The month is August, the locale is mid-state New York, and the venues are dirt tracks. In eight days we visit three of the premier dirt tracks of the Northeast located in upstate New York. And in doing so, we were privileged to witness the Tony and Brett shows and see some great Sprint Car and NE Big Block Modified racing.
The NE Modifieds are to dirt racing here in New York as the Whelen Modifieds are to asphalt racing in this region. And when the winged Sprint Cars come to town, all heck breaks loose. The fans get their cake and eat it, too.
Canandaigua Speedway, Utica-Rome Speedway, and Fonda Speedway are all located along a line running east to west midway up the state and all we had to do was get on toll road I-90 and it would take us near the first and the last in this series. For U-R, we only had to travel east a few miles.
We were staying at the Villages RV Park in Oneida, New York, a part of the Turning Stone Resort Casino, which is owned by the Oneida Indian Nation. This was one of the nicest “campgrounds” we’ve seen on our Tour to date. The grounds were immaculately kept, it was all paved, and it had everything we needed for an extended stay of more than three weeks while we tasted the various racing facilities of the great state of New York.
The Sprint Car pits at Canandaigua...
The Sprint Car pits at Canandaigua were the most unique in all of our travels. Located under some large trees and in the grass, it was a welcome change from sparse, dusty pits we usually see at dirt tracks. It had a sort of backyard feel to it, probably like it was some 50 years ago.
We were getting into the Big...
We were getting into the Big Block Dirt Modifieds of the Northeast territory and this class is extremely popular with the fans. The two most popular racing classes are probably the NASCAR Tour Mods and these cars throughout the Northeast region.
Canandaigua Speedway is a...
Canandaigua Speedway is a flat half-mile track with no walls in the turns. The cars ran several grooves, but we noticed that the current track points leader and Tony ran the low groove. It looks like it’s very moist dirt and it stayed that way through the heats. Unfortunately, the rains came and washed out the feature races.
Having just left the Watkins Glen area the week before, we knew there was going to be a Sprint Cup race there this same weekend and we were glad to miss all of that confusion. Someone else would pull off an escape too.
This dirt track located in proximity to Lake Ontario is situated just west of the north end of Seneca Lake and about 50 miles north of Watkins Glen, New York, where, by chance, the NASCAR Sprint Cup race was running this same weekend. Hence the earlier reference to Tony Stewart since he decided to take his Saturday off from the boring ol’ Cup racing and go Sprint Car racing here at this half-mile dirt track.
This was a cool track, owned by the World Racing Group, but the sanction that ran the Sprint races was the Empire Super Sprints referring to the New York state motto, the Empire State. We would also see the Northern Modifieds in good numbers this night.
The promoter here, Jeremie Corcoran, treated us special and we parked our Tour bus right beside the main grandstands where all of the fans would see the flame-shrouded motorhome and partake of our offerings of free catalogs, brochures, and stickers from AMSOIL, Holley, CV Products, and our newest Tour sponsor, E3 Spark Plugs—welcome aboard guys.
The Sprint Car pits were located under some great big trees and had a real country feel to them. I can see why Tony would come here to escape the avalanche of fans and media he encounters at the NASCAR tracks. The only problem was that we wouldn’t get to see much of his mastery of Sprint Cars this night.
The heat races were run in a rush to try to beat the oncoming bad weather coming off of Lake Ontario, much like most days in late summer, but we did get to see how the best of the best negotiate tracks like this one.
Both the track points leader and Tony ran similar lines around the track that were unique. Each ran separate heats, so what they did stood out. On the start and at each restart after a caution, both would enter Turn 3 (I was watching from this end of the track) with a quick turn-in and drive straight ahead toward the inside of the track, follow the bottom groove, then when exiting Turn 4, drive straight toward the wall for, say, 50 feet or so and then turn to go along the front stretch wall.
This driving style got them into the turn well by braking straight ahead. Yes, I said braking. That had to be the only way they got the car slowed down. At the exit, running the short straight line got them off better because the car was accelerating in a straight line instead of the rear end being hung out, spinning the tires.
They both only did this line long enough to gain a half to full straightaway lead, then relaxed somewhat into a fairly normal line. The reason it stood out was because almost no one else was running this odd line. And no one was as fast as these two.
It was the 50th Anniversary,...
It was the 50th Anniversary, to the day, race at Utica-Rome Speedway on a Wednesday night where we saw great Sprint Car and Big Block Modified racing. This was a very well run and clean racing facility and although we didn’t list it on our schedule for the NE Tour, we were welcomed and treated like friends by Barb Clark, the general manager.
Brent Hearn won the $10,000...
Brent Hearn won the $10,000 prize for First Place and we noticed his driving style looked very familiar. Here we see his car and hauler just before recording his 802nd career win this night. This is one guy who does things right most of the time. He’s a threat to win everywhere he goes.
Troyer Race Cars is huge in...
Troyer Race Cars is huge in the Northeast and I usually think of the SK and Tour Modifieds running on asphalt when I hear that name. Here we see a Troyer Dirt Modified.
It was a line I know well because I ran a similar line while racing karts on dirt back in the mid ’80s. When everyone else was throwing their karts sideways into the turns to slow them, I was braking straight ahead on entry, driving straight ahead through the middle and straight off the turns, and I won my fair share of races doing that over guys who had more power than I did.
Once the heats were completed, the rains came and washed away the rest of the event. The action was short, but I learned a whole lot from this. What I described above was very similar to the way I have seen successful Dirt Late Model drivers drive. At Paducah in 2010 I saw one well-known driver who has won many touring features brake into Turns 1 and 3, ride the middle straight ahead, and then drive more straight off the turns taking the big win over more aggressive drivers who were running sideways most of the race.
This track wasn’t on our published list of tracks to visit in 2012, but we were just down the road from it in the Villages and it was running a special Wednesday night race to celebrate 50 years of racing. We just had to be a part of that, don’t you think?
Located just east of Syracuse, this was the center of New York racing and while we were in the area, we visited the Rome, New York, Sports Hall of Fame which included information about, and one of, Richie Evans’s race cars. He was the most successful asphalt Modified racer of all time, winning seven championships.
It was a great event and every one came out to see some top-level Empire Sprint Car racing. The Race of Champions Northeast Modified dirt car tour was also racing for $10,000-to-win. Brett Hearn had his new car on hand and won his fourth race in the last five and posted another in his record of more than 800 wins in his career collecting the ten grand in the process. And it was great to see this track that started out as a 1/4-mile asphalt racetrack in 1961, continue to draw huge numbers of racers and spectators.
This facility was kept up extremely well and was one of the cleanest of the older tracks we have seen. Everything was well organized and there was a family section set up where alcohol wasn’t allowed. The track had no walls in Turns 1-2 and 3-4 so that when a car went wide, it was able to continue; whereas if there had been walls, the night would have ended. We’ve always liked to see that in a dirt track.
This was a fast track that held moisture well. It ended up more black slick in the end, something Brett would allude to in his post race interview where he said his new car worked best.
Seeing the celebration and the excitement of the fans made me feel that this side trip was well worth it. My thanks go out to track manager Barb Clark for letting us attend on such short notice. I did observe that Barb was everywhere and anywhere she was needed throughout the show and that’s what makes a track successful, attention to detail.
Fonda Speedway is an odd-shaped...
Fonda Speedway is an odd-shaped track and the length of Turns 3 and 4 is so much longer than 1 and 2 that there appears to be a short third straight in there. When watching the cars hot lap, I did hear them throttle up a short way between those turns. Being straight going into 3 and in that short added straight helps maintain speed and momentum. The leaders of the races definitely ran that way.
When we arrived at Fonda Speedway we probably missed the most important clue printed atop the speedway sign as to what we were in for the next morning. The track is located east of our RV park by about 75 miles and the ride there was fantastic. The route runs along the primary central state toll road, the New York State Thruway, as it winds through a valley next to a portion of the Erie Canal that linked the Hudson River to Lake Erie and opened up trade west of New York City back in the 1800s. We were able to visit a museum dedicated to the canal while we were staying in Oneida.
Fonda is a fairgrounds track that races on Saturday nights. When we asked where we could park our motorhome, we were told we could park up near the grandstands, a great spot, but needed to move after the show was over to the back near the fence, and very near a railroad track where trains would be running on a half hour schedule all night as we would discover.
That seemed strange as the entire area was open and within the same fenced in area. Anyway, we moved after the show and then the next morning, I awoke at 6 a.m. to the sound of tractor trailer rigs parking just outside the bedroom window.
The circus, or whatever you call it, was arriving and setting up between us and the exit. We hurried and slid-in the bus, unleveled it, and drove out just in time. The county fair was starting that next night—some information we could have used the day before.
Here we see what I’m talking...
Here we see what I’m talking about. In this Google view, you can get an idea of the complexity of Turns 3 and 4 (the part of the track to the right of the photo). Most drivers who ran fast here separated 3 and 4 and ran a short straight between them. Notice how tight 4 is. If you followed the line through 3 and the middle, you’d end up in the grandstands off Turn 4.
The grandstands at Fonda were...
The grandstands at Fonda were the covered, old fair-type grandstands and the rear of the roof tied into the top of the grandstand seats. This sealed off the airflow so that the dust kicked up and toward the stands couldn’t enter the seating area. The crowd stayed dust and dirt free all night.
So many times at dirt tracks...
So many times at dirt tracks on this Tour we have seen a more straight ahead driving style used by the fastest cars in each division. The No. 6 car demonstrates this style while the red car is somewhat sideways and the white car is way too sideways. It seems like pitching the car this way slows it too much and kills the momentum needed to maintain turn speeds for better performance off the corners.
This track has a strange, or should I say, different, shape to it. As you can see from the aerial view on the following page, Turns 3 and 4 are quite long compared to Turns 1 and 2. In fact, there is somewhat of a short straightaway between Turns 3 and 4, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the drivers throttle up a short while in that area.
It’s definitely a track where local knowledge is important to do well. The ones that had it down did do well indeed. The classes running this night before the Fair were the 602 Sportsman, CRSA 305 Sprints, Modifieds, Pro Stocks, and Street Stocks.
As a fair track, the main grandstands were covered and that created a unique aerodynamic advantage for the fans. Because the roof ties into the back of the stands, there is no gap between them and air can’t pass through. So, when the cars kicked up dust during the races, it rose up, but did not enter the grandstand area and the fans stayed clean and dirt free. It was kind of cool to sit there watching a ton of dust and not having it fall on you.
The racing was excellent due to not only the shape of the track, but the fact that it was almost flat. Again, the straight ahead drivers did well here mainly because once you got sideways and lost grip with the rear wheels, it was hard to get back without slowing way down and losing a bunch of distance.
Not everyone is enamored with...
Not everyone is enamored with Mr. Hearn as this license plate will attest to. I just had to get this image in the pit parking area of Fonda Speedway. By the way, Brett was not racing here on this night.
Being able to attend these three tracks where racing in New York has been so historic was unbelievable. Each had good numbers of both racers and fans whose loyalties went back many years and generations. I can’t tell you how many people told me that they had come to the races as a kid and returned with their kids. We have that history to help us promote racing, but we need more. In the coming reports we will go into the areas of track management and race organization that tells a story about how we can provide for the future of circle track racing.
We’ll visit ongoing tracks and ones that didn’t last long. We’ll examine the strengths and weaknesses of those tracks and learn from their successes and failures. There’s definitely a story to be told and I often think that if I weren’t so fortunate to be doing this U.S. Tour, I’d never be able to gather this valuable information so that we could then present it to you.
Please continue to follow along as we document and record the personalities and character of racetracks and race teams in America. The old, the new, and the deceased are all here to add to the accumulation of knowledge we’ll use to present our interpretation for the good of the sport.