Ronnie Johnson has been around racing long enough to realize that one win isn’t going to dictate what happens for the rest of the season.
But his modified victory at Fonda Speedway last Saturday did take a lot of pressure off his race team.
“It was definitely a relief,” said Johnson earlier this week. “It was definitely a confidence booster for everyone, my team, my wife, my daughter Nikki. We all needed it.”
Then, in the next sentence, Johnson put in perspective what a very successful driver who has been in a slump really feels.
“I think there might even be a little more pressure on me now,” he said. “Now, I’ve got to go out and back it up.”
Johnson, the 2011 modified champion at Fonda, has teamed up with car owner Jake Spraker for his Saturday night program this season. Johnson had a successful run driving for Alton Palmer, but that team ran into some rough times last year, losing a ton of equipment in bad wrecks at Fonda. During the offseason, the decision was made to split.
That left Johnson in somewhat of a dilemma. He had enough equipment to go back out on his own, but that wasn’t the road he wanted to take.
“I’ve had my own equipment since I started racing,” he said. “I’ve got engines and cars, enough equipment to race. Let’s put it this way, I wasn’t all set to go out on my own. I was going to attempt to race on my own. But then Jake came along and stepped up the program. I wouldn’t be racing at the level I am now if I was doing it on my own.”
But Johnson is doing his Friday night program at Albany-Saratoga Speedway out of his own pocket.
“Jake’s name is on the Malta car, and we have some cross-sponsorship, but that car is 100 percent funded by me,” Johnson said. “As long as I keep the car in one piece, I’ll keep going back. The car has to fund itself. I can afford some minor setbacks, but if we end up with a totally wrecked race car, or a major blown engine, that will really hurt us.”
Johnson thought he was going to get his first win of the year last Friday at Albany-Saratoga, after starting on the pole in the 35-lap modified feature. But Marc Johnson (no relation) made a strong run late in the race, came away with the victory, and Ronnie Johnson faded to fifth.
“I was really bummed. I had led the whole race,” said Johnson.
That’s the nature of stock car racing. Disappointment one night, relief the next. It’s a huge roller coaster, but it seems that once drivers get on, they can’t get off.
“Racing is a difficult thing,” Johnson said. “It’s like an addiction. It makes you do things that you know you probably shouldn’t do.”
With his first win at Fonda in nearly two years (his last trip to victory lane came on July 12, 2014) under his belt, Johnson’s next goal is simply win No. 2.
“If the car is right at Fonda, I know I can run with the best of them,” Johnson said. “I have a good team and a good car, but this was just one win. It’s too premature to make any kind of statement or put too much emphasis on one night.
“I’m real confident now, and Jake has been A-plus, but this week, I’ve just got to go back on Saturday and do it again.”
Fonda promoter Pete Demitraszek has to be commended for his season-long string of tribute nights. Lee Millington was honored last week, and this weekend will be Ray Dalmata Night.
I spent a lot of Saturday nights in the pits with the Dalmata teams (both Ray and Larry) and they were first-class people. Although Ray is probably best-known for winning the 1979 modified point championship at Fonda without winning a feature, I can still remember the look on his face when he earned a front-row starting position at Super DIRT Week in Syracuse in 1984. He only finished 23rd, but to have two Fonda drivers on the front row (Jack Johnson had the other front-row spot, and went on to win the race) said a lot about the Track of Champions.
Thanks to Demitraszek and the efforts of Dave and Jackie Lape and Ed and Betty Biittig, the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame is also open on Saturdays prior to the races. Each week, one of the visitors to the Hall of Fame will receive a free admission pass to the grandstands.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Billy Decker won last Saturday’s Super DIRT Series opener at Fulton Speedway. Decker, a fixture on the John Wight-owned Gypsum Racing Team for many years, was dropped by the team during the offseason and is racing for Mike Payne this season. It’s good to see that Decker, who began his racing career at Fonda, hasn’t lost a step.
After two postponements, Glen Ridge Motorsports Park will try to get in its first race of the season tonight.
Talk about making a long haul. Derrick McGrew was in South Carolina last week, lending support to his son’s go-kart racing career. But when the South Carolina race rained out, McGrew drove back to New York and then drove to his first sportsman win of the season at Albany-Saratoga last Friday night.