When the Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series, presented by Rockstar Energy Drink, dropped the green flag on its 75 lap feature at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale, August 13th, one name quickly rose to the top of every one's attention. Escondido-California's Austin Barnes led every single lap of that feature for his second series win of season both, of which, came at Irwindale. Barnes took home the winners check worth $1,500 plus a $100 bonus for setting the Budweiser fast time in qualifying.
However the post awards didn't end with the winner's cash. This event was part of a special two race series known as the Dart Machinery LTD North-South Shootout held at the Madera Speedway and at the Toyota Speedway At Irwindale. The special shootout made it possible for teams from the northern section of the western states to compete with their colleagues from the southern section of the west.
When the points from the two events were tabulated. following the Irwindale race, it turned out that Barnes had won the Dart Machinery LTD North-South Shootout by a mere two points over reigning Lucas Oil Modified Series champion Jim Mardis. Barnes and his team will receive a set of small block heads from Dart Machinery, for either a Chevrolet or a Ford, a choice of either a set of PRO-1 or Iron Eagles Heads. The value of this special prize is approximately $1,000.
When it gets down to the Dart Machinery 75 at Irwindale, Austin Barnes made two very strategic moves that helped create his excellent evening in the Los Angeles basin. The first move occurred early in the afternoon during qualifying when the 16 year driver set fast time with a lap of 18.926 seconds/95.107 MPH around the speedway's half mile oval. The lap was a full 0.157 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.
However, the pre race inversion ceremony turned up the number three and that's where Barnes had to start the race. He wasn't there very long. When the initial green flag fell on the Dart Machinery 75's 24 car starting field, Barnes dived to the bottom of the track and made a beautiful move that moved him from third to first by the time he exited turn two. It turned out to be the winning move. The sheer power of a well prepped race car allowed its driver to make quick work of pulling away the field. By lap 13 Barnes held a full straightaway lead on the field. It wasn't very long before he had a full one half lap lead on the field while in the process of lapping the vast majority of the field.
But, on lap 53, the massive lead evaporated when the race's first and only yellow caution flag presented itself. The car driven by Las Vegas veteran Chris Clyne suffered an unexpected mechanical failure and slowed dramatically in front of race traffic who did an excellent job of driving their way through a potential wreck.
On the restart Barnes had the presence of two lapped cars between himself and second place driver Chris Gerchman. That helped him establish an advantage while Gerchman had to deal with working his way past the slower traffic. With the leader now in his sights, Gerchman pushed his modified racer hard to eradicate the real estate between himself and Barnes. While it was a valiant effort, time just simply ran out. Following Barnes and Gerchman under the checkers were Jim Mardis, Doug Hamm and Scott Winters to complete the top five.
The scene was all smiles at the J E Pistons/Roush Yates Performance Parts winner's circle after Barnes arrived in his Master Craft Safety, STR, Electro Powder Coating modified. "This track is really working out for us," the young race winner said adding "I don't know if we're really doing anything that special, it just seems that we're really good here. We qualified first by quite a margin again and we were just hooked up. From the very first lap I knew that we were going to have a really hard car to beat."
Standing along side of his car, with a big smile on his face, was Ted Barnes: proud father and race team owner. For someone who resides in the San Diego area, you have to believe that the elder Barnes is starting to like coming to the Los Angeles area and in particular Irwindale. Laughing, he said "the last time we were here, Austin and I were talking about how much we love this track. We just couldn't have it any better: two wins, two poles and both times we've been here the track has treated us really well."
Gerchman made a mid to late race charge to get his second place finish in his open wheel modified sponsored by Peggy's Sunrise Cafe, G-N-G Automotive, STR, Lucas Oil, K&N Filters, Hoosier Tire, Lee Power Steering, Sign Source, Bridgewater Homes and Ezell Fleet Service. "This car was just on a rail tonight," Gerchman said adding "Our car was really hooked up and I truly think that all I needed was just a few more laps and we would have been a factor up front." Chris Gerchman also received the $100 bonus for the Magnaflow Exhaust Products Clean Pass Award. Larry Gerchman, the patriarch of this Arizona based racing family, received the $100 bonus for winning the E3 Spark Plugs Hard Charger Award after passing ten cars from his original starting position.
This was Chris Gerchman's first appearance in the Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series in over two months. That's because he been very busy attending a technical school to provide him the skills to work with high voltage power lines. The bad news for his racing fans is the fact that he's moving to San Antonio-Texas to pursue that new career and it may be quite a long time before we get to see him in that #26 Gerchman family modified again. The really great news is Chris and his lovely fiance Lauren will be getting married on November 12th. All of us associated with the Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series wishes the soon to be Mr and Mrs Gerchman the best with their new life.
After this third place finish, Jim Mardis noted that it sometimes got a little crowded while racing on the Toyota Speedway At Irwindale. "It's really great that our race had such a good car count tonight, but there was a little area there when some of the guys were a little off of the pace. But, that's just the way it goes sometimes," he said. We just missed it a little, we didn't quite have the fast hot rod we had the last time we raced here. We'll just take it back to the shop and find out why," Mardis added. The really good news for this team lies in the fact that their third place finish at Irwindale allowed them to pad their points lead in the quest for a second, consecutive, championship. Mardis also made it a point to thank his team sponsors which includes Rockstar Energy Drink, Makita Industrial Power Tools, Blue Water Technologies, Arce Engines, Premiere Wraps, Scoreboard 2 Bar and Grill, Lucas Oil, and Hot N Nasty Street Wear. "I want to also thank Dart Machinery for putting on this Shootout and giving us the extra incentive to come out here and race," he added.
Series race director Bill Rozhon was very pleased with the Dart Machinery 75 and asked "was Austin Barnes flying or what? The last time we raced at the Toyota Speedway At Irwindale we talked to our guys about the importance of racing each other clean. We saw that tonight, we only had one yellow flag for a mechanical failure. Our guys really had their act together tonight and I'm very proud of that."
Series Promoter Greg Scheidecker was also very happy with the performance of his series' teams and said "Steve Teets, (winning crew chief), Ted Barnes, (winning team owner), and obviously Austin Barnes really have their act together. Steve has a lot of experience as a crew chief here at Irwindale and it showed tonight. But, at the same time, Austin Barnes got up on the wheel and drove a very smart race. There was a lot of traffic, half the field did get lapped, but the man did a hell of a job."
Scheidecker also noted that he was very happy with the overall level of competition seen throughout the field during the Dart Machinery 75 and said " the race from fourth all the way back to tenth and eleventh was bumper to bumper. I saw one time where Roger Brown worked his way to fifth and then the following lap he was ninth. That's the kind of racing we like to see. I'm very happy with the entire race field over the way they drove this half mile track. We've got a very good class of drivers and it showed tonight."
The Lucas Oil Modified Racing Series, presented by Rockstar Energy Drink, returns to more larger track action with a September 17th race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
This series is strongly supported by a highly potent marketing concept known as "Team Lucas." Team members include: Lucas Oil Products Inc, Magnaflow Exhaust Products, E3 Spark Plugs, General Tire, K&N Performance Filters, GEICO, CANIDAE All Natural Pet Food, MAV-TV, Dart Machinery LTD, Rockstar Energy Drink and Master Craft Safety Equipment.
The series is also powered by a group of contingency sponsors featuring: Eibach Springs, Hoosier Tire West, Budweiser, Blue Water Resort and Casino, Sunoco Race Fuels, Frank's Radio, Racing Plus, Roush Yates Performance Parts and J E Pistons.