FONDA, N.Y. — It was, as Yogi Berra supposedly proclaimed many years ago, “déjà vu all over again” Saturday night at the Fonda Speedway.
After 200 grueling laps around the odd-shaped fairgrounds half-mile, the same three drivers graced the venerable speedway’s Checkerboard Square that celebrated there two years ago when promoter Brett Deyo brought back the Fonda 200 as part of his Short Track Super Series.
After missing the event last year due to COVID restrictions, a full house turned out expecting local favorite Stewart Friesen to again snare the $53,000 winner’s share and they weren’t disappointed, as the transplanted Canadian led Rocky Warner and Mike Mahaney, who earned $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, to the checkers.
Early leader Danny Varin began to struggle when the track dried out and his big block didn’t work as well but he rallied in the late stages with a charge around the extreme outside to claim fourth ahead of Tyler Dippel, Craig Hansen, 33rd-starting Adam McAuliffe, former Fonda promoter Matt DeLorenzo, Darren Smith and Bobby Hackel III.
Varin drew the outside pole in the redraw and took off like the proverbial scalded cat on the initial green, catching the tail of the field on lap seven.
Behind him, the sixth-starting Friesen had climbed to second by lap 12 and as the duo worked lapped traffic Friesen closed in and made a few runs on Varin, a former Fonda regular who now devotes much of his time to regional sprint car events.
When a car stalled to draw a yellow on lap 46, the crowd expected Friesen to get the best of Varin on the restart but instead, Friesen’s wife Jessica Zemken got caught up in a frontstretch scramble that brought the yellow right back out.
On the next try, Warner surprised everyone by blowing around Friesen, though he soon gave the spot back. By then, Mahaney had arrived on the scene from ninth and he began working on Warner for third.
Friesen finally put Varin away on lap 66, only to have Varin go right back by and Friesen tangle with a lapped car and pull up with a flat right rear tire.
“It broke the wheel and the shock,” said Friesen, “so we changed them and put some more wedge into it. In the end, it helped instead of hurting us.”
Mahaney made his stop on the same yellow, with Varin, Johnson, Warner and Dippel the top four when action resumed.
Track champion Johnson then hounded Varin until he finally got the lead on lap 87, an advantage he held through the halfway break at lap 100.
Drivers then had a choice of going to the hot pit and working on their cars or lining up in the infield to await the restart with no work allowed. Six cars took that option, among them Friesen and Mahaney.
DeLorenzo led the field to the green to start round two but Friesen immediately drove around him with Mahaney soon duplicating the move. Warner then turned up the wick and ran down Mahaney for second, by which time Friesen was out to a full straightaway lead.
But once they hit traffic again, Warner closed the gap and even got alongside the leader before Friesen trapped him behind a lapped car and squirted away.
“I saw Rocky’s nose and decided I’d better get with the program,” said Friesen with a big grin. “I didn’t realize the top had come in that much so I began moving around again.”
From that point, the action was behind the leaders as Dippel, Varin, Mahaney and McAuliffe swapped spots back and forth through the waning laps. Hackel even got into the act, spinning in heavy traffic with ten to go and only losing a couple of positions.
“We had a really good car,” opined Warren. “I saw that the bottom was rubbered up so I took a shot outside Stewart but he’s really good here and he got away from me. I’m happy with the $20,000.”
Mahaney offered a similar sentiment, saying, “We’re always happy when we win ten grand. We were ok but not great. I don’t know if we made the right tire choice. It was really hard to judge after the rain before hot laps changed the track. It turned out to be really racey.”
On a technical note, the engine in Friesen’s car has now won two $53,000 races, though the “Billy the Kid” powerplant was a 360 ci small block in 2019 and was rebuilt as a 406 for 2021.
Chad Edwards notched a $2,000 win in the STSS Sportsman series event, besting Payton Talbot, Will Shields, Tucker O’Connor and Michael Sabia.
Feature (200 laps): Stewart Friesen, Rocky Warner, Mike Mahaney, Danny Varin, Tyler Dippel, Craig Hanson, Adam McAuliffe, Matt DeLorenzo, Darren Smith, Bobby Hackel IV, David Schilling, Ronnie Johnson, JaMike Sowle, Brett Haas, JR Hurlburt, Pep Corradi, Chris Curtis, Brian Gleason, Addison Bowman, Roger Henion Jr., Steve Akers, Rich Christman, Jessica Friesen, Darwin Greene, Jeff Rockefeller, Josh Hohenforst, Alan Johnson, Brian Pessolano, Anthony Perrego, George Foley, Andy Bachetti, Matt Sobiech, Dave Constantino, Alex Yankowski, Ray Zemken, Tanner Warner, Tanner Warner, Will Shields, Tim Dwyer, Aaron Jacobs, Billy VanPelt DNS