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By Mark Kane

Nick Stone uses a high side pass to pick up the HONDO Classic.

“One Wild Wednesday” was the name of a Special Wednesday night at the “Track of Champions” Fonda Speedway. A night filled with some great nerf bar to nerf bar racing and also a night filled with emotion, not to mention the uncertainty as to what the remainder of the 2020 race season will look like.

On the day before the special event that had a $4,000 to win 30 lap SUNOCO Modified feature, the 15th annual HONDO Classic to pay honor to fallen Pro Stock driver Hondo Carpenter, or as former announcer Jim King used to call him HONDOOOOOO, and the Swagger Factory 602 Crate Sportsman, Fonda Speedway was notified by New York State that there would be NO fans allowed in the covered grandstand or the drive-in atmosphere infield parking that they have been utilizing to allow fans into the historic speedway.

As I sit here and try to put into words how I feel, it is tough. I guess if I was the average race fan it would have been just another setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am not your average fan who may go to the races a few times during the summer. Racing is more than a hobby to me; it has become a passion, a passion that I and many others have for this sport. I have seen many changes through my 56 years of racing but never felt that our sport would be in trouble as it is at this present time.

Currently, all the tracks are at the mercy of New York State and the Governor. With no fans being allowed in the stands or money coming in the front gate, Fonda Speedway has been forced to cancel racing on July 18th and 25th. I would like to take this time to thank Bret and Heather Deyo for all they have done for Fonda Speedway since taking over that old girl that sits along the Mohawk River. They have tried everything to keep the facility open for the teams as well as the fans but this is their livelihood, and they are not in it to lose money or just break even.

When it would have been easy for them to cut the purse Bret was a man of his word and paid the weekly purse no matter what was coming in the front gate. Bret is more than a promoter just looking to make a buck he loves the sport and it shows in what he has done throughout his career in the sport and what he has done for Fonda.

I am not saying it is only Fonda that is having to find ways to bring fans into the Speedway and are feeling the crunch, but all tracks in New York. Albany Saratoga Speedway and Lebanon Valley Speedway – that has recently had its liquor license suspended by the New York State Liquor Authority – are feeling the crunch as they try their best to promote racing.

Many of the tracks have not even turned a wheel this year or have run only a few races and then pulled the plug until fans are allowed to pass through the gate and enjoy the sport they love. The total impact on the entire sport I don’t believe has yet to be seen and what the future brings, I am sorry to say it is out of the hands of the promoter and in the hands of New York State. I am afraid you will see teams that will park their cars or will sell out and walk away from the sport, and who knows what the impact will be on the companies that supply the parts for the racing industry. This whole deal is going to be devastating for racing across the Northeast.

‘‘One Wild Wednesday” lived up to its name. With a full pit of race cars the racing action on a track that had been saturated during the past week was full of action from the drop of the first green of the night to when the final checker fell.

Before the feature action got underway a very special man to Fonda Speedway who is in the middle of a very tough race of his own was honored. Bob James of BOBCO Video, who has been a big part of the Speedway in many ways and has always been there to do what was needed when called upon, was honored in a very special and well-deserved way.

Over his years at the Fonda Speedway Bob has captured his love of the sport and Fonda through the lens of his video camera from high above the track. There are many people who are involved behind the scenes during each night of racing and Bob is one of them.

Once again Ed Bitting did a tremendous job handling a very tough situation as he spoke such kind words about his friend while holding back the emotion with Bob in a wheelchair by his side. The emotion was felt by all who know Bob and the courageous battle he currently is fighting. Once again Bret and Heather Deyo have shown that they are more than the track promoters, they are becoming part of the rich history and for good reason. The “perch” as they have called it above the grandstand will now be called the BOBCO Video Tower honoring a true champion of Fonda Speedway who never won a race, but sure did film many. Thank you, Mr. James, for all you have done over your years of service to the “Track of Champions.”

It was now race time and first up was the HONDO Classic and it sure was classic as it is each and every year. A fine field of the Pro Stocks made their way to the track.

It was great to hear that Bret had opened up the tire rule to allow drivers from other tracks to make their way to honor their past friend and competitor. At the drop of the green the caution was out quickly for a parking lot in turn 4. Once back to green it was Luke Horning grabbing the early lead with Beau Ballard all over the 2019 Champion. Setting a torrid pace up front, Horning and Ballard started to pull away from the field. On a lap 6 restart it was Beau Ballard the new leader with Horning coming right back to the lead position as Nick Stone would now be the second place car and all-time win leader Kenny Gates on the move to the front as a blanket could be thrown over the top four. Applying heavy pressure Stone would be the new leader, a lead he would not let out of his grasp as he held on for the hard-fought win during the highly competitive event. Following Stone to the line was Ballard, Gates, Horning and Josh Coonradt rounding out the top five.

Next to make their way to the track was the SUNOCO Modifieds and all I can say is wow. We have seen Stewart Friesen come from the back to the front before and to watch Friesen is like watching Jack Johnson, Lou Lazzaro, Dave Lape and the other champions in their prime.

So far in 2020 Friesen is on fire as he picked up yet another win, his 65th of his career tying him for 4th on the all-time win list with Bobby Varin. It was Jessica Friesen with the early lead before Matt Sheppard would take over on a lap 6 restart. It was now Stewart Friesen working his way to second as the best in the business were now up front. The caution was out and the 44 of Friesen headed to the hot pit for a flat right rear. Once back to green it was Danny Varin working his way to second and one lap later would take over the lead.

This is where the WOW part came in as Friesen started to work his way from the back of the pack picking off cars at will and using the entire track and then taking the potent machine to the high side and finding it to his liking. Pounding the cushion lap after lap Friesen was quickly making his way to the front. With Danny Varin out front once again bad luck struck the 93 team with a broken right front shock. Once back to green it was Sheppard back to the front with Josh Hohenforst having a strong run in second, with Friesen now in the top five. It became the Friesen show as Stewie started to make his way through the top five as Sheppard was opening up on the field. On a lap 20 restart Friesen was now the second-place car and would grab the lead on lap 23 from Sheppard never looking back. Following Friesen to the line was Sheppard, Larry Wight, Hohenforst, and David Constantino rounding out the top five.

As good as the night had been with the great Pro Stock feature that found the leaders running under a blanket, the Mods finding Friesen work his way from the back to the front and working his way around Sheppard for the win, the Sportsman were not to be out done. JaMike Sowle and Brian Calabrese put on a great side-by-side war lap after lap after getting past early leader Tony Farone. It was not until late in the event that Calabrese would secure the lead for good and cruised to the win over Cody Clark, Nick Scavia, JaMike Sowle and Joey Williams rounding out the top five.

Well, folks, I can only hope that things will start to look up and we will all be able to get back to the track. There is nothing we can do. The tracks have tried their best and have one of the best lawyers in the racing business on our side as he, too, is a racer.

Everyone please stay safe, wear your mask, wash your hands and let’s put this mess behind us. We will try to keep everyone up to date on our Facebook page DIRT Central.

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