HEDGER: The Long Look


Tony Stewart is interviewed by Melissa Lazzaro at Fonda Speedway. (Ron Hedger photo)
BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — When Tony Stewart was interviewed during intermission of the annual All Star Circuit of Champions stop at the Fonda Speedway, announcers Josh Phillips and Melissa Lazzaro, daughter of the late stock car legend Lou Lazzaro, drew some interesting responses from Stewart as they relaxed in rocking chairs on Checkerboard Square.

Many of his answers triggered applause and shouts but none more than his response to why he was off racing while the other Sprint Cup drivers were on vacation.

“Because I don’t have a wife who makes me go on vacation, so I get to go racing,” responded the inveterate racer, drawing a roar from the huge crowd lining the wheel fence.

Stewart was both gracious and humorous in the session, telling the crowd he wasn’t sure yet if the track had nine or ten turns, and you’d never have known that his New York vacation from the Sprint Cup scene had been less than stellar thus far.

Tuesday night he’d been in the middle of what one observer called “the biggest sprint car wreck I’ve ever seen” at a Canandaigua 360 race.

And when we asked him how the All-Star show at Fulton had gone, Stewart told us he’d “seen the track from a bunch of different viewpoints, none of which he enjoyed.” But Thursday night he looked great at Fonda, running the high side of the “easy to get into, hard to get out of” third and fourth turns like he’d been racing there for years before finishing a close second to Danny Dietrich.

When both modified kingpin Stewart Friesen and his girlfriend, Jessica Zemken, finished up front in the evening’s sprint car dash, it triggered the thought that they may well be the nation’s fastest couple. After a bit of contemplation we changed the description to fastest short-track couple, in deference to NASCAR’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, which got us wondering if there are any other contenders around the nation.

Highly respected Eastern New York announcer Dan Martin, who mans the mic at both the Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga Speedways, got a big laugh recently when introducing the starting lineup for the four-cylinder feature. Dan Older Jr. was in the field, drawing Martin’s observation that the son of longtime pro stock competitor Dan Older was actually ‘the younger Older” at the speedway.

Ohio sprint car legend Rick Ferkel, who was shooting the breeze with us at the Fonda All-Star show, volunteered how much he missed reading National Speed Sport News every week. We offered our usual response, that from the time the traditional paper disappeared we oldtimers had kept it going online and it was now flourishing again, with the news updated continuously through the day.

But like so many others, Ferkel told us he “wasn’t up on all that computer stuff,” though he does like the new monthly printed version of NSSN.

A few minutes later, while talking with former Fonda announcer Todd Morey, who now does monster truck shows all over the nation, he asked if we used Twitter to keep up on fast-breaking developments. Morey said that he often has info in the booth via Twitter before the pit announcers have found out what happened and suggested strongly that I begin using it.

We left feeling old and out of the loop, but then inspiration struck us. We need to continue racing’s tradition of helping each other out.

We certainly can’t drive like the “Ohio Traveler” but we do share one trait, a lack of competence in certain modern communication technology. We’re good at what we do but have no clue at all when it comes to twitter.

Maybe I could help him with web access and e-mail in return for driving lessons. Then somebody younger could get me into Twitter.

On the driving side of the equation, the last time we ran a midget in a vintage race we got lapped, so there is definitely room for improvement. And the number of people who’ve ever seen Ferkel get lapped would probably fit in a phone booth.

For our younger readers, a phone booth is a small shelter that kept you out of the weather while you used a pay phone. And a pay phone is …oh, forget it!