A night at Dodgecity Speedway’s go-kart racing track is truly a family affair.
Selling refreshments and snacks to racegoers are Jim, John and Grace Montenaro. Keeping the track lighted and bright is Anthony Montenaro, a part-time racer reliving his dream. Andrew Montenaro keeps the crowd on their feet from the announcer’s booth, while Anna Montenaro photographs the action for her husband, Paul. He has owned and operated the track for 36 of its 51 years.
“The whole family can get into this,” said Paul Montenaro, not just of his own family, but of the regulars who come out to the Cobleskill track. “We see moms out there helping kids with very technical things or washing tires off to get the dirt out. You see kids washing their own tires. This is unique and family-oriented.”
The speedway, located four miles outside of Cobleskill near Schoharie County’s popular Howe Caverns attraction, is a Friday night highlight for racing fans, particularly of the NASCAR variety.
Go-karters, who range in age from 7 to 15, rarely ever top 45 miles per hour around the oval clay track, which measures about an eighth of a mile. But the design of a go-kart and the size of the speedway leave many feeling as though they’re flying 100 miles per hour, several racers say.
Racers have at least three years of experience go-karting, but some have raced the majority of their childhood. And when they grow up, they often come back with their kids, who often come back with their own kids, Montenaro said.
Forty years ago, an 11-year-old Ken Pieniazek, along with his brother, raced his first two-cycle go-kart as a junior classman. He continued to race go-karts every year.
Now 51, Pieniazek still races and is a household name. It’s a sport he has watched his daughter and grandson learn to love, as well.
“My uncle Eddie, when he was alive years ago, raced at Malta and Fonda Speedway,” Pieniazek said. “So racing was always in my blood, it’s something I always watched. And I got into it because it’s just a cheaper form of racing, but can be just as complicated as racing cars.”
Though modern culture portrays go-kart racing as just fun, Dodgecity Speedway takes it seriously. Depending on the total races a competitor completes and how they finish, they earn a different rank. A Super racer will have completed at least 15 races, and place in at least three of those. An Xtreme racer completes at least 25 races and places in at least five. The highest rank, a Pro racer, completes at least 40 races and places in at least 10.
The technology in a go-kart is impressive, Pieniazek said. They’re not just toys someone buys at Sears. If a racer has knowledge of upkeep, maintenance and caring for their tires, there’s no reason a go-kart can’t last them 20 years and still be competitive, he said.
“It’s a stepping stone, a learning curve to go into more elaborate racing,” he said. “If you do any research on any race-car driver they all raced go-karts at one time.”
John Mauceri began racing last year. The 9-year-old isn’t necessarily looking to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, though. For now, he’s just racing for the fun of it - though he has placed several times in the Stock Novice class at Dodgecity so far this year.
Pieniazek has raced as far away as Iowa, but he said that Dodgecity Speedway, though a tough track to master dirt-wise, enables young racers to go to almost any track and be competitive.
“Anybody that’s been there for years knows that if you can get your kart set up to where you’re constantly competitive there, you can read the track enough with your tires and be competitive every single week,” he said. “When my daughter Desiree started, I took her to a couple different tracks to give her more experience. You have to get used to certain types of tracks to gain confidence.”
Anyone can learn to handle a go-kart, Montenaro said. Speedway staff teach the ins and outs of racing techniques in special classes, including Rookie-Junior, Junior1, Junior2, Senior, KT-100 and Champ Kart classes.
For many aspiring racecar drivers, the cost of simply competing at a track like Fonda Speedway hinders their passion, Montenaro said.
“They don’t have the money to compete in something like that,” he said. “So they compete in something affordable with go-karting. I’ve dealt with a lot of people who have raced here and went on to NASCAR to work in pit crews.”
The speedway will hold its next race on Friday, before culminating its season on Oct. 2 with the 15th annual Montenaro Cup, awarded to the top five finishers in each class. Races start at 7 p.m., with warm-ups around 6 p.m. Adult entrance to the grandstand is $3. Children ages 8-14 pay $1.50 and children 7 and under get in free.