I like writing about racing, and I enjoy announcing races. But there's nothing like getting in a race car and finding out "what it's like out there."
Fortunately, thanks to J.P. Molnar, Michael Hohl Commercial and Fleet Sales Center, and Reno-Fernley Raceway I'm going to get my yearly racing fix on July 5 along with nine other local media types and a couple of Top Gun pilots from Fallon Naval Air Station. The event is "The Second Annual Top Gun Celebrity Race to Benefit the Brian Sweeney Fund," and all the participants gathered at Reno-Fernley on Sunday to find out what it's like to race a Hobby Stock dirt car.
We started out with J.P.'s patented chalk talk on how to drive a race car. Although I've seen it before, I always pick up a couple of pointers and get a memory refresher on some of the things I already know. We took a couple of breaks to watch a practical demonstration, as there was a dirt late model at the track doing some test and tune runs. The track has a race scheduled for a touring dirt late model series July 25 -- the first time those cars will run at Reno-Fernley. After each run, J.P. used what we had seen to emphasize the points he was making on the chalkboard.
With our heads full of theory, we walked the track with the drivers whose cars we were borrowing. The Hobby Stock guys that race at Reno-Fernley have been tremendously generous in lending their cars to us amateurs and showing us how they work.
I was fortunate enough to draw Blake Ramthun's car, probably the fastest Hobby Stock out there. Blake has won four main events already this year, and my biggest worry was not living up to the car's potential. As we walked the track, Blake pointed out where the car shlould be in the turns, where to brake, where to pick up the accelerator, and lots of other subtleties that I knew I would forget as soon as I got behind the wheel. The track, which looks smooth from the stands, had a lot of ruts and bumps in it from the previous night's racing. Dirt differs from asphalt in that the surface changes a lot more in the course of a race night, and the driver has to adjust to those changes on a lap-by-lap basis.
After the track walk we took a break for a lunch provided by Port of Subs, another of the event's sponsors. Then it was time to get fitted for our driving suits and helmets, and get to our cars. I was first out, and it immediately became apparent to me that driving on dirt is a lot different from anything I'd done in my racing career to date. For one thing, there's less traction on dirt, and you're always "chasing" the car in the turns. It slides, you catch it, it slides, you catch it again, etc.
It requires a lot more steering and throttle input than a pavement car. I managed one "tank-slapper" in turns one and two when the back end got away from me, but I saved it before it spun all the way out. The car felt much better on my second five-lap run, or maybe it was just me getting used to things. We were a couple of cars short (due to some bad luck in the previous night's race), so I had to share Blake's car with Trevor Smith from KOH Radio.
Trevor got in to take his practice laps while I checked out the comlpetition. From my experience in last year's race I suspected that the two fighter pilots would be fast, and I wasn't disappointed. "Jungle" Jones and "Shooter" Simone fight each other in simulated air combat several times a week and it looked like they were bringing their rivalry to the race. Between these guys and KBUL's Scott Harjo, who has an impressive racing resume, I knew I had my work cut out for me.EE
As the afternoon turned into evening, the radio guys began leaving. (I suppose I would have too, if I had to get up at 3 a.m. to go to work.) Blake's big brother Matt, always the instigator, suggested that those of us who were left try a couple of practice starts and maybe even a short race just to get the feel of things. He didn't have to ask me twice and I was strapped in and ready to go before they changed their minds.
They put the two Top Gun pilots up front while I lined up on the outside of the second row alongside Bill Meakin from the Virginia City Register. Since the cars have no mirrors, I had no idea who was behind me, but I intended to make sure they stayed there! I hope those two pilots understand ground crew signals better than racing protocol because when Steve Pierson in the flag stand showed them the "one lap to go" signal they took off!
I suddenly had cars on both sides of me, so I hit the gas as well. A yelllow flag greeted us as we came off turn four and they decided to let us try a single-file start. I lined up behind "Jungle" Jones and stayed with him when the green waved. Nobody got alongside this time and I chased him for the next five laps. I couldn't catch him but fortunately nobody else caught me, and the race was over way too soon. One thing about dirt track racing, the fun quotient is way up there!EE
I can't wait for July 5. We'll do a couple of heat races, and I just have to qualify for the main. I think they're going to let us do 15 laps. And when those are over, I'm afraid I'll want more!
If you want to come see Channel 8 anchor Brent Boynton, Channel 4's Joe Hart, J.K. Metzker from Channel 2, Cliff Tredway and Maverick from Mix 95.5 and "Booger" from WILD 102.9, and the others I've already mentioned mix it up on July 5, come on out to Reno-Fernley Raceway for the festivities. From Carson City take Highway 50 East to Alternate 95 in Silver Springs and turn north to Fernley. From Reno, take I-80 East to Alternate 95 and head south, then listen for the roar of engines. See you there!