Stock car racing: After one-year hiatus, Tremont back at Malta
What do Ken Tremont Jr. and some basketball players at the University of Kentucky have in common?
Use your best Dick Vitale voice and say, “One and done, baby.”
Last season, while Albany-Saratoga Speedway was going through its asphalt-NASCAR-crate engine phase, Tremont needed another track for his Friday night racing, and chose Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
Despite not having raced at the tricky bullring before, Tremont wound up winning the track championship. helped by a pair of victories and six second-place finishes. He was also named the modified rookie of the year, which sounds a little strange for a 49-year-old driver who has about 30 track championships to his credit, but it was his first year at The Ridge, so he was eligible.
But now that the clay is back down on Albany-Saratoga and the track is being leased by Howie Commander, the promoter at Lebanon Valley Speedway — where the Tremont family is as much a part of the racing landscape as the high banks — Tremont has switched back to Albany-Saratoga, where he’s a 12-time champion.
But unlike the Kentucky basketball players, who probably won’t even take a glimpse of the Lexington campus in their rearview mirrors, Tremont is really going to miss The Ridge.
“I really liked it there,” he said this week. “It was low-pressure, low-key. Mike and Jake [co-promoters Mike Romano and Jake Spraker] have done a trememdous job there. I just wish they’d go to Sundays. I’d be right back there.
“But everyone associated with me grew up around Malta, and everyone is looking forward to going back.”
While many drivers complain about The Ridge, where racing is really a contact sport, Tremont said he never had any problems there.
“You’ve always got to be on your guard,” he said. “You can go as hard as you want, but you have to know who you can trust. You don’t want to be on the outside of anyone going into [turn] four, myself included. Guys are going to slide up.
“I went through a whole season with the same bumpers and nerf bars, and all we had to do with sheet metal was bang it out once in a while.”
Tremont may not be the king of Albany-Saratoga, but he’s definitely part of the royal family. When he won the track championship in 2010 (his 12th title overall at the track), he became the first modified driver in the history of the speedway to win championships on both dirt and asphalt. His 55 victories put him third on the all-time win list, behind Brett Hearn and Jack Johnson.
Tremont’s ability to bring a race car home in one piece is one of the reasons that he’s been able to pile up so many track championships during his career, and it’s also one of the reasons he was so frustrated about his opening-night performance at Lebanon Valley last Saturday, when he finished 24th.
“Engines, engines, engines,” lamented Tremont. “We had a new car and new motor for warmups [on April 7], and the oil pressure was fluctuating. We put more oil in it, but had the same problem in our heat Saturday. I qualified, but I didn’t trust the motor, so we brought the backup car out for the feature. Then, we burned two pistons in that.”
Tremont will be hoping for better luck tonight when Albany-Saratoga Speedway holds a 35-lap, $2,500-to-win modified feature. The track, under the direction of general manager Lyle DeVore, had a “shakedown” cruise Thursday night.
Tremont, an associate professor in the automotive, manufacturing and electrical engineering technologies department at Hudson Valley Community College, began racing in 1979, when he got out of high school, and has a dirt track resume that ranks up with the best drivers ever. But there are still times when he wonders, “What if?”
“I always wanted to race fulltime, but I just could never give it a fulltime effort,” he said. “Even when I was running the [Super DIRT] series, I’d still have to go to the garage to work, I just never had the opportunity to make a living from racing.”
Following Albany-Saratoga’s practice session last Sunday, many fans and drivers observed that the track seemed narrower than it used to be.
During the last five or six years that clay was on the speedway, each time new clay was added, former promoter Bruce Richards would push the clay out further in turns one and two and down the backstretch, essentially creating another racing lane.
When the clay came off two years ago, the original asphalt surface was somewhat narrower, and when the crew from Lebanon Valley put the clay back on last fall, they followed the outline of the asphalt.
Thus, the present surface is definitely narrower.
When A.J. Romano takes delivery of a new JMP small-block engine later this year, he’ll be able to thank horse power for his horsepower.
Gavin Ragusa, who has been on Romano’s pit crew since he began racing, has two main interests — horse racing and stock car racing. On the opening day of the Santa Anita meet, he was in the Gloversville OTB, making his bets and watching the monitors, trying to urge home some winners.
On a whim, he bet a couple of Pick 6s, and one of them hit — to the tune of $105,000.
One of his “investments” will be a new small block engine.
Ironically, this is the second time Romano has benefitted from a big payout at the track. A number of years ago, another of Romano’s Johnstown buddies, Mike DuBois, hit a large superfecta at Saratoga Race Course,and gave Romano a share of the winnings.
Around the tracks
u If the first two weeks of the season are any indication, Stewart Friesen is going to have a lucrative year running in Montgomery County. He has a win and a second at The Ridge and a fifth and a victory at Fonda Speedway.
u The CSRA sprints will be on the card at Fonda Speedway Saturday night.
u Mike Romano might be partial, but he said that Matt Sheppard’s win at The Ridge last Friday ranked up with the best modified features he’s ever seen, as Sheppard, Friesen and Bobby Varin kept the crowd on their feet. That will be the last time The Ridge fans will see Sheppard for a while, however, as he’ll start racing at Brewerton tonight.