Mike Romano of Johnstown, a three-time modified champion at Fonda Speedway who had his racing career cut short by health problems, will be inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame at the organization’s annual banquet on Jan. 23.
The Class of 2010 will also include drivers Jimmy Spencer and Charlie Rudolph, and car owner Jerry Higbie Jr.
Romano will join his father, Andy, in the Hall of Fame, as the elder Romano was inducted in 2003.
“I was really surprised when Ron Hedger [NYSSCA Hall of Fame chairman] called me,” said Romano Thursday. “To be honest, it doesn’t seem like five years. I’ve been so busy with the race track and the speed shop, things go by fast.”
Romano last raced in 2004, which put him just outside the five-year window for consideration for the Hall of Fame. Besides running Andy’s Speed Shop in Johnstown, he and Jake Spraker are the promoters of Glens Ridge Motorsports Park in Glen.
Although the Romano family grew up in Johnstown and Andy Romano was a regular at Fonda Speedway, Mike Romano spent the first five years of his racing career in western New York.
“I got mad at my dad because he wouldn’t let me go to Fonda and race in front of my friends,” said Romano. “Instead, I was running at Rolling Wheels, Canandaigua and Weedsport.
“I didn’t realize it then, but it was actually good for me, because I was getting in three nights of racing.”
It took Romano four years before his won his first modified feature, at Rolling Wheels in 1980. That was also the same season he became a regular at Fonda Speedway.
During his career at Fonda, Romano won 48 big-block features, and also had 21 wins in the small-block divisions, first in the 320s, and later in the 358s.
Romano left Fonda Speedway in 1993 after a dispute with speedway officials over a disqualification, and spent three years racing in Quebec at Granby and Drummondville, winning track titles at both tracks in 1995.
Although he also raced on the Fulton/Utica-Rome “outlaw circuit,” he returned to Fonda in 1996 and finished out his career at the Track of Champions, racing with his younger brother, A.J.
“When I first started racing, I told my dad if I couldn’t win, I didn’t want to do it,” said Romano. “I was crashing cars quite regularly at Rolling Wheels then, and I remember saying that I wasn’t going to race just to finish. That’s probably why I quit so young, because it wasn’t fun anymore.”
Spencer, a native of Berwick, Pa., first displayed his prowess at Shangri-La Speedway in a family-owned car, winning the track title in 1983. Known as “Mr. Excitement,” Spencer also won the 1983 Race of Champions at Pocono.
Spencer won NASCAR national modified championships in 1986 and 1987 before moving up to Busch and later Winston Cup racing, scoring his only two Winston Cup victories in 1994 at Daytona and Talladega when he was driving for Junior Johnson.
Always in the middle of the action on the track, Spencer continues to entertain race fans an an analyst on Speed Channel.
Rudolph was equally adept on asphalt and dirt. He won track championships on the asphalt at Lancaster in 1980, 1992 and 1993, and picked up titles on dirt at Ramsonville, Weedsport and Rolling Wheels.
He was also a two-time winner of the Mohawk Valley 200 at Fonda Speedway, and won the Mr. DIRT championship in 1986.
Rudolph switched back to asphalt and qualified for four Winston Cup races before retiring as a driver. He is now in the pits with his son Erik, one of NASCAR’s top modified drivers.
Higbie began his career as a driver in the 1960s, but found his niche as a car owner along with his brother, Gary. During one span, the Higbies had drivers like Larry Brolsma, Jeff Heoztler, Steve Bottcher, Frank Cozze and both Ricci brothers behind the wheel of his cars.
When his brother retired from racing, Jerry Higbie put his efforts into making his son, Jerry Jr., into a successful driver at Accord and Orange County speedways.