Twelve-degree corners and...
Twelve-degree corners and a wide racing surface promote three-wide racing through the corners.
Reno-Fernley Speedway bills itself as Racing's Field of Dreams. Comparing a motorsports complex in Nevada's high desert with a fictional baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield isn't as far-fetched as it might seem.
"We pretty much built this thing ourselves," says Chris Coclich, who manages the speedway for his family. "We've dug trenches, laid water lines, put up fences. There's no one here afraid of hard work."
Unlike the movie, when they built it, almost no one came.
"We held our first race in June 1999, and on that first night we had six cars, and 10 spectators sitting on hay bales," he says. "The walls were just yellow tape strung around the outside. Basically, we built the track as something to play with and have some fun.
"But we thought to ourselves, Hey, people paid to come see this . . . that's pretty good, isn't it?"
Today, things look much better.
The clay oval serves as the foundation for a still-emerging motorsports complex about 25 miles east of Reno. The family added a dragstrip and a multi-option road course that snakes its way over the almost treeless hills. They also have plans for a kart track, motocross course, and a racers' clubhouse.
A shower of damp clay flies...
A shower of damp clay flies from the wheels of Pure Stock cars. The dryness of the high desert makes keeping up with the track especially difficult during the summer months.
But Coclich says it's almost impossible for small tracks to be financially successful by themselves. Perhaps the biggest difference between their plans and those of other promoters doesn't involve auto racing. Eventually they would like to add a golf course and a hotel and casino, making the complex a destination resort with an auto racing theme.
"And this is Nevada," he says with a smile.
"It is going to take time," he adds. "We like to build things as we go along and not get in over our heads."
The complex is on the southern end of about 4,000 acres his family owns, allowing them freedom to build things their own way, at their own pace.
"We don't have a lot of issues with noise from the neighbors," he says.
In spite of plans for casino glitz in the future, today the complex is heavy on the basics.
Electrical power comes via a number of generators plugged into the office, announcer booth, and concession stands. The skyboxes look like open shipping containers, and many of the grandstand seats were first used to hold spectators at the Winter Olympics.
Mini Stocks are among the...
Mini Stocks are among the favorites of both fans and drivers. The entry-level class offers close racing on the cheap.
"We are always looking for bargains," he says.
Most of the fans couldn't care less.
"We get 100 to 120 cars a night," he says. "On special events like the High Desert Shootout we'll get twice that many. Weekly fan count is in the 1,000 to 1,500 range, with three to four times that number for the big shows."
The track's stock program includes Pure Stock Mini, Modified Minis, Hobby Stocks, Pro Stocks, and IMCA Modifieds. On open wheel nights, the track features 318 Modifieds, Sprints, 360 Wingless Cars, Midgets, and Midget Lights.
The 31/48-mile track is smooth, with 10-degree banking in Turns 1 and 2, and 12 degrees in Turns 3 and 4.
And almost everyone who comes through the gate-either the grandstand or pits-has the opportunity to meet Coclich. He patrols the pit in a four-wheel cart, stopping by cars to talk to drivers about their race last weekend, the new paint job on the car, or to joke about some technical misstep that got them into trouble.
"We tech every single car every race," he says. "We have a great team working for us and we enforce the rules."
Coclich says the pit boss runs a lengthy prerace drivers' meeting every night.
Modifieds fill the pit, waiting...
Modifieds fill the pit, waiting their turn at Reno-Fernley Raceway. Some of the drivers tow three and four hours for the weekly race.
"It takes a long time," he says, "and there is a lot of repetition, but I don't want anyone saying they don't know how we do things and what's expected of them."
A question comes up about a suspension piece and Coclich drives to the office to check the rulebook. He confers with the tech inspector and they jointly decide the car in question is legal.
He drives to Craig Eubanks' pit to tell him the news. Later, Eubanks praises the way the track handles problems.
"They treat everyone the same," the driver says. "They run a good show and they don't favor anybody . . . although they could shorten up the drivers' meetings.
"We like coming here. It's a big, wide, fast track. It's a long tow, but it's worth it."
Coclich says that's the reaction he wants from drivers. "Some of these teams pull four hours or more just to run here, and I want to be sure they go away knowing they were treated fairly."
In that role, Coclich is combination Good Humor Man and The Enforcer.
"I try to see every driver every night," he says. "I want to let them know that I'm happy to see them here, and they're important to what we're doing.
"Drivers get paid right down to last place. But they also know that at the end of the night, if there's a problem, I'm the last man they want to see. This is a monarchy, and you don't want to get on the wrong side of the king.
"We don't put up with much. I've got a 'black list' of drivers who aren't welcome back here."
For the fans, Coclich may be the consummate promoter. Every kid who comes in the gate gets a special ticket for a drawing on a new bicycle. Each week someone comes down from the stands for a ride in a two-seat stock car owned by the track.
"We can't pay the race staff very much, but our deal with the concessionaires is the workers get dinner free," he says.
Proceeds from a season-long raffle program are used to buy a new trailer for the top driver in each division
"There are a lot of ways in Reno for people to spend their time and money," he says. "We know we are competing for part of it so we have to work a bit harder."
Coclich spends part of his time each race night sitting in the grandstands, talking to fans about the racing and the facility.
"I think too many race promoters run tracks like a hobby," he says. "We treat this as a business. We treat people well, give them good value, keep the program moving, and listen to what they tell us.
"We go to the annual race promoters' meeting and keep hearing folks come up with ideas about how to make their short tracks more successful. And we leave saying to one another, 'we already do that'."
Jerry F. Boone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.