Irwindale, CA., Jul 2- Rookie Travis Thirkettle won the longest and most impressive victory of his career Saturday in the featured NASCAR Auto Club Late Model "Firecracker 100-lap" feature at Irwindale Speedway. An estimated 7,000 spectators ...
Irwindale, CA., Jul 2- Rookie Travis Thirkettle won the longest and most impressive victory of his career Saturday in the featured NASCAR Auto Club Late Model "Firecracker 100-lap" feature at Irwindale Speedway. An estimated 7,000 spectators applauded his accomplishment on a patriotic night concluded with a 12-minute aerial fireworks show. The 27-year old second-generation driver started fifth in his 2005 Chevy Monte Carlo with "Coast Guard" lettered on its back quarter panel for Independence Day. Thirkettle, a Grand American Modified veteran at IS and the son of long-time stock car driver Jim Thirkettle, was one of four race leaders in a 22-car field. He led laps 12-91 and 93-100 in a race that was twice the usual distance for the series. He won his only other Late Model main on May 21 and now ranks fifth in track points.
Thirkettle battled the Monte Carlos of runner-up Scott Youngren and fastest qualifier Mike Johnson in a tight, three-car duel for the final 75 laps. Thirkettle ran the outside groove and Youngren ran the inside as Johnson tried to find any opening possible. The three drivers opened more than half a lap lead over the fourth place driver by lap 75. A caution flag to remove body-work from the 93 car caused a caution period from laps 76-84 and allowed the field to close on the top trio. Youngren used an inside pass from the fourth turn to the starting line to lead briefly on lap 92. However, he needed the groove used by Thirkettle to solidify the lead and settled for second, 0.170 seconds back. Johnson was third, 0.355 seconds behind the winner.
Dan DiGiamarino drove his "Army" Monte Carlo to fourth place, 2.764 seconds behind Thirkettle. Point leader Tim Huddleston, winner of six of the 11 races to date, came from 11th starting spot in his "Air Force" Monte Carlo to earn fifth position. Seventeen of 22 starters finished and eight drivers completed all 100-laps. Other race leaders were Jameel Saied (lap one) and fourth-ranked point driver Brian Kelley (laps two-11).
The other feature on the banked half-mile was a 40-lap Vista Paint Super Stock run. Greg Crutcher started his Camaro third and led the final four laps for his initial feature victory of 2005. He won by 0.837 seconds over fastest qualifier Jimmy Sloan, winner of the last two features in a Camaro. Bryan Harrell was third. Laps one-36 leader Eric Sunness took fourth after a laps 35-36 caution flag cost him a narrow lead over Crutcher.
Two features used the third-mile track. The touring USAC Ford Focus Midget paved track 14-race series made its fourth of six scheduled stops this season at Irwindale. Third fastest qualifier Chase Barber, 17, started fourth and chased sixth quickest qualifier/pole starter Audra Sasselli for 28 laps. Then the nose of his car contacted the tail of Sasselli's car as the leading duo exited turn four. Sasselli's car spun 360 degrees in mid-track, slowed and then continued non-stop as she dropped four positions. Barber led laps 28 to the lap 35 checkered flag. He defeated point leader Alex Harris by 0.231 seconds. Harris, the winner of all three FF features at IS this season, started fifth as second fastest qualifier. Jeff Sakowicz, rookie Benny Moon and Sasselli, 29, completed the top five. Twelve of 17 starters finished, with ten drivers on the lead lap. Four of the 17 drivers are females.
Angry Sasselli, from Fresno, stopped her car in the third turn after the finish and waited for winner Barber on his cool-off lap. She then trailed his car back to the pits and later said that isn't the way to win. Barber won his fourth career FF Midget main in an ex-Steve Lewis chassis. It was his fourth feature victory in a row including triumphs on dirt (at Hanford-June 4) and on pavement (at Stockton-June 18 and 25). The top three finishers drove their self-starting cars from the pits back to the finish line for their plaques and interviews. The large crowd rained boos on Barber for spinning Sasselli. Interviewer Wendi Westbrook said, "There is nothing more dangerous than a woman wronged." Barber replied, "I hate to win a race like that." New USAC FF paved series points show Harris the leader by ten over Barber. Sasselli is third, 31-points behind Harris.
The opening race was for the four-cylinder mini stock class. Third starter Eric Reed used the borrowed No. 8 Ford Pinto and led laps 23-35 and won by 0.506 seconds over Kevin Bernhardt, who led the first 21 laps. Steve Rogers took third. The top three drivers raced three abreast from laps 21-23. Dennis Croasmun led only lap 22. Twenty-three of 24 starters finished and 19 ran all 35 laps. Hard charger R. C. Zimmerman, who started his 1974 Pinto 21st, finished 11th. He won hard charger honors for gaining the most positions. During his front straight interview, Westbrook asked how old he was. Zimmerman replied, "I'm 87. I raced against Lee Petty (in the 1950s)."
The final race was a 20-lap Pick-Your-Part Figure 8 seven-minute, all green flag race. Point leader Steve Stewart started eighth in a ten-car field and led all the way for his fifth victory in six races. He shot past seven cars on the outside at the initial green flag and won by 40-yards over pole starter Jesse James, winner of the Figure 8 race a week ago. Nine of ten drivers reached the checkered flag and four completed all 20 circuits.
The patriotic night included an inspirational rendition of the National Anthem by bass baritone Robby Britt, who has sung at the White House. Lee Ladd (Ladco) had five cars representing five military branches, drive slowly around the half-mile in formation with large American flags on poles held by the drivers. The 22-car Late Model field also ran several slow parade laps with large American flags on poles held by the drivers and for the first time at IS they ran four abreast. Aerial pyrotechnics lighted beyond the backstretch also greeted the Late Model field just before the initial green flag. A jet powered vehicle also made several loud and fiery demo runs on the front straight following the Late Model feature.
ADD: FIFTY (that's a big 5-OH!) Chevrolet SSR convertible pickemup sport trucks (someone called them ^ÓCorvettes with cabooses^Ô) converged on Irwindale Speedway from all over the western United States on Saturday. Feted first at Sierra Chevrolet in Monrovia (gathering point display and catered lunch) and then at Irwindale Speedway where the group set a ^ÓNeeeeeeew Trrrrrack Reeeeecord^Ô (thanks Tom) for number of participants, the SSR Club Victory lap was a real crowd pleaser and was replete with the CHP's number two ^Ótop cop^Ô in the state, CHP Chief Manny Padilla, riding ^Óshotgun^Ô in his brother-in-law's in bright red SSR.
Adding to the patriotic tone of the July second event was a stirring rendition of the national anthem by Robbie Britt whose elegant bass-baritone voice rang out with emotion. His singing of the Star Spangled Banner was hailed by one and all as the best ever in the seven-year history of the Speedway, and he was invited back to do the honors for on TV for both nights of the Toyota All-Star Showdown in November by none other than the track's president Jim Williams. - Ed.
PICK YOUR PART FIGURE 8s: (10 cars)
Main: Steve Stewart, Jesse James, Earl Cox, Harry Kuenniger, Tony Curtis, Don Rogers, Steve Cook, Jeff Marguet, Sean Hansen, Robbie Stutzel.
MINI STOCKS: (24 cars)
Fast Time: Dennis Croasmun, 17.331.
Main: Eric Reed, Kevin Bernhardt, Steve Rogers, Dustin Morgan, Tim Ross, Tom Dye, Tyler Rogers, Richie Altman, Virgil Young, Daryl Scoggins, R. C. Zimmerman, Kris Melleby, Jim McNear, Brenda Pugh, Rod Schmitt, Croasmun, Kory Russell, Glenn Duffin, Bob Reed, J. D. Manger, Bobby Carmack, Larry Haw, Ed Lavender, Ron Schmitt.
VISTA PAINT SUPER STOCKS: (22 cars)
Fast Time: Jimmy Sloan, 21.958.
Main: Greg Crutcher, Sloan, Bryan Harrell, Eric Sunness, Ed Dazzo, Steve Smith, Robin Bourgeois, Lee Ladd, Kenny Brown, Victor Wu, Tim Gardner, Bill Shoemaker, Robert Dezarov, Mike Gilmore, Dan Rodgers, Garry Howell, Jeff Grill, Roy Moore, Richard Hansen, Steve Gilmore, Rich DeLong III, Jose Martinez, Keith Wood.
USAC FORD FOCUS MIDGETS - PAVED SERIES : (17 cars)
Fast Time: Jace Meier, 14.683.
Main: Chase Barber, Alex Harris, Jeff Sakowicz, Benny Moon, Audra Sasselli, Chris Veach, Steve Davis, Robbie Whitchurch, Nick Carlson, Randi Pankratz, Cal Smith, Cameron Veach, Maier, Heather Davis, Bobby Owens, Jim "Jet" Davison, Lindsay Kernohan.
AUTO CLUB LATE MODELS: (22 cars)
Fast Time: Mike Johnson, 18.948.
Main: Travis Thirkettle, Scott Youngren, Johnson, Dan DiGiamarino, Tim Huddleston, Robert Rice, Daniel DiGiacomo, Jameel Saied, Richie Altman, Austin Grabowski, Sean Bennett, Chris Houwen, George Ruark, Pat Ackley, Candace Muzny, Craig Yeaton, Mike Mulhall, Brian Kelley, Brian Jones, Chris Carmody, Dennis Schlarbaum, Justin Lofton.