Column By: DYLAN FRIEBEL / RPW – FONDA, NY – With the end of the regular season for racing, comes the big year-end events. One track that has always been synonymous with Northeast dirt racing’s ‘post-season’ is the Fonda Speedway.
Well, 2019 marks the return of a biggie as first-year promoter Brett Deyo and his staff get ready to host the first Fonda 200 in 17 years.
With this season being his maiden voyage at the helm of the the iconic fairgrounds track, 2019 has gone well for Deyo…actually better than he expected.
“It’s been better than I thought,” Deyo said. “I was cautiously optimistic because of how tough last season was on the facility. Opening day was a cold and miserable one but the crowd was great. From there on out we did better than what I hoped for our first year.”
With running a facility that carries the moniker, the “Track of Champions,” you know there’s a rich history and fans of the speedway expect the best, week in and week out.
“I know how tough it is on Social Media,” he said. “Nobody was super aggressive with us because we just did not give them a reason. We were starting on time, getting done early and putting on good shows. The racing at Fonda is good no matter who the promoter is.”
What aids Deyo in making that statement?
“The racers put on good shows here,” he said. “We just had to start on time, run the show efficiently, produce a good product and keep the prices reasonable. Everyone wanted us to do what we said we were going to. We did that.”
With the improvements to the track and the night’s racing action, something else has improved…fan interaction.
“That helped a lot with our fans,” he said. “Now that we get done earlier, a lot of fans go into the pits and socialize with their favorite drivers. That’s so cool to see.”
When he took over the Fonda Speedway, there’s no doubt bringing the 200 back was on Brett’s mind.
“I knew I was going to do a big weekend,” he said. “I really wanted to do the 200. I know that race wasn’t for everyone, but it has so much great history. How many chances do you have to say in our area you won a race that Richard Petty has won?”
It’s that type of history that really made Deyo’s decision an easy one.
“Just the names who had won that race is why I really wanted to bring back the 200,” he said. “The atmosphere for this weekend is pretty crazy. Our phone’s been ringing off the hook. We have over 100 camping spots sold. That’s a lot of people to have a party. With the Tompkins Drive Band on Friday Night, it’s going to be one of those weekends that’ll rival the other 200’s Fonda’s had and that’s what I wanted.”
Several years after the last time the race had been run, you can tell fans wanted its return. They’ve missed it. With winners such as NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Richard Petty, dirt legends Lou Lazzaro, Jimmy Horton, Jack Johnson, Kenny Tremont, as well as 4-time and most recent 200 winner Brett Hearn, who doesn’t want to add onto that list?
Prediction: It’s hard to root against guys like Stewart Friesen or Matt Sheppard in long-distance races. Friesen has five Super DIRT Week titles, two Eastern States 200 wins and so on.
While Sheppard may be one of, if not the best driver as of late, who knows for how long? When big money is on the line this year at Fonda, these two rise to the occasion.
From the the season opener $8,000-to-win race to the Short Track Super Series $10,000 4th of July spectacular, both Friesen and Sheppard were on top.
My prediction is Friesen. Since 2010, Fonda has been his playground for the most part. Sure here or there he’s shown he can be beat, but who is up front when the lights are brightest? That is usually Friesen. He’s smart with his tires and fuel conservation, so look for him to take the checkered flag.
Dark Horses: Oh man, what a list this could be. With guys like 2019 Track champion Rocky Warner, multi-time track champ Bobby Varin and four-time 200 winner Brett Hearn in the field, it’s not going to be easy a cake walk for Friesen or Sheppard. However, a 200-lap race is so different than a 30-lap Saturday night shootout.
I’d seriously watch Warner and Varin, but also can’t count out Varin’s son, Danny, driving the Magsarus #93. Throw in a guy who loves Fonda Speedway, Mike Mahaney, former track regular Billy Decker, and 2017 champion Tim Fuller, and the always tough Danny Johnson and you can see it is anyone’s race come Saturday night.