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Racing Around: Johnson to be honored

May 24, 2012
By JAMES A. ELLIS ( , The Leader Herald

In 2002, when Jumpin' Jack Johnson was first selected to be inducted in the DIRT Motorsports Hall of Fame as an active driver older than 55, he politely refused the honor.

He basically said it was an honor for retired drivers and he wasn't ready to retire yet.

Sadly and happily, during ceremonies Sunday at the DIRTcar Hall of Fame and Museum in Weedsport, Johnson will be inducted into its Hall of Fame.

I say sadly because the reality that Johnson is wrapped up his racing career, but happily because it is an honor that is well deserved.

Appropriately, Sunday's ceremonies also will include Alton and Carole Palmer as the recipients of the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame's Gene DeWitt Outstanding Car Owner Award.

Alton is still active as a driver at Fonda and, along with Carole, field cars for Ronnie Johnson at Fonda, Albany-Saratoga and Utica-Rome speedways, while several other drivers carry the Palmer Service Center-sponsorship on their side panels.

"You have no idea how much this means to us," Carole said.

A story has it that helping out a fellow driver when he needed it, helped open the door for their sponsorship of several top drivers.

In the early '80s Alton was running the Can-Am Challenge Series at Drummondville and Three Rivers Speedways and had a barrel of fuel for two nights of racing. Lou Lazzaro made the trip with an open trailer and had no fuel with him other than what was in the car. Both nights, the Palmers stepped up to help Lazzaro out with the needed fuel, and wouldn't you know it, Louie won both features.

Maybe that became a good omen for drivers as since then several drivers in different divisions, including Jack and Ronnie Johnson, Dave Lape, Jimmy Davis, Kenny Gates, John McAuliffe, Josh Hohenforst, John Constantino, Vinnie Sangenetti and Kevin Buff, and you can't forget Alton himself, have sat in Victory Lane with the Palmer Service Center sponsorship on their cars.

However, their relationship with Jack and Ronnie has been among the many highlights, including R.J. winning his first Fonda Speedway modified track championship in 2011 in a car that was originally built and then stored away for Jack to drive.

The Palmers have said that their relationship with Jack, Ronnie and the crew is really special because they are not just friends -they are family.

In 2006, the New York State Stock Car Association recognized the Palmers with the "Harry Peek Dedication to Racing Award" and Fonda Speedway also honored them with the track "Dedication to Racing Award" in both 2006 and 2008.

The Palmers relationship with Ronnie goes back to 2006 when they were the owners of Jack's 12A and they gave sponsorship to Ronnie for Super DIRT Week.

When Jack retired in 2009, they became the sponsors for Ronnie Johnson. Alton can be found with the head-set on as crew chief for Ronnie during Super DIRT Week and on Friday and Sunday nights. Palmer still races on Saturday's at Fonda, where he won a feature in 2011.

While Palmer plans to drive Saturday nights 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 after the win. "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."

The Palmers were along for the ride when Jumpin' Jack won the inaugural Lou Blaney Memorial Race at Sharon Speedway in Ohio, his 149th feature win at Fonda Speedway the night before he won his 27th and final feature at Utica-Rome Speedway the next night.

In more than four decades of racing, Jack amassed more than 400 career feature wins at 32 tracks with 149 wins and 11 track championships at Fonda Speedway where he won his first feature in 1971.

He had a career-high of 36 feature wins on all tracks in 1981 and was the first New Yorker to win the 200-lap modified main event at Super DIRT Week in 1979. He was the first big-block driver to sweep Syracuse in 1984 with four straight victories on the mile.

He also has put his name in the record books by winning 200-lappers at Fonda, Rolling Wheels, Cayuga County, Lebanon Valley, Flemington as well as the 1985 Eastern State Championship at Middletown.

Jack's performance in the 1980s is one for anybody to be envious of as he registered 217 feature wins up and down the coast and 11 track championships to go with more than a dozen major races, Mr. DIRT Series and Super DIRT Series championships and Winter Tour point championships in Florida and Texas.

The '90s weren't too bad either as he added another 74 victories and five track championships to go with three Rolling Wheels 200 and two Lebanon Valley 200 victories.

The Ridge returns to Sundays

As it was reported Tuesday in The Leader-Herald and all over the internet racing forums, this will the final night of Friday night racing at The Ridge as promoters Mike Romano and Jake Spraker experiment with Sunday night racing in an effort to improve dwindling car counts.

Glen Ridge Motorsports Park originally ran as a Saturday night go-kart track before switching to Sundays with slingshots and full-size cars. The move to Fridays was made when the Romano/Spraker team took over in 2007.

Sunday racing will start June 3 with pit gates opening at 3 p.m. and the front gates opening at 4 p.m. Racing is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.

After the running of the June 10 and 17 programs, the track management will further evaluate the situation.

The three June race programs will be sponsored by longtime supporter of the track Sowle Tractor Trailer Repair and consist of the regular weekly divisions.

The modifieds will run 35 lap features for $2,000-to-win, while the sportsman division also will run for bonus money.

On June 3 the division will run 50 laps for a $1,000 top prize, while the June 10 and 17 they will run 30-laps for $750.

Pre-race car show

Saturday afternoon the annual pre-race car show will be held at the Winner's Circle restaurant from noon to 3 p.m. featuring several sprint cars, sportsman and modified division drivers and their cars that will run at Fonda Speedway Saturday night.

Among the drivers who will be on hand are sprint car drivers Cory Sparks, Mark Zemcik and Luke Munroe along with Fonda regulars Jimmy Davis, Justin Boehler, Harry Shaffer and other unannounced guests.

A special addition to this year's show will be a restored Lou Lazzaro No. 4 coupe.



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