Week two 2002: Irwindale Speedway's "second opening night" March 23 Irwindale, Calif. - - Even though you can really only have one "Opening Night" per year, March 23 really is opening night for four of the Speedway's favorite divisions. The ...
Week two 2002: Irwindale Speedway's "second opening night" March 23
Irwindale, Calif. - - Even though you can really only have one "Opening Night" per year, March 23 really is opening night for four of the Speedway's favorite divisions. The Automobile Club of Southern California Late Models, Vista Paint Super Stocks, Modified 4's, and Pick Your Part Figure 8 cars will all be making their 2002 debut on the Irwindale asphalt and all be looking forward to a tough and spirited season.
Figure 8 champ Rusty Stewart will be back and expecting plenty of hot competition. The "criss-cross cars" are always a crowd favorite and always elicit the loudest and longest yells of the evening. The "I can't look, but I HAVE TO LOOK ^Å" factor instantly goes WAY off the scale when these wild and crazy drivers get to screaming around the pretzel-shaped course ^Å Ya just gotta be there.
In the Modified 4's, nice guy Guy Tripp, from Saugus, will defend his hard-won 2001 title looking to win right out the box in 2002. These 4-cylinder NASCAR stockers really seem to be having fun on the Speedway's low-banked third-mile ^Å SERIOUS fun, but fun nonetheless ^Å Fans will too.
The Vista Paint Super Stocks NASCAR division at Irwindale boasts the only two-time driving champion that Irwindale has ever produced, Jeff Green from just down the 605 freeway in Long Beach. This year Green has indicated that he will take his enthusiastic team, faithful sponsors, and smart driving style upstream to the Late Model and/or Super Late Model divisions, thus leaving the '02 Super Stocks championship wide open. There's a whole roster of colorful drivers ready to take over the title ^Å They'll be here on Saturday night with their spurs on.
For the main event we'll see the Auto Club Late Models on track and enthusiastically heading for a new championship season. Late year's series was spectacular with six different winners and tight competition on every lap of every race. Canyon Country's Dave Hessing carried the day (and got a nice trip to Hawaii out of it in addition to the bucks, jacket, and trophy) but only by a slim 10 points over Deryk "X-Man" Ward the Palm Springs UPS driver, who "hauled the goods" all season long only to have a disappointing finish after carrying a 10 point lead into the last race of the season.
You don't need a road map to know that pound for pound, dollar for dollar, these Auto Club-backed machines area rated as "best buys" in the old "speed versus money" proverb ("^ÅSpeed costs money, how fast do you want to go?").
Consistent Brian Kelly, the "old" pro from Arleta finished a well-deserved third (only 4 points behind second) in the 2001 points chase without winning a race. He WILL win one, and maybe a few more, in the new season ^Å Mark that prediction.
Fourth and Fifth in points Mike Price and Todd Burns. Competitive should be both of these lads middle name. Price is the precision driver who won the 1999 Super Stock title at Irwindale, and Burns is the guy who won the most (5) Auto Club races in 2001. Price, from San Pedro and Burns (who builds racing cars in Monrovia) from Riverside are NOT AT ALL HAPPY with their relative finishing positions ^Å They will be doing something about it from the first green flag of the season.
Tickets are available in person at the track's box office Tuesday through Saturday, by phone (626) 358-1100, and on the web at www.irwindalespeedwaycom. Gates open at 4PM, and racing starts at 7, in between there's qualifying to watch on the track, a live band playing in the food court area, face-painting for kids of all ages, a pre-race "Know Your NASCAR" audience participation game, and a driver autograph session. Fans are urged to get to the Speedway early to take full advantage of the "fun before the storm".