Motorsports Column for Nov. 23, 2003
By Roger Diez
Local racing still has one last gasp. Top Gun Raceway in Fallon hosts its season-ending "Original Turkey Nationals" race this weekend.
The contest, dubbed the "End of the season, King of the track event" boasts a purse of more than $10,000, including special NHRA Wallys and other great prizes. Gates will open this Saturday and Sunday at 7 a.m., with time runs commencing at 9 a.m. and elimination runs starting at 1 p.m. If the weather cooperates (it has been known to snow in the past, which seriously reduces traction), it should be a great weekend of racing.
Last Sunday more than 50 of the best dirt-track drivers in America converged on Reno-Fernley Raceway over the weekend to vie for the Western States 100 victory and the huge purse that went with it. Drivers from 12 states and Canada were on hand, with one driver from as far away as Arkansas. Only 26 cars started the Main, chosen from the top qualifiers and the best finishers in three "last chance" races. Don O'Neal dominated the 100-lap final, which was split into two 50-lap segments with a mid-race break for refueling and minor car adjustments. O'Neal lapped nearly the entire field, with only four cars finishing on the lead lap. 'Neal took home $11,000 for his trouble. I hope Reno-Fernley can get these guys back again next year, because they put on one heck of a show!
Also on hand were two of Reno-Fernley's regular track divisions, the Hobby Stock and Modified Mini classes. Robert Miller (driving Blake Ramthun's car) had everybody covered in the Hobby Stocks, wheeling the black Camaro home for a $1,000 payday. Modified Mini driver Kevin Knight hit the till for another $1,000, handily winning his main event. Although the 3/8 mile dirt oval at Reno-Fernley is dark until next spring, the new 1.3 mile road course will be open for testing every weekend, weather permitting. And if you have a quad or a motorcycle, there are also special courses for your vehicle on the property.
When I announced the Nevada Day Parade this year, I was introduced to a couple of nice folks by my co-announcer Larry McPherson as the guy who writes about motorsports for the Appeal. The gentleman I was introduced to said, "Oh yeah! You're the guy who actually mentions Formula One occasionally!" So in response to that comment, here's a little F1 news (you NASCAR fans can skip over this part).
It appears that Juan Pablo Montoya will finish out his contract with the Williams/BMW team next season, but is heading for McLaren Mercedes for 2005. Montoya, who won the CART championship here in the U.S. in his first season in that series, might just be the next Michael Schumacher. In fact, he's about the only current F1 driver who can run with Michael. His talent is huge, but in F1 you have to have a dominant car to even think about a World Championship.
Prior to the Schumacher/Ferrari domination of the series for the past few years, McLaren was the team to beat. In fact, if you weren't driving a Ferrari, McLaren, or Williams in the past dozen seasons, you didn't have a prayer. Montoya will replace either Kimi Raikkonen or David Coulthard at the end of 2004, with Coulthard the likely candidate to be voted off the island.
Local driver Steve Portenga (from Sparks) had his best Winston West finish this year, ending up third in the Championship. Unfortunately, Steve is out of a ride for 2004, having relinquished his driving duties with the Performance Motorsports team's No. 77 Ford Taurus. Portenga is one of the top "local" drivers to have made it into the big time, along with Susanville's Mike Skinner (Winston Cup) and Darrel Krentz (Winston West, Southwest Tour). All three have a lot of history at Champion Motor Speetdway here in Carson City.
NASCAR Winston Cup runner-up Jimmie Johnson gets the nod for quote of the year in the NASCAR division. Asked about a couple of significant failures that cost him the Championship, Johnson replied, "At the end of the year, the guy with the shortest list of 'what-ifs' will be the champion." Amen, brother!
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.