The two premier stock car divisions at Irwindale Speedway had the night off, so five support classes and 103 racers shared the spotlight Saturday. They rewarded about 4,000 spectators with six entertaining features that resulted in two new track...
The two premier stock car divisions at Irwindale Speedway had the night off, so five support classes and 103 racers shared the spotlight Saturday. They rewarded about 4,000 spectators with six entertaining features that resulted in two new track champions during Laidlaw's Harley's on the Half-Mile Night.
The most sensational feature was a 50-lap West Coast Pro Truck race on the half-mile. The two fastest qualifiers raced evenly all the way and traded the lead eight times as they lapped up to fourth position. Fastest qualifier Aaron Staudinger started his Chevy Silverado third and led laps nine, 11, 31 and 40-50. Point leader Chris Johnson started his Ford F-150 second and led the first eight laps, 10, 12-30 and 32-39. Johnson, a 21-year old quarter midget racing graduate and two-time feature winner this season at IS, ran the outside groove. Staudinger, a two-time IS winner this year, ran the inside groove as they dueled side-by-side and nose-to-tail lap after lap without touching. "That was my best race ever and a really fun race," both drivers agreed as they reviewed the race with the media.
In the second USAC Ford Focus Midget Series race this year at Irwindale, Audra Sasselli made track history by becoming the first female USAC feature winner at IS. The 28-year old blonde FF Midget rookie from Fresno started fifth in a 14-car field and raced to victory in a 40-lap event on the third-mile. The veteran of ten years Go-Kart and six years 600 cc winged mini sprint racing used an outside line to charge into second place on lap eight. She then used an inside line through the third and fourth turns on lap 12 to take the point for good from pole starter and early leader Bradley Galedrige, the USAC FF California North Series point leader.
Sasselli, the second quickest qualifier, drove a Stealth combo dirt/pavement midget owned by her mother Donna and set-up by her father and husband. Following brief cautions for minor spins on lap 13, 14 and 17, she extended her lead and won by a straight-away (2.338 seconds). Fastest qualifier Bobby McGowan came from sixth starting spot to take second on lap 20. Chris Rahe, the FF California South Series point leader, took third position on lap 28. He finished 5.197 seconds behind Sasselli, the sixth-place driver in FF California North point standings and winner of a USAC FF California North main event August 7 at Madera Speedway.
Bobby Owens and Ryan Pace completed the top five. Galedrige faded to seventh place. Twelve drivers finished and eight ran all 40-laps. Sasselli, who races under her maiden name, started sixth in one of the two 10-lap heat races earlier. She led laps two-10 and won by 4.051 seconds in another dominating drive. "I had a migraine headache most of the week. We decided to come here to race at 4:00 p.m yesterday. I heard about this track from Danny Crafton (NCTS driver), a friend I raced in central California when we were younger. He said Irwindale is a great track. This is now my favorite track. I'll return to race here in the Thanksgiving Ford Focus race." When questioned about her racing goals, Sasselli said she would also like to race USAC Midgets and NASCAR trucks.
A 26-car Vista Paint Super Stock 40-lap race on the half-mile produced the first IS career victory for Eric Sunness, who started fifth in his Camaro. He led laps three-six and 24-40 to defeat Robin Bourgeois and become the seventh different winner in 14 races. The race came to a grinding halt on lap 24 after the second and third place cars of rookie Johnny White and Randy Jackson collided and set off a spectacular movie-style seven-car crash between the first and second turns. Six of the Camaros involved had to be towed back to the pits with extensive damage. Thankfully no drivers were injured.
Fastest qualifier White had started tenth and led laps seven through 23 by 50 yards. He slowed on lap 24 and dropped a position just prior to the crash. Officials parked his Camaro. Cars of Victor Wu, point leader Craig Rayburn, Bryan Harrell, Kenny Brown and second-ranked point driver Lee Ladd were the tow-offs. Several other cars were damaged but continued. Fourteen cars restarted. A 24-minute red flag to clear the track enabled the Wu and Ladd crews to get their cars back on the track before the checkered flag to gain points. Only 13 of the 26 starters finished and all ran 40 laps.
More fireworks occurred after IS race control officials told fifth-place Henry Miles by radio to fall back one position to avoid being set-back later. When Miles did not comply he was shown the black flag and his No. 99 was posted on the board. Miles finally pulled into the infield on lap 33, did some donuts in his Camaro and climbed out. As the race continued green and in front of startled grandstand spectators Miles gestured up to race control officials in a show of disagreement. For his display Miles was disqualified from racing at IS for one year and a routine explanatory letter will be sent to NASCAR headquarters.
The first main of the night was the 14th and final Mini Stocks race on the third-mile. Eight-time winner Greg Tucker started his Ford Pinto second and finished third to earn the series championship by 46 points. Kevin Bernhardt, the fastest qualifier and pole starter, waged a three-way, race-long battle of Pintos and led all 35 laps. He won his second main this season by a length (0.088 seconds). Eric Reed made an inside turn three-four pass on the last lap to take second place from Tucker by half a length. Twenty of 23 starters finished and all were on the lead lap.
AMF Bowling Pure Stocks Pros raced a 30-lap main on the third-mile. P/S Pros and a P/S Women's League used the same 1970s American sedans and the women's 20-lap feature concluded racing at 10:27 p.m. The 16-car P/S Pro race was a double-point race and ended the series inaugural IS season one week early.
Peter Bryk started first in his orange and black No. 01 General Lee replica and defeated Bill Bartleson by 0.749 seconds. The all-green flag race took 9:47.423. Point leader Jimmy Rouse started second and finished third to win the first IS Pure Stock championship. Jeff Elder and John Mattie followed. Fifteen drivers finished and ten were on the lead lap. The 13-race P/S season had 10 different winners. During the drivers meeting, P/S drivers learned the track plans to have more Saturday night P/S races instead of racing the class on Friday nights.
The final AMF Pure Stock Women's League race had 14 starters, a season-high. Competitors, spear-headed by Dave Foster, boosted the cash and prize outlay. Michelle Rouse, wife of the men's P/S champion and a fellow Pro P/S racer, started eighth and led laps seven-20 in her 1974 Chevy. It was her third victory in six women-only P/S races. She collected more than $700 in cash, plus additional prizes, gift certificates and a large AMF trophy. Driver Blake Usilton generated $361 of the cash award by his all-season fan ride-along in his No. 18 P/S. Ronnie Everhart, a racer at Perris making her IS debut, started sixth and finished five-yards back. Mini stock driver Amee Blue came from 11th to earn third in Foster's Ford Thunderbird. Kim Unruh and first-time IS racer Melissa Watson completed the top five. All 14 women finished, with eight drivers on the lead lap.
An overflowing four-page list of donated prizes for the Women's League showed gifts for the winner, all starters, hard luck driver and last driver on the track at the finish. Prizes included a gold bracelet, 12 car batteries, 10 cases of engine oil, an impact wrench with sockets, two jack stands from NAPA, apparel, phone system, two mufflers, a drive shaft, a steering box, die cast models, energy drinks, shower gel, dinner certificates, a jacket, a turkey, flowers, three days and two nights at Sam's Town Hotel/Casino-Las Vegas, nail jobs, gloves, a Snap-on creeper, and plaques to the top three finishers.
(Editor's Note: We must take a moment here to recognize Dave Foster's selfless work with the Pure Stock classes all year long and on Saturday night in particular. Dave's open enthusiasm and leadership was instrumental in making these two divisions so popular. In recent week's he kept it together gathering thousands of dollars worth of special gifts for the ladies, while caring for his very seriously ill mother. THANKS MUCH PAL! -Stokes)
Hard charger awards went to Steve Rogers (M/S), Greg Crutcher (S/S), Steve Dyer (WCPT), Chase Barber (FF Midgets) and IS infield announcer/pre-race host/Legends driver/Speedway Director of Sales and Marketing Wendi Westbrook (Women's P/S) for driving a Ford sedan from 14th to seventh place.
Fast Time: Kevin Bernhardt, 17.321.
Main: Bernhardt, Eric Reed, Greg Tucker, Bob Reed, Jim McNear, Tom Dye, Steve Rogers, Jim Mardis, Virgil Young, Rodney Bornhop, Dustin Morgan, Kris Melleby, Dennis Croasmun, Rich Garver, Fred Adams, Rod Schmitt, Christy Yanker, Tim Ross, Brenda Pugh, Mario Ruiz, Tyler Rogers, Mike Morales, Ed Lavender.
USAC FORD FOCUS MIDGETS:
Fast Time: Bobby McGowan, 14.873.
Heat 1: Eric Pace, Josh Lakatos, Bradley Galedrige, McGowan, Ryan Pace, Steve Davis, Chase Barber. Time-2:32.011.
Heat 2: Audra Sasselli, Bobby Owens, Chris Rahe, Cary Tanner, Cal Smith, J. R. Williams, Dick Hughes. Time-2:31.456.
Main: Sasselli, McGowan, Rahe, Owens, R. Pace, Barber, Galedrige, E. Pace, Davis, Smith, Tanner, Williams, Lakatos, Hughes. No Time, yellows.
WEST COAST PRO TRUCKS:
Fast Time: Aaron Staudinger, 19.957.
Main: Staudinger, Chris Johnson, Robert Leininger, Sean Bennett, Brian Pannone, Jim Satterfield, Don Helgeson, Neil Conrad, Richie Altman, Steve Dyer, Dennis Bennett, Ryan Black, Richard Black, Cecil Phelps, Kenny Vanderham, Jeff Williams, Ron Mongenel, Barry Kalperis.
VISTA PAINT SUPER STOCKS:
Fast Time: Johnny White, 21.686.
Main: Eric Sunness, Robin Bourgeois, Lyle Spangler, Greg Crutcher, Chris Houwen, Jeff Grill, Dean Cato, Dan Rodgers, Ed Dazzo, Garry Howell, Myan Spacarelli, Tim Gardner, Scott Corrigan, Henry Miles, Lee Ladd, Victor Wu, White, Randy Jackson, Craig Rayburn, Jimmy Sloan, Bryan Harrell, Larry Sampson, Kenny Brown, Steve Oliver, Mike Gilmore, Robert Hall.
AMF BOWLING PURE STOCKS:
Pro Fast Time: Bill Bartleson, 19.188. (1/3 mile)
Main: Peter Bryk, Bill Bartleson, Jimmy Rouse, Jeff Elder, John Mattie, Michelle Rouse, Dave Foster, Julianne Seeley, Harry Michaelian, Bob Bartleson, Mark Whitson, Justin Good, Thomas Hall, Kevin Hall, Izzy Lewis, Nick Nuccitelli.
WOMEN'S LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP FINALE
Fast Time: Amee Blue, 19.403.
Main: Michelle Rouse, Ronnie Everhart, Blue, Kim Unruh, Melissa Watson, Kelly Young, Wendi Westbrook, Ginger Bryk, Julianne Seeley, Christine Good, Izzy Lewis, Elizabeth Walter, Debra Zubia, Eva Atkins.