RPW Column: From The Grandstands; Another Amazing Night At Fonda; ‘The Jeffer’ Scores A First

RPW Column By: RAY ROGERS / RPW – FONDA, NY – Saturday’s soggy start gave way to one fast night at the Track of Champions, the Fonda Speedway, and was good news for local race fans.

On Friday a U.S. District Court judge ruled that New York Governor’s limits placed on outdoor gatherings were potentially unconstitutional forbidding the State of New York “from enforcing any limitation for outdoor gatherings provided participants in such gatherings follow social distancing requirements.” This could be great news for race fans around the state.

When I arrived at the speedway this weekend, the place was abuzz with word that fans would again be allowed in the grandstands for Wednesday’s Firecracker 50. To get the official word, I spoke with promoter Brett Deyo.

Deyo has been on the front lines fighting to get fans in the stands.

“I think I fell down the stairs too many times when I was a kid,” Deyo said. “I just don’t know when to give up.”

It seems Deyo’s persistence has paid off. With Friday’s ruling, he’s been given the go-ahead to open the fan gates once again this Wednesday for the $10,000 event.

As I strolled the pit area, I stopped to chat with Tony Farone. Farone owns a small business, Tony’s concessions. He’s been doing everything he can to keep his business afloat.

“We’ve been doing some pop-up concessions at a few locations,” Farone said. “However, it’s barely paying the bills.”

With the recent judges ruling, the Sportsman competitor is hopeful things will turn around.

“Maybe now I can recoup some of what I lost,” he said. “If I didn’t have my day job, I wouldn’t even be able to be here at the track tonight.”

There is no better time than now, for all of us, to support those who support racing. A very large percentage of race teams are supported by small local businesses. As things reopen we need to do our part and use those speeding billboards we see at our local speedways for all of our local needs.

With the grandstands closed on Saturday, I found my way on to the infield for some heat race action. The Pro Stocks rolled onto the well-hydrated surface for the first heats of the evening. Nick Stone and Jim Normoyle both claimed top spots.

Modifieds put the power down for three qualifying races that Jeff Heotzler, Scott Huber, and Danny Varin took checkers in. The Sportsman heats went to Kevin Chaffee, Charlie Tibbitts and Tim Hartman Jr.

The Four-Cylinder Cruisers went 15 laps for their feature and Ken Hollenback made it look easy, going flag-to-flag and put yet another win under his belt in the Single Overhead Cam class.

John Napoli was the first across the line in his class and was the Duel Overhead Cam winner.

The Street Stock feature was captured by the first of two first-time winners of the night, Lou Gancarz. Gancarz went flag-to-flag as well, scoring his first win at the track of champions.

Dave Horning Sr. muscled his way to a second-place finish with Jason Samrov, Mark Burch, and Josh Samrov rounding out the top spots.

Last year, I spoke to John Young at the Fonda Speedway banquet and he told me that next year, he’d be seated at the head table. After a rocky start to the 2020 Limited Sportsman season, Young has found his stride and Saturday, scored his first Limited feature win.

“WHOO-HOO,” Young shouted as he removed his helmet.

After gaining his composure John told me about his run.

“Brett Mortensen and I went into turn 4 and switched lanes,” he said. “I just held it to the floor and went for it and here I am. Man this feels good.”

It’s pretty cool to be the first to see the look on a driver’s face after scoring the first win.

Mortensen came to the line a close second with Carter Gibbons, Dylan Eldred, Stephen Gray, rounding out the top 5.

The Pro Stock feature rolled away next. In 13 laps, Nick Stone took command and scored his second victory of the short season at Fonda.

Jim Normoyle had a good run from the third starting spot to finish second. Last week’s winner, Josh Coonradt, came home third with Kenny Gates fourth and Luke Horning fifth.

With Stewart Friesen off terrorizing the regulars at Orange County last Saturday, the Modified regulars were set to settle this one on their own, However, with Lebanon Valley raining out, Andy Bachetti was in the house. He wasn’t a factor for the win.

Jeff Heotzler a seasoned veteran who filled the seat left vacant by Bobby Varin after last season, led the field to the green in the Palmer’s Service Center #76 car. He led every one of the 30 laps i the main event and claimed his first career checkered flag at the Track of Champions.

Jeff dedicated his win to his former car owner, Jared Petruska, in victory lane. Petruska was killed in a workplace accident this past off-season.

Before his win, Heotzler’s best finish at the speedway was a third in a 358-Modified during the 1997 season. He was trailed to the finish by Rocky Warner. The defending champ started 10th.

Danny Varin mounted a charge on Heotzler late in the race. However, he jumped the cushion and lost the second spot. He had to settle for third on the night with Matt DeLorenzo crossing the line in fourth. Josh Hohenforst took home his first top 5 of the season with a solid fifth place run.

“I cannot thank Alton and Carole Palmer enough they gave this 62-year-old a shot,” Heotzler said after the race. “I could not be happier for them. The first two weeks we were way off. This week, we made some wholesale changes and it put us where we wanted to be. It feels really good to win here at Fonda.”

Sportsman competitor Chad Edwards literally drove the wheels of his car on Saturday. During his heat race, Edwards clipped one of the turn two yuke tires, sending his left front sailing into the Mohawk River. That forced the former track champ to start in the 25th position for the feature.

Kevin Chaffee and Ricky Quick led the field to the green and swapped the top spot on the opening laps.

After a caution, defending track champion Tim Hartman Jr. was on the move. Hartman quickly took the second spot and set his sights on Chaffee.

Edwards had other plans of his own, however. He picked up spot after spot…sometimes two at a time.

Chaffee fended off the charge from Hartman but could not hold off Edwards.

The “Lunch Box” was not to be denied on this night, collecting his first win of the season after two runners up finishes to start the season.

Kevin Chaffee held on for second with JaMike Sowle coming home with another good finish, taking third. Tim Hartman Jr. had to settle for fourth and the birthday boy, Cody Clark, rounded out the top 5.

I caught with Edwards at his hauler after his victory lane celebration.

“Here is tonight’s trophy,” Edwards said as he handed me the broken spindle recovered for the banks of the Mohawk. “Matt (Melita) and the guys put a new front end in the car and when I rolled up for the feature I noticed the toe was off. I pull back into the pit and the boys straightened me right out.”

Edwards was quick to give car owner of the 10%, John Kollar, much of the credit for the season’s success.

“This is the best equipment I have had,” he said. “John has been supporting this effort from Florida all winter. With the help from Andy’s, providing us with everything we need, we’re ready for anyone who shows up Wednesday.”

With Wednesday’s event now on the horizon, it’s time to look forward to the first major sporting event in NY since the COVID-19 crisis took hold in March.

The Fonda Speedway is ready to open its gates on Wednesday to competitors and fans of the Short Track Super Series for the July 1st “Firecracker 50” extravaganza. This “Huge” event is sponsored by the Fuccillo Automotive Group and with a hefty $10,000 to the winner.

The event is sure to draw the best of the best Modified drivers from every corner of the Northeast. Along with those sail-paneled Modified rockets, the North Region Series Sportsman will run 25 laps for a $2,000-to-win event.

Gates for Wednesday’s event are set to open at 4 pm with hot laps scheduled for 6:45 pm and heats at 7:30 pm. Grandstands will be open for this event along with infield parking. Grandstand admission for adults is $20 seniors $18 and kids under 11 will be admitted free.

Pit admission will be Non-members $35 and speedway members $30.

The infield will also be open for drive-in parking. Gates for that will open at 3:30 pm. To reserve your spot, e-mail, Angela Hanson at fondaspeedwayangela@gmail.com.

Remember folks, if you are parked on the infield and would like to hear the call from the tower, tune into 88.1 on your FM dial. Also, masks and social distancing are required and speedway policies will be enforced so make sure you bring on.

If you do not have one, a mask will be provided courtesy of the speedway.

Remember gang support those who support us and shop local. I look forward to seeing you all at the races!