By RON SZCZERBA
FONDA, NY – “The Jack” will be held at the “Track of Champions” Fonda Speedway on Wednesday, August 1 featuring not only the 100-lap event for the modifieds but also the 30-lap Hondo Classic for pro stocks and a street stock challenge with racing set to start at 7:15 p.m.
DIRTcar made this official in a press release earlier this year saying: “In order to further honor the career of an outstanding big block modified driver, the Fourth Annual Jack Johnson Tribute race will offer a guaranteed starting position in the big event. Jumpin’ Jack Johnson, an unstoppable force at the Fonda Speedway and on the Super DIRTcar Series circuit for a quarter century, won four Super DIRTcar Series championships between 1978 and 1988, and sits fifth on the All Time Super DIRTcar Series win list with 57 victories.”
Johnson was a two-time winner of the Super DIRT Week at Syracuse event back in 1979 and 1984. His victory in 1979 was the first time in the history of the race at that time that a driver from New York State had won the event! He also won three Super DIRTcar Series events at Fonda back in 1976, 1979, and 1980.
In just a few short years, the Jack Johnson Tribute race at Fonda has proven to be one of the most highly sought after victories on the big block modified calendar. With the added prize of a guaranteed starting position in the NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week big block modified finale, spectators at the historic “Track of Champions” will be in for a spectacular show. Previous winners of “The Jack” event were Stewart Friesen, Matt Sheppard, and Mike Mahaney.
Here is a recap of the first “The Jack” event held back on 7/27/2015 by James Ellis of the Leader Herald Newspaper in Gloversville, NY.
On a night when a sea of orange embellished Fonda Speedway on Jack Johnson Tribute night, defending track champion Stewart Friesen presented his own tribute.
Friesen changed the paint scheme on his the Tadd Parks-owned No. 1 to a design carried by Johnson at the 2008 Super DIRT Week.
Then he put the Johnson-tribute car in Victory Lane at the end of the 50-lap, $5,000-to-win Empire State Champion 50 — A tribute to Jumpin’ Jack Johnson.
“Tadd Parks and Eric Mack thought it would be cool on this big orange night to support Jack Johnson and ALS to do a Jack Johnson paint scheme,” Friesen said in Victory Lane. “They worked together with Dutchess Overhead Doors and Pilat to get it lettered up with Jack’s 2008 Syracuse paint scheme. We are going to take it off after this event. One side is going to go in the [Fonda Speedway] museum over here and Tadd wants to keep the roof.”
With 48 modifieds signed in for the special event, Gary Tomkins, Josh Hohenforst, Craig Hanson, Danny Johnson, and Mark Kislowski raced their way to victory in the $300-to-win 12-lap heat races.
By virtue of a redraw on Victory Lane, Danny Johnson and Jeff Rockefeller made up the front row and brought the field of 34 modifieds to the green.
“It was pretty cool,” Johnson said about drawing the pole. “It makes your day go a whole lot easier, that’s for sure.”
After receiving a call from Jack Johnson thanking the fans and drivers, the drivers received the command to ‘Fire em up!’ from the 11-time track champion.
Danny Johnson immediately too command but the caution flew before the first lap was in the book as Ryan Bartlett got turned around exiting turn two.
The result was the same on the restart with Johnson bolting into the lead with Rockefeller, Jeremy Wilder, Keith Flach, and Tyler Dippel in pursuit.
The second caution of the race flew on lap three for a melee involving Matt Sheppard, Brett Hearn, Jimmy Davis, Pat Ward, and Larry Wight.
The caution was the break Friesen and Billy Decker needed.
As Wilder pulled into second, Friesen, who started seventh, and Decker, who started 10th, rolled into the top five on the fifth lap.
Although Johnson had a solid advantage by the time Friesen pulled into second, it shrank quickly as the leaders caught the back markers by lap 12.
Lap 12 was profitable for Johnson as he collected a $1,244 bonus for leading the lap, while Jeff Heotzler received a $1,012.12 bonus for crossing the line in 12th on lap 12.
Johnson picked his way through the lapped traffic but Friesen closed to within striking distance and made his move for the lead on lap 18.
Friesen found a little extra bite on the outside of turns one and two to set up a drag race with Johnson down the backstretch, with Friesen winning the race into the third turn.
“The track definitely came to us,” Friesen said. “We were a little bit tight the first couple of laps. I ran the pan hard up a little bit to free it up then about lap eight or nine this thing was on rails.”
Johnson did not go away and poked his nose under Friesen on the next two circuits, briefly leading before Friesen wrestled the lead away on the backstretch.
“I had a good hot rod; he just had a little better one”, Johnson said. “Once he got me I couldn’t get back by him.”
With Friesen now in command of the race, the battle behind him heated up.
Decker and Tyler Dippel locked in a battle for the third spot, while Rockefeller, Keith Flach, Danny Varin, and A.J. Romano ran in a tight pack looking for the fifth spot.
The final caution of the night flew on lap 30 when Hearn’s ride came to a stop on the backstretch.
Friesen held off Johnson on the restart, while Decker got in front of Dippel and Flach as Rockefeller, Romano, and Tim Fuller continued their fight just outside the top five.
With the clear track in front of him, Friesen pulled away to his ninth win of the season and 38th of his career at Fonda, 111 behind Jack Johnson’s career modified victory total.
Danny Johnson finished second with Decker third.
Dippel crossed under the checkers fourth but was disqualified in postrace tech for being light on the scales.
Flack inherited the fourth spot with Fuller fifth.
Romano, Tomkins, Bodie Bellinger, Wilder, and Rockefeller rounded out the top 10. Danny Varin originally finished in 12th but was moved up to 11th, giving Sheppard the 12th-place spot on the night when the driver of the 12A was honored.
“If you look and the sport and the turn out here tonight, I don’t know how many people are watching this over the internet because I think they are all here tonight to support Jack Johnson,” Friesen said. “The money we raised for ALS [amyotrophic lateral disease/Lou Gehrig’s disease that Johnson is diagnosed with] was unbelievable. We are just a small part of this. Enjoy the orange color. It is Jack’s”
Wednesday’s win also was Friesen’s second in as many nights.
Tuesday at Ohsweken Speedway in Canada, Friesen drove his wife Jessica’s 410-sprint car to victory for his career World of Outlaws sprint car win.
“It is unbelievable. We are riding on not much sleep right now,” Friesen said. “This team has been unbelievable. We ran that Outlaw race last night, while Erik Mack and Bobby Booth worked on this car in the shop along with my father-in-law Ray [Zemken] to get this thing to where it was tonight. It was just a great team effort by all the guys. It is a competitive group and we just want to keep it going.”
Empire State Champions 50
A Tribute to Jack Johnson
1. STEWART FRIESEN, 2. Danny Johnson, 3. Billy Decker, 4. Keith Flach, 5. Tim Fuller, 6. A.J. Romano, 7. Gary Tomkins, 8. Bodie Bellinger, 9. Jeremy Wilder, 10. Jeff Rockefeller, 11. Danny Varin, 12. Matt Sheppard, 13. Josh Hohenforst, 14. Jim Davis, 15. Jeff Heotzler, 16, Ryan Bartlett, 17, Elmo Reckner, 18. Justin Boehler, 19. Steve Hough, 20. Hector Stratton, 21. Ronnie Johnson, 22. Brett Hearn, 23. Larry Wight, 24. Craig Hanson, 25. Alan Johnson, 26. Brian Gleason, 27. Bobby Varin, 28. Bob Vedder, 29. Pat Ward, 30. Mark Kislowski, 31. Pep Corradi, 32. Jamie Mills, 33. Jeff Trombley. DQ: Tyler Dippel. DNS: Matt DeLorenzo, DNS: Andy Bachetti, DNQ Demetrious Drellios, DNQ Ryan Darcy, DNQ David Schilling, DNQ Wayne Figler, DNQ Shaun Pangman, DNQ Floyd Billington, DNQ John Bellinger, DNQ C.G. Morey, DNQ Vinnie Sanganetti, DNQ Matt Pupello, DNQ Alton Palmer, DNQ Dylan Scribner
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