By Mark Kane

Who would have ever thought when you looked out the window early Saturday morning or right up until mid-afternoon that Fonda Speedway would have ever gotten its entire racing program in last Saturday night?

The “Valley of Speed” called its show earlier in the day, but Fonda held on watching the radar that showed the rain to end late afternoon and, wow, they were right. Once again there were no fans allowed in the stands as the rules changed from the week before. Now they have once again changed and fans will again be allowed back in the stands while practicing social distancing and wearing masks starting July 1. It is so hard to keep up with it all, one day open, next day not. Let’s hope we are now once again heading in the right direction so the entire racing community can get back to normal.

As we know, track promoters invest a lot of money each year to get ready for the upcoming season, and who would have ever thought they would be facing something such as this.

However, it is not only promoters who are suffering. Think how many businesses big and small that are involved in the sport and were unable to sell inventory they had ordered or manufactured for a full season of racing from April until October. These businesses are suffering.
Before the start of the racing season, word had it that Bobby Varin was going to only run on a part-time basis in 2020 aboard the Alton and Carole Palmer 76 Modified. The Palmers have been a huge part of the Fonda Speedway family for many years. Alton Palmer was the All-Time Sportsman Feature winner with 56 wins and five championships along with 5 Modified wins before hanging up his helmet. Then the Palmers became involved in sponsoring and owners for some of the top drivers such as all-time win leaders Jack Johnson, Ronnie Johnson and Bobby Varin along with others.

It is not just the Modifieds that the Palmers have stepped up to help as over the years their name could be seen on many Sportsman and Pro Stocks. It was announced that the Palmers had hired a new driver for the 2020 season. There were many names being thrown around out there as to who it might be. Would it be one of the upcoming drivers or a veteran? Then it came out it would not be a Fonda regular, and that started the rumor mill in a whole different direction of names to take over the potent ride.

Many were surprised when the “Jeffer,” Jeff Heotzler, was named the driver. Many questioned the decision, but for those who had watched Heotzler in his prime and have seen what he can still do behind the wheel at the always tough Middletown, New York, “House of Power,” Orange County Fair Speedway, as well as, the Accord Speedway knew there was no need for the decision to be questioned. The 62-year-old chauffeur was nominated into the DIRT Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 and the NYSSCA Hall of Fame in 2020. His accomplishments speak for themselves, including 150-plus wins at 13 tracks.

He won 11 Track Championships between Orange County and Accord Speedway. He walked away with the DIRT Small Block Syracuse Championship during the first year of the Tour, two Dirt Track USA Big Block Championships, two wins at the prestigious Race of Kings for Small Blocks at Lebanon Valley that used to pack the pits with the very best small blocks from up and down the East Coast as well as Canada. He also took the Eastern States Big Block Championship and two Chevy Under Writers 150 small block wins during the Eastern States Weekend at Orange County.

There is one thing for sure: The “Jeffer” is a class act and true veteran who has raced against the very best dirt Modifieds drivers throughout his career, and is a welcomed addition to the “Track of Champions,” Fonda Speedway SUNOCO Modified field. For the younger fans who may ask who is that guy in the Palmer 76 they call the “Jeffer,” they will soon find out. Saturday night he added Fonda to the list of tracks he has won at by picking up his first Fonda Modified feature win. Too bad there were no fans in the stands to witness a true Champion at work. Congrats Jeff and welcome to Fonda Speedway!

So far the new track surface at Fonda has seen it all in 2020, racing under bright sun and 90 degrees, then under an all-day rain the following week as the track crew did a great job to get the surface into racing condition and the old girl was sure fast. How fast you ask, Danny Varin was a few ticks shy of breaking the track record of 18.136 that was set by his father back in 2009. Once the final touches were put onto the super-fast tacky race track Heotzler, Scott Huber, who had an outstanding run, and Varin picked up heat race wins to set up the SUNOCO Modified feature on the first night of handicapping. So far the 2020 season has not been kind to the Palmer 76 team giving Heotzler an outside pole starting position. At the drop of the green Heotzler was the early leader as Scott Huber had his black 51 all over the rear deck of the leader. After a lap 6 restart Craig Hanson would take over second back behind the wheel of his new ride after having to go to his backup 20 last week after an early heat race crash. On the move was Danny Varin as he was wound up on the high side and quickly ran down Hanson making his move to 2nd as Josh Hohenforst was fast working his way into the top 3 getting past Hanson as was Rocky Warner who both started in the 5th row. With the pace Heotzler was setting he was starting to close on the back of the field and Varin was starting to close on the rear deck of the leader as Matt DeLorenzo was looking for racing room. With Varin working on the leader Hohenforst was now all over Varin as the two were now nerf bar to nerf bar allowing Heotzler to open up a few car lengths on the field. With Heotzler in traffic Varin again closed on the leader lap after lap. Once again bad luck struck the Hanson machine as he brought out the yellow ending his fine run going to the hot pit with a flat tire bunching up the field behind the leader Heotzler with a hand full of laps remaining. Once back to green, Varin continued to pressure the veteran Heotzler for the lead as Warner was working on Hohenforst with DeLorenzo now in the top 5. There was no denying Heotzler and the 76 team had the TEO Pro Car working perfect. The race behind the leader was a good one as Warner would work his way around Varin for 2nd and started to reel in the leader, but ran out of time as the “Jeffer”, Jeff Heotzler picked up his first win at the Track of Champions with Warner, Varin, Hohenforst, and DeLorenzo rounding out the top 5 with Scott Huber starting to put it all together to finish 6th.

In Pro Stock racing action Nick Stone picked up his second win of the season after taking the lead on lap 13 from Jim Normoyle after starting 12th on the field. Once again the Pro Stocks put on a great show with plenty of good hard clean racing. Following Stone to the line was Jim Normoyle, Josh Coonradt, who made the charge from 16th, Kenny Gates from 10th, and 11th place starter Luke Horning. As you can imagine the new track surface is producing some great racing as teams are able to work their way to the front using multiple grooves.

The Sportsman seemed to have a tough time getting their feature in the books with their caution filled event but between the yellows the racing was super. Making the long haul every week Kevin Chaffee jumped out to the early lead before the Palmer Service Center 76 of Rickey Quick who has returned as a regular worked his way to the front on lap 2. The field was bunched up after the caution flew and on the restart Chaffee was back out front as Tim Hartman was now the new 2nd place car as Chad Edwards was on the move after starting deep in the 25th spot after breaking the spindle in turn 3 of his heat. Another driver who was working his way to the front was Joe Williams after starting behind Edwards. It did not take Edwards long to find his way into the top 5 and was in the top 3 by lap 10 and was looking for more and soon found it as he was the new leader on the restart after a lap 11 caution. Out front Edwards had to deal with Chaffee as the two raced hard for the lead as JaMike Sowle was making his way into the top 3 after starting 10th working his way around Hartman. As the Checkers flew it was Edwards 10% in for the win for veteran car owner John Kollar. Chaffee held on to record his best finish for second, Sowle, held on for 3rd, while 2019 Champion Tim Hartman Jr. was 4th, and Cody Clark rounded out the top 5.

In other action Johnny Young picked up his first career win in the Limited Sportsman, in the Street Stocks Lou Gancarz also was a first time winner. In the 4 Cylinders Ken Hollenbeck picked up his 52 career win. Local young gun Garrett Poland had a great weekend picking up wins at both the Albany Saratoga and Glen Ridge Speedways in the Limited Sportsman. Since moving up from the Slingshot division Garrett has shown steady progress in the much bigger and more powerful Sportsman driving 2 different cars. What made the great weekend more Special was it was his very proud Dads Birthday, what a way to celebrate doing something you love to do as a family and end up having such a successful weekend. Congrats to the entire team that continues to get better each week with more seat time.

At Albany Saratoga it was a first time winner in the Modifieds at the “Great Race Place” as last year’s Super DIRTcar Champion Matt Williamson who has seemed to take a liking to the super-fast speedway with a win and 3rd in two outings looks like he is right at home. Local racer Keith Flach had a great run picking up 2nd, followed by Stewart Friesen, Matt DeLorenzo, and Anthony Perrego rounding out the top 5. In the Sportsman it was Tim Hartman Jr. picking up the win with Nick Stone grabbing the Pro Stock feature with Jeff Meltz the Street Stock winner.

Please be sure to check out (and like!) our facebook page, DIRT Central for all the latest racing news.

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