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Racing Around: Fans flock to watch Stewart

July 27, 2012
By JAMES A. ELLIS , The Leader Herald

Are race fans loyal to their drivers and will they follow them just to get a chance to watch them race?

Ask Fonda Speedway promoter Ric Lucia and Brewerton Speedway promoter John Wight.

Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart raced at both New York tracks last week in a 410-sprint car and fans turned out in droves.

An overflow crowd of 3,000 fans flocked to Brewerton last Wednesday and a crowd easily pushing past the 4,000-fan mark Thursday at Fonda.

That was just to watch him race, not meet and greet fans.

I will say that Stewart was more fan-friendly Thursday than he was the first time I saw him, along with Dave Blaney, racing modifieds at Lebanon Valley a few years back. That night he stayed in the hauler most of the night until coming out for a few minutes to sit on a couple of tires and chat with Blaney.

Early in the evening Thursday at Fonda, there were no ropes blocking off Stewart's pit area and several people were having their pictures taken standing next to his sprinter probably not realizing that he was sitting just a few feet away in the pushcart.

I will say this for the fans, there was a sense of respect even when he got out of the cart for a photo op with two of the Fonda Fair princesses. Nobody rushed him asking for autographs; they just wished him luck and clicked pictures from a distance.

On the track, even though he said that Fonda was ". . . probably one of the hardest tracks I have every raced at in my life," Stewart, with help from a late-race caution, turned back a strong challenge from Jessica Zemken to win his heat race.

I hope fans enjoyed the Victory Lane interviews by Josh Phillips and Mimi Lazzaro. It definitely was entertaining.

Although there were several light-hearted moments, I am glad he realized how special The Track of Champions really is.

"You don't see many racetracks with the covered grandstands any more," Stewart said. "It definitely gives you a feel for the history of this place. It is pretty cool when you are coming out of turn four, because you see that and everybody out there."

Refunds offered

With the rainout Thursday of the Lucas Oil Late Models at Fonda Speedway and no rain date available, the track management are offering full refunds for the tickets bought pre-sale this Saturday night at the track.

Wednesday night, the late models did run at Utica-Rome Speedway with Tim McCreadie picking up the victory.

In a companion ESS sprint car event, Bobby Varin won the Dash for Cash and was second to Chuck Hebing in the A-main.

Proud moment

Saturday night a Jumpin' Jack Johnson No. 12A coupe was unveiled with the Northeast Midstate Vintage car event.

Appropriately, Ronnie Johnson took the car on its maiden voyage during warm-ups at Fonda Speedway as Jack looked on in the first turn with a big smile.

He told me later he was happy with the way the car looked but that it was not the original. He said Ronnie did a good job getting the car around the track but "We didn't have power steering in those cars."

Series at The Ridge

The third leg of the Harry's Auto Street Stock Series is scheduled for Sunday at The Ridge.

Rob VanAernam leads the three-race series with two wins and 120 points. Mark Lestor is second in points and has a shot tat the title if he wins and VanAernam finishes outside the top five.

Kiddie rides also are scheduled.



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