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Oreste Gonella captures dirt modified race title at Petaluma Speedway

Down to one engine, Oreste Gonella pushed his race car to the dirt modified class season championship at Petaluma Speedway.

Gonella took the same championship his father Victor Gonella won 18 years earlier. The younger Gonella, 29, began competitive driving with go-kart racing as a teenager and now has added another dirt modified trophy to the family's auto titles.

“It takes a lot of luck to win a championship,” Oreste Gonella said.

On the season that opened in April and concluded this past weekend, Gonella raced consistently well and won three events at Petaluma.

He also mustered the most out of his dirt modifieds.

Among California's dirt modified points leaders through the season's first half, Gonella had two cars going at the Petaluma track and dirt ovals in Chico and Antioch.

Then he blew out an engine in Chico.

Hoping to finish the season, Gonella raced his remaining No. 23 car at Petaluma. The engines can go a dozen races in a season before they must be rebuilt for another dirt-track campaign.

On the season Gonella also overcame a transmission breakdown, destroyed gears and failed brakes.

In his fourth year on the circuit, Gonella put into practice what he has learned behind the wheel: Minimize mistakes and stay in the race.

“You just have to be patient. You learn from other people's mistakes,” he said.

For his dirt modified season title, Gonella receives a trophy, jacket and gift card.

Gonella will take a victory lap of sorts in Chico this week to conclude his racing season.


Bill Leone, who coached football and basketball at Sonoma Valley High School during his 40-year teaching career, will be induced Oct. 12 in the Chico State Athletic Hall of Fame.

Leone was a star at Chico State in football and track and received tryout offers as a defensive back from the Los Angeles Chargers of the old American Football League and the Montreal Alouettes in Canada.

The Hall of Fame induction will be at Chico State's Bell Memorial Union.

Tickets can be purchased by contacting the school athletic department at 530-898-0647 before Friday.

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