OK, cue up Sinatra.
“I’ve had a life that’s full/
I’ve traveled each and every highway/
But more, much more than this/
I did it my way.”
Sounds a lot like Ronnie Johnson, doesn’t it?
After many seasons of being affiliated with very successful car owners — first, Alton and Carol Palmer; for the last two years, Jake Spraker — Johnson is changing course again, and will be doing everything his way this year.
Johnson, the two-time Fonda Speedway modified champion, is going back to fielding his own team, and for the first time in 16 years won’t be running at Fonda on Saturday nights.
“I’m going to be running for myself, on Friday at Albany-Saratoga and on Saturday at Lebanon Valley,” said Johnson earlier this week. “I’m going to be running my own cars, with my own number. I just felt it was time to go back on my own.”
The changes actually began late in the 2017 season, when Johnson and Spraker parted company. During the offseason, Johnson spent a lot of time with his crew and sponsors, contemplating the future.
“I have a really good race team,” said Johnson. “I’m also lucky that my wife, Shelley, and stepdaughter Nikki are totally supportive of what I do. I’ve got 15 to 20 volunteer team members who are dedicated and loyal. My sponsors have stepped up their programs to make it possible for me to run Albany-Saratoga and Lebanon Valley. They said they wanted to put in an effort to go to the Valley and, being on my own, I can’t race without the support of my sponsors. I go where they want me to.”
This isn’t the first time Johnson has opted to run at the Valley on Saturday nights. From 1999 to 2001, he raced for Bryan Goewey, and it took him the better part of those three seasons to be a consistent top-five finisher.
He won his first modified feature at the Valley on July 3, 1999. He also had a win in 2000, but was winless in 2001, despite seven top-five finishes, including a pair of seconds.
But that was then; this is now.
“I was 25 years old when I went there the first time,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t as mature as I am now. This time, I’m going back with a whole different mindset.
“I’m sure there’s going to be a transition period, but I’m going to treat it like any other track, and just do what we do best. It’s a different type of racing. You can be really fast on any given night and still finish seventh or eighth. You need a good engine program and a good braking system to run there, and I think those are two of the strengths of my team. I think we’ll be competitive there, or I wouldn’t be going.”
But don’t expect Johnson to make any bold predictions concerning his return to the high banks of the Valley.
“I just want to roll in and go racing,” he said. “I live by the rule that actions speak louder than words.”
As much as he’s looking forward to going to Lebanon Valley, he’s especially anxious to get back to Albany-Saratoga on Friday nights.
“I love Albany-Saratoga,” he said. “That’s still the greatest track to race at. Hopefully, I’ll be successful enough to keep the team fully funded and keep going.”
During the offseason, Justin Boehler announced that he was retiring from racing.
Boehler, 31, had been experiencing back pain during the winter and went to a couple of different doctors before it was discovered that he had disc degeneration, the result of a broken back.
Boehler has been involved in a couple of bad wrecks over the years, but no fractures were ever detected, and he was cleared each time. But this time, the damage was found and rather than undergo tricky back surgery, Boehler opted to retire.
It’s a shame, because Boehler, who won last year’s season-opening Ice Jam at Fonda Speedway, was just coming into his own.
AMONG THE BEST
During the winter, Albany-Saratoga Speedway promoter Lyle DeVore was one of the six finalists for the Auto Racing Promoter of the Year, recognized as short track racing’s most prestigious award. It is awarded each year after voting by promoters. The award was originated in 1976 by the editor of Racing Promotion Monthly.
DeVore, who made the top six by winning a regional Promoter of the Year Award, probably wasn’t too disappointed. After all, his favorite hockey team, the Washington Capitals, has been disappointing him for years.
REV IT UP
Weather permitting, two of the area tracks will open their gates this weekend for inspection and/or practice. The Ridge will be conducting practice on Sunday at 2 p.m. and Albany-Saratoga will be holding inspection, as well as a swap meet, Sunday starting at noon. Fonda Speedway canceled its inspection/practice session that had been scheduled for Saturday.
As usual, this all hinges on the weather.
Reach Gazette Sports Editor Tom Boggie at 518-395-3160 or [email protected].
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