One of open wheel racing's older traditions in Southern California, the 64th Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix became young once again tonight on Irwindale Speedway's fast half-mile oval. The 100-lap battle between 19-year-old Bobby East, driving...
One of open wheel racing's older traditions in Southern California, the 64th Turkey Night Midget Grand Prix became young once again tonight on Irwindale Speedway's fast half-mile oval.
The 100-lap battle between 19-year-old Bobby East, driving a Beast/Pink Ford for magazine/trade show entrepreneur Steve Lewis and Aaron Fike in RFMS Racing's Beast/Ford (who turned 22 yesterday) came down to two caution periods and track position.
Tony Hunt led the first 25 laps of the race, but East passed the newly crowned USAC Western Sprint Car Series champion to lead laps 26-58. Fike, the midget, sprint and Menards Infiniti Pro Series veteran took the point on lap 59 and kept it until after the first caution.
It was East who was in the catbird seat when green flags flew after the first yellow when Michael Lewis clouted the infamous Turn 4 wall at this superspeedway on lap 75. They went green on lap 84 and Fike was under pressure immediately from the pursuing East, who passed him for the lead on lap 89, got passed again by Fike a lap later and resumed the lead on the 91st lap.
That would be it for their battle when contenders Dave Steele (last year's winner) and Hunt got together in turn 1. After several laps touring the interior 1/4-mile track the race went green on lap 95 and it was East who pulled out a good cushion, eventually taking a 1.358-second margin of victory.
Of the 31 starters, 16 were still running at the close of this 32.55-minute feature race and six were on the lead lap, Tom Hessert being the final driver to complete the full distance.
Behind East and Fike, Tracy Hines took third, Jason Leffler returned to his roots for fourth, Jerome Rodela earned fifth, Hesser was sixth, Cole Carter took seventh, J.J. Yeley eighth, 16-year-old Brad Loyet of Sunset Hills, MO earned ninth and Kyle Nicholas rounded out the top ten.
NASCAR Nextel Cup star Tony Stewart, who lives for this kind of competition never made the midget feature, fell out of the sprint race and generally had a tough race meeting, failing to post a time in qualifying held earlier in the afternoon.
East, the 2004 USAC National Midget Series champion rounded out a 16-win season tonight that included victories in the Hut 100 and Belleville Midget Nationals in addition to this Turkey Night title. It may be the first time any driver has accomplished the feat. The race-wise East intends to defend his title in 2005 and may take on 5-6 NASCAR Busch races when time permits.
Runner-up Fike explained his finish by saying, "When you're running second you can move around a lot more." While disappointed not to earn victory, he was philosophical about the procedure.
East was "not too disappointed at losing the lead. Our car was pretty good, so I was able to run him down. My tires held up pretty well but that wasn't much of a concern," he explained. After testing on this track a week ago Wednesday, "We didn't need to adjust much. The track was pretty much like it was back in the spring."
While the excitement of winning this prestigious race hasn't set in for the driver yet, car owner Steve Lewis, from nearby Laguna Beach was jazzed to have his first victory in the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Irwindale Speedway since 2000 and his fifth overall. "Steve was confident this afternoon," East said. "This is it, he told us; this is our year."
In the 40-lap Casey Diemert Classic USAC Western Sprint Car Series feature, Michael Lewis won, Bobby East was second and Canadian Chris Schmelze came third. There was a single pass for the lead as Lewis chased down East, who led the first 13 laps and assumed the point for the balance of the contest.
The USAC California Ford Focus (South) Midget Car Series finale was a winner for Bobby McGowan, while Ryan Pace took second and Chase Barber claimed third in the first feature of the evening.
Besides the stellar array of racers in all three contests tonight, there were plenty of stars on hand. John Cooper from IMS flew in for the occasion, and the Jones family was well represented with both Parnelli and PJ on-hand, the latter planning more NASCAR work in the coming year.
Dan Davis of Ford Motor Co. was able to celebrate victory tonight, accompanied by liaison Scott Denby. Rip Williams was in the house, as was Trans Am standout Tommy Kendall, who drove his famed "Chicken Car" to Irwindale. Motorcycle champion Eddie Lawson came to watch the good shows, as did the entire Agajanian clan, co-promoters of the event whose family has been instrumental in keeping the Turkey Night tradition going to this 64th iteration.