At the age of 69, many men have retired to the rocking chair on the porch, might play a little golf, and spend some time doing yard work or gardening.
Not Bob Vedder. Once a week, the Schoharie resident wrestles a 2,400-pound race car around a quarter-mile bullring against drivers who are half — or even one-third — his age.
And he’s still darn good at it.
Thanks to some help from former driver John Bellinger, Vedder has become a consistent top-five finisher at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, and appears to be on the verge of chalking up his first win in nearly 20 years.
The last time Vedder, who still puts in a full work day every day at his own excavating company, won a race was in the sportsman division at Fonda Speedway in 1997. But there are a lot of people around Glen Ridge, including Vedder himself, who think there’s going to be a celebration sometime this season.
“I’ve certainly got plans to win one,” said Vedder earlier this week. “This is the best I’ve run in a long time.”
He can thank Bellinger, a long-time friend and former driver, for that.
“I really struggled last year,” Vedder said. “I finished third in points at Glen Ridge and that was pure luck. Then I started out bad this year. The track was slippery, and I’m not good on a slippery track. I was so discouraged that I wanted to hang it up.
“I started to talk to John and we got around to talking about the shocks, and he told me to bring the shocks up to his shop. ‘I think I can get you going again,’ he said. He went through the shocks and said, ‘I don’t even know how you drove with those things.’
“I also talked to Willy Decker and he gave me a few ideas, and the last four weeks, the car has been real fast. I probably should have won one or two by now, to be honest. But it’s a lot more fun when the car is competitive.”
Drivers like Bob Vedder are what’s great about racing. He’s in the 49th season behind the wheel, and has made a ton of friends. He’s liked by fans, drivers and officials wherever he races.
Although he’s won a number of features in the sportsman division, he’s never won a modified feature. Well, that’s not entirely true. He did win a feature at Glen Ridge a couple of years ago, but came up light on the scales at the post-race weigh-in.
“That was a topless night [when cars run without roofs],” said Vedder, who started racing in a late model at Victoria and Stateline speedways in 1966. “I took the panels off and never rescaled the car, and we were light by three pounds.”
Although he’s never won a modified feature, he does have a track championship to boast about. That came in Brookfield Speedway in 1995.
“I brought a Troyer from John Bellinger in 1995 and we started going to Brookfield, and I ended up winning the championship,” said Vedder. “That’s the only time I’ve won a championship. That [racing at Brookfield] was a real throwback. It was like going back to the ’60s. It was fun hauling up there on Friday nights.”
The car that Vedder is campaigning now is a 2012 Bicknell chassis that was a real handful when it was new.
“I couldn’t get that thing to go,” said Vedder. “I couldn’t make it work on the American Racers. So I parked it and bought a car from Andy Romano, the one he had Bobby Varin in. I figured I could get that car to go, but I only ran so-so. I ran half of last year with it, and then parked that one and brought the 2012 car back out. It turned out it was better on Hoosiers than it was with American Racers.”
In six starts this season, Vedder already has four top-five finishes, compared to just two all of last year, and one of these nights, everything is going to fall into place and he’s going to be back in victory lane.
But don’t think that a victory will convince him it’s time to retire.
“I want to race at least one more year, so I can say I’ve raced for 50 years,” Vedder said. “I enjoy this so much. If I can stay fairly competitive, I’d like to keep doing it for a while. I keep myself busy during the day, and I really look forward to Friday nights. One night is enough for me to get my racing fix.”
Donnie Wetmore, who grew up around the tracks of the Capital Region, has been selected for induction into the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame. The induction will be held on Aug. 5 in Weedsport.
Wetmore’s mother, Ethel, was a scorer at Lebanon Valley Speedway for many years and his older brother, Stan, drove at the Valley, so it was natural for Donnie to get involved at an early age.
He became one of the top drivers on the small-block Outlaw circuit after starting to race in the Syracuse area in 1975. His resumé shows over 200 career wins, and he’s still the all-time feature winner at Fulton Speedway with 68.
Around the tracks
Stewart Friesen is scheduled to make his 2015 modified debut at Albany-Saratoga Speedway tonight.
It looked like Ronnie Johnson was finally going to get his first win of the year at Fonda Speedway last Saturday, but a brake problem in the closing laps of the first feature dropped him back to third.
Varin’s win in the first feature at Fonda was the 51st of his career, moving him past Pete Corey into fifth place on the all-time win list.
Friesen had the fans at Fonda shaking their heads again last Saturday. In the second feature, he had to start last after getting disqualified following his heat race for coming up light. He consistently charged to the front in the feature, and passed A.J. Romano on the last lap to come away with his fifth win of the year.
Both Cody Bleau and Adam McAuliffe walked away from hard wrecks in the sportsman feature last weekend at Fonda. According to track officials, McAuliffe suffered a concussion.
Rocky Warner won last Sunday’s 602 sportsman feature at Utica-Rome Speedway. That was Warner’s 10th win of the season.
Albany-Saratoga’s racing card tonight will include the annual Mark Hughes Memorial for the sportsman division.
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