Irwindale race report 2002-09-14

Rip Michels became the first driver to clinch a track championship this season at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday before 5,630 spectators in round 18 of the 19 race season. The Mission Hills driver led all the way in the 25-car NASCAR Jani-King...

Rip Michels became the first driver to clinch a track championship this season at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday before 5,630 spectators in round 18 of the 19 race season. The Mission Hills driver led all the way in the 25-car NASCAR Jani-King Super Late Model 75-lap feature. The race also was round nine of ten in the Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge, led by Michels.

Michels started his Ladco, M & R Engines Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the pole as the second fastest qualifier. He won a series record eight main events this season. Michels also became the second to win two championships at the four-year old track and the first driver to win titles in two racing divisions. (Jeff Green won the 2000-01 championships in Super Stocks.) Michels was Irwindale's 2000 champion in NASCAR Grand American Modifieds before he switched his racing program to the track's premier SLM division as a rookie last season.

Michels, who won four of the five main events since August 17, also broke a tie with NASCAR Late Model Division driver Todd Burns for most feature victories at the track. Michels now has 26 main event trophies (including 17 victories in the GAM division) to 25 triumphs for Late Model point leader Burns.

"I can't believe I'm the champion here in the premier Super Late Model Division. I always looked up to (Ron) Hornaday and (Dan) Press in these cars. I thought I'd be driving a Grand American Modified for the rest of my life," Michels told the media in a post-race conference.

He said he has been lucky this year and praised his crew for working long hours and doing whatever is necessary to win. Michels then turned his attention to his competition with a driver at Madera Speedway for the lead in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series rankings. "How did he do tonight?" was the question from Michels. He also revealed he might try NASCAR's touring Southwest Series next year if sponsorship can be secured.

Two truck classes raced on the banked half-mile in the four-division program Saturday. Ron Peterson led all but the first lap of the 50-lap Ultra Wheel Super Truck 25-truck race. It was his second triumph of 2002 at the track. He started third in his Frahm Dodge-backed Dodge and passed pole starter Tom Stanton, the initial leader.

Fastest qualifier Michael May, aboard a 2000 Ford, led all the way from the pole in a 24-truck West Coast Pro Truck Series main event that officials reduced from 40 to 30 laps as the 10:00 p.m curfew arrived. Point leader May's sixth feature victory at Irwindale this year came in race 12, including ten races under the series former American Race Truck Series name. The King Taco Legend Cars 35-lap feature ran on the third-mile track and started 27 of the replica 1930s Chevys, Dodges and Fords. Fastest qualifier Brent Jones led all 35 circuits from the pole for his only main event victory this year. His captured his initial feature trophy in his same 1934 Chevy last season.

A controversy occurred during lap 13 when the Legend Cars of point leader/second-running Ricky Wildman and third place Ted Landreth collided in the first turn. Wildman spun and restarted on the lead lap. However, he finished 18th and lost the track point lead to second finisher/defending Legend Cars track champion Tom Landreth, the brother of Ted who finished third. Wildman entered the race 24 points ahead of Tom. When the race ended college freshman Wildman trailed l934 Ford driver Tom Landreth by eight points (448-440). Only two races remain in the 12-race schedule that will conclude October 5.

In a unique tribute to the heroes of September 11, 2001, all 25 SLM drivers held large American flags on poles extended from the driver's side of their cars during the parade laps. Patriotic recorded music and a fireworks show from the backstretch followed the final main event.

SLM fastest qualifier Tim Woods III, who started second, chased pole starter Michels for 31 laps before he yielded second spot to eighth starter Brandon Loverock. They finished in that order. Loverock trailed Michels by 0.983 seconds. James Roland was fourth. NASCAR Southwest Series driver Nick Joanides came from 11th starting position to fifth in the Jackson Race Cars "house car" and earned the hard charger merchandise award. Nick DeFazio, leading SLM rookie Dan Moore, 1999 SLM track champion Rod Johnson, Kazuto Yanagawa and Doug Renno completed the top ten. Twenty of 25 drivers finished and 17 ran all 75 laps.

Tony Bruncati, a SLM series front runner, was in fourth position on lap 38 when the fifth place car of Roland made contact with Bruncati's Ford, which looped. He lost a lap and finished 18th. Bruncati trailed Michels in Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge points by only four points before the race. The lap 38 mishap dropped Bruncati 36 points behind Michels and 22 points behind second place point man Loverock. Woods now is fourth, only six points in back of Bruncati. Only the top three drivers split the $10,000 Miller Lite point fund--$5,000, $3,000 and $2,000.

Joe Herold, Carson Woods III, rookie Ryan Arciero and Jim McGill finished second through fifth in the Ultra Wheel Super Truck race. Woods reclaimed the track's series point lead by six points (310 to 304) over Rich Geisler, who entered the race as the point leader. Geisler started 17th and he finished seventh. McGill is third in points at 302 with only one race (October 5) remaining in the nine-race Irwindale series.

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jeff Green , Michael May , Tim Woods , Joe Herold , Rip Michels