What a great week of racing that was filled with first-time winners, championships, controversy, and, of course, Mother Nature right in the middle of it all.
Last Monday night Fonda Speedway tried for the second time to get “The Jack,” a tribute race to honor Fonda’s all-time win leader and one of the best to ever strap into a race car, Jumpin’ Jack Johnson.
The 100-lap Super DIRTcar Series with a guaranteed starting spot for the NAPA Super DIRT Week at Oswego Speedway will now be part of the Thunder Along the Mohawk Weekend at The Track of Champions on Sept. 21-22.
Also lost that night was the HONDO, a race that was to honor Hondo Carpenter, a Pro Stock driver who was a fan favorite and was lost too early in his life. That race will be made up Sept. 15.
Racing photographer John Grady
I would like at this time to mention the passing of long-time racing photographer John Grady.
John was one of those special people in our sport. He was well known up and down the East Coast, bringing to life the great history of this sport. I was glad to be able to call John my friend after getting to know him after so many years at the local speedways.
John could sure tell a story and always after talking with him you would walk away with a smile on your face, that’s just who John was.
Today the racing family is saddened with the loss of John Grady. To his son Chris and the entire Grady family, our thoughts are with you.
RIP Mr. John Grady. You will be truly missed.
Mother Nature’s damper
Last week was supposed to be a great week of racing here in the Capital District with “The Jack” on Monday, Albany Saratoga racing Tuesday with Brett Deyo’s Super Short Track Series, then Fonda coming right back Wednesday with the KOD 358 Modified Series and the “Grand Daddy” 602 Sportsman $2000 to win event.
Well, folks, here is where the controversy would come in. With a weather forecast of rain it was decided early Tuesday morning that the Brett Deyo STSS would be canceled and would now run up against Fonda’s Wednesday special event.
By the way, it never rained.
This left fans as well as some teams to have to make a choice as to where they were going to be racing; I, for one. Fonda Speedway is my passion. I have been sitting in those stands and watching racing for 54 years now; for me there is just something special about that old race track. But not only did Fonda now have to race against Albany Saratoga head to head, but KOD decided to pull out of Fonda’s event.
I had to make a decision. For some it was easy, for me it was not. I knew going against Albany Saratoga was going to be tough for Pete Demitraszek, the Fonda promoter, and I wanted to stay loyal to him and Fonda Speedway. The race fan in me knew the Brett Deyo show would bring in some of the top stars from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and across New York that I do not get to see very often racing against the tough Great Race Place field.
Well, I take my racing seriously and it was the race fan in me that won out. Was it the right decision? I am not sure. Did I see a good race? Absolutely. I saw a great race.
Here are my feelings on the whole situation, maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong, and God knows I have been wrong before. The race should have gone off on Tuesday. Malta is known to wait right to the end before they pull the plug on a race and twice this year the fans have been in the stands and sent home before a complete show.
OK, we as race fans are a special breed. If there is a race and it looks like rain but the track says they will give it their all to get in the show, we go. Sometimes we get the show in and sometimes we don’t.
But even after the show was canceled I don’t understand, with everyone knowing Fonda had a race, why would you not postpone until Thursday? It would give the teams and fans another night of racing.
So who suffered? Well, the fans did for sure, as well as the teams but so did the Fonda Speedway with a very low car and fan count. I also understand many teams were driving a great distance for this event at Albany Saratoga. With so many 358s now out there I don’t understand why there were not more cars at Fonda, even with the event at Albany Saratoga.
Teams talk of lack of high-paying shows and when a promoter sticks his neck out and pays a higher purse, they don’t show. Was it the fact it was not a series event like DIRTcar or KOD, are drivers looking for those end-of-the-year banquet dollars more than going to a race? Guess times have changed. As an old race fan the days of large car counts are gone. I have my own theory on that but that’s for another day.
Albany Saratoga Speedway
The race at Albany Saratoga was one of the best I have seen in some time. There was great side-by-side racing and you could have thrown a blanket over the top 5.
The last 10 laps were a barn burner between three great drivers — Ronnie Johnson, Matt Sheppard and Marc Johnson. The Modifieds in the pits were made up of mostly STSS regulars as well as Albany Saratoga teams. Some of the names were series point leader Billy Decker, Ryan Godown, Mike Gular, Jerry Higbie, Brandon Grosso, Jimmy Horton, Frank Cozze, Anthony Perrego, Rick Laubach, past Champion Andy Bachetti, just to name a few.
With a stacked field the heats were something special on a very tacky racing surface, with drivers going two and three wide to make it straight into the feature with Brandon Grosso, Rick Laubach, Matt Williamson, Frank Cozze, and Anthony Perrego picking up hard-fought heat wins along with the $100 Bart Contracting Bonus, along with the $50 certificate from Beyea Headers with Matt Stangle, Ryan Godown and Danny Varin aboard a brand new, unlettered DKM Cyclone Chassis picked up the consolation wins.
At the drop of the green it was veteran Frank Cozze picking up the early lead as Ronnie Johnson was quickly on the move from his eighth row starting spot and R.J., fresh off his win at The Great Race Place, took over second on lap 8 and started to put pressure on the leader Cozze.
Lap after lap Johnson pressured the veteran Cozze, who found victory in 2003 at the CVRA vs. The World using the high and low groove but racing the veteran clean.
Behind the leader the war was on as Anthony Perrego, Kenny Tremont, Matt Williamson and Marc Johnson battled hard behind the leader with Matt Sheppard starting to work his way through traffic, as was Mike Gular, who started deep in the pack.
With Cozze still out front R.J., Ronnie Johnson, started to work the high side as Marc Johnson had made his way into the top three as Sheppard continued his drive and would be in the top and looking for more.
Lap 43 found Johnson as the new leader and now it was Marc Johnson battling Cozze and quickly put the 3J into the No. 2 spot as now Cozze had to deal with Sheppard. The battle just behind the leaders — and I mean just behind — was fierce through traffic in a very clean race. The lead for Ronnie Johnson did not last long as the White Knight of Marc Johnson was finding the low groove to his liking and would be the new leader as Sheppard was now third and the Stampede at Toga was a three-horse race as the 3J, 2RJ and 92 were putting on a show racing as hard as any three warriors could fight. They were neck and neck and nerf bar to nerf bar, going three wide in turn 1 as Perrego was making a late charge getting past Cozze for fifth.
With two to go the top three were all over each other, racing hard and clean, and it was anyone’s race to win. With the crowd on its feet, Marc Johnson held on and picked up the popular win, his biggest of his career. Following the White Knight, Marc Johnson to finish was Ronnie Johnson by a nose over Sheppard, Perrego held on for fourth after a great race, and veteran Frank Cozze held on for a well-deserved top 5.
The win for Johnson, his first of the year, was worth $6,000, and he sits second in the Albany Saratoga point race after a consistent season. Current STSS point leader Billy Decker finished eighth as Brett Hearn, the Albany Saratoga point leader, brought out an early yellow as he slowed going down the front straight with a flat would finish 12th using a coil car. Most teams opted to use the American Racer tires. The companion Sportsman feature was won by Tim Hartman.
At the Fonda Speedway on Wednesday, Bobby Varin grabbed the lead on lap 18 and never looked back to pick up the win.
With the small car count the 50-lap event was cut to 25 laps and the $2,000 pay day was also cut in half. In a great gesture Varin and the Carole and Alton Palmer Service Team donated the money to fellow racer Allison Ricci, who races for breast cancer awareness.
The 602 Grand Daddy 602 Sportsman event was won by Adam McAuliffe, followed by Chad Edwards, Brian Calabrese and Nick Scavia, with Brian Borst rounding out the top 5.
Saturday night at The Track of Champions it was a night the 2018 champions would be crowned as well as a night of first-time winners.
Going into the night Bobby Varin had a slim 2-point lead over Josh Hohenforst as they started the feature nose to tail. At the drop of the green it was Darwin Green taking the early lead but it was quickly Rocky Warner, who would power his way to the front on lap 2 using the high side with perfection, coming out of turn four as Jeremy Wilder was quickly on the move from his fifth starting spot would move to second.
The smooth, tacky racing surface was producing great early racing with Tim Fuller, Bobby Varin and Stewart Friesen making their way to the front as Hohenforst seemed to struggle early. Out front Warner was opening up a commanding lead, looking for his first Modified win.
Once Fuller worked his way around Wilder for second he started to reel in the high-flying Warner as the pack started to stretch out. Now it was Friesen who powered by Wilder, using his patented high to low move to take over third.
From that point on it was all Warner, who was able to hold off Fuller in the late going to pick up the win and the win gave him a win in all the divisions at Fonda over his career.
Following Warner was Fuller, Friesen, Wilder, and Bobby Varin, the 2018 Fonda Speedway track champion, his seventh.
Others winners on the night included another first-time winner, young Charlie Tibbitts, with a dominating performance. With his third place finish Chad Edwards would be crowned the 2018 Sportsman champion for veteran car owners, who was inducted in to this year’s Hall of Fame.
With his fourth place finish Kenny Gates wrapped up yet another Pro Stock championship. The Pro Stock feature was won by Josh Conrad. The limited Sportsman feature was won by Michael Wagner-Fitzgerald, who has seemed to taking a liking to Fonda after becoming a regular late in the season.
Even having an off night Derrick McGrew Jr. was crowned the youngest champion ever and I would believe at 11 years old could be the youngest in any dirt Modified division on the East Coast. This young wan has a great career ahead of him.
In the Street Stocks it was Johnny Young picking up the championship.
I would like to congratulate all the track champions at Fonda Speedway for a job well done.
Glen Ridge Speedway
At Glen Ridge on Sunday their Aftershock event was a huge success with a fine field of Big/Small Blocks with sail panels and open tire rule.
In the early going it was all Stewart Friesen taking the lead from his up front starting spot. Mid way through the event a spirited battle developed between Danny Tyler and Mike Ricci as Bobby Varin was making his way to the front and once into the top four joined the great race.
Out front Friesen was the class of the field, and now it was Ricci and Varin in a great battle for third as they raced back and fourth for the spot before Varin would get the spot and set his sights on Tyler.
On a restart Varin was the new second place car, leaving Tyler and Ricci to once again battle. With Varin all over Friesen’s rear bumper they came on the lap car of Richie Price in turn 4, Friesen dove to the bottom and the door was shut as he made contact with the inside implement tire, and contact was made between him and Varin, with Friesen spinning and heading pit side, giving Varin the lead after the complete racing contact.
Once out front Varin cruised to the win over Mike Ricci, Danny Tyler, Tim Hartman Jr., moving up from the Sportsman, and Craig Hanson rounded out the top 5, with Scott and K.C. McKoy local racers having a great race in sixth and seventh.
The Hoosier Daddy 602 Sportsman event was won by Jeremy Pitts after Tim Hartman Jr. came across the scales light. Other action found Luke Horning with a Pro Stock win; Brian Heath, Limited Sportsman; Chris Murphy, Street Stock win; and Danny Ballard, Sr. Slingshot Garrett Poland put on an outstanding performance in the J.R. Slingshot with his seventh win of the season.