Irwindale report 2002-10-05

Three track championships were on the line and 13 drivers had a mathematical chance at winning them Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. The races within races highlighted the five-division racing program before an announced crowd of 5,150. New track...

Three track championships were on the line and 13 drivers had a mathematical chance at winning them Saturday at Irwindale Speedway. The races within races highlighted the five-division racing program before an announced crowd of 5,150.

New track champions are Ricky Wildman (King Taco Legend Cars), Carson Woods III (Ultra Wheel Super Trucks) and 2002 Jani-King Super Late Model champion Rip Michels (in the SLM Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge Series-the ten race series within the track's SLM Division). Wildman, a 17-year old high school senior in Orange County, became the youngest track champion in track history. He entered the series final race tied at 490 points with defending Legends champion Tom Landreth.

With 50 points available to main event winners, only two drivers were eligible for the Legends title. Seven drivers were within the point lead in the U.W. Super Trucks. Four drivers were still mathematically eligible for the SLM Big 10 Challenge trophy and the $5,000 first place check from the $10,000 fund posted by Miller Brewery.

Winners of the five feature races were Art Nevill (Legends); Terry Limberopoulos, in his 1970 Renault R10 sedan (Modified 4s); Ryan Arciero (U.W. Super Trucks); Michael Thomas (West Coast Pro Trucks) and Kevin Vernon (Jani-King SLM-Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge).

Nevill, rookie Arciero and Vernon all started on the pole and led all the way. Limberopoulos started second and Thomas won from third grid position. Only Thomas lost the lead (to Aaron Staudinger twice). The other four winners dominated their races. Arciero, the grandson of long-time Indy Car owner/construction magnate Frank Arciero, recorded his first-ever main event victory in the touring truck series. He entered the final race for the series at IS fifth in points. He climbed to fourth overall in final rankings at IS.

Nevill, Arciero, Thomas and Vernon all scored their initial main event triumphs this season. Limberopoulos, the 2002 Modified 4s champion, earned his sixth main trophy this season in 12 races. His car, which he is retiring, stopped after the checkered flag and a cool-off lap in the infield near the starting line for the usual interview over the PA system. The third place car of Craig Kennard also came to the interview area and the left front of his car slammed into the right side and RF tire of the winner's parked Renault, pushing in the right side door and RF tire. Officials disqualified Kennard for the night for his unintentional miscue. (Ed. Note: Kennard indicated that he just didn't see Limberopoulos' already stopped car as he motored into the interview area. Many in the crowd thought that the rather hard hit looked like some sort of racing retaliation, but it turned out to be a momentary loss of concentration. Nevertheless, Kennard was DQed from the event and given a stern warning by the track officials.)

The championship contests included some memorable moments. Wildman's misfortune started early when his Legend Car broke the rear axle during his first qualifying lap. He borrowed a spare rear axle from feature winner Nevill and had to start the main from the back row (27th of 28 cars). Meanwhile, his title-rival Landreth, who had set the fastest qualifying time, started fourth with the four-car inversion.

Wildman passed several cars per lap and was up to 15th position by lap 20 of the 35-lap race. At that point Landreth was in fifth place and he only had to keep Wildman behind him to repeat his 2001 track championship. The cars of fourth place Jim Smith and Landreth collided in the second turn on lap 20 and sixth place James Kalawaia spun out. Wildman passed Landreth during the melee.

Landreth limped away from the lap 20 multi-car incident with damage to his car that caused him to slow and he was lapped on lap 28. Landreth finished 34 laps and was scored 25th of the 26 cars running at the end and he earned the minimum-two points. Wildman, who only needed to finish ahead of Landreth, continued his drive forward and finished fifth. He received 42 points for the race and outscored Landreth by 40 points (532 to 492).

Brandon Loverock entered the Miller Lite Big 10 Challenge 75-lap race only 14 points behind Michels. The duo battled for second behind Vernon from lap 10 to 18 when Loverock dropped out and parked in the infield with a broken oil pump. Michels was second on lap 33 when his car got high in turn two and bumped third-running Tony Bruncati, but both drivers continued. "I just overdrove it," Michels later admitted.

Michels, with a loose car in the turns, fell to eighth position by lap 35. He recovered to finish fifth. His 394 points won the $5,000 Miller Lite paycheck by 32 points. Bruncati finished second and passed Loverock for second in Miller Lite points. Bruncati (362 points) will collect $3,000 from Miller, while Loverock's 354 points will net $2,000 in Miller money during Irwindale's annual championship awards banquet. Brent Reynolds finished third in the 75-lap event for his second-best finish this year. SLM rookie and truck veteran Deyon Young was a SLM career best fourth as 13 of the 18 starters completed all 75 laps. Sixteen drivers reached the checkered flag.

The Ultra Wheel Super Truck 22-truck field ran 50 laps and the top three drivers in points were only separated by eight points at the start of the race. Woods (310) started third, Rich Geisler (304) started 16th and Jim McGill (302) started second. McGill ran second all 50 laps and finished 2.161 seconds (40 yards) behind Arciero. Woods fell to fifth place on lap three and ran there to the checkers.

If Woods had finished sixth, or if McGill had finished first instead of second, McGill would be the champion. Their point totals would've been tied, but McGill had the edge in the tie-breaker system--total victories (1-0). Geisler finished the race eighth and dropped from second in points to third overall. Final track points show Woods with 352, McGill 350 and Geisler 340. Winner Arciero was fourth with 330.

No trophy dashes were contested in any of the night's five divisions.

-is-

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Series Stock car
Drivers Jim Smith , Rip Michels