CARS HOMES JOBS

Area stock car racing: Spraker, Romano hope move to Sundays keeps The Ridge afloat

Friday, May 25, 2012
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Remember the old Taryton cigarette commercials, in which the Taryton smokers claimed they’d “rather fight than switch?”

Well, The Ridge co-promoters Mike Romano and Jake Spraker are tired of fighting, and are ready to switch.

Faced with bank-account-crushingly low numbers at both the front and back gates, Romano and Spraker have decided to switch racing nights. Beginning on June 3, the track will move its racing date from Friday to Sunday nights in an attempt to keep the Montgomery County facility in operation for the rest of the season.

When Albany-Saratoga Speedway was leased by Lebanon Valley promoter Howie Commander last fall, and it was announced that the historic Malta track would convert back to dirt, Romano and Spraker knew they were going to lose some cars. In the two seasons that Albany-Saratoga ran as an asphalt track, The Ridge picked up both cars and fans who wanted nothing to do with asphalt racing, and as a result, the Ridge enjoyed two of its best seasons ever.

But things have now hit rock bottom. Last Friday, there were only 11 modifieds at The Ridge, and by Monday, Spraker and Romano had decided to switch to Sunday nights.

“To be honest, we knew Malta was going to hurt us, but we didn’t think it would be anywhere near this bad,” said Spraker. “But we’re not going to sit here and keep losing money.”

According to Spraker, the loss he and Romano suffered last Friday night alone was to the tune of $4,000.

“We’re missing 250 [people] at the front gate and 250 at the back gate,” Spraker said. Figuring $10 at the front gate and $25 at the back, that’s almost $9,000 that’s not around to help cover the cost of a regular racing card.

That also doesn’t take into consideration what Spraker and Romano have put into The Ridge since they took it over nearly four years ago.

“The bleachers were $42,000, the concession trailer was $38,000,” said Spraker. “We’ve put in close to $150,000 in improvements since we’ve been here. The new clay we put in this year was like eight or $9,000. If we knew it was going to be like this, we should have left the old stuff down.”

So The Ridge is on life support.

With some financial backing from Sowle Tractor Trailer Repair, The Ridge will be putting up some big money for the three Sunday shows in an attempt to get more cars. On June 3, the modifieds will be running for $2,000 to win, and the sportsman division will have a 50-lap feature, paying $1,000 to win. On June 10 and June 17, the modified winner will still get $2,000, and the sportsman winner will receive $750, a huge payday for that class compared to the other local tracks.

Racing will begin at 6 p.m. for the three Sunday shows.

Spraker said Ken Tremont Jr. and Marc Johnson have said they’ll return to the speedway, and Bobby Varin will be staying. But a couple more cars aren’t going to solve the problem. The Ridge needs a lot of support, both in the pits and in the grandstands.

After the three-week experiment, Spraker and Romano will reassess their commitment to Sundays, and to racing.

“I really think this will be OK,” said Spraker. “It has to be better than Fridays. If we can make a little profit and get through the rest of the year, that would be great. But if it goes bad for those three weeks, that’s going to be it for us.”

The Ridge will be running its usual Friday card tonight, with the Lightning Sprints joining the regular divisions.

Big racing weekend

No matter where you turn, something special is going on for the Memorial Day weekend.

On Sunday, Jack Johnson will be inducted into the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame in Weedsport. Johnson, who was forced to retire at the end of the 2009 season because of health issues, is an icon in Capital

Region racing and his 149 victories at Fonda Speedway is one of those records, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, that will probably never be broken.

At the Hall of Fame ceremonies, Carole and Alton Palmer will receive the Gene DeWitt Outstanding Car Owner Award, as the Palmers were instrumental in helping Johnson’s son, Ronnie, earn his first modified point championship at Fonda last season.

The Empire Super Sprints will be making a stop at Fonda Speedway Saturday night for their annual Earl Halaquist Memorial, a 25-lap feature paying $2,000 to win.

Prior to the night’s activities, a car show will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at the Winners Circle in Fonda. Cory Sparka, Mark Zemcik and Luke Monroe will have their sprint cars on display, along with a special display of a restored Lou Lazzaro car, and some modified and sportsman drivers will also be on hand with their cars.

Also on Saturday night, Misty-Lynn Hilts of Gloversville, Miss Fonda Fair, will be promoting her “Hope Rocks” campaign for children living with chronic health conditions and disabilities. Fans can paint or purchase rocks to support the program. Hilts will be competing in the Miss New York pageant in June.

The modifieds at Albany-Saratoga will be running for $3,000 to win tonight, double the normal payoff, and Lebanon Valley will be holding the Maynard Forrette Memorial Saturday night, which will also pay $3,000 to win. The big weekend will conclude on Memorial Day with the Victoria 200 at Utica-Rome. Varin is the defending champion of the race, which will pay $10,000 to win.

Around the tracks

Tom Czaban, a familiar figure at area tracks, was seriously injured in Tuesday night’s car crash that took the life of

Halfmoon teenager Taylor Mosher. Mosher’s car drifted across the center line on Route 146 in Halfmoon and hit Czaban’s SUV head-on. Czaban suffered serious

injuries, including a shattered right leg, broken pelvis, broken sternum and numerous cracked or broken ribs, and underwent surgery at Albany Medical Center Hospital. He’s facing a long recovery.

Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven Vt., will also be switching its racing dates this weekend, but the move from Sunday to Friday nights was preplanned. Tonight, the Bowl will be running Twin 20s for modifieds.

Last weekend, Vermont teenager Jessey Mueller came away with his first win of the season. Defending champion Ron Proctor finished third. The first three cars across the finish line were powered by crate

motors, while Don Scarborough, who was fourth, had the first 358 across the finish line.

Brett Hearn has been on a roller-coaster this week. Last Friday, he had his three-race winning streak snapped at

Albany-Saratoga Speedway, and on Saturday, he suffered driveline problems at Lebanon Valley on the first lap of the feature, and finished 23rd.

But he bounced back to finish second to Danny Johnson in Sunday’s DIRTcar 358-modified series race at Cornwall, and then won Monday night’s series race at Merritville.

In its continuing campaign to keep all of its sportsman drivers happy, Albany-Saratoga Speedway will be running double features in that division tonight. The qual­ified cars will be split into two groups, and each feature will carry a full purse and full points.

 
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