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An easy $10K

Posted: January 29, 2009 10:03 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Editor’s note: Tim Haddock has an extensive motor sports background and is a former staff writer at The Signal. His motor sports column will run every other Friday in The Signal.

Newhall’s Travis Thirkettle made the easiest $10,000 of his NASCAR career Saturday night at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale.

He won the NASCAR Super Late Model portion of the Toyota All-Star Showdown, a race that was televised nationally on Speed Channel. Because of a three-hour NASCAR Camping World Series race that tied a record for most cautions in the six-year history of the race, Thirkettle had to run only 15 laps to win his race.

Track and NASCAR officials decided to throw the checkered flag at 12:15 a.m., so Thirkettle didn’t really win his race until Sunday morning. It ended a wild weekend of bad weather and crashes.

“This one is definitely going to be a memorable one,” said Thirkettle, driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet for High Point Racing. “My feet are wrinkled and white from walking around in water all weekend. I went through about 15 pairs of socks. I was just done with being here in the rain, and I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad we got it in.”

Rain and cold weather made for challenging conditions at the track. The races that were scheduled for Friday night were postponed until Saturday. But the rain persisted on Saturday and didn’t leave a lot of time for drivers to turn many practice laps.

Adding to the weather dilemma was the number of Super Late Model cars and drivers that showed up for the race. There were 53 cars entered in the Super Late Model race and 51 of them started, by far the biggest field ever to race at Irwindale in a NASCAR event.

The high volume of cars and the cold, wet weather contributed to 12 laps of caution in the Super Late Model race. Thirkettle only had to race about three laps to win and collect the $10,000 prize money.

But the start of the race didn’t go quite as planned for Thirkettle. He started on the front row next to Nick Joanides of Woodland Hills, the reigning Super Late Model champion at the track. Thirkettle made a mistake on the opening lap and it almost cost him the race.

“The first start of the race, I spun the tires so bad,” Thirkettle said. “The pace truck was going about two miles an hour it felt like, and we couldn’t get any heat in the tires. It’s ice cold, we’re on stickers, and starting at about turn 4, I gave it about half-throttle and it blazed the tires. I thought, ‘That was the race because Nick’s going to be really hard to get by and we’re going to run out of time anyway.’”

Instead, Thirkettle got another chance to get off to a good start when a crash in turn 2 brought out a caution. 

“Then they had to restart in a double file deal and I made sure I wasn’t going to spin the tires that time,” Thirkettle said. “We didn’t and I knew we had to be aggressive right away because the time was short. I was trying to hold Nick down, not to give him a whole lot of room and hopefully I could get by him. I was kind of bummed we didn’t get to run because I wanted to know how strong it was. I think we could have lapped the field the way it felt those first couple of laps.”

Hornaday finds
Irwindale eventful

Ron Hornaday Jr., a former Saugus Speedway champ and a three-time NASCAR Truck Series champion, ended up in 41st place in the Super Late Model race. He was driving a Chevrolet out of the Jackson Race Car stable, the same team that prepares cars for Joanides. Hornaday, after an eventful night in the Camping World Series portion of the Showdown, wound up with two tires from his car on top of the roof of another car in the infield grass around turn 2.

Hornaday finished sixth in the Camping World Series portion of the Showdown. After crashing with Brian Ickler, who was leading the race at the time, Hornaday went a lap down as his team repaired his car and got him back in the race. The finish was wild, with Joey Logano being the first to cross the finish line, but was penalized for rough driving, bouncing off the turn 4 wall and the race leader and ending up in 40th place. Hornaday weaved through the debris on the final lap and almost cracked the top five.

Pursley wrecks

Greg Pursley, a Canyon High graduate and a NASCAR Whelen All-American national champion, wrecked his car in qualifying for the Camping World Series portion of the Showdown. He was racing a car for Gene Price Motorsports. Pursley bought three cars from Richard Childress Racing last year. With the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, it made the old Cup cars expendable for some teams. Pursley has one of Clint Bowyer’s old cars, one of Jeff Burton’s old cars and a Nationwide Series road course car that was driven by Kevin Harvick.

Pursley was trying to qualify the Bowyer car, but hit the wall between turns 3 and 4. The car sustained irreparable damage to the front and rear end.

Price said the damage was mostly cosmetic, but it was enough to keep the car from racing. The team had a back-up car at the track, the Burton car, but Price decided it was not a good idea to race it. Pursley would have had to race in a qualifying event and take his chances against drivers who were not fast enough or experienced enough to get into the Showdown on time.

Price said Pursley was a little upset about not qualifying for the race, but he was not injured in the crash. However, Price was not happy about the track conditions or having to race in the middle of winter.

“They shouldn’t try and do this in January,” Price said. “In theory, it’s a good idea. There’s nothing else going on in NASCAR.”

But Price ended up with a damaged car and a little more than two months to repair it before the Camping World Series West season opener at Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas.

Pursley and Price are preparing to race the entire Camping World Series West season in 2009. The whole team is moving to Arizona, where Gene Price Motorsports is headquartered, at the end of January.

Valencia grad finishes 16th

Logan Henson, a Valencia High graduate and Santa Clarita resident, was 16th in the NASCAR Late Model Showdown race. The race was scheduled for 75 laps, but time constraints reduced it to 55 laps.

Henson said he will be racing in the Late Model division at Irwindale in 2009. It will be his second season racing in the Late Models after a stint in the track’s Super Trucks division.

Herta forms team

Valencia’s Bryan Herta, a two-time winner in the IndyCar Series, has formed Bryan Herta Autosports, which will race in the Firestone Indy Lights of the Indy Racing League in 2009.

Herta, a Hart High graduate, and motorsports veteran Steve Newey will run the team out of the Vision Racing headquarters in Indiana. Their driver will be Daniel Herrington, a 22-year old from North Carolina who made 13 starts in the Indy Lights series in the past two years.

“Steve Newey approached me with the concept of starting our own Indy Lights team back in December,” said Herta, who won two IndyCar Series races, at Kansas Speedway and Michigan International Speedway, in 58 starts from 2003 to 2006. “In just six weeks we are almost ready to hit the road for our first test. I’m very excited about the opportunity to take on a new challenge in open-wheel racing as a team owner, and am confident that we have assembled a formidable program.”

Herta’s team is expected to test in February at Firebird East in Arizona. The team is working on putting together a second car and driver.

Herta’s team has formed a technical alliance with Vision Racing of the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series. Herta is also a road course consultant for Vision Racing and will continue in that role in 2009.

Tim Haddock covers motor sports for The Signal. For more on Ron Hornaday Jr.’s return to Southern California and how Joey Logano, Ricky Carmichael and the drivers from the Camping World Series West and East did in the Showdown, go to Tim Haddock can be reached by e-mail at


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