Bobby Chatterton, of Fonda, operates a bulldozer to move piles of snow into place for a jump at Fonda Raceway on Tuesday to prepare for this weekend's snowmobile races.
FONDA Most winters, Fonda Speedway sits dormant and covered in snow while management awaits spring and the return of dirt racing.
Things will be different this weekend: The speedway will ring with screeching 600cc engines for the first time in decades, as scores of professional snowmobile racers and as many as 2,000 fans converge for the second stop of the East Coast Snocross 2013-14 Series.
“We’re excited about it,” said speedway promoter Matt DeLorenzo. “There haven’t been snowmobiles on this track since sometime in the 1970s.”
At a glance
At a glance
What: East Coast Snocross Series
Where: Fonda Speedway
When: Saturday and Sunday. Spectator gates will open at 10:30 a.m. each day, with racing getting underway at 11:45 a.m.
Admission: $12 per day for adults; $10 for children ages 8-12; age 7 and under will be admitted free with a paying adult. Pit passes will be available for an extra $10.
More info: www.eastcoastsnocross.com
Days before the event, the speedway dirt oval was home to grooming machines molding mountains of snow into rolling track. It was more engineering than race excitement, but Snocross spokesman Phil Whipple promised airborne machines and daredevil riders over the weekend.
“These things spend more time in the air than on the snow,” he said.
Starting with qualifying rounds at 10:30 a.m. each day, Whipple said races will run almost nonstop well into the afternoon.
“We try to run an action-packed event,” he said.
Bringing Snocross to Fonda was actually quite a coup for DeLorenzo, who has been promoter at the track for only three months. For decades, only summer events were held at the speedway. DeLorenzo’s very first event will take place on the snow.
“It was a little bold,” he said, “but I grew up on snowmobiles. It seemed like an option.”
Then there was the matter of sweet-talking a successful professional racing series to make one of its 10 annual stops in Fonda. Luckily, Whipple said, Fonda has a bit of a reputation among motor racers of all stripes.
“It’s legendary,” he said. “It’s Thunder Road of New York. Racers know about Fonda. The greats race there.”
He said he was blown away when DeLorenzo called just weeks after taking over the track.
Since taking over, DeLorenzo brought in crews to refurbish the grandstands, bathrooms, fencing and, finally, build a large and complicated snow track.
With a few days to go before the event, a massive groomer from Canada arrived at the speedway and started forming mountains of manufactured and collected snow into a ramped track, 3 feet thick at its thinnest point.
Whipple said there are banked corners and a host of jumps, including what he called “the rhythm section” — a strip of moguls forcing riders to precisely balance speed against the weight of their machines to avoid crash landings.
Aside from some local excitement, the event is projected to jump-start the area’s traditionally sluggish winter economy.
“Whenever you talk about thousands of people gathering,” said Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose, “you’re talking about more sales at local shops and eateries.”
Since there has never been a Snocross event in Fonda, Rose couldn’t hazard a guess at an exact economic impact. Whipple said his riders and crews will spend about $50,000 at local gas stations, hotels and restaurants. That number doesn’t take into account all the fans that will pour off the Thruway.
In the weeks after the event, Rose plans to follow up with local businesses to get a tally of their Snocross-related profits. If the impact is measurably large, he said, his department will work hard to bring the event back in years to come. He may not need to try that hard, though.
“The Mohawk Valley has a great base of snowmobilers,” Whipple said. “I think we might be able to come back four or five times before people get tired of us.”