On a crisp night at Irwindale Speedway on Saturday, Saugus resident and Saugus High School alumnus Lucas McNeil claimed his second consecutive championship in the NASCAR Irwindale Race Trucks series.
McNeil went into Saturday’s race eight points ahead of second-place finisher Andrew Porter of La Verne. After coming in second place in twin main events on Saturday, McNeil concluded the year with a total score of 482, four points better than Porter.
The veteran driver finished in first place in five out of 10 races, including the first four races of the year.
Last year, McNeil had three first-place finishes on his way to the championship.
“I think this year we did better. Last year the guy who finished behind us in the points, he won the majority of the races. we just ended up with overall points,” McNeil said. “We ran first or second pretty much every race the last two years. Sometimes you win, sometimes it gets the better of you, that’s how it goes. I would say this year statistically was better but we were probably stronger during the races last year, just things didn’t go our way as much last year.”
McNeil’s younger brother Jacob also competed in the Irwindale Race Trucks series, finishing in fourth place (438 points) for the second consecutive year.
The elder McNeil was proud of the progress his brother has made since joining the competition four years ago. Jacob had four third-place finishes and even finished ahead of his brother in the sixth race of the year.
“He improved exponentially. I want to say he’s been racing since 2016, that was the first full year he ran and this year was far and away his best year,” McNeil said about Jacob. “He made leaps and bounds compared to years prior, he did excellent this year.”
McNeil also raced in the Late Model division this year, finishing in sixth place with a total of 708 points.
His best finishes came in the second and sixth race of the year when he came in second place in both.
“The truck division is more of a lower horsepower, more momentum-based kind of race whereas the late models have a lot more power, so you can kind of manhandle them a lot more,” he said. “If you make mistakes you can make up for it easier whereas the truck is more about being smooth, hitting your marks and making sure you run as consistent as possible the whole race.”
The McNeil brothers have been racing since they were four or five years old. The sport is an important part of their family history and is literally in their blood with their grandfather Jim Robinson dominating racing on the West Coast in the late 70s and 80s.
Robinson was a three-time Winston West Series champion, winning in 1983, ‘84 and ‘85 and is a former Saugus Speedway champion. He was inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002, the inaugural class.
McNeil drives the No. 78 car to honor his grandfather, who also raced in the No. 78.
“It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great to be able to carry on the family legacy and to be able to honor him by running that number, but then I have people that knew him and they come up and say, ‘Your grandpa was the greatest, he was the best,’” McNeil said. “I had one guy tell us that he was the Dale Earnhardt of the West Coast. These are giant shoes to try and fill. It’s great, but sometimes I’m like, I got to perform otherwise people are going to wonder about me.”
While McNeil is still relishing his second consecutive championship, he said nothing compares to breaking through the first time.
“There’s nothing like the first one,” he said. “The first one is always the best, but to be able to go out and back it up is equally awesome. From an excitement standpoint, it’s probably the first one I have to say.”