Racing Around: Gates leaving comfort zone, will use coil suspension setups

Kenny Gates (35) battles with Jason Morrison (715) during a Pro Stock qualifier during the 2022 season. Morrison is running the high groove with a coil spring suspension, while Gates is on the low side with his spring leaf car. (James A. Ellis)

Kenny Gates (35) battles with Jason Morrison (715) during a Pro Stock qualifier during the 2022 season. Morrison is running the high groove with a coil spring suspension, while Gates is on the low side with his spring leaf car. (James A. Ellis)

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By James A. Ellis

After 30 years of competition, seven track championships and 85 Pro Stock feature wins, Kenny Gates knows what it takes to be successful.

And sometimes that means leaving your comfort zone.

With the recent trend and success of the coil suspension setups under the Pro Stocks at the local dirt tracks, Gates, who found success with a leaf spring set up, has decided to join the move.

“They drove away from me last year, so if you can’t beat them, join them,” Gates said at the recent Fonda Speedway car show. “It is something I am looking forward to. We beat them once because the track conditions were perfect for the leaf spring. The one thing that the leaf cars are still better than the coil cars on is a tacky track. That night, it was tacky with plenty of bite and I was able to beat them. But how many nights do you get that? Not many. Most nights, especially with it dry and slick, the coil cars are better.”

The coil cars won 17 features at Fonda Speedway alone last season, with four-time track champion and Super DIRT Week Pro Stock feature winner Nick Stone leading the way with 10 feature wins with his Manimal design chassis. Beau Ballard won the Utica-Rome track championship and finished second in the points standings at Fonda, and Josh Coonradt came on strong at the end of the season, all piloting Stone’s Manimal chassis. Luke Horning also found success with a Playfab coil chassis.

Gates is bucking the trend going with a design by JACR, which also built his leaf spring chassis.

“We have a really good base setup from JACR,” Gates said. “Pete Stafanski debuted one of these last year at Super DIRT Week, and I think he ran five races with it. He won down in Charlotte, placed third at Super DIRT Week and third at Weedsport. There are a few other of these coil cars out there, and they have given me a good jumping off point. At least I am hoping it is. I am cautiously optimistic.”

With the coil cars tending to favor the high groove around the speedway and Gates is well-known for making his way to the front in the low line, will it mean a change in his driving style?

“Unfortunately, with my old car, we had fine-tuned it to be so good on the bottom that it wasn’t that good up top,” he said. “I am hoping this car will be more forgiving so it will be decent on the bottom and good on the top and not just great on the bottom and sucks on the top. Back in the day before the cars evolved, I had some great runs on the top. Lately, I have had to dial the car in on the bottom and to get it that good on the bottom it wasn’t that good up top.”

Gates began his career in the then-Street Stock division, which was later renamed Pro Stock, with a yellow and blue Camaro before switching to all white and eventually to his familiar blue and white paint scheme.

When asked if he planned on doing a retro design in celebration of his 30th season, Gates laughed, saying, “No. This blue and white paint scheme has become synonymous with me. Everywhere I go, people see the blue pro stock and they think of me. I won’t put myself anywhere near his category, but Jack Johnson was orange. There were cars that weren’t but whenever you think of Jack Johnson, you think of the orange 12A. The blue car is kind of my thing and it goes well with a lot of sponsors, too.”


Cody Clark was prepared to return to competition in the 602 Sportsman ranks this season when a phone call sent his plans in a different direction.

“We had this car [the sportsman] pretty much together when we got a call from Dave Constantino asking if I wanted to come meet with car owner Laudy Hoyenga,” Clark said at the annual Fonda Speedway car show. “We had a meeting and talked everything over and the whole modified deal came together. So now we had this car together, so we are now only going to race that at the Firecracker 50, the Fonda 200 Weekend and then maybe Port Royal.”

“A couple of years ago on the 200 weekend, we ran with the 358s,” he said. “We had a blast with it, but we were down so many horses we weren’t competitive. It is definitely going to be fun, but I have a lot of learning to do.”

Clark is coming off a season of ups and downs in which he still collected three feature wins and a third-place finish in the points race behind Payton Talbot and Chad Edwards.

“We are going to forget last year and start with a clean slate and go forward from here,” he said. “Every time I go out with the car this year, I expect to learn something new and get better.”

Clark has realistically set his personal goals for the upcoming season.

“I am excited to get out there and try to get better each week. I am shooting to get at least one top five by the end of the year. We just need to get our legs underneath us,” he said. “We have picked up a lot of new sponsors, and I think it is going to turn into an exciting year for us. We are trying to set our standards pretty high and hopefully we can reach some of them.”


In advance of its 2023 opener, Albany-Saratoga Speedway will host an open practice session Saturday.

Gates open at 10 a.m. for tech and inspection, with on-track activities scheduled to run from 3-7 p.m., weather permitting. A pit fee of $20 will be charged, while the grandstand is free for fans.

Opening night at “The Great Race Place” is slated for April 14 for its 58th season of competition, with the modifieds competing in a $5,800-to-win main event. April 16 has been scheduled as a rain date for the event.

The Short Track Super Series will head to Orange County Speedway Saturday for the annual 50-lap, $12,000-to-win Hard Clay Open. The big bucks will be available for the Brett Deyo-promoted event with the 10th-place finisher receiving $2,000 and $1,000 to take the green.

Pit gates open at 3 p.m., with the cars slated to take the track for hot laps at 5:30 p.m. and racing at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $35. There will also be an open practice with free grandstand admission for the Friday night practice session.

Lebanon Valley Speedway will conduct open practice sessions from 3-8 p.m. on April 15 and 22 before its 71st season opener on April 29.

Fonda Speedway also will open for tech inspection starting at 2 p.m. on April 15 with a free grandstand for the open practice from 4-7 p.m.

The “Track of Champions” will drop the green on its 72nd season April 22, featuring the 40-lap, $12,000-to-win Jack Johnson Memorial Montgomery County Open for modifieds. Pit gates open at 2:30 p.m. with hot laps scheduled for 5:30 p.m. and racing starting at 6:30 p.m. General admission will be $25.

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