FERNLEY - Reno-Fernley Raceway dodged the raindrops Saturday night for the second visit of the season by the Western Dirt Late Model Tour.
Twenty-one ground-pounding stock cars boasting 750 horsepower each gave race fans some spectacularly fast racing. Drivers from California, Oregon, Washington and Nevada contested the 40-lap main event, but it soon became clear everybody else was racing for second place behind the flying Bobby Hogge IV from Salinas, Calif.
Hogge surged to the lead almost immediately and fended off challenges from several other drivers during a series of yellow flags and restarts. During longer green-flag runs, Hogge quickly reeled in the tail end of the field and demonstrated his mastery in traffic. Behind him Mike Johnson, Greg Walters, Richard Papenhausen, John Duty, and Ron and Bill Bartels vainly tried to catch the flying Hogge.
Johnson managed to snatch the lead briefly on a restart but spun in front of the field in turn one and was sidelined in the ensuing collision. Walters was knocked out of contention in an accident on the front straight that brought out a brief red flag. In the waning laps Papenhausen struggled to keep up with Hogge in traffic, but Hogge was not to be denied.
At the checker it was Hogge, Papenhausen, Ron Bartels, Duty and Bill Bartels finishing in the top five, the only cars still on the lead lap. Heat race wins went to Walters, Papenhausen, and Johnson.
Also on the card were three of the regular Reno-Fernley divisions, the 318 Modifieds, Modified Minis, and the IMCA Modifieds.
A couple of new drivers showed up for the 318 Modified division, and the main saw a first-time winner take the checker - Richard Rabe of Silver Springs.
Perennial favorite Rick Looney of Fernley started at the back of the pack and methodically picked his way through the field. But Rabe had too big a lead and cruised to the checker ahead of Buster Pearson of Portola, Calif., who nipped Looney for second-place at the finish.
Larry Silas of Wadsworth came home fourth, followed by Stagecoach's Rick Thuemler. Pearson and Sparks driver John Scherer took the heat race victories.
It was lady's night in the Modified mini division, with a pair of female racers mixing it up with the guys for the win.
At the green flag, Californians Matt Borges of Tracy and Skip Wise of Bishop, hooked up in a draft and tried to put some distance on the field. That tactic didn't pan out, as another four cars attached themselves to the lead duo in a snarling pack jockeying for position in every corner and down the straights. Danyale Urban (Sparks), Bob Neese (Fernley), and Dan Andreason (Sparks) were prominent among this group.
But Melissa Natenstedt of Fernley, who had started dead last, worked her way through the field and soon caught the lead pack. Then she overtook Borges for the lead and motored away, stretching her lead to almost half a lap at the checker.
Second place was still anybody's to take, and Andreason snatched it away from Borges in the closing laps. Borges settled for third with Wise in fourth.
Two laps from the end, Urban's hood came loose and draped itself over the windshield, forcing Urban to look out the side window and slowly motor home to a fifth-place finish. Natenstedt added a heat race win to her Main victory, and Borges won the other heat.
The IMCA Modifieds, usually the feature show, took a back seat in billing to the Western Dirt Late Models, but put on a first-rate main nevertheless. Sean Natenstedt of Fernley grabbed the lead early and appeared to be the car to beat. Behind him the usual suspects, Conrad Wilson of Reno, Steve McGee of Carson City, Galen Reese of Lovelock, James Foley of Sparks, Lovelock's Jeffrey Macedo, and other battled for second.
Robert Miller of Gardnerville began one of his patented charges through the field, only to have it end in a collision with Macedo that put Miller in the pits briefly. He was tail end on the field at the restart, without much hope of being able to mount a second charge through the field. But as the laps wound down, who should appear in the top five, then the top three but Miller. As the white flag waved, Miller made his move, charging past Natenstedt to take the win.
Steve McGee followed Miller through to take second from the surprised Natenstedt, who dropped from first to third on the final circuit. Wilson took fourth and Douglas Adams of Truckee rounded out the top five. Miller, Natenstedt, and Tonopah's James Thibodeaux took heat race wins, and Rich Hill of Sparks won the B main.
This coming Saturday Reno-Fernley Raceway will feature 360 Sprint cars for open-wheel fans, along with Hobby Stocks, Dwarf cars, 318 Modifieds and the Pure Stock division. Spectator gates open at 3 p.m., racing starts promptly at 6.
n Contact Roger Diez at Racytalker@aol.com