Irwindale race report 2001-09-29

Two drivers shared the spotlight when the checkered flag concluded the featured Automobile Club of Southern California NASCAR Late Model 75-lap main event Saturday before 5,852 at Irwindale Speedway. Fastest qualifier Tim Huddleston started ...

Two drivers shared the spotlight when the checkered flag concluded the featured Automobile Club of Southern California NASCAR Late Model 75-lap main event Saturday before 5,852 at Irwindale Speedway.

Fastest qualifier Tim Huddleston started fourth, became the third race leader on lap 22 and won his second consecutive feature in his LADCO Pontiac. Dave Hessing drove a strategic race and captured his first track championship made even more special because it was wrought on the Auto Club's inaugural "Salute to Law Enforcement Day".

In other main events on the banked half-mile, Steve Luecht led all 50 laps from the pole in a non-point NASCAR Grand American Modified race with ten cars. Likewise, pole starter Jim McGill led all 50 laps of the 30-truck Ultra Wheels Speed Truck feature. Jim Smith also led all the way from the pole in a 29-car King Taco Legends 35-lap main on the third-mile. A two-car crash on lap 18 sidelined the car of point leader Tom Landreth. He finished 29th and saw his point lead shrink to six points with the final race next Saturday.

Bad racing luck and heartache befell Deryk Ward, the Late Model Series point leader entering the final point race of the season. Ward led by 12 points over Hessing and 24 points over Brian Kelley. Fifty points were available for first place, with drop-offs of two points per position. Ward started seventh when honorary starter Tom McKernan, president of the series- sponsoring Southern California Auto Club, flew green flag with a noticeably professional flair. All Ward had to do was finish within five positions of fifth starter Hessing to earn his first Irwindale track championship.

Ward had advanced to fourth place, right behind Hessing, by lap three. On the seventh lap Ward slowed with a deflating left rear tire, just as the smoking car of Joe Meehan stopped at the starting line. After completing laps nine-12 under the yellow flag, the field received a flag indicating that laps were no longer being counted.

Ward then pitted and his crew replaced the flat tire without losing a lap as track safety workers checked the track for oil from Meehan's car. Ward rejoined the 16-car field at the back with his championship aspirations still intact. Hessing was in third position at that point.

When racing resumed at lap 13 Ward started his march forward from last position. While passing Todd Conrad on the backstretch for 15th position their cars made contact. Conrad's left front hit Ward's right rear quarter panel, causing Ward's car to spin quickly up to the crash-wall. The hard contact broke a tie rod and fuel pump. Ward drove slowly to the pits, dragging body panels and bumper at the back of his Chevrolet. He parked his car and his championship dream.

Hessing and Kelley were the remaining championship contenders, but they still had to finish in order to top Ward's point total. Hessing, in his sixth year of racing, stayed clear of dicing cars by settling into sixth place, where he remained from laps 39-75. Kelley had to hope for a dropout by Hessing and a top finish for himself. Kelley raced aggressively and advanced to fourth place before wearing out his tires by lap 65, when he slowed suddenly and faded to his eventual seventh place finish. Hessing finished with 720 points to 712 for runner-up Ward and 708 for Kelley. Hessing said his game plan at the start was to race for the victory.

"When the X-man (Ward's nickname) pitted we wanted to be in the top three. Once we knew he was out we just wanted to find a place to stay out of the way. The jubilant new champion added, "This is unbelievable. To win my first championship in this competitive field, do it in NASCAR and at this great track and before this great crowd is tremendous." He thanked his sponsor-California Public Recycling-and his Chevy Monte Carlo crew. Hessing began the season with two dismal finishes after experiencing problems. "Then we changed everything and turned the season around," he said. At one point, Hessing was 76 points behind Ward, who was atop the point standings for 14 weeks-since May 19. Hessing's record at the track this season included four main event triumphs, 13 top fives and 15 top ten finishes.

Dejected Ward said, "You can't count on anything until the checkered flag." As fans gathered around him later, Ward was still upset, but composed about the accident. "He (Conrad) must have known what was at stake. I was just floored that he hit me. I was well past him. I just shook my head," Ward added. Veteran observers believed Ward easily would have passed enough cars to finish within five positions of Hessing even if Hessing had won the race. Only 13 cars finished and ten ran all 75 laps.

The truck-damaging Speed Truck feature had four yellow flags and a red flag on lap 29 to clear debris from the track after ten trucks crashed in separate incidents exiting turn two and in turn four. No drivers were injured. Only 20 trucks reached the finish line and 15 ran all 50 circuits. A one truck crash by sixth place Jim Kondziela exiting turn four on the final lap sidelined his truck and scattered body panels as alert drivers avoided his disabled truck. Rookie Ryan Arciero, 27-year old grandson of long-time Indy car owner Frank Arciero, finished second, 0.323 seconds behind McGill's Chevy. Ron Peterson finished third, 0.744 seconds behind the winner. Joe Herold and point leader Dave Blankenship followed.

Dana Moore turned in the best performance at Irwindale by a female driver. She set her first fast qualifying time in a 29 car King Taco Legends Car field and backed up that accomplishment in the main event by starting fifth and racing into second place by lap 15. The young, second-generation driver (who resembles tennis pro Anna Kournakova) pressured leader Smith closely for the balance of the race and finished an impressive second, only 0.505 seconds behind the winner.

Moore, from the San Diego suburb El Cajon, finished third in her last Legends main event at Irwindale on September 8. Her second place tied USAC-TQ Midget driver Randi Pankratz for best feature finish at Irwindale by a female. Super Stock driver Julianne Seeley and Moore had shared the best non-open wheel main event finish (third place) honor at the track for three weeks.

KING TACO LEGEND CARS:
Fast Time: Dana Moore, 17.051.

Main: Jim Smith, Moore, Ricky Wildman, Art Nevill, Donnie Akers, Ralph Alexander, Brent Jones, Cory Miles, Bory Molina, Jason Brennan, J. D. Hendley, Ted Landreth, Gary Schuerell, Bob Landreth, Mark Gaiser, Ryan Schug, Kevin McMahon, Brian Vandehen, Jim Mann, Bill Everett, Uli Perez, Bill Watson, Jerry Brokaw, Wendi Westbrook, Dennis O'Connor, Tom Skahill, Steve Twilligear, Jeff Collins, Tom Landreth.

GRAND AMERICAN MODIFIEDS:
Fast Time: Roger Carufel, Jr, 18.506.

Dash: Steve Luecht, Travis Thirkettle, Carufel, Dustin Fielden, Ernie Ernst, Rod Johnson.

Main: Luecht, Carufel, Thirkettle, Eddie Ernst, Dustin Fielden, Rod Johnson, Andy Schoening, Jamie Barnett, Chad Daly, Mark Norris.

ULTRA WHEEL SPEED TRUCKS:
Fast Time: Joe Herold, 19.499.

Dash: Bill Helgeson, Jim McGill, Jon Campbell, Ryan Arciero, Herold, Ken Davis.

Main: McGill, Ryan Arciero, Ron Peterson, Herold, Dave Blankenship, Mark Laeger, Carson Woods, Dan Moore, Bryan Araki,. Scott Calvin, Tom Stanton, Darin Christensen, Derek Disarro, Sonny Shelkly, Darin Ziminghaus, Jim Kondziela, Jesse Poppen, Jake Hodges, Ken Davis, Campbell, Greg Beckner, Kevin O'Neil, Russ Loftoin, Jeff Grill, Greg Adler, Nathan Wulff, Mike Sherman, Helgeson, Jim Kalawaia, Louis Manolito.

AUTO CLUB LATE MODELS:
Fast Time: Tim Huddleston, 19.381.

Dash: Mike Johnson, Mike Price, Huddleston, Dave Hessing, Todd Burns, Andy Bargaehr.

Main: Huddleston, John Lathrop, Price, Rick Miller, Johnson, Dave Hessing, Brian Kelley, Richard Hooper, John Jones, Rob Chaney, Shaun Estes, Steve Floyd, Todd Burns, Todd Conrad, Andy Bargaehr, Deryk Ward, Joe Meehan.

-IS-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Mike Johnson , Joe Herold , Jim Smith , Randi Pankratz , Ken Davis