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Irwindale Takes Off the Wraps Tonight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The $10-million Irwindale Speedway will open tonight with a three-race, open-wheel program boasting U.S. Auto Club national champions, Indianapolis 500 veterans and nearly every open-wheel, short-track driver worth his salt.

Jason Leffler, USAC Silver Crown and two-time USAC midget car champion who is a candidate to replace the injured Al Unser Jr. on Roger Penske’s CART team, is entered in the 30-lap midget main event. Afterward, the Long Beach youngster will leave for Nazareth, Pa., to test for Penske.

Thirty-lap main events are also scheduled for USAC Western sprint cars and the World of Super Modifieds.

All 6,500 grandstand seats and corporate boxes are sold out. Gates open at 2 p.m., with opening ceremonies at 6 and the first race on the half-mile paved oval at 7.

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Penske, winningest car owner in Indy 500 history with 10 winners and seven CART championships, will be the grand marshal. Parnelli Jones, 1963 Indy 500 winner, will drive the pace car, a duty he performed for the first races at Southern California’s two other new tracks, California Speedway and Perris Auto Speedway.

Jay Drake of Val Verde, who beat Leffler in last Saturday night’s USAC midget race at Bakersfield Speedway and was runner-up last year in the USAC standings, is also among the 65 midget drivers entered, as are West Coast champion Rick Hendrix of Canoga Park and two-time TQ champion Alex Harris of Simi Valley.

Heading the sprint-car field are USAC Western champion Jeff Gardner of Fresno and the 1997 winner, Kevin Urton of Elk Grove.

Indy 500 veterans Davey Hamilton, Paul Durant and Joe Gosek are entered in the super-modified race. Hamilton was runner-up in the last two Indy Racing League seasons and was the Western States super-mod champion in 1990. He will be doing double duty this weekend, driving Sunday in the IRL Indy car race at Phoenix. Durant is a three-time super-modified champion. Gosek is a veteran modified driver from Oswego, N.Y.

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Irwindale Facts

* What: Opening night at Irwindale Speedway, two paved and banked motor racing tracks, a half-mile and a third-mile.

* Where: Live Oak Avenue at 605 Freeway, just south of 210 Freeway, about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

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* When: Tonight, followed by 35 weeks of Friday night and Saturday night racing.

* Opening-night program: U.S. Auto Club MCI WorldCom Western midget car series, USAC Western sprint car series, and WSMRA World of Super Modifieds, all 30-lap main events.

* Time: Gates open 2 p.m.; opening ceremonies at 6; first race at 7.

* Seating: 6,500 grandstand seats, 12 corporate skybox suites. Opening night sold out.

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* Parking: $5, with 3,000 paved and lighted spaces.

* Web site: www.irwindalespeedway.com


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