Junior Nation in full throat at Reno-Fernley Raceway | NevadaAppeal.com
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Junior Nation in full throat at Reno-Fernley Raceway

By Roger Diez

I was at Reno-Fernley Raceway on Sunday, announcing at the “Race to Reno” Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National event, when I heard this cheering noise coming from the direction of Michigan. OK, I’m exaggerating, but the Junior Nation had to be cheering all over the country as their hero, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup points race in more than two years. The fact that Junior did it with an economy run doesn’t diminish the accomplishment one bit.

These days, fuel strategy is as important a part of racing as handling or horsepower, and Tony Eury Jr. made the only call he could logically have made. Junior would have finished 25th if he had run out of gas or come in for a splash of fuel, so leaving him out to conserve by coasting, drafting, and feather-footing was the right thing to do.

Earlier this week I spoke to a guy in Reno who bets on NASCAR Cup races, and he was delighted with the result. He made $50 on a $5 bet on Junior. Personally, I’ve been involved in racing long enough to be aware of how many variables there are, so I don’t bet.

– Momentum is a big plus in racing, as it is in many other sports. And the two drivers carrying momentum into Sunday’s race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma are Junior and Kasey Kahne. Neither is known as particularly adept at road racing, but winning gives you confidence. However, they’re going to have to deal with last year’s Infineon winner, Juan Pablo Montoya, all-time road course winner Jeff Gordon, and a bunch of road course “ringers” to score a win at that tricky course.

Infineon, back when it was known as Sears Point was my home track in my racing days, and I worked my first race there 20 years before NASCAR appeared there. When Riverside Raceway in southern California closed in 1988, a gentleman named Ken Clapp was NASCAR’s west coast guy at the time, and I first met him when he headed up the “San Jose 500” committee, a group wanting to build a mile-and-a-half oval at the San Jose Fairgrounds. The idea was quickly shot down by local politicians, and the millions of dollars in economic impact from NASCAR ended up at Sears Point. Ken Clapp is to be inducted into the Infineon Hall of Fame this weekend, and the honor couldn’t fall to a better candidate.

– Speaking of road courses, I mentioned earlier that the Reno Region SCCA’s “Race to Reno” was held at Reno-Fernley Raceway this past weekend. The event, the first of its kind in the area in almost 40 years, was well-attended and extremely well-run. I was a flagger at the last SCCA National in the area, a race held at Stead in Reno in 1970, and I liked this one better, if only because I was in an air-conditioned announce booth.

Local racers acquitted themselves well over the weekend. Donna Gilio, of Carson City, subject of a feature article last week, lived up to her billing by setting qualifying records and scoring victories in two racing classes, Formula E and Improved Touring A, where she finished second overall to Reno’s Connie Bogan driving a Dodge Viper.

In the Vintage race, Reno’s Tom Gardner took the overall victory by a wide margin in his 1971 McLaren M8E Can-Am car. Alan Prentiss, of Carson City, was second overall and first in class in his 1973 Crossle Formula Ford. Gardnerville’s Tupper Robinson won the Vintage Production 3 class in his 1965 Corvette after a bumping incident with Lee Mitchell of Reno in a Datsun 240Z.

Reno drivers Lucas Kunze and Al Lockett finished first and second in Improved Touring E, driving a Camaro and Honda Civic respectively. Reno’s Mike Cesario was leading his race handily in his ex-Alan Kulwicki 1989 Thunderbird when he was sidelined by a broken axle. Mechanical woes also befell Washoe Valley’s Eric Johnson in his 1970 Corvette and the Spec Racer Ford of Reno’s Joe Pratt. Other local racers taking part in the “Race to Reno” were Sun Valley’s Paul Gilbert, Richard Fuller of Reno, and Sparks driver Gary Smith.