Column By: LAURIE FALLIS / RPW – FONDA, NY – With clear skies and a warm, beautiful day, Fonda Speedway hosted its practice with over 80 cars making their way into the “Track of Champions” as it celebrates its 66th year of weekly racing competition.
There was an array of machines in the speedway grounds, ranging from Modifieds to Sportsman, Limited Sportsman to Pro Stocks, Street Stocks to 4-Cylinders. There was also some Vintage and even Sprint Cars.
2018 Fonda Track Champions Bobby Varin, Chad Edwards, Kenny Gates Johnny Young (moving to Limited Sportsman in 2019) were all on hand to get their cars dialed in and so they can race for championships.
Everyone was excited with a lot of buzz because of new promoter Brett Deyo. While the drivers were anxious to get on the track, a drivers meeting was held where many of the officials were introduced by Brett himself.
Jamie Page also spoke. Page will be overseeing activities when Brett has other racing obligations, either with Georgetown Speedway or his Short Track Super Series.
“I don’t know how Brett talked me out of retirement (being a former promoter at Afton Motorsports Park),” Page said. “However, I can tell you all that this guy (Brett) is about is giving back to the drivers, getting sponsors and doing all he can for the racers. It’s not about him.”
After the meeting all hands were on deck and it was time for the racers to hit the track to start the 2019 racing season.
A change that has been made is that the weight scales have been moved back to the infield.
“We did this for safety reasons,” tech inspector Joe Wilson said. “It was just too congested by the pit shack with cars coming in and out while cars were being scaled.”
Fans will be sure to enjoy this as they’ll be able to see the cars going over the scales in front of them. I asked Brett if he was going to have the numbers up so all can see like former promoter Matt Delorenzo had it. His answer was an empathetic ‘Yes!’
As I made my way around the pits, I ran into the “Apollo Rocket,” Josh Hoensforst. Hohenforst was looking fast in the first set of practice.
“It felt pretty good for the first shake down and we hoping to pickup were we did last year,” he said. “We are running same DKM chassis as we did. We’re just looking to find out the tire situation and how the tracks surface is going to be so we can decide on our tire prep.”
Finishing only four points out in the 2018 championship hunt, Josh is looking to be on a more level playing field this year. He is happy with Deyo and that he has everything going into the right direction.
“We made some changes late in the season that were certainly beneficial,” he said. “We will carry those notes into this year and are looking to have another good, solid season.”
Next in line i ran into former Fonda promoter, Matt DeLerenzo. It had been four years since he last made an appearance at the track. He stated that he won’t be a regular but will try to get to Fonda as much as he can.”
DeLorenzo’s teammate, Brian Gleason, will however be a regular but with his home life being so hectic, Matt can’t commit to Fonda. He will be there for the first three weeks then it’s hit and miss the rest of the year.
I asked how did it feel being on American Racers, like 2007.
“I love these tires,” DeLorenzo said. “They are so much easier to prep. A lot less work and they’re easy to mount and dismount. It goes back to the Fonda of old when they used to be the track tire.”
Being a former promoter at the Speedway, I asked how does he think Brett will do.
“Brett is very good at what he does,” he said. “He’s good at marketing and talking to the racers. He runs a really good program, but Fonda is tough. It’s a different area and I hope he survives. I was good the first half of the year and things unfolded from there. It’s tough!”
He continued about all that he sees going on at the track.
“Brett has a lot of great marketing partners in which I really didn’t have going into it,” he said. “Good sponsorship with American Racers and Sunoco Fuel…he is ahead of it. Hopefully he makes the racers happy and the fans happy. I already told him good luck!”
As other drivers were on the track shaking off the dust, one driver in particular really needed to do this. Steve Akers has made his way back home to Fonda Speedway after hanging up his fire suit in 2005. Akers made his way back because he missed it.
“Ive always wanted to come back,” he said. “The timing is perfect right now and I have some great people behind me. It’s now or never.”
I asked why Modifieds?
“I thought about Sportsman, but my sponsors wanted me in Modifieds,” he said. “That’s where I left off and I just want to run in that division.”
What’s it mean to race again at the “Track of Champions?”
“I love this place,” he said. It’s where I started and where I want to finish some day. As far as I’m concerned, this is the place where the best to ever turn a steering wheel of a racecar came out of.”
As I ventured my way down the pits, I landed into the brothers Sportsman racing team of “Happy” Harry Shaffer and Mike Jackson. I spoke to Mike first and asked him what does it mean to be racing at Fonda Speedway?
“To me, at 35 years old, it’s like finding the fountain of youth,” Jackson said. “Every time when I come through that gate, I feel like a kid. It means everything! I grew up here watching my brother, Harry, race while sitting in the grandstands with my dad. It’s just a natural thing to finally be here behind the wheel.”
I asked Mike if he has a rivalry with his brother on the track?
“No not at all,” he said. “Actually, I have this habit of watching him while we are racing out there. I’m still a fan of a lot of these guys, including Harry.”
I then caught up with Shaffer, a 30-year veteran of racing, as he was strapping into the car to make some laps. I asked him what’s so special about Fonda Speedway?
“It’s where all my hero’s came from,” he said. “Jack (Johnson). Louie (Lazzaro). (Dave) Lape. CD (Coville). It was amazing to watch them and now I get to race on the same track they did. My goal for the season is to have fun and maybe pick up a victory or two. I want to hang out with my family and crew and just enjoy racing.”
The 1H and 21H plan on running at Fonda and hitting some show at the track on the hill, Glen Ridge Motorsports Park. Keep your eyes out for the “Brothers in Arms.”
Speaking of The Ridge, I ran into 2018 Street Stock champion, Steve Cosselman, and he will be moving up to Pro Stock in 2019. He stated that he’ll start out at both tracks, Glen Ridge and Fonda, and see how things play out. He did get some seat time in the Pro Stock at the end of the 2018 season.
My last stop of the day was in the Todd Hoffman pit stall. That’s where I was able to talk to his driver, the “Knight Rider” Justin Knight. After coming of a solid third place finish at Super DIRT Week last October in Oswego, Knight and his team’s confidence is at a high level.
“We’ll be running both Fonda and the Ridge.,” Knight said. “We also want to hit some DIRTcar shows along the way. Can’t wait to get going this season.”
The team is looking to pick up some wins and be a consistent top five runner.
“I’ve never run a full season at Fonda,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it and it should be interesting. I have a great car owner and an amazing crew so we are certainly looking forward to the 2019 racing season.”