Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway has been known as “The Track of Champions” since Bill Wimble and Dick Nephew claimed NASCAR National Sportsman championships during the 1960s.
Rene Charland then arrived at Fonda with four National Sportsman titles on his résumé and Jerry Cook went on to a handful of National Modified crowns and election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, adding to the moniker’s validity.
Along with the roster of champions, the egg-shaped fairgrounds half-mile dirt track has always had an air of excitement surrounding its venerable wooden grandstand and adjacent bleachers. But the last few seasons have been difficult at the oval jammed between railroad tracks and New York’s scenic Mohawk River, with a succession of promoters, dwindling crowds, shrinking fields and, most importantly, a loss of that special atmosphere.
Then, to the amazement of many, Delaware-based Brett Deyo, organizer of the Short Track Super Series and promoter of Georgetown Speedway, made a deal with the Montgomery County Fair Board to take over the speedway beginning this year.
“I put my bid in because I wanted to see the tradition keep going,” offered Deyo as the Fonda Speedway season neared conclusion. “Last year was bad. I wanted the track before, but the fair board wouldn’t fund it. Now, they’re really happy because we’ve had great crowds and I’m paid up in full with them. I did it early because I didn’t want that hanging over my head.”
That’s not to say the track’s rejuvenation came easy.
“Since early spring, we’ve only spent three weeks in our home in Delaware,” said Deyo. “Other than that, we’ve lived here in a camping trailer.
“I wanted to put down new clay before we opened but I spent too much on equipment for the concession stands and the track prep equipment,” said Deyo. “That’s the missing link here and we’ll start putting down 200 loads of new clay as soon as the season is over.
“We started with a coffee pot and a griddle in the concession stands and no track prep equipment at all, so I bought a grader and borrowed the rest,” he added. “I’ve bought trucks since because we got very lucky on the grader. One of our sponsors, M.W. Roosevelt and Son, put me on to a grader the Town of Canajoharie was selling. I asked former driver Kenny Hansen to go take a look at it, because they’re his business. He said it was a good deal and that got us going.”
The season opener brought a big crowd anxious to check out the new management and promotions like bicycle giveaways, dollar hot dog night, free flowers for moms on Mother’s Day weekend and high school graduate recognition night kept fans coming.
And even more came out to give the new regime a look-see when Deyo held $1 admission night. The place was full to the rafters and it looked like the 1960s all over again.
“I’m really happy with the crowds,” assessed Deyo. “They’ve been really good. This place is deceiving. It may look shaky when I look over from my golf cart in the infield but when I get the numbers afterward, they’re great. And Jamie and Denise Paige have done a terrific job with the concessions. People have their dinner here now.
“More importantly, the atmosphere is coming back,” Deyo added. “That’s what will keep us going. The only thing missing is the clay and what I’ve got picked out looks really good.”
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