By Mark Kane
For Capital Region Independent Media
Each week the great racing tradition continues at the “Track of Champions,” Fonda Speedway, as it has since 1953. Another tradition concluded the 2023 racing season with the annual Fonda 200 that started back in 1953.
The word “tradition” is a big part of Fonda Speedway and Brett Deyo continues to put his mark on the history and traditions of that grand old lady that sits along the Mohawk River.
Mother Nature has not been kind to Brett in 2023. For 200 weekend, you could not have had better weather. The few days before was a different story as the grounds had plenty of rain. The first 200 was under the NASCAR banner and here we are in 2023 and once again the NASCAR flags fly around the Fonda Speedway.
The Historic 200-lap event has a who’s who in racing as its winner from the “King” Richard Petty, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, four-time winner Brett Hearn, all-time Fonda win leader Jack Johnson, Kenny Tremont, Matt Sheppard and now three-time winner Stewart Friesen. In all, 19 drivers have won this prestigious event over the years.
For the 2023 200 weekend it had something for everyone with the Short Track Super Series (STSS) Modifieds, 602 Sportsman, Limited Sportsman, popular full fender Pro Stocks, 4 Cylinders, Street Stocks, and the CRSA 305 Sprints throughout the busy weekend.
That old girl gave the drivers and track crews trouble on Thursday night due to the moisture in the track from rain earlier in the week, but they did not give up. Working the track anytime they had the chance, they had the track much better by the end of the night and by Saturday it was a whole different animal with a smooth, bad, fast racing surface that continued throughout the rest of the weekend on a multi-groove racing surface.
Night 1 found the Amsterdam Truck Center “Underdog 33” for non-winners of a Modified feature in 2023 from any track along with the Montgomery County Office for the Aging Limited Sportsman and an open practice.
A 33-car field made up of Modifieds and 602 Sportsman made their way into the three heat races that were won by Alex Yankowski, Brian Calabrese, and veteran Bobby Varin, with Bill August picking up the consolation.
The 24-car starting field came to the green with Alex Yankowski grabbing the lead and Ryan Odasz back behind the wheel, turning left this time in the MAGSRUS 93 in second as the caution flew for Pep Coradi on the back stretch .
With his foot to the motor plate Yankowski was out to a large lead quickly powering the high side on the restart. After cautions brought the field back to the rear bumper of Yankowski, that was as close as anyone would get once back to green. The fast racing surface had the top 5 stringing out behind the leader with Yankowski putting on a clinic leading at the halfway point, with Odasz having a solid run in second, Danny Varin aboard the 16S ride, Tyler Dipple in only his second start in 2023 and a rejuvenated Bobby Varin rounded out the top 5. Out front it was all Yankowski as Danny Varin worked his way to second after a great battle with Dipple, then Odasz set his sights on the leader, who had checked out.
With 5 to go, the race took a drastic change. As Yankowski powered down the back stretch, Derek Bornt made a right turn into the pits as Yankowski took aggressive action as the caution came out for Jason Reome into the turn two wall. Under caution, the hard luck for Yankowski at Fonda Speedway continued and yet again his first win slipped through his hands, heading to his pit for damage to the left rear suspension. The misfortune for Yankowski put the 16S of Danny Varin to the front and leading going into turn one and down the back stretch as the battle for second heated up with Odasz and Dipple, with Dipple getting the spot.
The closing laps had Varin continue to lead and on for the win as Dipple got a flat on the last lap and ended up seventh. Following Danny Varin to the line was Bobby Varin, Odasz, Dave Constantino and Brian Calabrese rounded out the top 5.
In the Limited Sportsman it was local racer Mike Arnold in a borrowed car from car owner Mitch Poole, picking up his first win at the Fonda Speedway. Following Arnold to the line was AJ Greco, Conner Crane, Tim Deffer, and Mike Hill rounded out the top 5.
An action packed Friday night was on tap with a great racing surface that had been reworked by the Fonda track crew. The full night brought the STSS Modifieds to the track for their four stacked with talent 15-lap qualifying heats that found Alex Yankowski, JaMike Sowle, Stewart Friesen and Canadian Steve Bernier picking up the wins.
The 48-car Modified field was narrowed down to 28 for the 200-lap event as seven cars were taken from each heat and three went to the redraw. The remainder of the 200-lap starting field came out of Saturday’s consolation. Also making their way to the track were the Pro Stocks, 305 winged Sprints and the 4 Cylinders.
When you talk Pro Stocks at Fonda Speedway there is one name that always comes to mind, Kenny Gates.
The all-time win leader in the division can add another notch to his belt with win number 6 of the year and 92nd of his career during the Fonda 200 Weekend, Below Zero Ice Cream Pro Stock feature. A career of wins with talent and clean driving style behind the wheel Kenny Gates is a fan favorite, even with all the wins. It was outsider Johnny Rivers Jr. taking the early lead before 2023 Fonda Speedway Pro Stock Champion Ivan Joslin quickly moved from his fourth starting spot to take over the lead on lap 2.
With Gates following in Joslin’s tire tracks, he moved from his sixth starting spot to move to second and was all over the leader as the top 2 ran door to door when the caution was out for Mike Dianda 715 who was loose out of 4 and spun on the front stretch, bringing the field back to the leaders.
Back to green, Joslin, Gates and Beau Ballard were the Fonda Pro Stock way, good 3-wide racing hard for the lead. Out of two and down the back chute Joslin was back to the front with Ballard and Gates all over the leader as a blanket could be thrown over the top 3. With Joslin and Ballard battling hard fender to fender cleanly through turns 3 and 4 they opened up the bottom. For Gates, who has made a living on the bottom made his move and would be the new leader at the flag stand and would never look back. Once out front Gates pulled away from the field picking up the win as Ballard, Joslin, Steve Cosselman, and Randy Cosselman rounded out the top 5.
In the CRSA Sprint Car feature it was Jorden Hutton taking his third Fonda Speedway win over Blake Warner, Billy Vaninwegen, Dalton Herrick and Tommy Moreu rounded out the top 5.
The track must have been just about perfect for the 305 Sprints as they seemed to be flat footing all the way around. Jason Meltz picked up the Street Stock feature and Ken Hollenbeck picked up his 95th feature win in the 4 Cylinders.
STSS FONDA 200
Then it was the day of the $53,000-to-win STSS Fonda 200. The crowd started to make their way to the parking lot early and kept coming and soon parking was non-existent. There was a party atmosphere with the anticipation of the 200-lap event.
Along with the STSS Modifieds, the STSS 602 Sportsman were also on the card. The Modified driver introduction had the Gladiators walking from the fourth turn to the track entrance in front of their fans, shaking hands, and signing autographs for the young and the young at heart race fans. By the looks on the drivers faces I am not sure who had more fun, the fans or the drivers.
Once the drivers were strapped in their office for the next 200 laps it was time for 4-wide Modifieds as they rumbled down the front stretch. It gives you goosebumps. The white flag is shown to the drivers as they reach down and tighten that belt just a little more. Through turns 3 and 4 it’s fire time. Forty one ground-pounding STSS Modifieds power their way into turn one with Canadian Steve Bernier grabbing the lead with Stewart Friesen, Billy Decker, Matt Sheppard, and Mat Williamson holding down the top 5.
Caution was out early for fifth-place Williamson. Once back to green Bernier was right back to the front with Friesen and Sheppard battling for second as Alex Yankowski and Billy Decker were racing hard for position as Jessica Friesen was looking to enter the battle. In the lead Bernier was setting a torrid pace and closing in on lap traffic as Friesen and Sheppard were closing in on the leader. It would be Friesen making the move to be the new leader after working past Bernier, Sheppard, and Yankowski all in a tight battle for the lead with Demetrios Drellos charging to the top 5 after staring 12th on the grid and was looking for more and found it, working his way to fourth.
With Drellos moving forward, Yankowski worked his way to second past Sheppard. By lap 30 the top 5 consisted of Stewart Friesen, Yankowski, Drellos, Sheppard and Decker. On the move was 15th-place starter Tyler Dipple and 13th place starter Marc Johnson, who were sitting just outside the top 5. The caution flew for third-place runner Demetrios Drellos, who slowed on the back stretch bringing the field to the back deck of the Friesen 44. Back to green Friesen remained the leader as Billy Decker quickly moved to second. It was now Friesen, Decker, Yankowski, Sheppard and Dipple.
A pair of cautions that found Danny Varin and Cody Clark heading to their hot pit and returning kept the racing up front close. As good as the racing was out front the racing behind the leaders was 2- and 3-wide. Quickly Friesen found lap traffic as Decker and Sheppard battled for second, with some great tight racing with Sheppard getting the spot down the back stretch and into turn 3. Bad luck struck Yankowski as he and Billy Decker were involved with Michael Trautschold who had a flat in turn 4. Decker continued and held his position as Yankowski and Trautschold headed to their hot pit. Back to green and it was Friesen, Sheppard, and Marc Johnson now in the top 3 only to have Johnson a few laps later come to a stop with a tire issue and bring out the caution.
Back to green and Friesen again was out front as Bobby Hackel had worked his way into the top 5 after starting in the 9th row raced with Decker getting the spot on the back stretch. Working through lap traffic Sheppard made his move and would be the new leader only to have Friesen fire right back to regain the lead. Yellow was out once again this time for Michael Parent who spun in turn 2, sending Friesen to the hot pits and returned to the end of the field handing the lead over to Sheppard, Hackel, Max McLaughlin, who had worked his way from the 23rd starting spot, Decker a former Fonda Speedway regular, and Jessica Friesen rounded out the top 5.
Back to green with Sheppard grabbing the lead, before the halfway point the caution would fly one more time for Chris Curtis as Sheppard would pick up the halfway bonus. Now the choice had to be made whether to go to the main pit area off turn 3-4 for major changes or go to the infield for minor changes and start ahead of those who pitted off 3 and 4. Making his way to the infield pit area first was Marc Johnson, so he would be the leader of the second half of the 200-lap event, Sheppard the leader at the halfway break would start the second half ninth, being the first car in the main pit area.
The top 5 at the green was Johnson, Chris Curtis, Stewart Friesen, Bobby Varin, and Brian Calabrese, with Johnson getting the advantage. The caution was quickly out for Danny Varin, who slowed on the back stretch.
This is when the night took on a whole different feeling, as a race fan I was numb from the grinding crash restart on the front stretch. In all, 12 cars were involved, with Rocky Warner getting the worst of it. The Fonda Speedway Safety crew showed why they are the best in the business at what they do, getting Rocky out of the top of the car and on his way to Albany Medical Center.
Wow, it looked like a junkyard for modifieds with 12 cars involved, with many destroyed race cars, but it was Rocky that was on all our minds after taking a hard hit to the cage area of the car. It is great to see that Rocky is back home and on the mend with nothing broken after a few days in the crash house; get well soon, Rock.
After the extended red flag to get the cars removed from the track the green was back out with Marc Johnson on the gas putting distance between himself and the field as Friesen powered around Curtis for second. First having to deal with Friesen, now Curtis had a fast Tyler Dipple to contend with. Pulling even down the back chute Dipple would have the lead between turns 3 and 4.
The caution flew for early leader Steve Bernier in the turn 4 wall. The restart found Friesen the new leader as the caution was out quickly for Bobby Hackel against the turn 4 wall and put Friesen back to second as the lap was not completed. Once back to green Johnson again was out front as Friesen and Dipple battled for second, with Friesen getting the spot. On the move on the high side Yankowski was picking off cars.
Once Johnson started to work lap traffic, Friesen started to close and made his move when Johnson was caught behind lap traffic with Friesen coming out as the new leader. At this point, Friesen, Johnson, Dipple, Sheppard and Curtis rounded out the top 5. Some great racing was going on throughout the field as Dipple and Sheppard battled for third, with Sheppard getting the spot and set after Johnson for second. Showing speed and on newer tires Sheppard was fast working his way to second down the back stretch and now had to run down the leader as Tim Fuller was now sitting just outside the top 5, as was Matt DeLorenzo and Yankowski having a great battle.
The caution again slowed the pace with fifth-place Curtis coming to a stop on the back stretch as DeLorenzo was now in the top 5. Back to green and there was a new leader as Matt Sheppard pulled away, with Friesen and Johnson holding down the top 3. Once Sheppard hit lap traffic Friesen started to reel him in and made the move for the lead down the back stretch, a pass to be worth $53,000.
The great run for Marc Johnson would again slow the race as Johnson headed to the hot pit. The restart found Friesen, Sheppard, Dipple, Williamson and Fuller in the top 5. Back to green and Friesen would pull away only to have Sheppard close the gap in lap traffic and was all over Friesen’s rear deck but that is as close as he could get as Friesen picked up his third FONDA SPEEDWAY 200 with Matt Sheppard, Tyler Dipple, Mat Williamson, and Tim Fuller rounded out the top 5.
The 602 Sportsman found back-to-back Fonda champion Payton Talbot picking up his seventh win of the year.
A very stout field of over 60 STSS 602 Sportsman teams made their way to the pits. From the highly competitive qualifying events to the great run by Talbot and second-place Chad Edwards who put on a drive, no two drives. Working his way from the 19th starting spot into the top ten when he was sent high and dropped back to 16th.
As a fan the drive was something to watch through a very strong field of cars never giving up and driving every lap like it was the last, picking up a fine second getting by one of the 602 sportsman best in Joe Toth. It was Talbot, Edwards, Toth, 13th-place starter Tyler Peet and 14th starter Tim Hartman Jr rounded out the top 5.
What a great weekend of racing at the “Track of Champions” Fonda Speedway and it just gets better as Brett Deyo will be at back for the next five years.
The Short Track Super Series will be back in action at the Port Royal Speedway for the “Speed Showcase” weekend Oct. 12-15, with STSS Modifieds, STSS 602 Sportsman, Pro Stocks, and winged 410 Sprints. Saturday the Weekend will be capped off with the 75-lap $50,000-to-win STSS Modified feature. There will be a talented field assembled from up and down the East Coast.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jeff Trombley on the loss of his wife, Serena. Serena will be truly missed by the entire racing community.