Alton Palmer never doubted himself as a driver, but two weeks ago, he had doubts about what he knew.
"We had a bad finish. I had a better race car than our finish was," he said. "It was something I knew was wrong and we didn't do anything about it. I doubted what I knew. We straightened everything out, went back and had a good race. I was mad at myself for not taking care of what I saw."
The change worked out as Palmer raced his way from a 10th-place starting spot into the lead to end an eight-year victory drought at Fonda Speedway.
"The car sat in the trailer all last week," he said. "We loaded it for the week that it rained out and it just sat there. I went out before we left Saturday, made sure the tires were up on it and said we were good. It wasn't even mad at me. It got a vacation sitting in the trailer all week and then got out there and did what we did that night. It was what we thought was right when we put it in the trailer how could it change? Jack [Johnson] called me Saturday and asked what we did. I told him the car was still in the trailer. We scaled it and loaded it in the trailer. The only thing we might have is a flat tire or a soft shock but we will take care of that at the track. As long as it cranks over and fires up, we're good. That is stuff we always used to do."
Palmer knows a little bit about what it takes to win at Fonda Speedway with 56 sportsman division victories and five track championship (1987, 96, 97, 98, 99) and now five modified feature wins to his credit.
However, an eight-year victory drought can sometimes leave any competitor who has enjoyed success, to doubt their abilities.
"I never doubted myself," Palmer said. "It just didn't matter as far as running the race car. I tried to push the issue and go that far. The guys were doing so much for me and keeping things going so good I had to push it to make them feel like what they are doing is all worth it. I just had to prove to myself that I could still do it."
For the past couple seasons Palmer and his wife, Carole, have worked closely with Ronnie and Jack Johnson as car owners, a move that has paid dividends for both.
It is good and I am glad it is working out like this. We learn off of each other," Palmer said. "Last year, Ronnie wanted to do one motor like the one I've got. I told him not to do it because the season was almost over and they would have to rush to build one. I told him to wait until I am done at Fonda and he could run my car and try my motor and my car, the whole setup, because at the time we were doing better than he was."
Johnson drove the car to victory at Utica-Rome and stayed behind the wheel for the season-ending shows at Fonda.
"I told him he could run it and I would bow out and stay in the pit so he could try the whole package at Fonda, too," Palmer said. "He got a win and a second at Fonda and had a good run at Five Mile Point with it. So, when we did his new car this winter he kind of copied everything that I had in my car from last year. And we had a motor done like that one. When he got back to Fonda [Ice Jam], after the hot laps he tweaked a couple of things on his car. This past weekend we copied what he had done to his car and put it in mine."
Last Saturday's success wasn't really a surprise for the Howes Cave modified pilot, but the reaction to the victory has been.
"What didn't hit me until yesterday was after I pulled up on the scales, I couldn't get off them," he said. "I ran over one of the barrels trying to get off the scales because there were so many people around the car after they weighed me that I couldn't even move. It never even sunk in that they were all people congratulating me. I never even thought about it until yesterday. The whole infield was like right there.
"My weeks are so hectic, it is unbelievable. It is fortunate that I had an easy week this week because there have been hundreds of phone calls. The last I knew, I wasn't that popular. The people that are calling are unbelievable. I mean people and racers from all over New York state."
Palmer credits the people who have stuck with him through his years of racing including crewmembers Bobby Efner, Ryan Henry, Dick Blue and Bill Barbic and, of course, Carole and her mother and father Ed and June Keyser.
"The motor we run is the Keyser's engine," Palmer said. "When I let Ronnie try my car last year I made sure it was OK with mom and dad first. I don't want any hard feelings."
While Palmer plans to drive Saturday night's at Fonda, he also found a niche as a crew chief and car owner.
"I like that job I have a good time," he said. "In the last year-and-a-half or so, I have had a real good time racing a racecar and I have a good time being the owner of another racecar. I will race Saturday night at Fonda and then go to Utica with Ronnie this Sunday and Monday just to help him and be there for support as a car owner. If he needs help I will pitch in and help doing whatever."
However, racing at Fonda is still a fun time for him.
"I am looking forward to getting back to Fonda this week," he said. "I want to just tweak a couple of more little things, but they are things that even the guys in the garage won't notice. Nothing big, just a turn here or a turn there. I found out that we were the people who were going to the races Saturday nights and making big changes. We go to the races now, we don't change anything. Fuel and maybe a gear, not even the tires. We run the same tires all night. I hope we get a few more races like last week. I feel like racing now."
Russell returning to Caroga Creek
Jami Russell has not raced go-karts for the past five years, but Friday night the former karting champion will team up with Aarons and Protech Unlimited to make a special appearance at Caroga Creek Raceway.
Russell, who now pilots sprint cars, will return to the go-kart ranks to race an open kart for Protech Unlimited at CCR and will have his 360 C.I. sprinter on display along with the Aarons No. 99 driven by Craig Richie at Fonda Speedway.
Russell will be behind the wheel of the sprint car this weekend at Fonda Speedway when the Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints join the Memorial Day Weekend race card. He and Richie will both make the trip to Utica-Rome Speedway Sunday for more racing action.
Lightning Sprints at Glen Ridge
The new bleachers are in just in time for the Memorial Day Weekend show at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.
Joining the show this week, sponsored by Sowle Trailer Repair, are the Empire Lightning Sprints. Plus, thanks to rain canceling a portion of last weeks show, double features for the street stock and cruiser divisions along with regular Friday night features for the modified and sportsman divisions.