By JAMES A. ELLIS
RACING AROUND – The car may be almost ready for opening night, but defending Fonda Speedway and Albany-Saratoga Speedway modified track champion Matt DeLorenzo is not.
“I am not ready to put my snowmobile away yet. I just rode it today and put on about 140 miles up in Vermont,” DeLorenzo said Saturday at the annual Fonda Speedway car show at the Via Port Rotterdam mall.
Fonda Speedway and Utica-Rome Speedway promoter Brett Deyo and his management team were on hand to greet fans over the weekend, providing schedules and answering questions about the upcoming season.
“With the bad weather forecast for the Short Track Super Series race at Bridgeport, we decided to cancel and come here early,” Deyo said. “This is actually my first time at this show. There are a lot of really nice- looking cars. Everyone, the drivers and fans, seem excited to get the season going.”
Fonda Speedway is scheduled to conduct an open practice session, with a free grandstand, on April 15 with the opening night of the Track of Champions 72nd consecutive season set for April 22 featuring the 40-lap, $12,000-to-win Jack Johnson Memorial Montgomery County Open for modifieds.
When the cars hit the track, DeLorenzo will have a new Bicknell chassis under his familiar No. 3D. However, unlike last season, he will have a couple of options.
“Last year I had one car, the big block and a spare motor. We were running the same car at both tracks [Fonda and Albany-Saratoga],” he said. “Same motor. Same car. We just changed the body panels, the tires and shocks. I finally got my small block back. It took over a year to get a crank for it. Now that I have all that money into it, everybody is like ‘so, you aren’t going to run the big block?’ With all this money in the small block, I am going to run it. Try it, and if it doesn’t pan out, I will just run the big block.”
The 2022 race season was a bit unusual for the local racetracks and teams with no rainouts at Fonda or Malta and one at Utica-Rome and Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
“We are looking forward to this year, but maybe we can get a rainout here or there so we can get a little breather,” DeLorenzo said. “It made it grueling. It never rained at Fonda or Malta last year. We just needed a rainout for a breather.”
DeLorenzo reflected on his duo-championship season with a smile, saying, “The summer was so busy. It kind of flew by. When you are winning you are having fun. Everything kind of went my way. In racing you need luck. You have to be fast but you also need to have some luck. At a draw race I would at least draw decent. I am used to drawing dead last. Probably this year I will be drawing dead last again. You have to also be consistent. We did that. I kind of fell off a little bit at Fonda but at Albany-Saratoga I was pretty consistent all season.”
En route to collecting his second modified track championship at Fonda, DeLorenzo failed to finish one race and a victory that he is still smiling about.
“We had one DNF at Fonda and that was my fault. I got in the marbles, drove the car right into the wall and bent the axle,” he said. “The night I passed Stewie [Stewart Friesen] and Ryan Godown to get the win really put a smile on my face.”
With his brother Mike and teammate Brian Gleason turning the wrenches the BBL Construction modified will be ready for opening night.
“I have to thank my brother Mike, he is the brains behind the operation. Brian helps with the car and tires whenever I am not there. He will also be racing again this year at Fonda,” Matt DeLorenzo said. “Bicknell builds an awesome race car, while Kevin and Adam Enders do an awesome job with the motors. I have had Enders motors since I started racing. We have not changed engine builders at all. I am very happy with them.”
Last season, DeLorenzo did not plan to run a full race schedule so he could spend time following his daughters’ high school softball careers. The plan for this year will be no different.
“We don’t have a plan . . . same as last year,” he said. “We are going to start off at Fonda and Malta and just see what happens.”
TRIBUTE TO A CHAMPION
Over the past few seasons, many well-deserved tributes have been paid to 11 time Fonda Speedway track champion Jumpin’ Jack Johnson.
When the cars rolled into the Via Port Rotterdam Mall Thursday night for the annual Fonda Speedway car show, Jack’s son, Ronnie, unveiled a tribute that is very personal to him and his family.
“Last year when Stew [Stewart Friesen] did his tribute [NASCAR Truck Series] car at Darlington, I really loved what he did and went to the race with him,” Ronnie said. “Looking back at it, we never did anything since my dad stopped racing, through the illness and his passing [April 1, 2021]. I felt it was our turn. I felt we needed to do something. Me, my race team and family talked about it and decided we were going to do it. We really didn’t talk about it; we just did it. We kept it kind of quiet and didn’t want to reveal it until now.”
The three-time modified champion unveiled the sharp-looking white and orange replica design of the 1988 modified Jack drove to victory in the Mohawk Valley 200 at Fonda Speedway, Cayuga County 200 at Weedsport, the Fonda Speedway track championship, as well as on the Sunoco Championship trail, Skoal Super DIRT Series, and Mr. DIRT championships.
“That car was the car he had when I was probably about 14 years old,” Ronnie said. “Everybody loved the scheme of the car and I have people today still tell me that was one of their favorites. I told Dan Herr from DH Graphics we needed to come up with a paint scheme that fits these new types of racecars. Some of the lettering schemes from the cars of the past just didn’t fit this body. There were a few of them we tried but this one was perfect. We spent a lot of time with a lot of pictures trying to make it as close as we could.”
One change is in the numbering. Although the styles of the numbers are the same, the car will carry Ronnie’s popular 2RJ instead of Jack’s famous 12A.
“Custom Bob [Bob Niemietz] did this car back in 1988 and did a phenomenal job,” Ronnie said. “We worked hard to clone that car as much as we could, even down to the Sunoco sticker in the back. We toyed with taking it off but if you saw the car with it off, it doesn’t look as good as it does with it on.”
Johnson has a new DKM chassis under the sharp modified and a fresh outlook on the season after sharing the 2021 Fonda Speedway track championship with Rocky Warner and going winless and finishing second in points to DeLorenzo in 2022.
“I am enjoying this and I hope everybody else does,” he said. “I look at racing a lot different since the passing of my dad. Hopefully we have fun with it and everybody enjoys it. I would love to win the Fonda 200 with this car. That would be the perfect storybook ending for this whole season.”
Kirsten Swartz was among many drivers with cars on display over the weekend at the Fonda Speedway car show.
Swartz has honed her skills winning championships in go-karts and slingshots and is taking the next step in her racing career behind the wheel of a 602 Limited Sportsman this season at Fonda, Utica-Rome and Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
Seven-time Pro Stock track champion Kenny Gates will enter his 30th season of competition at Fonda Speedway with 86 career feature wins under his belt and a new car. Gates is making the move to running a JACR coil suspension under his familiar blue and white No. 35.
Cody Clark is making the jump from the 602 Sportsman divisions to the modifieds this season. Clark will be behind the wheel of the Laudy Hoyenga-owned modified at Fonda Speedway and has plans of competing in special sportsman events throughout the season.
The Short Track Super Series will roll into Orange County Speedway on April 8 for the Hard Clay Open.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway is slated to host an open practice session with free grand stand admission on April 8 in advance of its season opener on April 14.