You have to like the way Jake Spraker can turn a negative situation into a positive one.
No, wait, I’m not talking about The Ridge, where Spraker is the co-promoter. I’m talking about his role as a car owner.
Since getting involved at The Ridge, Spraker has directed most of his energy into his new duties as co-promoter. But during the winter, he decided to sell off some of his toys, which included a pontoon boat and a snowmobile or two, and get more involved in racing.
A couple of months ago, Spraker, who got his first taste of ownership in the early 1980s, decided to once again hang out his owner’s shingle. He bought a new Bicknell chassis, got in touch with his old partner, Alan Johnson, and was going to race on Sundays at Utica-Rome.
But then things started to go south at The Ridge, which was losing cars and spectators while running head-to-head with Albany-Saratoga Speedway on Friday nights, and as a last-ditch effort, Spraker and co-promoter Mike Romano decided to switch their racing nights to Sundays.
So Spraker’s idea of racing on Sundays went out the window.
But a funny thing happened. Drivers knew that Spraker had a new car just sitting around, and his phone started ringing. One of the drivers he talked to was Stewart Friesen, who was filling his pockets at The Ridge until the track switched race nights and Friesen was left honoring his Sunday night commitment at Utica-Rome. So last Friday night, the new Spraker-Friesen team hauled to Albany-Saratoga, and Friesen put the Spraker 1J in victory lane on his first night behind the wheel.
“I had a good time Friday,” said Spraker. “As long as things are going good like that, I enjoy owning cars.”
Spraker was racing mini-stocks at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in the early 1980s, when he unexpectedly became a car owner.
“C.D. [Coville] had wrecked the Barcomb car, and Bob Sitterly had gotten kicked out of Fonda and wanted to sell his car,” said Spraker. “I talked to C.D. and said I knew where I could get a car, and he told me to buy a boat, and not get involved. But the next day, I went up to Sitterly’s and walked out with a race car.”
But no matter where they ran the car, something bad always happened.
“Right after we got the car, we went to Fonda on a Wednesday or Thursday for a 100-lapper,” said Spraker. “C.D. went right to the front, and then the car started acting up. We found out that the fuel pickups were in the wrong way. We went to Syracuse and blew a motor. We went to Fonda for the 200 and led almost the whole race, but on the pit stop, the guy we had doing tires never let the air out of one and C.D. went out with 35 pounds in it, and there goes the easy win. C.D. never did win a race for me.”
But a lot of drivers did, including Tim Clemons, who ran a sportsman car for Spraker for a number of years, and Bobby Varin, who was tough to beat in Spraker’s big block at Fonda until Spraker left the Track of Champions for good early in the 2008 season.
“When I quit Fonda, I had three brand new cars, three good motors and a ton of parts,” said Spraker. “I sold it all, and then got a car late in the year and went on tour with Alan. We won three of six races with it, and then I sold it.”
And until recently, he was content to be a co-promoter. Now, he’ll be doing double duty for the rest of the season, watching his car on Friday and watching his race track on Sunday.
The three-week experiment with bonus-enhanced purses for the modifieds is over, and The Ridge will be returning to normal this Sunday.
“We’re going to finish the year out,” said Romano. “I actually thought things were good the last two weeks, even though we had two tough Sundays, with Father’s Day and graduation parties. We’ve gotten a few more Malta sportsman coming over and last week, we had 35 602s, which isn’t bad, and if we get 20 modifieds, it’s perfect for this track.”
Billy Decker has been at the last two Sunday shows, and it’s possible he’ll be back this week, even for a regular purse.
“Billy didn’t even say he was coming last week. He just showed up,” said Romano. “I called Scott Jeffrey [Decker’s crew chief] to thank them for coming, and he said they like it here. He said they’re having fun, there’s no politics, they get out at a decent hour and they’re testing some things for later in the year. He said he doesn’t think they going to Cornwall Sunday for the Super DIRT Series race, so they could be back here, and he said they’re very interested in the Twin 25s.”
The Twin 25s for modifieds, which will pay $1,500 to win each race, are scheduled for July 8, along with a fireworks display.
Around the tracks
u Albany-Saratoga Speedway will get a jump on the July 4 holiday, doing its fireworks display tonight. All divisions will be in action.
u After 17 years of racing, Bill Smith finally got his first pro stock victory last Friday at Albany-Saratoga, passing Kenny Martin coming out of the last corner on the final lap to get the win.
I took a shot on the last lap and went for it, and it worked,” said Smith. “I can’t believe it.”
u Ronnie Johnson made his way to victory lane for the first time this season at Fonda Speedway on Saturday, on a night when his family business, Jumpin’ Jack’s Pro Speed, was sponsored the night’s activities. Johnson got a big assist when Friesen suffered a flat tire with 10 laps to go.
“I don’t mean to wish him any bad luck because Stewart has been awesome here all season, but when he got a flat, it didn’t hurt my feelings any,” Johnson said.
u Matt Sheppard won Sunday’s modified feature at The Ridge, but arrived late after blowing a tire on his hauler on the Thruway. The $750-to-win sportsman feature that was rained out last week will be the first event on The Ridge’s card this weekend.
u Joe Williams of Scotia has returned to asphalt, but it remains to be seen if the move is permanent. Williams has been struggling on dirt at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, so last Friday, he made his first appearance of the season at Devil’s Bowl. Williams had a lot of success running on the NASCAR Modified Series at the two Champlain Valley Racing Association tracks last year.