Normally at this time of year, Matt DeLorenzo’s primary concern is getting his stable of modifieds ready for the new season.
This year has been a little different. He’s still got the cars to worry about, but he’s also getting a track prepared for opening day.
DeLorenzo. the new promoter at Fonda Speedway, was scheduled to kick off his rookie season Saturday, but the weather hasn’t cooperated, and “Ice Melt” has already been scraped off the windshield, so to speak.
The Track of Champions is now scheduled to open on April 12, but even that may be wishful thinking.
“Right now, there’s still frost in the ground and it’s real muddy,” said DeLorenzo Tuesday as he took a break from installing Jersey barriers on the outside of the backstetch to protect his new signage. “We fixed the drain in turn one, and the snow that melted from the snowcross has gone somewhere, so the drain must be working, so that’s a help. But we need a week with temperatures in the 50s. We just have to wait and see.”
DeLorenzo only has one goal for his maiden voyage as a promoter.
”I want to get people back in the grandstands,” he said.
For years, DeLorenzo was part of the entertainment at Fonda, whipping his BBL-sponsored modified about the historic half-mile oval, winning 37 features and the 2007 track championship. But as the crowds continued to dwindle, he finally decided it was time to step up to the plate in a different way.
“I probably decided [to bid on the lease contract] a quarter of the way through last year,” he said. “It was disheartening to come here. You invest so much time in the car, and you work hard to keep your sponsors happy, and there’s no one in the grandstands to watch the races, and then you go to Malta, and the place is packed. Fonda has always had good racing, but now, that’s secondary. We have to get the people back.”
Because DeLorenzo works for the BBL conglomerate, the general consensus was that BBL was behind the decision for DeLorenzo to take over.
“BBL had nothing to do with this,” said DeLorenzo, who has been working for BBL for 20 years, after starting as an intern when he was studying construction management at Hudson Valley Community College. “This is just me being the promoter because I have so much passion for the sport. BBL has some resources that are available to me, but I have to pay for their services, just like everyone else.”
DeLorenzo’s first project when he took over last fall was renovating the bathrooms.
“My wife wouldn’t even come here,” he said. “If the wives don’t come, the kids won’t come, and we need them all to be here.”
In addition to a general facelift, DeLorenzo also removed the concrete wall in turn one and took out all the Jersey barriers (some of which were moved to the backstretch). Those changes will result in a wider rack track, which should equate to better racing.
Some familiar faces will seen around the speedway this year. Hall of Fame announcer Jim King will return to the booth after a long hiatus, and Johnstown native Charlie Squires will be the new race director.
“I went to Fonda Speedway for the first time when I was 7 years old,” said Squires, who has served as a flagger at Fonda for a number of years. “Since that first race at Fonda, I knew that racing was what I wanted to be a part of.”
DeLorenzo will still be racing this season, running Friday nights at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, and he’ll also come out of the tower on three occasions to compete again at Fonda — at the Lou Lazzaro Memorial Race on May 4, the Night of Features on Aug. 16 and the Super DIRT series race on Sept. 21.
A couple of summers ago, when Jack Johnson was inducted into the New York State Stock Car Association Hall of Fame during one of NYSSCA’s in-season ceremonies at Fonda Speedway, he said, “Why bother to do it here? There’s no one in the stands.”
Maybe those words have been spoken for the final time.
Test and tune
Although Fonda has kicked back its schedule a week, Lebanon Valley will still be holding a test-and-tune session for all divisions from 3-7 p.m. Saturday. Gates will open at 1 p.m. Admission to the grandstands is free.
A number of area drivers, including Lebanon Valley track champion Brett Hearn and Andy Bachetti, his Saturday night nemesis, will be kicking off the season Sunday when Orange County Speedway in Middletown begins its season, weather permitting, with the Hard Clay Open.
On the mend
Veteran pro stock driver Dean Chabonneau is recovering from heart surgery. Get well cards can be sent to 318 Grooms Rd, Clifton Park, N.Y. 12065.