By Tim Kennedy
(Irwindale) – About 2,000 spectators watched a night of first-time 2010 and first-time ever winners in a five-division Toyota Speedway at Irwindale program Saturday night. They also watched an auto soccer final event. Three of the races were all-green flag events. Pole starter Rod Johnson, Jr., 20, became a first-time main event winner in the featured Auto Club Late Model division.
He led all 50-laps in a 20-car field and had to withstand frequent passing attempts by second starter Mike Johnson, 53, in a Johnson & Johnson showdown. He became the third different winner in three ACLM features on the half-mile and now has finishes of third, second and first in his last three mains. After three of 17 scheduled races the winner has taken the ACLM point lead by six points (144-138) over former leader Travis Irving.
King Taco Super Truck fastest qualifier Ryan Partridge, 21, started second in a 17-truck field and led all but the first lap in a 40-lap KTST event. The point leader from Rancho Cucamonga has won all three KTST main events this season on the half-mile and holds a ten point lead (150-140).
Eric Sunness, from Chatsworth, started his 1977 Chevy Camaro fifth in a nine-car Vista Paint Super Stock field and led all 30 laps on the half-mile. It was his first main event triumph in several years. Mike Colato, Jr., 27, won his first Ken Porter Auctions Classic Stocks main event since last September 26. The 30-lap contest used the third-mile oval. The ultra-competitive five-car event was the fan-favorite race of the night with nine lead changes among three drivers. Colato drove a 1976 Chevy Nova.
In the final two events of the night, “Barefoot” Billy Ziemann led all 20 laps of an eight-car Pick Your Part Outlaw Figure 8 race. It was his second consecutive F-8 victory. The final event was an auto soccer event in the third-mile infield. Three orange cars fielded by Pick Your Part defeated three white cars from Jan’s Towing in a 4-0 rout that concluded action at 9:42 pm.
It was the seventh auto soccer match in track history and the PYP team now leads Jan’s Towing six to one in matches held to date. The TS@I “month of May money back guarantee” for race-day admission ticket purchasers if they did not like that racing after the first race of the night had no takers. Saturday was the first of five weekly ticket guarantee offers.
A sold-out 80 persons on the “Rooftop VIP Section” sat atop the covered TS@I administration building for $35. Early arrivals watched the NBC telecast of Super Saver winning the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. They also watched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Richmond (VA) 400 telecast on Speed Channel live on multiple televisions from 4:00 to the 8 pm conclusion. They also had unique, up-close views of TS@I half-mile third and fourth turn action just below their overhead perch.
Some persons even watched the HBO showing of the welterweight fight between winner Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley via.channelsurfing.net on their laptop computers. In effect, it was a three-ring multi-sports circus at the speedway.
Twenty ACLM drivers present ran two consecutive qualifying laps from 7:15 to 7:34 pm in a time trial session that is usually conducted about 4:00 pm. Fans arriving just before the 7 pm start of racing do not get to see that activity, so track officials moved it to just after a six-lap truck trophy dash so fans could watch ACLM qualifying.
Drivers qualified from lowest in point standings to point leader order. The scoring pylon in the west turn showed the top ten in speed order during the TT session and positions are constantly changing. The fastest time went to the third driver on the track, then the eighth out, and ultimately to R. Johnson, the 19th of 20 qualifiers to face the clock. All 20 ACLM drivers qualified within 0.754 seconds. Johnson’s No. 15 High Point Racing Chevy Monte Carlo is a Racecar Factory-built super late model driven by Travis Thirkettle in SLM races last year. During the off-season the ex-No. 5 cars received a RCF makeover with new front and back clips to convert it from a SLM to a late model.
ACLM: Rod Johnson, son of the 1999 NASCAR SLM track champion at Irwindale, out-gunned fellow front-row starter Mike Johnson (unrelated) at the start. No cars were lapped during the 16:23.664-timed, all-green flag event. Christian Copley, the 18-year old ACLM rookie and veteran No. 04 Southwest Tour Series truck racer and IMCA dirt modified driver, was the third fastest qualifier. He ran third all 50 laps in just his fifth late model race aboard the No. 33 Ford. He held off the closing rush by reigning ACLM champion and 37-time Irwindale feature winner Nick Joanides.
Position battles throughout the field prevailed for most of the 25-mile run. The 1-2 Johnson versus Johnson contest went to Rod over Mike by 0.375. Copley (-6.362) edged Joanides (–6.798). The P 5-6-7 battle was “a war” with the CHP-sponsored Toyota Camry of Travis Irving (-8.475) battling two of the six-car HPR “blue crew”) team cars driven by ACLM rookies Brandon Davis (-8.575) and Joey Licata (-8.654). They finished in that order. Davis took fifth from Irving in turn four on lap 45, but Irving regained fifth a lap later.
P 8-11 was a four-car battle for the last half of the race. When the group received the checkers, Darren Cheek edged Bakersfield’s second year ACLM driver Kenny Smith, second year ACLM driver Kyle McGrady, and George Atkinson. Seventeen of 20 starters finished and all ran 50 laps with three-time series champion Tim Huddleston in 17th position, right in front of his ACLM rookie driver/winner R. Johnson at the finish.
During victory ceremonies, winner Johnson said, “It’s really cool to get the win in only my fourth start. There are so many guys that can win on any given night. All our stars were in line tonight and we hit it just right. Thanks to Tim and Lisa Huddleston for giving me a chance (in ACLM) and thanks to my sponsor Bob Bruncati and Sunrise Ford. My spotter Sean told me what I needed to know during the race. I didn’t expect to do it (win) this soon, but I knew we could do it.”
Johnson won eight of 15 KTST features last year en-route to the truck series championship and rookie of the year honors. His goal is to race in the NASCAR K & N Grand National West Series in 2011. Runner-up M. Johnson said, “This is a good kid to come in second to. These young drivers are tough. No one was lapped. Thanks to the Auto Club (series sponsor).”
Impressive ACLM rookie Christian Copley, an 18-year old versatile driver in just his fifth late model race, backed up his third fastest qualifying time with third place in the feature.
“I didn’t know he (fourth place) was on my tail at the end.” Copley thanked his car owner (Tommy Rizzo Sideshow Racing) and “our really good new team too.” Joining the top three finishers during finish line post-race ceremonies was “hard charger award” winner Kyle McGrady, 17. The high school student from Hesperia charged from 17th starting position to tenth in his family-owned Chevy.
“Wow that was intense. It was a tough race.” He thanked Racecar Factory and his mom Denise on her birthday. His mother is the widow of CRA sprint car driver Jeff Bagley, who lost his life during the 1980s in a sprint car crash at Ascot Park in Gardena.
KTST: Seventeen truckers ran a 16:35.887-clocked race with one caution for a solo spin-out. Pole starter Matt Kimball, who led all but the last lap two weeks ago, led only the first lap this week. On lap 2 Partridge passed him on the backstretch and quickly opened a 30-yard lead by a lap 9 caution flag. Ryan Fortier took second on lap 5 and yielded the position to ninth starter Ken Maler, Jr., 19, on lap 16. Todd Cameron, ranked second in points, came from eighth starting slot to take third from Fortier on lap 27 via an inside pass through the third and fourth turns.
Partridge won by 2.335 seconds (50 yards) over Legends graduate Maler’s No. 25 truck. “This is only my fourth truck race,” Maler stated. Third place Cameron trailed Partridge by 5.310. Fortier (-7.954) and Kimball (-10.192) completed the top five. Jameson Spies, Bob Barker, VPSS grad/hard charger award winner Ken Brown, Dennis Arena and Legends grad/KTST rookie Brandon Toy finished in P 6-10. Sixteen of 17 starters reached the finish line and only two drivers were lapped.
VPSS: With a fully inverted lineup, Sunness started fifth in his No. 14 Camaro. He shot into the lead on the first lap and held it all 30 laps. FQ Rich DeLong III came from seventh to second by lap 2 in his Impala SS-bodied Chevy. He trailed Sunness closely to the checkers and trailed by 0.795. DeLong opened a 20-point lead over 2008 VPSS champion Bryan Harrell after four of 15 races. The 16-minute event had two cautions—on lap 12 for a two car tangle on the backstretch that sidelined Gary Read and Harrell and on lap 17 for debris. Gary Frankovich made his first 2010 start and came from last (ninth) in his non-qualified Impala SS to place third, 3.236 seconds in back of Sunness. Pole-man Brad Keegan and Mark Brinksma finished fourth and fifth respectively and also logged 30 laps.
CLASSIC STOCKS: A track-low five cars took the green flag in a Ken Porter Auctions Classic Stocks 25-lap event. They produced the most competitive race of the night with nine lead changes among three drivers. CHP public information officer Sgt. Mark Garrett led the first lap from the pole in the No. 17 Chevy Nova “house car’” that has had numerous guest drivers in recent years. Coleto came from third starting spot to lead laps 2-7, 9-11, 16-20, 22 and 24-25. Ken Michaelian’s 1975 Dodge Dart came from last to lead lap 8 with an outside pass from the fourth corner to the S/F line. Harry Michaelian led laps 12-15, plus laps 21 and 23. His son Ken slowed on lap 11 with a deflating LF tire. He persevered and finished third, 2.347 seconds in back of the winner and 0.127 behind his dad in the Petty-blue No. 40 Dart. Fourth place Tommy Mason also ran 25 laps and trailed Coleto by 6.211 seconds. Garrett dropped out on lap 13 for fifth place.
PYP F-8: FQ Ziemann, in his Ecology Auto Parts No. 3, started and finished first in a 20-lap PYP Outlaw Figure 8, eight-car race. He won by 25-yards (2.044 seconds) in the 6:02.061-clocked all-green flag event. Three-time track F-8 track champion Steve Stewart started third and ran second all the way. Andy Schoening placed third in his No. 3-16 ride. Tony Curtis also ran 20 laps. Ron Chaney placed fifth with 24 laps. Sean Hansen and Jerry Toporek also ran 24 laps. Willem Voesten retired after 14 laps.
AUTO SOCCER: In the final event, an umpire car nosed a 400-pound metal “ball” into play with huge tires forming goals at the east and west ends of the third-mile infield. With goalie cars in place, two mid-field cars per team sliced and diced and nosed the metal “ball” towards goals. PYP players—Duane Leach, Becky Velasco and Steve Cook–and Jan’s Towing players—Barry Shawven, Tom Tucker and Robert Rice/Keith Johns—saw a PYP opening drive produce a quick goal. The cars at times looked like demo derby cars as hard blocks were applied by goal-defending cars. The well-known goooalllll was heard three more times before officials mercifully ended the contest after seven minutes.
The first race of the evening at 7:10 was a six-truck, six-lap King Taco Six-Pack trophy dash for the seventh through 12th fastest truck racers starting with the fastest qualifiers in the back. Second starter Mark Black led all six laps and edged rookie Maler by 0.243 in a 2:01.780 race. The fastest qualifiers were: on half-mile—ACLM—R. Johnson 18,700; KTST—Partridge 19.715; VPSS—DeLong 21.043; on third-mile—H. Michaelian 17.298; on F8—Ziemann 18.897.