In order for there to be record-chasers, there have to be record-setters, the pioneers of sports who set the standards that today’s heroes shoot for.
Most fans at Fonda Speedway know all about Stewart Friesen, the incredibly talented Canadian driver who began making his Saturday night home at Fonda Speedway three years ago, when he started dating local female driver Jessica Zemken, who is now his wife.
So far this season, Friesen is 4-for-4 in the modified division at the Track of Champions (he skipped one night to compete in a Super DIRT Series race at Fulton) and has already taken a big step toward the single-season record of 12 victories, shared by Steve Danish and Jack Johnson.
But how much do fans know about Danish?
The fact that Danish still has a piece of the record, which he set 62 years ago, is amazing.
Danish set the record in 1953, the first season of racing at Fonda. Danish built his first stock car in 1949 and after having a couple of different drivers, opted to take the wheel himself, competing at tracks in Granville and Bennington, Vt.
But when Fonda opened in 1953, he found a new home.
Danish, who operated his own business, the Pleasant Valley Garage in Cropseyville, had mechanical problems on opening night at Fonda, but then came back with five straight victories.
He put together a six-race winning streak later in the season, and when the final checkered flag flew, he had 12 wins in 17 races.
He almost matched that total in 1954, finishing with 11 wins, including a record-setting run of seven consecutive victories. That streak could have easily have been nine, as he had a win taken away because of a protest by Dutch Hoag. Hoag said that Danish had passed under caution; Danish claimed he hever saw the starter’s yellow flag because of a windshield covered with mud, the results of heavy rains earlier in the day. The protest was upheld, giving the win to Lee Bliss and stopping Danish’s streak at seven races.
It’s widely recognized that Danish was the first driver to haul his race car to the track on a trailer, and he was also the first driver to have sponsorship. Early photos of his No. 61 show “Parts By Bumstead Chevrolet” lettered on the hood.
Jack Johnson tied Danish’s record with a dozen victories in 1985. Johnson got his 12th win in a 100-lap race on Sept. 21, and had three more chances to break the record, all in extra-distance races. But C.D. Coville, Billy Pauch and Charlie Rudolph won the last three features, leaving Johnson sitting at 12.
Johnson also matched Danish’s seven-race win streak, first in 1981 and again in 1985. But on both occasions, Coville prevented Johnson from taking sole possession of the record.
Friesen also came out of the box quickly in 2012, putting together a four-race win streak from April 14-May 12. But he only won four more features that year to finish with eight. Four rainouts after June 1 didn’t help his cause.
The question for purists is, does Friesen have a four-race win streak this year at Fonda? He’s only been at the track four times, and has won four times, or does he get penalized for skipping a night? Let that debate begin.
More on Friesen
Not only is Friesen winning at Fonda, he’s dominating. So far this season, he’s started 27th once, and 15th three times, and last Saturday, he was even involved in a first-lap accident that could have ended his night.
Friesen suffered some minor damage to his car when he was involved in a seven-car incident on the first lap, but it didn’t seem to bother him.
“It’s all race car,” he said after the victory. “I was lucky not to get any damage done on the first-lap tangle.”
Mark Kislowski became the fourth different driver to follow Friesen across the finish line in the runner-up spot.
Around the tracks
Matt Sheppard picked up the top prize of $10,000 Monday in the Victoria 100 at Utica-Rome Speedway. Albany-Saratoga regular Marc Johnson was third, while Jimmy Davis, who battled some health issues during the winter, finished eighth in what I believe was his first start of the season.
Johnson had a profitable weekend. He finished second at Albany-Saratoga Friday night, was fifth in the regular feature at Utica-Rome on Sunday and was third in the Victoria 100.
Glen Ridge Motorsports Park has a busy couple of days ahead. Tonight is Fan Appreciation Night, with a $5 general admission, and it’s also Scout Night, with all scouts, boys or girls, who are in uniform being admitted free as long as they’re accompanied by an adult.
Then on Tuesday, promoter Pete Demitraszek will be hosting a 60-lap GRIT Series race for 602 sportsman, which will pay $1,000 to win. The Tuesday card will also include pro stocks, which will be making their first appearance of the year, and cruisers. Racing will start at 7:30.
Willy Decker broke a push rod in the Nelson 85 at Glen Ridge last Friday and went out for the feature in Harry Schaffer’s sportsman car to pick up points. That must have created some good karma, as Schaffer won the sportsman feature.
Rocky Warner put the Jake-Spraker-owned 1J in victory lane in the sportsman feature at Utica-Rome on Sunday.
Eighteen-year-old Demetrios Drellos recorded his first career 358 victory last Saturday at Lebanon Valley. Drellos, a former Slingshot driver who is his first season in the 358s, held off veterans Ken Tremont Jr. and Wayne Jelley to get the win.