runner-up Jones was 0.100 seconds back at the end. Wildman was third, 0.504 seconds behind the winner. Wildman had his 28-point series lead cut to 24 over Landreth with three races (and 150 first place points) remaining.

Bakersfield's Kevin Vernon, in a Monte Carlo new to his team, started on the outside of row one and led the 16-car SLM main for the initial four circuits. Second year SLM driver Nick DeFazio came from fifth grid position to lead laps five-36 before Michels and then Vernon dropped him to third place on lap 37. They finished in that order. Vernon, a many-time champion at Mesa Marin Raceway, said his second place finish is his career best at Irwindale. He lost an earlier Irwindale main event victory via post-race technical inspection infraction.

DeFazio, who earlier won his initial SLM High Banks Racing Collectibles trophy dash, enjoyed his career best finish on Irwindale's half-mile. He drove a Taurus sponsored by the Southern California Pipe Trades Union. DeFazio, son of Irwindale's vice president /COO, had a main event second place on the third-mile in a Legend car in 2000.

Fastest qualifier Tony Bruncati spun a nine on the inversion wheel after time trials. He started the feature ninth, got bumped in heavy opening lap traffic and spun to the grass in turn four. He resumed but was about 80% of a lap behind the leader. Bruncati's Sunrise Ford Taurus was the fastest car on the track lap after lap. He ran consistent laps at 18.6 seconds, compared to 19.0-second laps by the leaders. With all-green laps from the opening lap, it took Bruncati 25 laps to catch the last place car in the rapid field. He worked his way to 12th position by lap 50, with all 16 cars still on the lead lap.

The first caution flag came on lap 51 when fifth-place Craig Raudman, a Southwest Series winner, hit the second turn wall and stopped on the backstretch. Bruncati jumped to eighth position on the next green flag lap. The yellow flag flew again on lap 57. Rookie Brett Landes, an AMA Grand National motorcycle dirt track racer, had his best run to date and was in seventh position on lap 64 when he parked in the infield with a mechanical problem. Brandon Loverock was in second place when he slowed with a problem on lap 64 and parked on lap 67.

David Brandon, returned to racing after a lengthy absence because of a broken femur in a leg (aquired in a "street" motorcycling accident, not on the racetrack -Ed.), lost his left rear wheel literally in turn four and spun out in a shower of sparks. Bruncati moved his Ford into fourth place during the final 14 laps and earned the hard charger award. A first for the track occurred in the Modified 4s trophy dash. Officials started the six slowest qualifiers in a 24-car field instead of the six fastest qualifiers. Third starter Greg Didoha won the six-lap race. Outside front row starters DeFazio (SLM) and Johnson (GAM) led all the way in the two other trophy dashes.

KING TACO LEGEND CARS:
Fast Time: Tom Landreth, 17.187.
Main: Tom Landreth, Brent Jones, Ricky Wildman, Ted Landreth, James Kalawaia, Cory Miles, Bill Everett, Ralph Alexander, Art Nevill, Steve Twilligear, Bob Landreth, Dave Green, Mark Gaiser, Tom Skahill, Micah Nourse, Kevin McMahon, Mark Lungerich, Bill Watson, Brian Vandehey , Larry Meredith, Jason Alsop, Uli Perez, Zjohn Taylor, Wendi Westbrook, Jeff Collins.

MODIFIED 4s:
Fast Time: Terry Limberopoulos, 17.549.
Dash: Greg Didoha, Randy Colling, John Bromberek, Jim McNear, Jr, Dennis Croasmus, Shane Rungaitis.
Main: Terry Limberopoulos, Guy Tripp, Greg Tucker, Fred Adams, Tim Ross, Tony Lawler, Dustin Morgan, Kevin Bernhardt, Steve Rogers, Bob Reed, Didoha, Brenda Pugh, McNear, Colling, Virgil Young, Ed Lavender, Amee Blue, Bromberek, Rachael Pennell, Richard Boker, Evan Banda, Rungaitis, Eric Reed, Croasmus.

GRAND AMERICAN MODIFIEDS:
Fast Time: John Watkinson III, 18.675.
Dash: Rod Johnson, Eddie Ernst, Watkinson, Travis Thirkettle, Lloyd Mack, Dennis Eckert.
Main: Travis Thirkettle, Johnson, Lloyd Mack, Ernst, Watkinson, Dennis Eckert, Robert Rice, Richie Altman, Dennis Schlarbaum, Tim Morse, Mike Trottochau, Craig Baker, Rick Riley, Charlie Wahl (in #36 Qual. by Garrett Yamada). DNS-Chad Daly.

JANI-KING SUPER LATE MODELS:
Fast Time: Tony Bruncati, 18.176
Dash: Nick DeFazio, Brandon Loverock, Rip Michels, Bruncati, Brett Landes, Kazuto Yanagawa.
Main: Michels, Kevin Vernon, DeFazio, Bruncati, Tim Woods III, Kazuto Yanagawa, Dean Cato, Deyon Young, Tommy Fry, Dan Moore, Tony Gomez, Brent Reynolds, Loverock, Brett Landes, David Brandon, Craig Raudman.

Super Scrivener Tim Kennedy has covered motorsports since 1968, when he was elected Publicity Director of the California Racing Association by the CRA Board of Directors. He performed those duties for 11 consecutive years and edited six yearbooks for the sprint car sanctioning body. Additionally, Tim did pre-race CRA publicity for race promoters and post race CRA stories and columns that appeared in numerous racing newspapers.

Since 1979 Tim has done freelance work in motorsports and has assisted several race tracks on special events. His racing results stories and Racing Scene column appear every week in RACING WHEELS--an all-motor racing newspaper based in Vancouver, Washington.

His straight-from-the-shoulder column and racing results stories currently appear in MOTORACING, a monthly racing newspaper based in Northern California. He also covers many other racing events such as the annual Thanksgiving USAC Midget Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway for NATIONAL SPEED SPORT NEWS, which is based in North Carolina.

-is-

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About this article
Series NASCAR , Stock car
Drivers George Mack , Tim Woods , Craig Raudman , Ralph Alexander , Bob Reed , Rip Michels , Dustin Morgan , John Watkins