WS: WM: Irwindale preview

Irwindale Speedway and USAC racing on Thanksgiving evening have been staples on the racing calendar since the track opened in 1999. This year, as in 2002, a USAC triple-header will feature USAC National/Western States Midgets and W/S 360 cu. in.

Irwindale Speedway and USAC racing on Thanksgiving evening have been staples on the racing calendar since the track opened in 1999. This year, as in 2002, a USAC triple-header will feature USAC National/Western States Midgets and W/S 360 cu. in. Sprint Cars on the banked half-mile, and Ford Focus Midgets on the third-mile. The 63rd running of the 100-lap Midget Grand Prix will be televised LIVE nationally for the first time in a two-hour prime-time slot (7:00-9:00 p.m. PST) on Speed Channel.

On Wednesday afternoon, November 12, car owner Steve Lewis rented Irwindale Speedway for practice. Last year drivers J. J. Yeley, Bobby East and Kasey Kahne drove Lewis' No. 9, 19 and 91 Beast/Ed Pink Ford Midgets in a similar private practice session. This year only Bobby, son of car builder Bob East, practiced in both his No. 19 and J. J.'s No. 9 cars. Yeley was absent because he was testing a stock car at Kansas Speedway for Joe Gibbs Racing. Gibbs Racing announced the next day that Yeley had been signed to a multi-year contract by Gibbs. J.J. is expected to race a busy A-B-C stock car schedule of 7 or 8 ARCA races, 10-12 NASCAR Busch Series races and 2 or 3 NASCAR Nextel Cup races. That is the plan used successfully by Penske Racing to groom past I.S Turkey Night Midget GP driver Ryan Newman for his current star status in NASCAR Winston Cup racing.

Yeley, 27, will compete his most successful season Thanksgiving evening. Last Saturday, at the Tucson, AZ USAC Midget race, the Phoenix native clinched his third 2003 USAC National Series championship-the National Midget title-to go along with his National Sprint Car and Silver Crown titles. J. J. is the fourth driver to win all three USAC national championships along with his car owner Tony Stewart, Duane "Pancho" Carter and Dave Darland. Only Stewart (in 1995) and Yeley have won all three titles in the same year. Last year J. J won USAC's Silver Crown championship and finished second in National Midget and Sprint Car points. Adding luster to his incredible 2003 season, J.J has won 24 USAC National series features so far to break the club record of 19 feature victories co-held by A. J. Foyt (1961), Ron "Sleepy" Tripp (1988) and Jay Drake (2000).

Racing last Saturday at Tucson decided all remaining USAC championship battles. In addition to Yeley winning the 'USAC Triple Crown", Steve Paden, of Downey, CA, clinched his first Western States Midget championship and Michael Lewis, from Indiana, won his first W/S Sprint Car crown. However, top ten positions in National Midget and both Western States series remain to be determined at Irwindale's "Turkey Night" final race of the year. Tracy Hines won the Tucson 40-lap Midget main and Bobby East captured the W/S Sprint 40-lapper. Josh Wise, a 20-year old college student from Riverside, has enjoyed an outstanding season this year. He won the prestigious USAC Belleville, KS Nationals Midget feature, the 360 cu. in. Non-Wing Sprint Car Nationals at Perris, CA and his first SCRA 410 cu. in. Sprint Car main event, also at Perris. He has USAC W/S Midget feature triumphs in his family-owned No. 94 Midget and he has a 360 Sprint Car ride Turkey Night. Josh finished a close second to USAC W/S Sprint Car winner Michael Lewis at Irwindale on October 4 in Ted Finkenbinder's No. 3 sprinter, so Josh is a serious challenger for victory in both divisions on Thanksgiving.

Ford Focus Midgets will kick-off competition Turkey Night with a non-point 20-lap main. The economic and racy series second season has grown in car counts and popularity. The California and Midwest FF Series will be joined by a new North Carolina-based FF Series next year. The California FF Series all-time high car count at a race has been 22 cars (twice) this year, and that mark may fall Turkey Night with entrants possible from the Midwest FF Series. FF entrants use Beast, Stealth, TCR, Ellis, Stewart, Kunz and Edmunds Midgets to house their Ford Focus powerplants.

The burgeoning California Ford Focus Midget Series has run 20 races so far in 2003-11 CA South and 9 CA North. Former USA Olympian Josh Lakatos and inaugural California FF champion Todd Hunsaker (a five-time 2002 FF winner) won the CA North and CA South championships this year. Ten different speedways--3 paved and 7 dirt--have hosted FF races this season. Ten drivers have won CA Ford Focus main events, including five first time FF Series winners-Garratt Boyden, Thomas Meseraull, Ryan Kaplan, Bradley Galedrige and Danny Stratton. Other FF feature winners in 2003 are Lakatos (series high five times), Hunsaker, Phil Goodwine, Darren Hagen and Chris Rahe. FF main event winners at Irwindale this year have been Hagen, Lakatos and Kaplan. Hunsaker won four of the five FF features at Irwindale last year, including the Turkey Night race. Nine drivers won the 18 features last year when 30 drivers earned FF points.

-By Tim Kennedy

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About this article
Series USAC
Drivers Tony Stewart , Ryan Newman , Michael Lewis , Dave Darland , Tracy Hines , Bobby East , Steve Paden , Josh Wise , Chris Rahe , Josh Lakatos , Ryan Kaplan , Darren Hagen , Danny Stratton
Teams Team Penske , Joe Gibbs Racing