Imagine trying to cook hamburgers and hot dogs over an open fire while the guy next to you uses a state-of-the-art gas grill.
The results may be about the same, but one guy has to work a lot harder than the other.
That’s how A.J. Romano must feel at Fonda Speedway. He’s got a good car and good motor, but he’s got to be just about perfect to get good results.
But that all could change next week, when Romano debuts a new Troyer chassis and a new small block motor.
“This will be my last week with the big block,” said Romano earlier this week. “We haven’t been real bad this year. I’ve got a couple of top fives, but no wins. A lot of nights, it’s just so tough to win with a big block.”
The small block comes courtesy of Gavin Ragusa, a member of Romano’s crew who hit a Pick-6 at the Gloversville OTB for more than $100,000 in the spring.
Romano is hopeful that the new combination will make him more competitive at the Track of Champions. Wins have been hard to come by for the Johnstown driver in the last few years. After going winless in 2008, he won once in 2009, twice in 2010 and once again last season.
But he knows a small block is the way to go.
“I drove a Troyer house car last fall at the McDonald’s weekend,” he said. “That had a small block in it, and when I was done, I said, ‘No wonder I’m getting my butt kicked by the small blocks.’ That car was more drivable, more maneuverable. It felt like it was about 300 pounds lighter.”
Although he ran a solid second last week, Romano knows that the big blocks are at a disadvantage at Fonda this year.
“Danny Varin has won twice with a big block, so it’s not impossible,” Romano said. “In order to win with a big block, I think you’ve got to get out early and get away from the pack. Stewart [race winner Stewart Friesen] started 14th last week and passed me for second, and we weren’t even 10 laps in yet. I couldn’t believe it.
“I’ve always known that a small block was the way to go, but until now, we didn’t have the money to do it.”
Romano is no stranger to success at Fonda. He’s got 33 career big-block victories and another handful of wins in the old 320 division. His best year came in 1999, when he won five features, and his most memorable win came in 1995, when he won the 75-lap “Rumble” for 358-modifieds, a victory that was worth $10,000, a good chunk of which was spent at Mo Beatty’s bar in Gloversville after the victory.
Although Troyer has a “small-block only” car available, Romano said he went with the more conventional chassis, just in case he wants to put the big block back in somewhere down the road.
Romano, who has also won features at Albany-Saratoga, Canandaigua, Fulton and the old New Venture Speedway during his career, wants to get back to victory lane at Fonda on a regular basis.
“It’s OK to be running good, but it would be nice to win once in a while, too,” he said.
After drawing 22 modifieds two weeks ago, The Ridge saw that number drop to 17 last Sunday for its $3,000-to-win feature, but Billy Decker joined the field, and he and Matt Sheppard put on a good show, trying to chase down Bobby Varin, who picked up his third win of the season.
“It was worth the price of admission just to watch Sheppard and Billy come through traffic,” said co-promoter Mike Romano. “It was good to see Bobby win, but I kind of wish we had gotten a caution to bunch it up and see what Sheppard and Billy could have done.”
The total car count last Sunday was 65 cars, down about 30 from the previous week.
This Sunday will be the final weekend of the sponsor-enhanced purses, with the modifieds again running for $3,000 to win. The real test will come on July 1, when the purses return to a normal payoff.
Romano said that Mike Sowle, who has been kicking in a good share of the bonus money for the modifieds, is already talking about a post-holiday show on July 8, with Twin 25s for modified with big purses, and a huge fireworks show.
Ross gets an assist
Alex Bell of Cambridge recorded the first NASCAR Whelan Modified win of his career last Friday at Devil’s Bowl, and Chris Ross of Malta deserves an assist.
Bell, who bought Ross’ dirt modified car a couple of years ago, had been struggling with his setup at the Bowl, so two weeks ago, Ross went to Vermont and did some hands-on tinkering.
“They’re on track now,” said Ross. “I found some things that were off, and he’s real happy with the car now. I think he’ll be competing with guys like [Ron] Proctor and [Vince] Quenneville the rest of the year.”
Ross has also resumed his racing career, driving an asphalt modified for Mike Wright at Twin State Speedway in Claremont, N.H., on Saturday nights.
“I got an unbelievable break with this car,” Ross said. “It’s a 2012 Troyer, and it shines like a new dime.”
Around the tracks
u Ken Tremont Jr. finally got off the schneid last weekend, posting his first victory of the season in the modified feature at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
“It’s probably our slowest start to any season, but hopefully, it’s coming around now,” said Tremont.
The win was the 56th of Tremont’s career at Albany-Saratoga, and came on a night when one of his longtime sponsors, Rifenburgh Construction, was the night’s sponsor at the track.
u Brett Wright, a 15-year-old from Niverville, picked up his first career victory in the budget sportsman feature at the Malta track last week. Wright, in his first season in an open-wheel car after 10 years racing go-karts, became the ninth different winner in the division this season. Only Bobby Hackel IV has multiple wins (two).
If the name Wright sounds familiar, Brett’s uncle is Ricky Wright, a former modified driver at Lebanon Valley Speedway.
u Harry Shaffer won Sunday’s sportsman feature at The Ridge, and then proposed to his girlfriend in victory lane. Shaffer said he had decided last year that he would propose after his next win.
u Did anyone notice the cruiser finish on Father’s Day at The Ridge? Chuck Wainwright Sr. was first, Keith Tesiero Jr. was second, Chuck Wainwright Jr. was third and Keith Tesiero Sr. was fourth.
u Todd Stone, a familiar name to followers of the Champlain Valley Racing Association, won Wednesday night’s DIRTcar series race on the asphalt at Airborne Speedway in Plattsburgh. Also in the top five were J.C. Flach (third), who won the modified feature at Lebanon Valley two weeks ago, and Fonda regular Matt DeLorenzo (fourth).
u Bobby Allison, the 1983 Winston Cup champion and one of the sport’s most engaging storytellers, will kick off the Saratoga Automobile Museum’s series of four “meet and greet” programs on July 18. The program, which will begin at 6 p.m. with a $15 admission charge, will be held in a tent on the museum grounds and will feature an autograph session.
Allison will also be the guest of honor at the museum’s annual “Thunder and Glory” banquet on July 19.