A ‘wheatie’ Race of the Century
July 9, 2014
Although it happened 50 years ago, Carson City's Fred Andreasen has never forgetten the Fourth of July in 1964.
"It must have been 100 degrees or more with no shade," he recalls.
He was one of a team of six representing Nevada challenging a team from Pittsburgh in a grueling competition with the imposing title, the Race of the Century, which gained national recognition.
Each participant ran 10 miles around the Yerington High School track carrying a 120-pound sack of wheat.
The race was a re-enactment of a race in 1910 when ranch hands who were loading wheat at the Warren Ranch pooled their money in a bet to challenge one another in a race from Wabuska to Yerington carrying a sack of wheat.
When the team in Edinboro, Penn., who had until that point considered themselves the champions at such an event, heard about the re-enactment, they challenged Nevada to an ultimate championship, easily won by the Nevada team.
Andreasen, who had won a half-mile version of the race two years before easily qualified in the pre-race trials. As the race neared, so did the hype. The two teams had a $1,000 bet on it, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
"This is Nevada, and everybody is betting on it," he said. "That puts pressure on you."
Newspapers across the country — including the Mason Valley News, Reno Evening Gazette and the San Francisco Chronicle — covered the race.
With the intense scrutiny, Andreasen, who then lived in his hometown, trained intensely — albeit practically.
"I just picked up the sack and carried it," he said. "When I was training, I'd start at the bottom of Six Mile Canyon Road and carry it up to my house in Virginia City. Other than that, I would just carry it around the track at Carson High School."
Although the competition with the Edinboro team was fierce — if one competitor set the sack down, the whole team was disqualified — the greatest clash came within his own team. The largest sums of cash were laid on the line between the 145-pound Andreasen and Yerington's Mike Lommori, a 225-pound former football star at the University of Nevada, Reno, who was coaching high school at the time and a race favorite.
On race day, start times were staggered with Andreasen leading the pack.
Claude L. Keema wrote in the Mason Valley News:
"Mike Lommori was the pre-race favorite to lead the pack over the line, and he rewarded his backers by doing exactly that. Big, strong, agile and fast, Mike roared over the finish line at a high lope.
"But with all due respects to Mike, it was Fred Andreasen, the little guy, the pacemaker, the compact package of bones and guts and desire and heart who drew down the pundits of the crowd with his supreme effort to (try to) best big Mike. Never in the world is there such another as Fred Andreasen. Enveloped by a sack almost as large as he was, he set a sizzling pace that stupefied onlookers. It just wasn't possible, but there it was happening, right before your eyes. Round after round after round, with never a stop, it was only sheer exhaustion that finally cut him down.
"Whenever you may have cause to mention a supreme effort then remember Fred. He gave you one, if such there is."
Despite the loss by barely a minute to Lommori, Andreasen said, a friendship grew out of the competition. The living members of the team — Andreasen, Lommori and Steven Erb and Richard Burnet — meet regularly for lunch.
"I always respected Mike," Andreasen said. "There was never a bad feeling. I just wanted to win, and he wanted to win. That's all."