The Ridge is becoming the chameleon of area dirt tracks. It keeps changing to fit into its environment.
When the promoting team of Mike Romano and Jake Spraker took over what was then Glen Ridge Motorsports Park in the summer of 2007, the track was a little hole-in-the-wall. But they've made numerous improvements, turned it into a nice facility and hit the proverbial home run last season, with great car counts and overflow crowds.
But as always, things keep changing.
One of the changes this season is the name.
“Glen Ridge Motorsports Park just didn’t do it for me,” said Romano this week. “It doesn’t sound racy enough. When we had the pace truck lettered last year, we just had ‘The Ridge’ in big letters and people loved it. So we changed our name and logo to give us a new identity.”
The track has also changed sanctioning bodies this year. DIRTcar is out; the American Racer series is in.
And after being the lead guitar on Friday nights last season, The Ridge could find itself playing backup again this year.
After running as an asphalt track for two years, and following on the heels of a failed experiment with crate engines last season, Albany-Saratoga Speedway is now under the direction of Lebanon Valley promoter Howie Commander and general manager Lyle DeVore. Commander has a two-year lease on the speedway, and the first thing he did after signing the lease was to put the clay back down.
Romano knows his crowds and car counts were up last year because many of the area’s drivers and fans were plain sick and tired of Albany-Saratoga and the changes that took all the fun out of “The Great Race Place.” One of those drivers, Ken Tremont, won the modified championship at the Ridge last year. but he’s also one of the drivers who will be headed back to Albany-Saratoga, where he’s an 11-time champion, to race for Commander this season.
“We had some really good momentum going last year,” said Romano. “Kenny gave us the credibility we needed. He brought fans. People were saying, ‘Hey, if Tremont is racing there, maybe we should go there and see what’s going on.’ But now that Malta has gone back to dirt and Howie is running it, I’m sure we’ll lose some people. Just because of the novelty of it, people will go there.”
But that doesn’t mean Romano and Spraker are pushing any panic buttons. They had a good program two years ago, and they’ll have a good program again.
“Our purse is going to be the same, but because of American Racer, our point fund will be jumped up,” said Romano. “Our 602 champion will get $2,000 and the modified champion will get $5,000, which is pretty good. We’re still paying $1,500 to win on a weekly basis, and that’s nothinig to joke about. We’re right there with everyone else.
“If we had stayed with DIRTcar, we would have gotten killed. We knew that Howie was going to make Malta a DIRTcar track, and we would have split the drivers between the two tracks. Besides, American Racer also has Accord, Utica-Rome, I-88 Speedway, Brewerton and Fulton, so if someone from one of those tracks wants to pop in here and race, he can.
“We couldn’t afford to do a Super DIRT Series race because of the purse, but we’ve got an ROC race and those guys have a good following. Now, we’re more in line with everyone else in the area, and we’re doing what we can afford.”
The Ridge will have a practice session on Saturday. Gates will open at noon, with inspection ending in midafternoon before cars get on the track. Pit admission is $20, and grandstand admission is free. If it rains Saturday, the practice will be held Sunday, with all times the same.
The regular season will begin a week from tonight, with the modifieds running for $2,000 to win. It’s already been confirmed that both Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen will be on hand for the opener.
“They don’t mind taking my money,” said Romano with a laugh. “Matt was here three times last year and walked out with about $11,000.”
The Ridge will also have a couple of new officials this season. Pat DaBiere will be the new pit steward, replacing Romano’s brother, A.J., and Mark “Crash” Krosky will be in the tower, handling the race director’s duties.
“A.J.’s son, Adam, is going to start racing go-karts this year, so they’ll be at Caroga Creek on Fridays,” said Romano, a New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Famer who operates Andy’s Speed Shop in Johnstown. “I had heard some bad things about Crash, but Jake and I had a talk with him and told him he’s got to do things the way we want. I hope he does OK, because I need to take some of the pressure off myself. I want to get out of the controversial spots so my customers, who I want to keep as my customers, won’t get mad at me.”
If you’re itching for some racing, Fonda Speedway kicks off its season on Saturday, April 7, with the annual “Ice Jam,” and Lebanon Valley Speedway has a practice session scheduled for the same day.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway will hold practice on Sunday, April 15 before kicking off its season with back-to-back nights on April 19-20. Modifieds will be in action on both nights.