For the last four years, 23-year-old A.J. Filbeck has been making the trip from Broadalbin to race at Utica-Rome Speedway on Sunday nights. A couple of weeks ago at a special mid-week racing program, Filbeck won the first sportsman feature of his career, making the long trip and all of the miles traveled the past four years worthwhile.
“I still think about it every day,” Filbeck said about the win. “Hopefully, we will be able to do it again this year.”
At the end of 2000, Filbeck started his racing career where so many other drivers, do in a go-kart at both Caroga Creek and Dodge City speedways. That lasted until 2006, when, after winning over 80 feature events and four track championships, Filbeck decided it was time to do something else.
“The last couple of years when we raced go-karts, we traveled around a little and went to a track in Tennessee and actually raced there,” he said. “The track was right near Bristol, and it was really cool to be able to go there.”
After taking off the entire 2007 season, A.J.’s father and car owner, Art Filbeck, a former racer himself, decided to buy a race car and get Filbeck in the sportsman division in 2008.
“Jake Spraker had a 2007 Bicknell car for sale at the time, and my dad wanted that one as it was one of the cars that Bobby Varin won the track championship with at Fonda,” said Filbeck. “As a matter of fact, we still have that car.”
The ’07 Bicknell was raced for a couple of seasons before a new one was purchased that Filbeck didn’t really like. He’s now running a 2010 Bicknell car that he purchased from Mike Romano.
Motor-wise, Filbeck ran the first three seasons with a Mike Martin-built motor before purchasing a Tim Groski power plant from David Towns at the end of last season.
“David has been up to Utica-Rome and has helped us out some, and Tim [Groski] told us to call anytime and he would help us out with whatever he could,” Filbeck said.
Through the years, many people have helped Filbeck out with his race car including Varin, Matt Sheppard and Tony Mormile, who was a big influence in A.J.’s go-kart racing career, as well.
“At the track, my biggest help has come from Bobby [Varin] with setups and tips on driving as well,” Filbeck said. “Bobby is honest, and will help you out with anything. Tony was big in my go-kart career and still helps out to this day. He just seems to make sense of everything and having Tony and all of these other people to help me is great and kind of a comfort thing.”
The decision to run miles away at Utica-Rome was a tough decision because there are other tracks a lot closer, but with the limitations of having an open sportsman motor, it left little choice as to where Filbeck would race, as both Fonda Speedway and Glen Ridge Motorsports Park are now running crate sportsman motors.
“My dad wanted to race at Utica-Rome, so that is where we decided to race,” Filbeck said. “He likes [owner] Gene Cole, and all of the people there, and I do too. Actually, I would have liked to run at both Fonda and Utica-Rome, but it takes a lot of work and money to run two nights a week. Now that Fonda has done away with the open sportsman, it kind of made the decision for us anyway.”
Filbeck credited racing go-karts for helping him find the setup on the stock car, along with the importance of maintenance.
“Working on my go-kart helped me learn how to work on the car weekly, as far as maintenance goes, and how to get the setup on the car the same every week,” he said. “We actually work on the car every night, doing something which allows us to find a problem early in the week so that we can get it fixed by Sunday for race day.”
Filbeck, who is a graduate of the Broadalbin Perth High School, works at his family’s business, A-1 Auto Body, and can’t see himself doing anything else in the future.
“I started at the body shop a week after I graduated, and I like working in that field very much,” he said.
Although it took Filbeck four years to finally get a win, he never got discouraged.
“We were running up front and more consistent, so it wasn’t too disappointing to not get my first win until now,” Filbeck said. “I am glad that Utica-Rome kept the open sportsman, and I plan to run them as long as I can.”
Filbeck will finish out the season at Utica-Rome and possibly travel a little bit later in the year.
“The night we won at Utica-Rome, we also won a guaranteed starting spot for a race at Thunder Mountain later in the season, so we will probably race there if everything goes well the rest of the season,” he said.
Tonight at Albany-Saratoga Speedway will be Black Flag Night with a regular racing program in all divisions starting at 7.
Also tonight at the Glen Ridge Motorsports Park a regular show in all divisions is on the card, starting at 7:30.
On Saturday at Fonda Speedway, a regular show in all divisions will take to the track at 7 p.m.