Just about two years ago, Marc Johnson was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Going into the final points race at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in September 2010, he seemed destined to win his first championship at the historic Malta track. But in a matter of minutes, everything fell apart.
During the modified feature, Johnson took exception to contact by Mike Bruno and retaliated. using the front of his car as a plow to shove Bruno off the third turn.
Bruno’s car was too damaged to continue, Johnson was disqualified and Ken Tremont Jr. went on to win the track title.
If you know Johnson, what happened that night was totally out of character, and for the last two years, he’s kept a pretty low profile.
But his karma must be changing, because he reached a personal milestone at The Ridge Sunday, winning his first-ever modified feature on dirt.
He brought out a new Troyer chassis, and the difference was like night and day.
“Compared to the Bicknell I had, this one has a ton of side bite,” said Johnson earlier this week. “It went in [the turns] like a slot car.”
The victory was actually Johnson’s second modified win, as he sat in victory lane on May 7, 2010, at Albany-Saratoga in the first modified race on the new asphalt surface that was put down following the 2009 season. But he said it’s a totally different experience, winning on dirt.
“The win on blacktop, I felt like I beat them in the garage,” he said. “I built a car just for that deal. I definitely worked hard to get it [the victory].
Since returning to dirt in the 2011 season, Johnson has had some consistent finishes, but like he said, “just couldn’t seal the deal.”
“The team really needed this win,” he said. “I’ve had a ton of seconds and thirds, but this win was long overdue.”
Good finishes have never been a problem for Johnson, who began his open-wheel career at Accord Speedway in 2004 in an old 1995 Troyer that once belonged to Lou Lazzaro. In fact, two of his most impressive finishes have been at Syracuse during Super DIRT Week. He finished ninth and earned Rookie of the Year honors in the 358 race in 2009, and improved to sixth, after starting 24th, in 2010.
He can only hope that the new Troyer works as well on the mile track as it did Sunday night at The Ridge.
The hot setup
It looks like the new Troyers are going to be the hot ticket during the big fall races.
It should be noted that Johnson purchased his new Troyer at Andy’s Speed Shop in Johnstown, which now sells both Troyers and Bicknells.
Mike Romano, who runs the speed shop, knew that Troyer
engineer Billy Colton had come up with a good setup last season.
“The new cars have ideas that Billy has been working on for a couple of years, and they caught my eye last year,” said Romano. “Those new cars are very good.”
The Ridge will go into the record books again this weekend, becoming the only area track to runs its rgeular program on three different nights.
The track began the year racing on Fridays, switched to Sundays in July when the crowds and car counts dwindled, and will run its last two shows of the season on Saturdays because Fonda Speedway is closed for the annual Montgomery County Fair.
The Ridge will be running a regular show this weeekend, and then will have 305 sprints on Sept. 1. “I’m two weeks from another retirement,” said Romano.
Romano and his co-promoter, Jake Spraker, are sticking to their decision to get out of the promoting business at the end of the season.
“People just don’t seem to like to race on Sundays,” said Romano. “They like to have Sunday off.”
Although there is no definite word on the future of the track, there is one party who’s expressed enough interest that Romano and Spraker have agreed to “open their books” and give full disclosure on the financial end of running The Ridge.
Around the tracks
u I thought I had seen Brett Hearn at his best early in the season, when he wrecked on the first lap of a feature at Lebanon Valley, had his crew throw the car back together in a matter of minutes and came from the rear to win.
But last Thursday, he went one better. After blowing the rear end of his regular car during a heat race at the Mr Dirt Track USA race at the Valley, Hearn’s crew brought out a backup car that was prepared for short tracks, adapted it to the high banks and Hearn came from a 23rd starting position to take home the top prize of $17,500.
And don’t forget, this was Hearn’s first race back after sitting out two weeks after getting a serious infection from an illness.
u Albany-Saratoga will be holding the first “Hungry Mike Ronca Dash” in honor of the late Mike Ronca as part of its racing card tonight. The dash — seven laps with $700 to win — will include the Ronca brothers, Don and Rich, as well as the top five drivers in the modified point standings. That will be Hearn, Ken Tremont Jr., Matt DeLorenzo, Jeff Trombley and Ronnie Johnson.
u Because of two rainouts, Devil’s Bowl Speedway will be extending its season by one week. Championship Night, originally scheduled for Aug. 31, will be held on Sept. 7. Ron Proctor has a three-point lead over Vince Quenneville as he tries to repeat as the NASCAR Whelan Modified champion.