Fresh season, fresh track.
Fonda Speedway is ready for its close-up, having undergone a track renovation last year that has heightened eagerness from drivers and fans to get the racing season started this year.
And the drivers, at least, will get to experience the new surface on Saturday, June 6, when Fonda holds a test-and-tune practice session from 6-10 p.m.
Likewise, Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta will hold practice runs from 5-8 p.m. on Wednesday and next Friday, after seeing the start of its racing season delayed indefinitely by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s anybody’s guess when spectators will be allowed on the grounds, which tempers some of the enthusiasm moving forward for a sport that relies on crowd support to keep the show on the road.
As thrilled as Fonda promoter Brett Deyo is to finally be able to show off his resurfaced track, the uncertainty over when fans will be allowed in makes it difficult to enjoy the moment too much.
“We’ve got two things going on. One, people have been cooped up for so long and haven’t had the opportunity to get on the track,” Deyo said on Wednesday. “And the second thing is we put new clay down over the winter, we resurfaced the whole track last fall and into the early portion of the winter, so there’s even more anticipation to get onto the new track surface. It’s the first resurfacing there in probably 20 years.
“So, yeah, we have a lot of excitement for people to get back on the track.”
Pit gates at Fonda will open at 4 p.m. on June 6, with pit admission $20 for Fonda Speedway members and $25 for non-members. Competitors will be required to wear facemasks to enter the facility and will be urged to practice physical distancing.
At Albany-Saratoga, the rules be the same. The June 3 open practice will be available to Modified, Limited Sportsman, Pro Stock and Street Stock, and the June 5 practice is reserved for Modified, Sportsman, 4-Cylinder and Sprint Cars.
Deyo said it cost $65,000 to resurface Fonda, but the hope was that it would attract more participation and more cars. If nothing else, the new surface should be easier on tire wear and tear, saving drivers money.
The track laid down 8-12 inches of clay to cover the exposed stone base layer and had been scheduled to hold open practice on April 11, followed by the start of racing on April 18.
“I’m not really sure what our next move is going to be after practice,” he said. “With the regulations, technically the way it reads is it’s essential personnel only and no spectators at all. It’s very, very difficult to run a race without spectators, financially, even with trying to stream it online.
“I think all the tracks in the area are looking at each other, trying to figure out what do we do next, after we get through these few practices. We probably could race, legally, the following week, but we’d be running with a skeleton staff and no crowd. In our business, you need the crowd, you need the pit area, you need the food stands, you need the beer booth, you need the novelty stand. You need all those things to make it work.”
On a typical Saturday night, Fonda pays out $24,000 in purses, Deyo said, an expense that depends on revenue from spectators.
He said he promoted races in North Carolina on Thursday and Friday last week, spectator-free, and another race in South Carolina on Saturday, with a crowd, and the South Carolina event essentially financed all three days.
He hears from fans and drivers on a daily basis, wondering when the season can finally start. The drivers will get a taste of it on June 6, but the fans will have to wait.
“The hard part is the communication has been so vague and hard to disseminate, from the state level,” Deyo said. “A lot of times we don’t know anything more than the people watching on TV. We’re lucky our county has been supportive of us, [county executive] Matt Ossenfort and Montgomery County. We’ve been communicating with him to help decipher what we can and can’t do. But it’s a challenge.
“We put all the clay on the track. We were pretty heavily invested, thinking that April we’d start to get a return, and here we are June and haven’t done anything yet.”