RPW Column: From The Grandstands; Fonda Returns For Two Great Nights Of Racing Action

RPW Column By: RAY ROGERS / RPW – FONDA, NY – If you were to have told me six months ago that a pandemic would spread around the globe and American cities would be plunged into chaos and Anarchy, I would have thought you had a few screws loose.

Now, all of those situations have indeed have come to fruition and many are struggling to get back on their feet after a rough start to the year. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Several racing facilities have been given the green light to begin their seasons with limited access for crews and fans alike.

The Fonda Speedway was recently given the go-ahead to get things rolling and they opened the gates last weekend for the first points race of the season.

Although the speedway has been shuttered since last fall, Brett Deyo’s team has been hard at work resurfacing the speedway in preparation for the 2020 season. Now, after an eight-week wait, it’s time for the new surface be put to the test.

Last Saturday, cars took to the historic half-mile for the first of two nights of racing action. On the first night, the Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modified Series, Pro Stocks and Sportsman were running.

When I arrived at the speedway, it was hard not to notice that some things have really changed. New safety measures have been put in place to protect not only the attendees but also the staff as well. Face masks are the new norm and everyone must fill out a contact tracing form. Everyone was also asked to practice social distancing all in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Making my way on to pit road, I was greeted by a big whiff of Sunoco race fuel and a tingle went down my spine. I knew I was home again. I was pleasantly surprised to see many familiar faces and a solid number of cars, not only on pit road but in the infield as well.

My first stop was at the pit stall of EJ McAuliffe. This season, EJ has moved up to the Sportsman ranks at Fonda after a stellar 2019 season in the Novice Sportsman Division. He’s looking forward to getting things going in 2020.

“We have been working hard all winter and now its time to get going,” McAuliffe said with his brothers Adam and Kyle both by his side. “Adam’s told me as long as I keep my nose clean and follow the veterans, I’m going to learn somethings and be just fine.”

EJ would roll-off 13th for the feature and, after making some forward progress, made a rookie mistake but found himself 15th at the finish of Saturday’s feature.

My next stop was at the hauler of defending Pro Stock track champion Luke Horning. Horning already has one win this year, coming last week at the Utica Rome Speedway. He was optimistic on Saturday.

“When you come to Fonda, you race against some of the best Pro Stock drivers there,
Horning said. “We are just gonna go out and see what we can do.”

Horning would finish the night with a second-place run to Nick Stone. I got the chance to Stone after the race as well and he was very happy with his run, as well.

“This car has been fast right out of the box,” Stone said. “We really haven’t made any changes to it and it’s just been great every time I have taken it out.”

Nick won the Pro Stock feature by almost a straightaway. To say he was fast may be an understatement.

The Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modified Series always has me on the edge of my seat for each and every race they put on. Saturday was no different.

I just love those old coupes and coaches as they take me back to much simpler times. With over 30 cars on the infield, both features were great runs to the finish.

Jimmy Fugel took the Vintage Antique feature, John Roese won the Vintage Late Model, Frank Hoard Jr. won the Vintage Sportsman while John Flach in the #77 took home the vintage Modified class.

Nick Scavia would lead the Sportsman feature flag-to-flag with Chad Edwards in the 10% in hot pursuit. I stopped to see Nick as I made my last trip down pit road for the night.

“Now that’s a good racecar,” Scavia said as he exited the cockpit. “This thing is just golden. DKM has built me a great piece and I can’t wait to take it out again.”

Scavia is looking forward to this season with hopes of finishing at the top of the Sportsman class.

As I made my way off pit road, I took a stroll down the frontstretch and found my seat as I often do after a race. I could not help but notice how hauntingly quiet the historic old grandstand was all night. I sat there for a few and it dawned on me. All afternoon, no one mentioned the pandemic or the civil unrest and racing, even for one afternoon, had made it all seem like a normal Saturday at the race track. For the first time in many months, I knew everything was gonna be all right.

On Sunday I was once again headed back to the Track of Champions for another great day of stock car racing. The Modifieds, Limited Sportsman, Street Stocks and 4-Cylinder Cruisers were on hand for another great night.

Once there, we were again asked to follow the simple steps to keep everyone safe and headed for the infield where fans were allowed to spectate from a drive-in style parking.

I have to say. It was a great feeling to see many of my old friends some of whom I have not seen for many months. All of them had smiles on there faces, just happy to be back at Fonda.

After getting settled in the infield, I headed to pit road where I was surprised to find the pits full with some of the best Modified drivers in the Northeast They were all looking to claim the speedway’s season opener.

Along with the big names was a handful of rookie drivers also looking to make their mark at the track of Champions. One of those rookie drivers is Rich Christman. Christman was runner up in the Novice Sportsman division at Fonda last season and now has his sights set on the Modifieds.

“If I’m gonna do this, I may as well go all-in,” Christman said. “Yea, it’s more money to run it the headline division but you still have to put in the work. Fonda is just the best track to race at. I want to race with the best so this is where I need to be.”

Christman knows it’s not going to be easy but he is willing to do what it takes to be competitive. I don’t think it will take him long to get the feel for it.

Another young driver I stopped to chat with on Sunday was Kadon Hohensheldt. Kadon has been working hard on his father Kurtis’s race car all winter and was surprised on Sunday morning when his father told him to take the 54h out on Sunday.

“I went to the shop this morning and got the car washed and checked it over,” Hohensheldt said. “Dad was like take it out today and see what you can do so I grabbed my firesuit and here I am.”

Kadon would have a great night, crossing the line third in his feature later that night. However, he was disqualified in the final feature rundown.

Before I knew, it was time to head back to my spot in the infield. On the way, I happen to come across one of Fonda’s favorite sons, Ronnie Johnson who was just taking in a Sunday night at the races.

Another local driver who was on hand for some Big-Block action was Asphalt Modified Hot shoe Kreig Heroth. Kreig spent most of his Sunday at Evans Mills testing and tuning a few of his rides for the 2020 season.

“We are still in a holding pattern as far as our season goes,” Heroth said. “Hopefully we can get to racing soon but it sure is nice to be here at Fonda tonight with my family.”

Just prior to the features, I could not help but notice all the smiling faces that surrounded me. Again, I had forgotten all the world’s problems and had found some serenity. Racing has a way of doing just that…making all the stress of the world slip away…even for a few hours.

Once The Modified feature took to the historic half-mile, everyone was out of there chairs and on their feet. Home track hero Stewart Friesen picked up right where he left off in 2019, scoring the season opener in commanding fashion.

Matt Sheppard put on a charge to the front after starting deep in the field, but had his hands full with defending track champion Rocky Warner. Those two would finish second and third, respectively. Michael Maresca and Matt DeLorenzo rounded out the top five in the headline division.

Brett Mortensen took home the Limited Sportsman feature while Al Relyea took home the Street Stock win and Justin Pope was victorious in the 4-Cylinder Cruisers.

After a fantastic weekend of racing, I have to take my hat off to Brett Deyo and his entire staff. Brett and his team have worked tirelessly to bring racers and fans back to the track. His persistence and ability to think outside of the box has brought us back to the one place we can forget the world’s problems and just enjoy the sport we so love.

As always I hope you all stay safe and look forward to seeing you all soon at the races.