FF: Irwindale weekend summary

Irwindale, CA., Mar. 27 - The second annual Mopar Twin 25s USAC Midget race again offered $50,000 to any driver who could win the first 25 and then start last in the second 25 and also win that race. This year promoter Steve Lewis, of Laguna...

Irwindale, CA., Mar. 27 - The second annual Mopar Twin 25s USAC Midget race again offered $50,000 to any driver who could win the first 25 and then start last in the second 25 and also win that race. This year promoter Steve Lewis, of Laguna Beach, CA, and his Premier Racing Entertainment offered fans a full slate of special events and attractions under the title Festival of Speed. Activities started at 7:00 am with eight hours of Quarter Midget racing on a course marked off with moveable blocks in the track's east parking lot. USAC Ford Focus Midget and Midget Series time trials started at noon and lasted until 1:30.

Other features included displays of legendary race cars such as a replica of Sir Jack Brabham's 1961 Indianapolis 500 rear-engine Cooper-Climax T-54 and the J. C. Agajanian No. 98 Willard Battery roadster an identical replica of the car Parnelli Jones drove to victory in the 1963 Indy 500, IRL Indy Racing fan experience, exhibition runs of vintage dragsters, more than 20 vintage Midgets on display at the main grandstand entrance, and a 30-minute exhibition starting of "DRIFTING", the new competition sport imported from Japan.

The usual PRE racing experience staples were present again this year. They included-- fireworks shot from behind the backstretch, the Huffman twin blonde trophy girls from Indiana, an armored truck on the front straight before the second 25-lap main, 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. on-track autograph session with all drivers and race cars on the front straight, midway booths and displays, Mountain View High School Marching Band to play the National Anthem, and 10,000 free 66-page color race programs given to spectators and competitors.

Speed TV Network taped the Irwindale Midget races March 27 with on-air talent Ralph Sheheen (play-by-play), Larry Rice (color analyst) and Dave Argabright (pit reporter) handling the microphone work. It was Ralph's first visit to Irwindale. Airdate is potentially April 10, but check your local listings.

J. J. Yeley, winner of the Copper World Classic USAC Midget feature on March 21 at Phoenix International Raceway was entered for the Irwindale USAC Midget Twin 25s in his PIR-CWC winning No. 91 Lewis Beast/Ed Pink Ford. However, during mid-week J.J's Joe Gibbs NASCAR Busch Series team reportedly scheduled him for a Busch testing session in the South. Therefore, 2003 USAC Triple Crown Championship winner Yeley had to miss his chance to win the $50,000 bonus at Irwindale. His scheduled ride sat in the pits all night with no driver.

Josh Wise made his second start for the new Tony Stewart Racing Beast/Mopar team and had two identical cars at his disposal under the direction of Stewart team manager Larry Curry. Josh and his mechanic/buddy Jake Argo, of SCRA sprint car fame, have rented an apartment in Indianapolis that they will share while they chase the USAC National Midget Championship this season for Stewart.

Notable guests at the USAC Irwindale Twin-25s included drivers Parnelli Jones and son Page (soon to be a daddy), Tommy Kendall, Lyn St. James, Bentley Warren, Jimmy Sills, Tony Simon, Jimmy Oskie, Walt James, "The Cam Father" Ed Iskenderian, LBGP President Jim Michelian, 1199 Foundation Prexy Bruce Meyer, Sonny Meyer, hot rod legend Alex Xyidias, exotic car fixer Bruce Canapa, and racing reporter Mary Mendez, daughter of George Bignotti.

Can You Top This Department: With a slim field of six push trucks present for the Midgets, two racing friendly California Highway Patrol officers present used their two black and white CHP patrol cars to push off Midgets during the evening. They give precision-driving exhibitions at Irwindale Speedway periodically on Saturday nights and recruit potential new officers at the track. The push bars in front of the CHP cars used to get disabled vehicles off local freeways served the purpose well as did their lights and sirens which added to the already festive program. The CHP cars launched USAC Midgets from the pits on the backstretch track access road and were visible from the grandstand.

It gave local fans something new in racing to amaze them. Both cars were there with an OK from the CHP brass who saw the lack of push vehicles as a new opportunity for a little direct community service -- Both law enforcement vehicles got their gas tanks filled up after the event to offset the fuel used during the night. The fans loved the seeing the CHiPs work, and it was said that the Midget drivers were vying to see who would push them off, asking their crews to wave one of the big black and whites to line up behind them!

The Midget field included two young drivers--Ryan Kaplan and Stephen Graves--who stepped up from the Ford Focus division. Graves drove the No. 94 Beast/Esslinger that the Graves clan bought from Josh Wise's family in Riverside. Rookie Ford Focus drivers at IS March 27 were Scott Pierovich, who turned 16 on March 26, Jeff Sakowicz, TQ Midget veteran Jody Bandfield, Chase Barber, a Morgan Hill, CA high school student and nephew of former USAC and NMRA-TQ Midget driver/car owner Guy Barber, and SCRA sprint car veteran Cal Smith, who has his four sprint cars for sale.

First-time drivers at Irwindale Speedway were easterners Drew Fornoro, Bobby Santos III, Mario Mariette and Davey Ray. Teddy Beach's No. 125 all black Beast at Irwindale was a car borrowed from the Fike family. Beach flipped his usual white and orange No. 125 Beast on the front straight March 21 in the feature at the PIR-CWC. A. J. Fike was not present in Irwindale because of his ARCA stock car involvement. A.J's No. 132 that he raced in Phoenix became No. 125 at Irwindale so Beach could chase 2004 USAC National midget points.

Josh Lakatos started fifth and won the initial 2004 USAC Ford Focus California Series 25-lap main event Saturday on the third-mile Irwindale Speedway in a preliminary to the USAC Midgets Mopar Twin-25s. The 2003 USAC California North Series champion from Pasadena drove his Matco Tools Beast/Ford Focus to a 1.392- second victory in a 23-car field.

Lakatos, a 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games medal-winning trap-shooter for Team USA, was the third race leader. Pole starter Bobby Owens led the opening stanza. Third starter Ryan Pace, the 20-year old Ford Focus feature winner last Thanksgiving, paced laps two-six. Lakatos then made an inside pass from the fourth turn to the starting line on the seventh lap and extended his advantage to the checkered flag. Pace finished second.

Rookie Matt Triplett placed third and Owens followed. A red flag stopped the race after six laps when the cars of Bradley Galedrige and Robert Hawks collided in the third turn, causing Galedrige to flip onto the side of his car and stop abruptly against the crashwall. Neither driver was injured.

CARPENTIER & JOURDAIN

A highlight of the event was the debut of Champ Car (formerly CART, used to be ORS) drivers Patrick Carpentier, from Canada, and Michel Jourdain, Jr, from Mexico, in Ford Focus Midgets. Following several hours of open practice Friday afternoon, all 24 Focus drivers ran group qualifying at noon Saturday, with eight cars on the track simultaneously and all laps timed electronically via on-board transponders. Carpentier, driving one of the SCREAM, Inc. house cars, set the third fastest qualifying time of 14.812 (only 0.066 seconds behind quickest qualifier Bobby McGowen's 14.746). Jourdain, with little practice time in the second SCREAM house car, was 19th fastest of 23 drivers who posted times.

With a six- car inversion for the feature, Carpentier started fourth and dropped to sixth position on the third lap. He regained one position by passing fastest qualifier McGowen during the ninth lap on the inside at turn two. Carpentier finished fifth (4.208 seconds behind the winner) in an impressive debut. Smiling Carpentier later told the media, "It was fun. I really liked it. I wasn't happy with my start. I want to do more of this racing." Jourdain lined up 19th on the 24-car grid, but he dropped out on the first lap with "a broken fuel pump". Nineteen drivers finished and 15 drivers completed all 25 laps in the 6:15.223-timed race.

In the featured MOPAR Twin 25s Bobby East, 19, came so close to capturing the $50,000 bonus posted by his car owner/race promoter Steve Lewis that he could almost taste it Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway. The event was the second annual USAC National/Western States Midget Series Mopar Twin-25 lap features on the banked, half-mile speedway. The format offered $50,000 of American Racing Products' to the winner of the first 25 if he could start last in the second 25-lap race and also win it.

A crowd of more than 5,000 open-wheel racing fans rooted for East, the first 25-lap feature winner and last starter (24th) in the non-points second 25 lap race, to a closing second place. East, from Brownsburg, Indiana, made a dramatic charge and trailed pole starter/race-long leader Thomas Meseraull, from San Jose, by only 0.788 seconds. It was the first USAC National Midget Series feature triumph for Meseraull, the 14th place driver in the initial 25-lap main.

New point leader East, the son of Beast chassis constructor and Lewis team manager Bob East, drove the Team ASE Beast/Ed Pink Ford. Meseraull wheeled the Jasmine White/Bay Muffler Beast/Esslinger-powered car from northern California. "I hate to keep him from winning the $50,000, but we've been struggling for a long time. We built this new car for 2004. We had a bad set of tires in the first 25 and put new tires on for the second 25 and that made all the difference," Meseraull told the crowd. When interviewed over the track PA system, East told fans, "We're disappointed. We needed a late caution. My car was working, but it was too tight on long runs."

The only caution flag of the race came on the second lap when Jay Drake spun across the starting line and stalled. East had started 24th and passed eight cars on the outside during the first lap. He charged by four more cars on the first green flag lap. His No. 9 mount, flying a mandated yellow banner from the roll-cage to identify him as the only $50,000 eligible car, was fourth on lap seven and third two laps later. However, East had to chase the two distant leaders-Meseraull and Brad Kuhn-for the next 11 circuits before he reeled in and passed Kuhn for second.

During the final four laps, East then closed the 40-yard advantage held by Meseraull to 15-yards at the checkered flag waved by Tony Roberts. Kuhn finished third, 2.868 seconds behind the winner. Dave Darland, East's Team ASE teammate, charged from 13th starting to earn fourth. Ron Gregory, Cole Carter, Tracy Hines, Jerome Rodela, Drew Fornoro and Josh Wise completed the top ten. There were 21 finishers and 17 drivers on the lead lap.

FIRST 25

East started fourth in the first 25 and chased fastest qualifier Dave Steele, the pole starter, for eight laps as Steele's new Nicholas Beast/Mopar raced to a half-straight advantage. On lap nine cars driven by Johnny Rodriguez and Scott Thoman tangled and spun in the first turn in mid-track. Leader Steele's left rear wheel came off as he approached the first turn and his car swapped ends. It hit the outer wall on the left side and slid to a halt just past the two stalled cars. Steele climbed from his car and rested against the wall to catch his breath after the hard hit. His car was sidelined for the evening. Darland dueled teammate East closely from laps 10-18, but he trailed the winner by 1.684 seconds. Hines, Tom Hessert III and Kuhn completed the top five as 21 drivers ran all 25 laps.

Darland and Rodela won the two 12-car, 15-lap qualifying races that transferred the first six finishers in each race to the feature. Rodriguez captured the 15-lap last chance race, which advanced the first four finishers to the main event. Sixth starter Steele won the eight-lap dash for the eight quickest qualifiers during mid-day time trials. The finishing order of the dash set the first eight starting positions for the first 25 lap main.

Steele's best lap during the dash was 107.213 mph, while runner-up Hines best lap was 105.473 mph. Steele's fast time of 16.665 (108.011 mph) beat Ron Gregory's Second-fastest qualifying time of 17.074 (105.423 mph) by 2.588 mph. Despite the 78-degree heat when Steele qualified about 1:00 pomp, his best lap almost matched the track record of 16.556 (108.722 mph) set by Steele last Thanksgiving about 4:30 p.m. when it was much cooler. He knew his first lap was a winner Saturday and skipped his second qualifying lap.

-tim kennedy, irwindale-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Patrick Carpentier , Lyn St. James , Parnelli Jones , Dave Darland , Tracy Hines , Tom Hessert III , Jack Brabham , Jay Drake , Johnny Rodriguez , Bobby East , Teddy Beach , Bentley Warren , Ron Gregory , Josh Wise , Davey Ray , Drew Fornoro , Bobby Santos III , Cole Carter , Scott Thoman , Jimmy Sills , Josh Lakatos , Ryan Kaplan , Scott Pierovich , Thomas Meseraull , Michel Jourdain , Tommy Kendall