A piece of Fonda Speedway racing history returns to the track this weekend.
The Don “Burger” Knapfel-owned No. 44B driven by Dave Lape to the 1977 Mr. DIRT championship has been restored and will be unveiled Saturday afternoon at the Fonda Speedway Museum on Dave Lape tribute night.
“It is the original car,” Lape said. “Burger has a friend in Oneonta and they took it there after we were done racing and put it behind a barn at his house. There wasn’t much of it left anyways. It sat there for 26 years. Just lately Burger has been coming up from Long Island. We got talking and one thing led to another. It was a big part of his life. He said he has some money he saved and said he would really like to do it. We took it to Bruce’s [Bruce Dostal’s A&B Speed Shop] and had Wayne Gaige work on it. Then I went and got it and brought it here. I decided to bite the bullet and do it.”
The car was radical for its time.
In an era where the modifieds were running leaf springs, the 1977 Tobias chassis featured torsion rack and torsion bars on the front and back along with a torque arm.
The combination worked as Lape claimed the Mr. DIRT title as well as putting 10 of his 23 wins that season in the book at the Track of Champions.
The restoration took almost two years and people who were originally part of putting the car on the track in 1977 helped out to make it as close, if not better, than its first time on the track.
“George Marino in Carlisle painted it originally and here we are almost 40 years later and the guy is 73 years old and he painted the blue part again,” Lape said. “He hasn’t lost a bit of his touch. He did a great job. Then we took it to Barney’s. Paul Lakata was just starting in 1977 learning from Barney [Bellinger]. They came to my garage back then and lettered it. Here we are again, 40 years later, and Paul from Barney’s Sign’s did it again. Burger hasn’t seen it. He is coming this weekend from Long Island.”
Since hanging up his helmet a couple years ago after 50 years of racing, Lape has been drawn back to the speedway on a weekly basis this season as he and his wife Jackie are hosts of the Fonda Speedway Museum on the Montgomery County Fairgrounds.
A job and responsibility he is enjoying, especially with the tribute nights honoring the past heroes of the historic facility.
“Pete Corey night was the best night we ever had,” Lape said. “A guy drove from Vermont to see Pete Corey’s car. I see things like this and I just kind of stand back and watch. Sen. Kathy Marchione [Pete Corey’s daughter] showed up and I just saw his whole family so happy. That is what I like to see. It is so great. If we can do that every week for somebody then I feel like we have done some special for Fonda.”
However, Saturday, Dave Lape Tribute Night, will be the first race he has attended since retiring.
“I know a lot of people are coming so we are going to stay there all night,” Lape said. “We usually shut it down but this week I am staying all night. I haven’t seen a race yet. Almost all the time Jackie and I get there around 2 o’clock and when the races start, we close up shop and go home. This week we will be sticking around.”
And the 44B will once again show the modifieds the way around the track.
“I am hoping to take the car out there and pace the field as long as it runs good,” Lape said. “I have driven it around up here a little bit. It really came out good.”
However, pacing the field will be all, even with the vintage cars on tap. Lape said he will not join them even if it would push his win total at Fonda Speedway to the century mark.
“It could be 1,000 and I wouldn’t go out, not after two years of work,” he laughed.
A few fans may have noticed that something was missing from the infield at Fonda Speedway last week.
The scales have been moved from the infield to the pit area off the fourth turn. This was done to allow a smoother flow for the qualified cars so they don’t have to wait on the infield for other races to finish before returning to the pit area after crossing the scales. Also after making weight after the features, the cars just take a right into the fenced off tech area.
Super-Sub Mike Ketchum had a busy weekend. Friday night, Craig Hanson attended his son’s pre-k graduation ceremony and Ketchum filled in and qualified the No. 20C modified at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park before Hanson made it to the track in time for the feature. On Saturday, he filled in for Josh Hohenforst in the No. 6H modified. Hohenforst was attending the wedding of his cousin and former sportsman driver Justin House.
Hohenforst missed the heat races at Glen Ridge on Friday but arrived in time for the main event. Being the current points leader, he was added to the feature and went from last to first for his second win of the season.