FOUR REPEAT WINNERS AND A PODIUM FOR JESSE By Tim Kennedy IRWINDALE, CA., Apr. 16 - Repeat winners showed winning is contagious Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway. Five main events had four prior winners, including three back-to-back 2005 ...
FOUR REPEAT WINNERS AND A PODIUM FOR JESSE
By Tim Kennedy
IRWINDALE, CA., Apr. 16 - Repeat winners showed winning is contagious Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway. Five main events had four prior winners, including three back-to-back 2005 feature winners. Chris Johnson (Jasper West Coast Pro Trucks), Joe Ruggles (Grand American Modifieds), and Steve Stewart (Pick-Your-Part Figure 8s) won their second consecutive features. All three drivers now enjoy the point lead at IS after two races in their respective series. Third fastest qualifier Steve Rogers started second and led all 35-laps of the Mini Stock race on the third-mile track. He drove a 1980 Ford Pinto.
Austin Grabowski, a 16-year old high school sophomore, repeated his IS opening night victory (March 19) in the featured NASCAR Auto Club Late Model 50-lap feature on the half-mile. The Late Model rookie and two-year King Taco Legend Cars graduate did so in spectacular fashion aboard his Race Car Factory Chevy Monte Carlo. Grabowski, the third fastest qualifier in a 23-car field, started outside in the front row. As the field exited the fourth turn and received the green flag, Grabowski later said, "I was in third gear and it would not go into fourth. I waved my hand (to warn following drivers), but it was too late."
With the field accelerating at the green, rows two through six outside row cars came together in accordion fashion and wrecked from the starting line to the first turn. Justin Lofton, Johnny White, George Ruark and Dan DiGiacomo emerged uninjured from their battered cars, as did Robbie Brand. Three cars were towed to the pits during the 25-minute red flag for track clean-up. Rookie contenders Lofton, the fastest qualifier, and White returned for the complete restart in late models that looked like modifieds. Both cars lacked front fenders and hoods and back bumpers. They ran 40 and 18 laps and scored 16 and 12 points respectively.
Grabowski, whose mechanical problem precipitated the melee, was sent by officials to the back of the (now 20-car) field as a crash-involved car. He charged forward to tenth place by the end of lap two. He was eighth on lap six, seventh at lap eight, sixth on lap 13, fifth on lap 16, fourth at lap 21, third a lap later and second on lap 25. Grabowski then steadily cut Scott Youngren's 40-yard lead to one length by lap 46. With Youngren on the outside and Grabowski on the inside, they approached two slower cars. Grabowski made an inside move in the fourth turn to take the lead on lap 48. Youngren's Monte Carlo did a four-wheel drift up to the third turn wall. Contact popped two rivets and a bar that resulted in flapping right side body panels during the last half of the final lap.
Last to first Grabowski led the final three laps and defeated Youngren by 15-yards (0.902 seconds officially). The winner ran the fastest lap of the race at 19.215 (93.6 mph) and celebrated with his entire crew at the finish line. He leap-frogged from fifth to third in series points, 22 behind the leader, after four races. Jameel Saied started 15th and finished a career-best third in his Ford Taurus. "My best finish before tonight was fifth," he said.
Pole starter Brian Kelley, running the outside, led the first 16 laps in a side-by-side duel low-running Youngren, who switched to the outside and took the lead in turn four. Youngren opened a 40-yard advantage from lap 17 to the halfway point. Kelley finished fourth and now shares the point lead with Tim Huddleston. Running second on lap 20, Huddleston gradually slowed with a problem and finished 11th. Eighteen of 23 starters finished and 15 drivers completed all 50 laps.
A 12-car Grand American Modified all-green flag feature on the half-mile for the modifieds only took 11:16.356 to complete 35 laps. Outside-running Tim Morse started third and passed early leader Dennis Eckert during the sixth lap. Morse held a 20-yard lead with 15 laps remaining. Then inside-runner John Watkinson engaged Morse during the final five laps. Ruggles quickly joined them in a three-wide contest when he stuck the nose of his car between the two leaders with three laps remaining.
Ruggles, a 51-year old veteran of six racing series at Saugus and Mesa Marin tracks, took second place by diving under Watkinson in turn three during lap 34. On the final lap Morse saw his hopes for his career-first GAM victory dashed after Ruggles made an outside pass in the third and fourth turns for the triumph. Morse got a bit out of shape in turn four as he tried to dive under Ruggles as they raced towards the waving checkered flags. He recovered and trailed Ruggles by 0.647 seconds. Third finisher Watkinson was 1.121 seconds from the lead. GAM rookie/mini stock champion Greg Tucker took fourth, 1.804 seconds behind the winner.
The 11-car Figure 8 race had TV's "Monster Garage" host/West Coast Choppers owner Jesse James draw the pole position for his outlaw Figure 8 special. He led the first ten laps, but then dropped to third place when Stewart and 2004 IS champion Rod Proctor passed him in traffic. The all-green flag race took only seven minutes. Only the top four-Stewart, Proctor, James and Tony Curtis-completed all 20 laps as ten of 11 starters finished. Mini Stock winner Rogers defeated fellow Pinto driver Kevin Bernhardt by 0.585 seconds. Rich Garver's 1980 Toyota Celica was third, two seconds behind Rogers. Virgil Young's 1976 Toyota Celica finished fourth.
JWCPT fastest qualifier Johnson started fifth in his Ford F-150 truck. He chased pole starter Mike Young's F-150 for five laps. Second starter Tim McMillin led lap four and relinquished the point back to Young on lap five. Johnson shot by both leaders on the inside at turn four during lap six. He ran away to a straight-away victory. Jeff Williams' F-150 (4.522 seconds back) finished second for the second IS race in a row. Ryan Black took third, 13 seconds back in a Chevy Silverado. Seventeen of 19 starters finished and nine ran all 50 laps, including second-time truck racer Buddy Antunez, a five-time champion in moto/supercross motorcycle racing.
PICK-YOUR-PART FIGURE 8s: (11 cars)
Main: Steve Stewart, Rod Proctor, Jesse James, Tony Curtis, Earl Cox, Don Rogers, Harry Kuenniger, Steve Cook, Sean Hansen, Robbie Stutzel, Billy Ziemann.
MINI STOCKS: (29 cars)
Fast Time: Tim Ross & Kevin Bernhardt, 17.450.
Main: Steve Rogers, Bernhardt, Rich Garver, Virgil Young, Fred Adams, Brian Johnson, Eric Reed, Tom Dye, Dustin Morgan, Glenn Duffin, Rod Schmitt, Jim McNear, Craig Kennard, Phil Griffin, Daryl Scoggins, Bob Reed, J. D. Manger, Tyler Rogers, Lauri Wong, R. C. Zimmerman, Bobby Carmack, Ron Schmitt, Dennis Croasmun, Brenda Pugh, Kris Melleby, Tony Lawler, Kory Russell, Jack Roberts, Ross. DNS-Larry Han.
GRAND AMERICAN MODIFIEDS: (13 cars)
Fast Time: Joe Ruggles, 18.855.
Main: Ruggles, Tim Morse, John Watkinson, Greg Tucker, Doug Carpenter, Jim Peacock, Shawn Buckley, Robert Rice, Zach Foster, Dennis Eckert, Charlie Wahl, Garrett Yamada. DNS-Mike Trottochau.
WEST COAST PRO TRUCKS: (20 trucks)
Fast Time: Chris Johnson, 20.286.
Main: Johnson, Jeff Williams, Ryan Black, Don Helgeson, Mike Young, Neil Conrad, Tim McMillin, Jim Satterfield, Buddy Antunez, Colby McMillin, Roger Harder, Barry Kalperis, Kurt Knostman, Cecil Phelps, Ron Mongenel, Ivan Arias, Ron Davis, Richard Black, Todd Cameron. DNS-Michael May.
AUTO CLUB of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LATE MODELS: (23 cars)
Fast Time: Justin Lofton, 19.030.
Main: Austin Grabowski, Scott Youngren, Jameel Saied, Brian Kelley, Sean Bennett, Mike Johnson, Travis Thirkettle, Mike Mulhall, Brian Jones, Craig Yeaton, Tim Huddleston, Dan DiGiamarino, Richie Altman, Chris Houwen, Dennis Schlarbaum, John Ahrendt, Candace Muzny, Lofton, Robert Rice, Johnny White, George Ruark, Dan DiGiacomo, Robbie Brand.