What, When and Where: The SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series will be visiting Irwindale Speedway on July 14thfor the “SPEARS Southwest Tour 100 presented by Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse San Dimas.” It is race five of the nine race championship season.
Winner’s Purse: The winner will receive $5,000, thanks to the “Winner’s Bonus” provided by R.E. Suspension.
Round Two: Eric Schmidt won last month’s SPEARS Southwest Tour Series event at Irwindale Speedway. In a rare back-to-back series event at Irwindale, Schmidt will be looking for two victories in a row.
Most Wins: M.K. Kanke has the most career SRL wins at Irwindale with three. His son, Cale Kanke, will be in the number 33 Dodge this weekend hoping to add to the family’s record. M.K. and the RPM Motorsports Team will be helping Cale capture the checkered flag.
First Timers:Five drivers will be making their first SRL starts of the season, with three making their first career starts. Donny St. Ours and Chris Clyne are scheduled to make their first starts of 2018. Lake Oswego, OR driver Gracin Raz, 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Championship leader Ryan Partridge and Pacific Challenge Series driver Michael Hite are all scheduled to make their maiden starts in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series.
Top Five: 2013 Rookie-of-the-Year, and two-time SRL championship runner-up Jeremy Doss, currently leads the championship standings. He is followed by 2017 Rookie-of-the-Year Ricky Schlick, and 2006 SRL Champion Eric Schmidt. 2015 Stockton 99 Speedway winner Jeff Bischofberger is fourth, followed by two-time Pacific Challenge Series winner, and 77-time SRL starter Carlos Vieira, who rounds out the top-five.
Rookie-of-the-Year: Cole Moore leads the current Rookie-of-the-Year Standings, followed by Jack Wood, Buddy Shepherd, Kyle Neveau and Kayla Eshleman.
That’s a lot of Starts: Keith Spangler currently sits second in career SRL starts with 90. If Spangler starts the last five events of the season, it will tie him with Troy Ermish for first on the all-time list with 95.
Irwindale Winners: Nine different drivers have taken home SPEARS Southwest Tour Series victories at Irwindale Speedway. Jim Pettit II, Troy Ermish, Jonathon Gomez, Greg Voigt, Bobby Hodges and Eric Schmidt have one victory each. Ryan Cansdale, Derek Thorn and M.K. Kanke are the only multiple winners with two, two and three wins respectively.
Championship Field: Six drivers on this weekend’s roster have Super Late Model touring championships. Those drivers include Craig Raudman, Eric Schmidt, Jacob Gomes, John Moore, Derek Thorn and Jeremy Doss. In addition, 14 drivers have victories in a Super Late Model touring series.
Featured Driver: Scott “The Chez” Sanchez is this weekend’s SRL “Featured Driver.” Sanchez is a veteran of the series and will be making his 84thcareer start this weekend. The 84 starts are fourth in series history, and he is the only current driver to have made starts in the series’ inaugural season in 2001. That season he attempted ten events, making nine starts. This will be Sanchez’s 10thstart at Irwindale, where he has a career best-finish of fourth. Not surprisingly, it is his favorite track.
“I like ‘The Dale’ because it's wide with multiple racing lines,” Sanchez told Speed51.com. “It suits our cars the best of any track we go to, in my opinion. It has lots of room to avoid incidents, just like the last race a few weeks ago.”
Sanchez may not be the first driver you think of when it comes to the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series, but he is one of the drivers that should be considered as the backbone of the series. Sanchez is a budget racer, and only makes it to the track with help from sponsors such as American Truck & Crane, Retro Custom Metals and Kyle Jones Attorney-at-Law. Despite racing against teams with far greater budgets, Sanchez just tries to concentrate on his own team, trying to do the best he can with what he has. He has also learned from others, on how to improve his own efforts.
“As for the bigger teams, I try not to focus on them or try to compare my program with theirs,” Sanchez volunteered. “I try my best to be as diligent and thorough with preparing the car. I learned a lot working under Mike Keen, during my time at Campbell Motorsports. Mike is absolutely the most prepared, and thorough guy I've ever met in racing, and it shows on the 43 (Derek Thorn) team. Therefore I try to adopt those qualities in my own program.”
Sanchez is also the SRL record holder for most positions gained in one event, gaining 25 positions back in 2010 at the “Canidae California Classic 110.” It is a record in which he takes great pride. It is also a record that comes at his favorite track, Irwindale Speedway. It is a memory that still resonates in his mind, as he describes his effort that day.
“It was the first race with a new Victory Circle Elite car, which I had picked from Junior Joiner’s shop on my way to the track that weekend. The first laps it saw were on the track that weekend, so I was tense and really nervous,” Sanchez began.
“I had an issue in qualifying, when I dropped into turn three. I couldn't get the car in high gear. Therefore, I didn't get any qualifying laps in, hence I had to start caboose on the field of 29.
“The race was pretty uneventful for the first 90 laps. I had gained about 15 spots or so through attrition. Then it got exciting. (Keith) Spangler and (Jason) Gilbert wrecked, and I found myself in 10th. On the restart, a lot of the front runners had used up their tires, and I started picking them off one by one, making it up to 4th by the end of the race,” Sanchez concluded.
With a large field expected, maybe a new record could be achieved.
Bruncati is in the House: When the field takes the green for the fifth event of the SRL season, Bob Bruncati’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series West Team will be well represented. All three of his drivers will be participating this weekend, led by championship leader Ryan Partridge, runner-up Derek Thorn and sixth place Trevor Huddleston. Each of the three drivers will compete with different teams and have vastly different experience levels in the SPEARS Southwest Tour Series.
Derek Thorn and the Campbell Motorsports Team have a clear advantage when it comes to experience in the series. The four-time series champion missed the last two events on the schedule, but is coming off of an emotional victory in last year’s edition of the event.
“Winning what I thought was our last trip to Irwindale last year meant a lot to us at Campbell Motorsports,” Thorn recalled. “It is great to see the trackback up and going again. I am just excited to be back behind the wheel of the 43. It’s been too long.”
Trevor Huddleston has a clear advantage when it comes to recent experience at Irwindale Speedway. The 2017 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Championship runner-up has over 40 victories at Irwindale, with 30 of them in a Late Model. He was the 2016 and 2017 Late Model Champion and finished a SRL career-best second in this event last season. Huddleston has two of his three top-five SRL finishes at Irwindale Speedway. Saturday will be his 11thcareer SRL start. The 2018 NASCAR K&N West Rookie-of the Year contender will be making his second SRL start of the season, and recognizes that the two series are vastly different.
“The two series are definitely polar opposites of one another,” Huddleston explained. “The West car is heavy and tall, whereas the SRL car is low and light. They both run somewhat similar tires, but as far as handling goes, you can't even compare the two. They are just that different. The SRL cars are real fast, and very racy at Irwindale, so it's definitely gonna be an intense race to say the least.”
Ryan Partridge’s advantage comes via his career experience at Irwindale Speedway, yet he will be making his first career SRL start. Partridge was the 2010 Super Truck Champion, 2013 and 2014 Late Model Champion as well as the 2014 NASCAR All-American Series State of California Champion. In 2011 he won the Super Late Model portion of the Toyota All-Star Showdown. Partridge is second in all-time wins at Irwindale Speedway, with over 60 career victories. He ranks only behind track legend Rip Michaels.
Partridge will be behind the wheel of the car normally driven by Kayla Eshleman and owned by her father, Jeff. It is a relationship that goes back many years, and Partridge believes that he will be very competitive in her car.
“I used to drive the Eshleman’s Super Late Model back in the day,” Partridge began. “They were one of the ones to give me my first opportunity in a full-time stock car. We have always had a great relationship. Jeff has been concentrating on getting Kayla experience in just about everything. But talking to Jeff a couple of weeks ago, it sounded like they may sit this race out, so her car was going to be available. It is a good car, one of Jeremy Doss’ old Pathfinder cars, and even though I want to drive just about everything I can, you want to make sure it is going to be competitive. Jeremy did really well in this car the last couple of years, so I think it is going to be a good piece. When I got the call from Dave and Jeff Eshleman, I couldn’t say no.”
Partridge continued, “We are really excited because the SRL Series is one of the most prestigious series on the West Coast. It‘s really nice to have this opportunity and we will see what we got. I don’t really have any expectations for the race. I hope we do well, but it’s a very competitive series, so I’m sure we will fall where we do.”
Summer Thunder TV: Saturday night’s SPEARS Southwest Tour Series Event can be seen live on Speed51.com’s Summer Thunder TV presented by PFC Brakes. It is available to Speed 51 Video Network Premium Subscribers only. For the full schedule of events, click here.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Editor
-Photo Credit: Kevin Peters