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Gone Racin' to Irwindale Speedway - August 20, 2005

Gone Racin' to Irwindale Speedway - August 20, 2005
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Gone Racin' to Irwindale Speedway, August 20, 2005
 
Danny Oakes, Ralph Foster and I were invited to the races at Irwindale Speedway, on August 20, courtesy of Dave and Frank Galassi. Danny was a three time Pacific Coast Midget Champion, and the winner of the 1946 Turkey Night Midget Race, which Irwindale Speedway puts on every November, to honor the Agajanian Family, the originators of the event. Danny is 95 years young, and keeps in shape by ballroom dancing. Ralph Foster was the 1940 Midwest Sprint Car Champion, who lost his ride at the Indy 500 when World War II broke out in 1941. Foster went on to fly warplanes during the war, married and never made it back to the Big Show. Foster, a young 91, still runs his aerial photography business and states he is too young to retire. With racers like these for partners, we were on our way to critique the Saturday night races at one of the best oval tracks in the country. More than 30 racing organizations contract with the racetrack to use their facility for their leagues. On Thursdays and Sundays, Irwindale hosts 1/8th mile drag races, which are very popular in Southern California. Everything from street legal drag racing, to the more organized Summit Series can be found throughout the year. Irwindale also puts on reunions, shows, fairs and other events in conjunction with the local communities and racing groups. But the big show is their Saturday night oval racing schedule on their 1/2 and 1/3 dual tracks.
 
The facility is only a few years old, and very modern in design. The stands are all aluminum and can seat 8000 fans, although Irwindale likes to keep the attendance around 6500 for better comfort. There are two large concession stands that sell food, beer and souvenirs. The lines are kept short by the large staff on hand, so that fans can leave the stands, purchase what they want and get back quickly so that little of the racing is missed. The restrooms are spacious and very clean and there is wheelchair access and a friendly staff to help anyone with any problem. The track is located right off the 605 freeway, between the 10 and 210 freeways, and there is never a traffic problem getting into and out of the facility. Racing begins at 7pm, and is over by 10pm. The stands face the south and pick up the sun, so that by the time the races begin, the fans are warm in the winter, but cool in the summer. The voice of the track, announcer Bruce Flanders, is one of the best in the business. When Flanders is not announcing at Irwindale, he can be found at car and motorcycle races throughout the Southland. With a lilting voice and a friendly and personable style, Flanders does his homework and knows the details of the drivers and their crew, and interjects just the right amount of information between the action on the track. Doug Stokes is the Media Director and head cheerleader, and sees to it that the racers are well taken care of and that the media gets their scoops. Doug recently announced his resignation at Irwindale, and will be moving over to AeroBooks in Burbank to take on the job of General Manager. AeroBooks is a major bookseller and publisher for car racing and hot rodding fans. Bob DeFazio is the General Manager at Irwindale and is responsible for running the track. Jim Williams is the Majority Owner and the inspiration behind Irwindale Speedway.
 
On the agenda for the evening's races was the popular Pick Your Part Figure 8's, King Taco legend cars, Jasper West Coast Pro Trucks, Dodge Super Trucks, and Auto Club Late Models. In the Figure 8's, Steve Stewart won the weaving, dodging event, followed by Billy Ziemann, with third place going to Dan Burns. Popular TV star Jesse James, of "Monster's Garage, came in 6th, though with enough flare and enthusiasm to light up the crowd. James, recently married to Movie Screen star, Sandra Bullock, is a crowd favorite. Bullock cheered her husband from the stands. In the Legend cars, 14 year old Connor Cantrell won the Main event, with Matt Hicks second and Jim Smith third. Bill Bonney set the fastest track lap of the night for any category at 16.981 seconds for the 1/2 mile. Cantrell, a ninth grader in high school, has been very competitive all year and is fifth overall, only a few points out of third place. In Pro Trucks, Chris John Johnson won, with Rick Wall second and Ryan Black in third. In the Super Truck race, Ron Peterson set the fastest track lap and then won the race, with Rich Geisler taking second and Scott Fortier placing third. In the Auto Club Late Models 50 lap featured race, Mike Johnson set the fastest lap time of 18.927 seconds for the 1/2 mile track. Travis Thirkettle won the race, with Mike Johnson second, and Tim Huddleston taking third. However, the spotlight was on Huddleston and his third place finish, for by qualifying and finishing third, Huddleston won the Auto Club Late Models Title for the year, with several races still to be contested. This is Huddleston's first championship in 17 years of racing and he was ecstatic, as the fans gave him a rousing ovation. Thirkettle, a rookie, proved that he will be a contender in next year's run for the title. A first for Irwindale Speedway was a marriage on the track at 6am, followed by the fan appreciation autograph signings by the drivers. Danny Oakes and Ralph Foster told Jim Williams, "you have the finest racing facility that we have ever seen," and these two veterans of auto racing's heyday have seen and raced on the best tracks in the country.

Gone Racin' is at www.oilstick.com