Unknown Copy
Dylan Zampa en route to a super late model triumph at Irwindale Speedway. (Steve Himelstein photo)

KENNEDY: A Big Night At Irwindale

LOS ANGELES — The second of three scheduled Spears Southwest Tour tripleheaders and the first celebrity race at Irwindale Speedway since 2015 took place May 20. 

Drivers came from eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah. 

Eight Netflix movie and TV actors and a pair of KTLA channel five news personalities raced 20 laps on the half-mile prior to the tripleheader for modifieds, pro late models and super late models. The live-streamed event attracted 4,500 spectators and raised $65,000 for TSC Alliance, a charity dedicated to finding a cure for tuberous sclerosis complex. 

Ten celebrities qualified and raced spec late models built by Racecar Factory. Six competitors raced in the track’s driving school cars and four used privately-owned cars. IS winning drivers Ryan Partridge and his brother Andy trained celebrities individually in weeks prior to the race. 

Celebrities qualified in the 21 to 24-second bracket. The track record is 19.721 seconds.

Celebrities started two abreast with fastest qualifiers in front. The caution-free race had close battles and several position changes. Second fastest qualifier actor/producer Thad Luckinbill led all 20 laps after repulsing passing attempts by fastest qualifier/stuntman “Swampy” Marsh, who trailed by .501 seconds at the finish. 

The celebrities sat at a table near all the parked race cars during the 5 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. autograph session for fans on the front straight. 

The featured super late model race on the half-mile had the eight fastest qualifiers in a 15-car field draw their starting positions for the first four rows. Fastest qualifier/series point leader Jacob Gomes drew eight. Second-year SLM drivers Jake Bollman, 16, and Austin Herzog, 20, drew the front row and traded the lead early. 

Buddy Shepherd, 23, came from 10th slot to lead lap five while dueling Andy Allen and Dan Holtz in a tight front half of the field. On lap 45, a five-car crash on the front straight eliminated Holtz, Allen, Shepherd, Bollman and Cale Kanke. 

Eight cars restarted and two laps later the third of three red flags flew after two cars collided in turn two and hit the wall. Only six cars restarted and raced the final 56 laps. Seventh quickest qualifier/fifth starter Dylan Zampa, a 19-year-old series rookie, led laps 45-100. It was the fourth SLM race for the NASCAR pro late model veteran. 

Two-time series champion Gomes used an inside pass leaving turn four on lap 66 to secure second. Gomes’ No. 16 Camry battled Zampa’s Rick Hedrick No. 29 Camry intensely and without contact during their duel. 

Gomes, 29, had won all three races this season, including the 200-lap All-Star race at IS in January for a $25,000 payday. Zampa, the 2022 Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program champion, collected the $7,500 first place award from a $37,750 purse for his first big payday. 

Following the SLM race, 21 pro late models used the half-mile for a 60-lap race. The eight fastest qualifiers drew starting spots and fastest-qualifier Linny White drew seventh. Sean Woodside led 31 laps from the pole. White reached second on lap 24 and took the lead on lap 32 with an outside pass in turn four.

Trevor Huddleston, 26, took second from Woodside on lap 56 and trailed White by 3.408 at the finish. The winner received $2,500.

Woodside placed third, 3.982 behind White. Nevadan Tyler Reif, and Scott Youngren completed the top five. 

All 16 finishers were on the lead lap in a 26-minute event with three yellow flags. White, 45, drove the last Hamke-built chassis now owned by Clay Wooster and called a Hamke-CRF. He has won all four 2023 Spears mains, two at Bakersfield and two at Irwindale, including the Jan. 21 season-opening 100-lap race.

He has used the same car to win four of six NASCAR pro late model features at Irwindale and also sits atop NASCAR points at Irwindale.

The first Southwest Tour event was a 60-lap modified main on the third-mile track with nine starters.

Travis Thirkettle started seventh, took the lead on lap 31 and won his third consecutive feature. He extended his point lead with his .310-second victory over runner-up Stephen Brucker, 18. 

The first race of the night was a junior spec late model 25-lap race with seven starters on the third-mile for young drivers in a new IS series. They use cars owned by and rented from IS co-promoter Bob Bruncati. 

Karting veteran Charlie Carty, 12, started third and led all 25 laps for his fourth consecutive victory in the all-new cars that use RCF-built chassis with Mustang or Camaro bodies.