Former kart champ makes a big jump

A.J. Filbeck's travels have taken him to Utica-Rome Speedway, where he is racing in the sportsman di

If you are a fan of the “Today” morning show, you are familiar the “Where in the world is Matt Lauer?” segment. Once a year, Lauer takes a trip to an undisclosed location, and doesn’t reveal where he is until he appears on television from the location.

Locally, the same can by said about A.J. Filbeck.

In the fall of 2000, Filbeck began racing at Caroga Creek Raceway, which started many years of success, with victories and championships in a go-kart. His success got to the point where he was the talk of the local racing radio shows.

Now 20 years old, Filbeck is driving a sportsman at Utica-Rome Speedway on a regular basis, and had his best finish of the year, an eighth, last Sunday.

“We’re working at it,” Filbeck said. “It’s not easy, but we’re working at it. I was very happy when I got out of the car, but I knew that there were things that I could have done better.”

Filbeck graduated from Broadalbin-Perth Central School in 2006, and went to work at his father’s body shop, A-1 Auto Body, in Perth.

“I didn’t go to college right away, but have thought about doing so, maybe for accounting,” he said. “But I really love doing body work on cars, and it comes in handy because I can paint my own race car, like I did with the sportsman that I have now.”

In 2000, Filbeck’s father, Art, who raced at Fonda off and on in a street stock and small-block mod­ified in the 1980s, took part in the Richard Petty Driving experience at New Hampshire, and A.J. had the opportunity to go out on the track with a trained driver.

“As soon as I got in the car and we went down pit road, I knew that I wanted to race,” Filbeck said.

Before the driving experience, Filbeck had been asked by Dan Canton, a family friend and Dustin Delaney’s crew chief, if he wanted to take Delaney’s go-kart out for warmups. At the time, Filbeck kept saying no, but that all changed after the ride-along in the Petty Driving Experience.

“When I got out of the Petty Driving Experience car in New Hampshire, I knew that I wanted to give go-karts a try,” Filbeck said.

He started his go-kart racing career at Caroga Creek, and for the next six years, he was scoring wins and championships at Caroga Creek, Glen Ridge, Turkey Trot, Albany-Saratoga and Dodge City.

“We had a championship at Car­oga Creek in 2001, at Dodge City in 2002, at Glen Ridge in 2004 and again at Caroga Creek in 2005,” he said. “We had a total of 17 wins in a row on Friday night in 2002, and all total, 22 overall wins at all of the tracks that we visited that year.”

The 2006 season was a traveling year for Filbeck, and at the end of the season, all of his

go-kart equipment was sold, and he looked to move on to bigger and better things.

“It was time to get away from all of the nonsense that was going on in go-kart racing,” he said. “It was time to move on.”

One day last February, Art Filbeck left his shop without telling anyone where he was going. He later called his brother at the body shop, telling him to bring the company flatbed truck out for a call.

The flatbed wound up at Jake Spraker’s race shop, where Art Filbeck was buying a race car. It wasn’t just any race car either; it was the black Bicknell car that Bobby Varin had so much success with, and set the track record with, at Fonda Speedway.

“I had no clue that he was going to buy the car,” A.J. Filbeck said. “They towed it back to the body shop on the flatbed, and I was very surprised.”

Four weeks ago, Glen Ridge promoters Spraker and Mike Romano allowed Filbeck to bring the car to their track and run in the budget sportsman class. It allowed Filbeck to get a feel of the car, and the differences between the go-kart and the open-wheel stock car.

The following week, Filbeck raced at Utica-Rome for the first time, finishing 13th. He followed that up with a 16th-place finish two weeks ago, and the eighth-place finish last Sunday, after starting 18th with the Engine Dynamics-powered car.

“We have confidence in ourselves, and nobody really knows us at Utica-Rome, so we can go up there and do our own thing,” Filbeck said. “We just need to go up there, mind our own business, and I have to learn how to drive this car and keep it in one piece.”

“At the end of the season, we plan on running a couple of races at Fonda, but for right now, we need to get used to running the car at one track before we go to other tracks.”

Filbeck will be at the Advance Auto Parts on Route 30 in Amsterdam Saturday from 10 a.m. until

2 p.m. to meet with fans and sign autographs. His car will also be on display.

RACING TO READ

On Monday at 6:30 p.m., the Gloversville School District will hold the awards ceremony for its “Racing to Read” program at Park Terrace Field in Gloversville. According to Fonda Speedway IMCA driver Howard Smith, who will be a guest speaker, there will be over 1,400 kids receiving awards.

Other drivers scheduled to appear at the event with their race cars include John Bradt, Dave Horning Sr., Josh Hohenforst, Erik Nelson and Sheldon Martin.

MUSEUM ADDS the P-13

The very popular “Syracuse Mile” exhibit in the Racing in New York gallery of the Saratoga Automobile Museum recently lost one noteworthy race car, but gained another of great interest.

“The very popular Batmobile that Gary Balough used to blow away the entire field at Syracuse had to go back to the DIRT Museum for its Hall of Fame program,” said exhibit coordinator Ron Hedger. “In looking for a replacement, I found that Dick Ackerman had the P-13 available. It’s almost entirely original, and people who have seen it in the gallery can’t believe that Tommy Wilson ran it well over 100 mph on the Syracuse mile.”

Built originally by owner Charlie Pierce of Deansboro and mechanic Freddy DeCarr, who went on to build and maintain the famed S-33 that Bill Wimble drove to a pair of NASCAR National Sportsman championships, the car shows how simple stock cars were in the early 1950s.

A single roll bar offered Wilson minimal protection, but the engine, full of California hot rod parts that most other owners had yet to

acquire, made the car the one to beat around central New York. The team claimed the Eastern Mutual Racing Association championship at Brookfield, which was then the area’s most competitive track, in 1952 and 1953, and won at a half-dozen other area tracks, as well.

The P-13 joins Cliff

Kotary’s famed State Fair-winning No. 60 and the Enterprise

Machine Shop championship car once driven by New York hero Jim Hurtubise in the “Syracuse Mile” exhibit.

AROUND THE TRACKS

Jack Johnson will be seeing more sky than usual when he pulls into the pits at Albany-Saratoga tonight. The big shade tree that Johnson has parked under for years was completely uprooted by Tuesday’s storm.

Ken Tremont Jr., the defending champion at Devil’s Bowl Speedway, picked up his first win of the year at the Vermont track last Sunday.

WEEKEND SCHEDULE

Tonight will be Kids Night/Awareness Night at Albany-Sar­atoga Speedway. Kids will get stock car rides, there will be a T-shirt giveaway and a Bouncy Bounce will be set up behind the main grandstand. All divisions will be in action, with racing starting at 6:45.

Glen Ridge Motorsports Park will have a regular show in the mod­ified, budget sportsman and cruiser divisions tonight, while the second leg of the Harry’s Auto Street Stock Series will be run, along with the Central New York Mini-Sprints. Starting time will be 7:30.

On Saturday, Fonda Speedway will be hosting a regular show in all divisions, beginning at 6 p.m.

Categories: Sports

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