Fonda legend Wimble dies at age 84

This past Mohawk Valley weekend at Fonda Speedway I had the opportunity to chat with Bill Wimble as he sat at a picnic table under the covered grandstand at Fonda Speedway signing autographs and talking racing.

It was an easy conversation as his personality and bright smile allowed me to feel comfortable, like two old friends talking. Even Brett Hearn, who was also at the table signing autographs that day, listened intently as he spoke.

Wimble, the 1960 NASCAR National Sportsman champion, passed away last Sunday at the age of 84.

Wimble captured numerous track championships in his career and also raced to an 11th place finish in the 1962 Daytona 500.

Wimble captured 43 feature wins at Fonda Speedway in his career with the last one coming on Sept. 9, 1967. He was crowned track champion in 1960, ’61, and ’63 and was the sportsman champion in 1966 and the modified champ in 1967.

The Living Legends of Auto Racing honored Wimble with its prestigious Pioneer of Racing Award in 2007.

Friesen dominates

Stewart Friesen may not be calling Fonda Speedway his home track on Saturday night this year and probably more than one driver is relieved.

Friesen dominated the opening night modified feature, finishing over half a track ahead of second and third place finishers Bobby Varin and Larry Wight and lapping up to the fifth place car in the 35-lap main event.

Would he have been that dominant if the race was handicapped instead of heads-up start as the majority of early-season races are? Who knows. But he turned the fastest lap in the feature with a 20.604.

While Friesen ran away with the modified feature, the other features on the night were anything but.

John McAuliffe returned to racing after being sidelined most of last season due to an injury suffered during competition at Fonda.

McAuliffe won his qualifier and set the pace for most of the 25-lap sportsman feature. Rocky Warner, who had off-season heart surgery, picked his way through the pack to pass McAuliffe only to have McAuliffe use traffic to retake the lead. Warner used the traffic to pin McAuliffe and powered around the outside to take the first step toward defending his division track championship.

Luke Horning and Kenny Gates put on a show for the fans in the 20-lap pro stock main event.

Horning led the opening three laps of the event before Gates took over on a lap four restart. Horning dropped back slightly before charging back to the front with five laps to go. Gates did not go away and made a last-lap bid only to have Horning block the low side to back up his opening night win at Utica-Rome Speedway with the opening night win at Fonda.

While Horning and Gates were battling on the front end, Nick Stone, Jason Casey and Jay Casey were locked in a back-and-forth battle for the third spot with Jason Casey edging Stone for the third-place finish.

The street stock feature also can’t be overlooked as Josh Coonradt and Dave Horning Sr. continued their battle that started late last year with Coonradt winning round one.

Some changes on the track that fans will need to adapt to at the Track of Champions is the change in feature lengths.

The modifieds have jumped up from 30 to 35 laps, while the 602 sportsman division has gone from 20 to 25 laps. The pro stock and street stock main events remain the same.

The changes reflect the feature lengths as Fonda’s sister track Glen Ridge Motorsports Park.

Demitraszek Enterprises, which operates both facilities, has also brought the Delaware Restart to Fonda from Glen Ridge.

Now on restarts, the leader is on the front row by himself with the rest of the field lined up side-by-side.

The start has worked well at Glen Ridge, preventing a tendency for jumped restarts and multi-car crashes on the restarts.

There are still some bugs that need to be worked out, but it was great to finally get the race season underway at the venerable speedway.

GRMP ready to open

After a pair of weather-related postponements, Glen Ridge Motorsports Park is set to open for the season Friday night.

The green flag is slated to drop on the first heat race at 7:30 p.m.