FERNLEY - Reno-Fernley Raceway kicked off the 2005 dirt oval racing season on Saturday night, featuring the ultra-fast Western Dirt Late Model Tour.
Twenty-six of these 750 horsepower fire-breathers took the green flag for the 40-lap main event. The race got off to a slow start with a series of yellow flags and one red flag to attend to a driver with a suspected concussion. In fact, it took almost 45 minutes to complete the first seven laps, and officials were considering a red flag stop to refuel.
However, attrition had narrowed the field to 14 cars and the additional racing room provided a green flag run from lap 8 to lap 39. Greg Walters, who had held the lead through each restart, maintained the lead, but behind him there was lots of bumping, banging, and position-swapping.
Richard Papenhausen, a former winner at Reno-Fernley mixed it up with Jeremy Shank, Eric Jacobsen, Mike Johnson, Bobby Hogge, John Duty and others for second. Don O'Neal, who seemed to be on two wheels as often as on four, had run with the leaders early on but found himself at the back of the pack on the lap 8 restart.
O'Neal put on the show of the evening as he muscled his way toward the front, taking over third just before a last-lap yellow bunched the field for a one-lap shootout. Walters kept his cool and motored away for the win, followed home by Papenhausen, O'Neal, Johnson, and Jacobsen.
Papenhausen, O'Neal, and Shank won their heat races earlier in the evening.
Three of the regular Reno-Fernley divisions also made their debut. The Pure Stock Mini division fielded 15 cars and put on a great show with only a minimum of yellow flag laps.
Tim Cremeans quickly worked his way to the front and held on to the lead to the checker. Doug Davis was fast, but miscues kept dropping him down the order. Aaron McIlvaine came from the back of the pack to mix it up with the leaders, while Walter Ball and Josh Long battled among the lead group the whole race.
At the checker it was Cremeans, Ball, McIlvaine, Long, and Davis in the top five spots. Heat race victories went to Cremeans and Long.
A division unique to Reno-Fernley is the 318 Modifieds. These are open-wheel, V8 powered race cars with cartoon-like bodywork consisting of sectioned cabins from a variety of makes and models. The race immediately broke up into a series of two-car duels for position, with heat race winner Troy Crawford surging to the lead in the early going. With a number of veterans and a rookie or two in the field, the speed differentials were tremendous. In fact, Crawford came within a couple of laps of lapping the entire field, with only Rick Looney in second place on the same lap at the checker. John Scherer was third, one lap down, followed home by Kevin Knight and Buster Pearson to round out the top five.
The Hobby Stock division was well-represented on opening night, with 28 cars taking the green flag. This seemed to be a bit more than the 3/8 mile track and the pool of driver talent could accommodate, resulting in lots of yellow flags, and a black one or two.
In between yellows, former class champion Dean Clark worked his way to the front. Clark's experience was evident on the restarts, as he took advantage of the "outlaw restart" situation (giving the leader sole ownership of the front row) to pull away from his pursuers. There was spirited racing and position swapping behind him, and at the checker Chris O'Neill found himself in second spot. Steve Rauscher hung on for third ahead of a charging Rick Miller, and Gary Serpa slipped into fifth in the closing laps. Clark, Miller, and Gil Casper, Jr. won the heat races.
This coming Saturday will feature the IMCA Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Modified Minis and the Hobby Stocks on the banked 3/8 mile clay oval. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m., racing starts promptly at 6.
And if you're into drag racing, visit the Auto Ball at Reno-Fernley on Sunday. Activities include a car show, drags, burn-out contest, stereo sound-off, and lots of other automotive activities.
n Contact Roger Diez at Racytalker@aol.com