Stock car racing: ‘Rumble at the Ridge’ proves that little track is all grown up
Mike Romano’s “baby” is growing up fast.
It’s like a child going through a growth spurt. Suddenly, the pant legs are too short and the shoes are too tight. But in Romano’s case, going to the store and buying new clothes isn’t an option.
Romano’s “baby” (Jake Spraker is the other half of the proud-parents promoting team) is Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, the facility still known as “The Little Track on the Hill,” and it just keeps on growing.
“When we took over 31⁄2 years ago, we had a few 100 people in the stands and maybe 100 people in the pits,” Romano said earlier this week. “That’s what we were up against. You know, Jake and I were talking about it today. We’ve put in more bleachers, we’ve made the pits bigger, the purses have grown, we’re getting a better field of drivers. If you graph it, our attendence has gone up consistently, and I’m sure it will go up again next year. We need to keep growing, but we’ve almost outgrown what we can do here. We almost have too many cars now, but I suppose that’s a good problem to have.”
For those who haven’t been there, Glen Ridge sits up on the hill overlooking Route 5S in Glen, and there’s virtually no more room left for expansion. But that hasn’t stopped Romano and Spraker from continuing to be ambitious.
They’re going to put on the biggest show in the history of Glen Ridge on Monday, Sept. 5. Years ago, Labor Day used to mean the Labor Day Classic at the New York State fairgrounds in Syracuse, but in recent years, very few promoters have opted to run on the last big weekend before the first day of school.
But Romano and Spraker knew they wanted to do something big this year, and have come up with “Rumble at the Ridge.”
The highlight of the Rumble will be a 77-lap modified feature which will pay $7,711 to win. Therein arises an interesting story.
“Instead of doing a banquet at the end of the year, we decided to take some of the money that DIRTcar gave their promoters and put it in a purse and let the guys race for it, which is what they said they wanted,” said Romano, who was elected to the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame two winters ago. “Originally, we were going to run a 50-lapper and double the purse, and pay $3,000 to win.”
But that’s before a couple of the track’s sponsors got involved. George Rifenburgh of Rifenburgh Construction, also a longtime sponsor of Ken Tremont Jr., who has been making his Friday night home at Glen Ridge this year, said he’d kick in another $2,000.
Then Mike Sowle got involved. Sowle’s son, Jamike, has been having a tough year at the Ridge, and according to Romano, “Mike said he wanted to do something to change his kid’s luck. JaMike’s number is 711, so Mike said he’d kick in another $2,711 and said, ‘Let’s make it 77 laps.’ That’s how it happened.”
S&S Paving, another of Tremont’s sponsors, also got involved and bumped up the second-place payoff.
The Rumble was originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 2, but because of a number of rainouts, Romano decided to use Sept. 2 for a regular show. But moving the “Rumble” to Sept. 5 should make the race a real must-see event, as there’s a Super DIRT Series race at Weedsport on Sept. 4, and you can bet a number of those drivers will haul down to the ridge for a shot at the $7,711.
“We’ve already talked to the people at DIRTcar and if everything goes well, this [Labor Day] will be the date for our Super DIRT Series race next season,” Romano said.
Glen Ridge has two more regular Friday night shows, including tonight, and has a 100-lap race for sportsman scheduled as the season finale.
“We’re going to close a little earlier this year because there are some things we want to do to the track, to the surface, before the weather gets bad.” Romano said.
Glen Ridge has come a long way under the co-promoting of Romano and Spraker, but making the transition from driver to promoter hasn’t always been easy.
“When we first took it over, there were some nights when we’d say, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ Romano said. “We took it over it the middle of the year [2008}, and during the winter, we sat down and said that we had to change this and we had to change that. But I thing we’ve accomplished a lot, and the fans are getting a real good show.
“It took us 31⁄2 years to get where we are now, but I still have to figure out how to enjoy myself. This can get way too stressful.”
End of an Era
Champlain Valley Racing Association founder C.J. Richards announced this week that Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Fair Haven, Vt., are for sale.
Albany-Saratoga has unofficially been for sale for a couple of years, and the Richards family has even entertained some offers in the past, but this marks the first time that the Malta track has been listed with a real estate broker.
The Richards family has operated Albany-Saratoga Speedway since 1977. and during the 1980s, it earned the nickname “The Great Race Place” because its Friday night show drew the best drivers from Fonda and Lebanon Valley speedways.
If you weren’t around to watch Tommy Corellis in the Dudley Billings small block, Dick Larkin, Chuck Ely, Dave Leckonby and Mert Hulbert goes to wheel-to-wheel with Lou Lazzaro, Jack Johnson, Dave Lape and C.D. Coville, you missed a part of racing history.
And if you were around in those days, you remember a young Mike Ronca dominating the hobby stock division, Bob Hackel and Jeff Trombley in mini-stocks (and who can forget C.J. Richards in the Sunkist 69?) and the $10,000-to-win Super Shootouts.
The decision to switch from dirt to asphalt two years ago started a downward spiral in both car counts and attendance, and the additional change to 602 crate engines this season sent a lot of drivers looking for other tracks at which to race. And everyone who left went back to their dirt roots.
There’s a good chance that Devil’s Bowl will remain in operation, even if a sale takes place, but the future of Albany-Saratoga Speedway is uncertain, as the property would be a prime site for commercial development.
Around the tracks
The antique sprint cars and midgets of the Atlantic Coast Old Timers will be at Albany-Saratoga Speedway tonight and at Lebanon Valley Saturday.
Participants will be coming from all over the Northeast. Some of the Old Timers who plan on attending both shows are Ken Gypson, Ken Goewey and John Cahill, all of Troy; Carl Fink of Albany, Joe Sukup of Schodack Landing, Al Mignault of Schenectady and Bud Hinman of Waterville. . . .
The $17,500-to-win Mr. Dirt Track USA race at Lebanon Valley was rained out Thursday night. It’s been rescheduled for next Thursday.