Friday, July 2, 2021

ARCA West 2021 AT Irwindale: Race Preview

ARCA West 2021 AT Irwindale: Race Preview

July 3, 2021, NAPA Auto Parts 150 at Irwindale Speedway (150 laps/75 miles)

By Nascarvd Nascarvédé

The Irwindale Speedway half mile in California has been an institution in the West Series landscape since it appeared on the calendar. Indeed, since 1999, except in 2012, 2013 and 2018, we come here once to three times a year. I have already told you almost everything about the history of this oval in previous years by presenting the race. To sum up as much as possible, I would say the most important thing to remember is that Irwindale Speedway is the private garden of Bill McAnally Racing.


The Roseville-based team won 14 of the 28 races there (And the All-Star Showdown in 2003)! The great rival of BMR, Bob Bruncati Racing, having obtained 4 and the PP1M team of Joe Nava one. If the last victory of Bruncati Racing only dates back to 2019 with Trevor Huddleston, that of PP1M dates back more than 20 years. It was in 2000 with Joe Bean driving the famous #77.



All of the other owners who have won races here can no longer improve their stats for the simple reason that they are no longer competing in the West Series. Among the drivers, Austin Cameron has won the most races here with 5. Among the drivers entered this year, there will be two former winners, the last two with Trevor Huddleston (2019) and Jesse Love (2020).




The entry list includes 19 cars with some surprises among the drivers.


#08 (or #11) Josh Fanopoulos

One of my sources told me Josh will be making his return to the West Series with a car from the John Wood / Mike Holleran fleet, Kart Idaho Racing. Team who will be back after a year of absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He will drive the Chevrolet that Dustin Ash drove to 8th place here in Irwindale last year. A beautiful metallic brown Chevrolet. Josh, already has 7 races in the West Series, but none on this oval.


#6 Trevor Huddleston

Disappointing start to the season for the “old man” from Bruncati Racing (10th and 12th). You could expect much better from him. He absolutely needs to increase his level of play. And the Irwindale race comes at the right time. Because Trevor knows this oval perfectly, where he won his first career victory in 2019. Last year he finished 2nd behind Jesse Love.


#7 Takuma Koga

Takuma was quick in Phoenix but unfortunately had some mechanical issues there. On the other hand in Sonoma he was… how to put it… dumped! He owes his "good" 11th position only to the misfortunes of his opponents. While he had what every driver dreams of on a road track, a car prepared by wizard Jerry Pitts! In his defense, Takuma and the road circuits is not a great love affair in the West Series. He's most comfortable on the oval. And he knows the Irwindale Oval well. He has already done 10 races between 2002 and 2020. Last year he got 10th place. His only top 10 on the California Oval.


#8 Johnny Borneman, III

Always a pleasure to see Johnny in the West Series. With 120 career races in West Series between 2000 and 2020, he's the most experienced of all drivers registered for this race. Last year for his comeback after 3 years of absence, he had obtained a nice 6th position. It must be said that Irwindale is his garden! He has competed in 21 of the 28 races contested here by the West Series. He got 6 top5 and 12 top10. He will be a serious candidate for the top5.


#9 Jake Drew

After a great pole position, his first in his career, at Sonoma, Jake was disappointed that he could not have done better than 7th in the race after having been in the top 3 for a long time. His clash with the latecomer Dave Smith with 3 laps to go put an end to his hopes of victory. But Jake has shown he's a serious contender for the title, even if he's a rookie. Why ? Because he showed at Phoenix and Sonoma that he was going very fast and then we know that Bob Bruncati has always had a keen nose to find talented drivers.


#13 Todd Souza

The championship leader has experienced all the emotions in Sonoma. From the joy of leading the race to the disappointment of being penalized for a jumped start. Before showing his rage by overtaking almost the entire peloton in a few laps before having to show courage when he suffered cramps at the end of the race. But his self-abnegation combined with his 5th position allowed him to take leadership in the championship for the first time in his long career! It's now impossible not to consider Todd as a potential champion as his association this year with DGR has been so successful.


This will be his 8th race at Irwindale where he only has a 10th place as best result. We can expect him to greatly improve his stats here!


#16 Jesse Love

7th in the championship… What a difficult start to the season for the 2020 champion. Jesse had started his season well in Phoenix with a 6th position. But in Sonoma, everything went wrong. Accident during the practice, he experienced many problems during the race. But it was here last year that he captured his first pole and his first oval victory after his first West career success on the road track at Tooele, UT. No doubt he will be keen to set the record straight and resume his role as BMR and West Series leader.


#17 Amber Slagle

She will be making her West Series debut two days before her 25th birthday. Here's a very nice gift! Amber is no stranger as in addition to being a Late Models driver, she's also Parker Retzlaff's East Series crew chief at McGowan-Cook Racing. Here she will drive #17 for the same team. A very good car. We wish him better luck than the hapless Zane Smith who has not done a single lap this year with this car. Accident on the 1st turn in Phoenix and unable to start in Sonoma due to an engine problem.


For more information on Amber, I invite you to read the article / interview available on the excellent site of Toby Christie:


#19 Amber Balcaen

The Canadian will make her West Series debut. She will drive a 3rd BMR car, the #19 and John Camilleri will be her crew chief. Amber participates this year in the BMRDA (Bill McAnally Racing Drivers Academy) with the support of the same sponsor Icon. She raced one time in East Series at New Smyrna in 2017.


#27 Bobby Hillis, Jr.

His 10th position in Sonoma was unexpected to say the least, but it's a perfect reflection of Bobby's motto: "Ride at your own pace and you'll see where it takes you!" ". This was only the 3rd time he had completed a race in the leader’s lap. And yet he already has 80 races in his career! He has 10 starts at Irwindale but no top10.


#31 Paul Pedroncelli

For his debut in the series at Sonoma he got an incredible 11th position. Yet he had come to have fun and compete against his son. For lack of budget, he will not do the whole season. In the event of a problem for his son, his car will be requisitioned as a backup car.


#33 Paul "P.J." Pedroncelli, Jr.

This is the beautiful story of Sonoma. By being fast and avoiding problems P.J. was able to get his first top10 in his career, even better, his first top5 with 3rd position. Combined with his 11th position at Phoenix, which was already a very good result, this puts him in 2nd position in the championship just a small point behind Todd Souza. P.J. has confirmed he will make the full season even though his budget is tight. Will the beautiful story of the small against the big, of David against Goliath, continue in Irwindale? This will be his 3rd race on this oval after the two in 2008 (21st and 27th).


#42 Tony Toste

Awaiting confirmation, but Tony is expected to drive the #42 like in Sonoma as he has announced he will do the full season with McGowan-Cook Racing. In Sonoma he had Amber Slagle, not as a teammate but as crew chief. Here the crew chief will be Evan Bertone. Note that he had already raced in West at Irwindale with his own car in 2008 but had to retire due to an engine failure.


#51 Dean Thompson

Excellent 6th in Sonoma. Who would have imagined that the inexperienced rookie on the road circuit would prove to be Bruncati Racing's leader in the championship by occupying 4th position just 8 points behind leader Todd Souza? Honestly, I hadn't seen it in my crystal ball! The return to an oval should allow him to confirm his good start to the season.


#54 Joey Iest

I'm fed up ! Indeed I keep saying it every time Joey is a very fast driver but a victim of chronic bad luck in the West Series. Again in Sonoma, he was among the fastest but once again had to give up due to yet another mechanical problem… If only he could finally see a checkered flag, it's a safe bet that he would be at least in the top5 as in East Series. Joey is doing the double program this year and is currently 3rd in the East Championship with 4 top5 and 5 top10 in 5 races!


#77 Nick Joanides

Already two races at Irwindale in the West Series for Nick. In 2004 for Tom Puskarich and in 2019 for the DeLong family. This time he will be behind the wheel of the #77 of PP1M. His 5th race with the team led by Joe Nava. The previous 4 dates from 2018. Hopefully this association will be as successful as in 2018, they had 2 top10s including a nice 4th position in Roseville.


#78 Hiroyuki Ueno

For once Takuma will not be the only Japanese in the race. It will even be the first time in 84 races that he will drive with a compatriot in the same West Series race! Besides, with a Canadian, an Australian and two Japanese, the West has never been so international since Kern in 2017 when there was a Belgian, a Swedish and a Japanese. The record of foreign nationalities (not USA) in the same race being 3 (22 times). But at Roseville in 2012 this record could have been broken with 4 if the Englishman Jack Clarke (DNQ) had joined the French, Finnish and Canadian.


But who is Hiroyuki Ueno? Originally from Osaka, Japan, he lives in the USA in La Habra, CA. He has already raced in the South West Tour Truck series in Irwindale between 2015 and 2018 but also in Willow Springs and on the Bull Ring in Las Vegas. Note that he was rookie of the year in 2016 in SWTT. He will drive a Kart Idaho Racing car (John Wood's fleet) with Mike Holleran at the controls. He did a test day on June 28 with his teammate Josh Fanopoulos at Meridian Speedway, ID.


#88 Bridget Burgess

The big reveal of Sonoma. Indeed, until now through the fault of a "second class" car it had never been able to reveal to the world that it has an excellent driving skills. But on the Californian road, she had a superb race. Very well qualified (9th), she quickly found her way to the top 5 before unfortunately being pushed by Jesse Love in the hairpin. However, she will make a very good comeback to finish 8th. The acquisition of a new engine should make it easier to stay in the top 10.


#99 Cole Moore

Excellent start to the season for the BMR rookie, after a 12th position in Phoenix where the West series had seen a good number of national ARCA series drivers join in the party, Cole followed up with a first top5 (4th) on the road of the Napa valley at Sonoma. Logically at the top of the rookie standings, he's also very well placed in the championship as he's third just 3 points behind Souza. He will make his first race in West at Inrwindale. Note that he trains a lot since he participates in all the races of the BMRDA. Having lost only once this year out of the 14 races contested on the ovals (Roseville, Kern, Irwindale)! And the only time he lost an oval race was at Irwindale against Gabe Sommers!


All results here:



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