Irwindale Speedway race report, March 31

Twenty-four year old Nathan Wulff, from Escondido, pulled off one of the closest-ever victories in Irwindale Speedway's short three-year, but super-competitive, history nipping a hard-charging Tommy Fry by a mere 0.033 seconds after 75 laps of...

Twenty-four year old Nathan Wulff, from Escondido, pulled off one of the closest-ever victories in Irwindale Speedway's short three-year, but super-competitive, history nipping a hard-charging Tommy Fry by a mere 0.033 seconds after 75 laps of Food 4 Less Super Late Model action on Saturday night as 5,257 fans stood almost as one craning for a good look at the ("Who won???") photo finish. The two are now tied (with one win apiece) in the F4LSLM points and Wulff leads the Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge points with Fry right on his rear bumper for the winner's chunk of the big, benevelent brewery's year end $15,000 points fund package. Sailing with a 3+ second lead at mid-race, a number of cautions allowed Fry to get back into striking range of Wulff and a very late race yellow with only three laps to go got the flying Fry into the lead ever so briefly as the two rocketed off turn four toward the checkered flag. Fry got a teeny bit less traction than Wulff and that was all it took for the former Karting champ and Ultra Wheel Rookie of the Year to score his first-ever Super Late Model win. "We started off the year thinking big with 'Rookie of the Year' aspirations," said Wulff, whose dad and uncle are the key members of his small team. "But this win, and getting second place to Tommy on opening night, makes it seem that going for the championship is not out of the question. Its still early in the season, we'll take each race one at a time for now and work toward good finishes at every event."

Earlier in the day Simi Valley's Tommy Fry had set fast time at 18.228 with Wulff only a tick behind at 18.270. Brandon Loverock, who had qualified third ran third in the race putting up a great battle with a car that he after the race allowed as how it would only work down low on the racetrack, it was the young Norwalk driver's best finish of the new season and "crystal ball" look at a competitive season ahead.

Veteran Charlie Utts from Camarillo was fourth, with Chino's Tim Woods III making his F4LSLM 2001 debut in fifth, followed by Rip Michels from Saugus in a very respectable sixth place. NOTE: "The Ripper" is the subject of a just-published multi-part story in Stock Car Racing Magazine about the 2000 Grand Am Champ's experiences "moving on up" by building his own car and competing in the Super Lates … Get a copy, it's a neat story!

In all 33 cars ran an action-packed main that featured 45 laps of green running allowing Wulff to show off a silky-smooth driving style and great traffic-threading abilities. This race really put the "Super" in Super Late Models, and they'll be back at Irwindale on Saturday night April 1 for a set of sprint races when "Twin 50's" will pay full race points and require a somewhat different strategy going in.

There were four other event on the chocked-full night of racing including super-close battle in the NASCAR Grand Am Modifieds that saw Oceanside's Dean Kuhn best Roger Carufel Jr. (Saugus) by a tenth (0.107) of a second in an accident-shortened 32-lap race. Mike Knapp of Valencia got a fine third.

The King Taco Legend Cars race started off with a nasty-looking (no harm/no foul but the car's pretty bent) flip but ended up the way that many of those races have over the years at Irwindale; with Acton's own Art Nevill in control and at the head of the pack. Jim Kalawaia of Garden Grove gave chase for a good second, with Tom Landreth of Alta Loma close on his heels for third.

Unfortunately, Will Cotrell's first Super Stock win will have to wait. The winner on the track and in victory circle, the Palmdale driver's car failed tech (missing gears in the transmission, a performance advantage that is specifically disallowed was second on the track was first out of the tech area with a jubilant Greg Benner (he was pretty darn happy with third place and must have been ecstatic with second) in the two-slot, and steady Steve Gilmore (Granda Hills) up for third overall. Dean Cato's run from last (put to the back of the 30+ car pack after a first lap fracas) to fifth was well worth watching. The Huntington Beach driver pulled out all the stops on his way back through the field.

This week's (April 7) races at Irwindale will see the return of the mighty midgets of the United States Auto Club, the Automobile Club of Southern California Late Models, NASCAR Super Stocks, Modified 4's, and American Race Trucks. –DS

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Tim Woods , Rip Michels