Time for a little trip down Memory Lane.
Fulton Speedway will be holding its 25th annual 200-lapper on Saturday, with $20,000 going to the winner, and I don’t know about anyone else, but when I think about the Fulton 200, I always think about Mike Arminio.
No Capital Region driver has ever been to victory lane in what’s now called the Outlaw 200, still one of the premier short-track races of the season. Only two have ever finished second. Jack Johnson was the runner-up twice, in 1990 and 1991. The other runner-up from this area was Arminio, in 1988.
Arminio was a low-budget driver who began his racing career at Fonda Speedway, but it wasn’t until he made the move to Fulton that he really began to make a name for himself.
I did a column on Arminio in 1988, after he won the opening race of the season at Fulton, and at that time, he told me, “When I was growing up in Fultonville, all I ever wanted to do was race at Fonda, but it got to the point where it wasn’t fun for me anymore. I just couldn’t afford to race there anymore.”
So he made the switch to Fulton.
“I’d drive 145 miles one way, going right by Fonda to get there and right by it to get home,” he said Thursday. “Fulton had good, clean racing and you could run the tires for half the year. Fonda had a lot of professional drivers, but Fulton was mostly weekly guys like me.”
He won the first four features at Fulton in 1985, but then blew the only motor he had and sat out the rest of the season.
He struggled in 1986, and missed the first six weeks of the 1987 campaign, waiting for engine parts. But once he returned, he had an incredible season, recording 13 top-five finishes, including four victories, in 22 races. That year, he finished fourth in the Fulton 200.
He went on a roll at the end of the 1988 season. First, he won the 100-lap small block championship at Airborne Park. That race paid $2,500 to win, and when they figured in lap money, Arminio went home with just under $5,000, which was the biggest payday of his career.
Well, at least for one week.
The next weekend, he finished second to Billy Pauch in the Fulton 200. As the first Fulton regular across the finish line, he received a new Tobias chassis. When they totaled up cash and contingencies, Arminio’s take for the day was $23,301.
Arminio unofficially retired one year later, after an incident at the Fulton 200 in 1989.
“The track officials pulled a fast one on us the next year . The promoter didn’t like me,” said Arminio. “I got in a wreck in my heat and had to run the non-qualifiers race. I was running my butt off to qualify and got the lead in the non-qualifers race, but got into another car and did some damage to the body. They flagged me down and said I had to go to the pits to get the body straightned, and while I was in the pits, they went right back to racing so I would go a lap down.
“I was really disappointed, because I used to brag about the track and do anything I could to help promote it, then they did that to me. We went home and parked the car. We were planning to win that race. I had the car to go to the front.”
To further sour Armino on Fulton, there was another incident at the postseason banquet that was the last straw.
“M&R Racing Fuels put $10,000 into the point fund, with $5,000 going to the track champion,” Arminio said. “All you had to do was have M&R stickers on both sides of the car. I was running alcohol then, a lot of us were, and I talked to one of the guys at M&R and he said as long as I bought alcohol from one of their suppliers and had stickers on both sides of the car, I’d be eligible.
“I finished second in points, and the winner was running a different fuel and didn’t have the stickers on his car, so I figured I’d get the $5,000.
“I also finished seventh in points at Utica-Rome that year. I knew that wouldn’t pay much, but I was expecting a nice payout from the two tracks. They wound up giving me a check for $2,300, and when I questioned Eric [promoter Eric Kingsley] about the M&R money, he went ballistic on me, and said that was all I was going to get. I have an Italian temper and got really hot. I took my trophy and left, and haven’t been back there since.”
Arminio and his crew discussed their options, but never came to an agreement.
“I wanted to run Malta for fun on Friday nights, but they didn’t want to do that,” he said. “They wanted to run at Fonda, but I knew I couldn’t afford that. So I just sold everything at the end of 1989.”
He did drive three races for John Bakuzonis in 1993, and got behind the wheel once in 1995.
“I ran the last race of the year at Devil’s Bowl in 1995, and finished 10th,” he said.
You won’t find Arminio at any race tracks these days, but if you really need to track him down, make a stop at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
“I play five or six days a week,” he said. “When I was racing, I only played one or two times a year.”
Despite never taking a lesson in life, and getting tips by watching pros on television, the 60-year-old Arminio carries a one handicap and shot a 65 last summer, just one shot off the course record.
“I’ve been playing the best golf I’ve ever played in the last three years,” he said. “But I figure if you play as much as I do, you should get better at it.”
Super DIRT Week XXXIX will take place next week, culminating with the SEF Racing Fuels 200 on Oct. 10 at the New York State Fairgounds in Syracuse.
Inspection and practice will be held on Wednesday, with 358 and big-block time trials on Thursday.
The Twin 20s for small blocks and Triple 20s for big blocks will be held on Oct. 8, followed by the DIRTCar Futures races for modifieds and pro-stocks.
The Oct. 9 schedule is highlighted by the Syracuse 150 for
358-modifieds and the 30-lap sportsman feature.
Last year, Ronnie Johnson finished eighth in the 200, the best run by a local driver, and Fonda Speedway regular John McAuliffe was second in the sportsman race. Marc Johnson of Guilderland, who made the switch from dirt to asphalt at Albany-Saratoga Speedway this season, finished eighth in the 150-lap 358 race.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway will be back in action on Saturday, Oct. 16, with Halloween Havoc.
The racing card will include a 50-lap feature for sportsmen, a 100-lapper for Renegades and a
50-lapper for Bomber Warriors. But as usual, the highlight will be the Havoc enduro, a 200-lapper that will pay $1,000 to win. In addition, there will be a 30-lap Powder Puff derby for female drivers, bicycle races for kids and numerous prize giveaways.
Racing on Oct. 16 will begin at 2 p.m. In the event of rain, the Havoc will be held on Sunday, Oct. 17, beginning at noon.