Richards drives away with Fernley sprint car main event win |

Richards drives away with Fernley sprint car main event win

Roger Diez
Appeal Motorsports Columnist

Race fans were treated to some fast and furious sprint car racing at Reno-Fernley Raceway Saturday night when the NCMA 360 Sprints made their first 2007 visit to the track. It was also NAPA Auto Parts Hat Night at the races, and the evening was capped off with a four-cylinder demolition derby.

The 318 Modified division led off the evening’s racing action, and Jim Turner of Loyalton, Calif. rocketed into the lead at the green flag, closely followed by Fallon’s Bob Bender. As the two leaders pulled away from the field, Fallon’s Glenn Lee and Frank Kay of Yerington battled for third-place until the first of several caution flags flew for Fernley’s John Paul, who spun in turn four. Turner again assumed the lead on the restart, with Bender and Lee in hot pursuit, then Reno’s Bud Sage brought out the caution with a spin in turn two. On the ensuing restart, Bender slid wide in turn four and dropped to third behind Lee.

Turner opened up a big lead and the field strung out, running single file until Lee’s car began to smoke heavily and he took it to the pits. By this time Turner had a full straightaway lead on second-place Bender, and he cruised to the checker for the win. Bender came home second, followed by Cory Moore of Wadsworth in third, and fourth-place Kay the last car running.

Turner and Bender each won a heat race, and Turner scored a hat trick by winning the dash.

A small field of Legends cars took to the track, and put on a spirited, if uneventful, race. It took Travis Peterson of Reno less than a lap to catch and pass polesitter Fred Handley of Sparks, and from there Peterson was never headed. Christopher Handley of Sparks challenged for third early, but soon pitted with mechanical woes.

Carson City’s Charly Baron drove a solid race, running third for the entire contest. Peterson romped home to the checker with a good sized lead over second-place Fred Handley. Baron held on to third, followed by Reno’s Lester Mitchell and Mike Firebaugh, also of Reno in fifth.

Peterson swept the division, winning the single heat race and the dash as well as the main.

The Pro 4 division put on a much more entertaining race, with lead changes among several cars. Missy Natenstedt of Fernley led most of the first lap, but Reno’s Kenny Martin pulled alongside coming off turn four for a dead heat at the line. The caution flew on the next lap as Fernley drivers Dennis Cook and Ken Rouse spun in turn two. On the restart Martin surged to the front while Natenstedt lost second to Carson City’s Brian Coclich. Natenstedt slowed a couple of laps later, allowing Ron Wagner of Winnemucca to pass for third. Another caution period for the stalled car of Fernley’s Aaron McIlvain bunched the field, and on the restart Wagner got a good start and nudged Martin out of the way in turn two to take the lead. Wagner and Martin battled side-by-side and nose-to-tail for the remainder of the race, while Coclich dropped back, unable to maintain the torrid pace of the leaders.

In the closing laps, Crook closed in on Coclich and challenged for third position, but couldn’t quite get by. At the checker it was Wagner, Martin, Coclich, Crook, and Natenstedt rounding out the top five.

Heat race wins went to Wagner and Coclich, while Crook was victorious in the dash.

Then came the race the crowd had been waiting for, as the non-winged NCMA 360 Sprint cars rumbled out onto the track, looking for the green flag. When it waved, more than 10,000 horsepower roared into turn one, with polesitter Kent Stephens of Modesto, Calif. grabbing the lead. Right behind him Jimmy Lavell of Brentwood, Calif. and Modesto, Calif. driver Ed Amador led the rest of the snarling pack around the first lap. Then Amador spun in turn three, bringing out the first caution of the race. Stephens rocketed away on the restart with Lavell, Tony Richards of Orland, Calif., and Dan Gonderman from Antioch, Calif., in tow. Richards passed Lavell for second, but another caution bunched the field. Richards was the master of the restart again, pulling away with ease. Behind him, Rob Hammond of Morgan Hill, Calif., worked his way up to fifth-place, passing Keith Shipherd of Pleasant Hill, Calif., to do so. Shipherd then spun in turn two, bringing out yet another caution. This time Stephens slid high in turn one on the restart, losing the lead to Richards.

It was soon apparent that Stephens had a tire problem, as he slid further back into the pack, then pitted when David Goodwill of Napa, Calif. spun, bringing out the yellow flag. Richards hung onto the lead on the restart, with Gonderman snapping at his heels, Hammond up to third, and Cameron Beard of Atwater, Calif., cracking the top five for the first time. Another caution set up a two-lap dash to the finish, and Richards was able to hang on for the win. Gonderman was second, Hammond third, and Beard made a last-lap pass for fourth, relegating Lavell to fifth.

Richards and Gonderman won a heat race each, and Gonderman took the dash.

Fourteen cars and pickups participated in the four-cylinder demolition derby that was the last event of the evening. Parts were flying on the slippery front straight, and the crowd was enthusiastically cheering for their favorites. One after another drivers put up their red flags, signaling that their cars were no longer operable, until it was down to just two contestants, John Schilling of Stagecoach and Yerington’s Randall Mitchell. Like two punch-drunk boxers, the pair circled and slammed into each other until Mitchell finally parked the back of his station wagon in the back seat of Schilling’s sedan, ending the contest with Mitchell declared the winner.

Next Saturday night is Can Cooler Night at the races, a community food drive event. Bring a can of food and receive one dollar off admission. IMCA Modifieds, Pro Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Dwarfs, and Pure Stock Minis are on the program. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m, with racing action starting at 6 p.m.

• Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal motorsports columnist. Contact him at