BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — It’s common across the nation. A successful racer decides it’s time to hang up his helmet and fire suit but he still wants to be involved in racing, so he decides to become a promoter.
Some, like Emmett Hahn and Butch Elms, do just fine, but we can recall former Racing Promotion Monthly editor Stewart Doty warning endlessly that drivers-turned-promoters too often rely on the misconception that if they “just raise the purse to what racers deserve,” they’ll be a big success.
New Yorker Matt DeLorenzo is a racer and promoter who did not fit that mold.
He saw an opportunity at one of his regular stops, Fonda Speedway, a few seasons ago and jumped in with both feet. But when it didn’t work out as he’d anticipated, he jumped back out. And this year, he’s having one of his best seasons with a handful of modified victories at Fonda and Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
“I saw the decline of the track and the number of fans attending,” recalled DeLorenzo with a knowing smile. “So I thought if I cleaned up the facility and lowered the admission we’d do a big volume at the front gate and get the track going again. But it didn’t work out.
“We just couldn’t get enough people here. I think social media hurt us a lot. Everybody’s a weatherman. Some guy would predict rain and we’d lose 300 people I really needed.”
After another promoter took over the venerable fairgrounds for a couple of years and also struggled, Short Track Super Series organizer Brett Deyo struck an agreement with the Montgomery County Fair Board and has turned the speedway around.
“Brett is really good at social media and marketing,” DeLorenzo said. “He can do all that himself and save a bunch of money. And he is very well connected in the industry, with the series and three tracks to offer potential sponsors.
“And he has benefited from a change in attitude on the fair board’s part. They limited me on what I could do because they had a bad taste from another promoter, and they stuck it to me a little.”
Unfortunately, by the time the fair board realized how valuable DeLorenzo’s improvements to their facility were, he was ready to move on.
“It took a while but eventually I did get credit from a lot of guys, including the fair people,” DeLorenzo said. “Nobody knew how bad the bathrooms were and how the grandstand, which is well over a century old, was rotted out underneath. If we hadn’t fixed that, it would have fallen down. Luckily, my background is in the construction industry.
“But what I was more surprised about was how people acted. People you call friends turn on you and badmouth you over every little thing, from a cold burger to running out of french fries on the last night of the season.
“Overall, I guess I’d say that I still enjoyed it,” DeLorenzo noted. “Getting the track ready was fun but race days were chaos. And now, unlike a lot of racers, I never bitch about track conditions anymore. I know what it takes to get it ready.”
DeLorenzo loves to race and is very good at it. But he has two other stars in the family as well, with two daughters on travel softball teams.
“Our plan for this season was a hit or miss schedule built around the girls’ softball schedule. But then we started winning regularly, so now we’re trying to do both,” DeLorenzo said. “The hardest part is working on the car Saturday after racing Friday night. I’ve sort of fallen into sleeping in the hauler after we get back from Albany-Saratoga, then my brother Mike and I dig in early Saturday morning to get ready for Fonda.”
Considering he goes up against Ronnie Johnson, Rocky Warner and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series star Stewart Friesen at the “Track of Champions,” solid preparation is a must.
DeLorenzo now realizes that all the work involved in prepping a modified pales in comparison to running a speedway.
“I’d never promote again, unless I had someone with a lot of money backing me. I’d rather just race,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun and you don’t have to worry about paying the purse or listen to everybody complain. Social media is brutal even after a good night. And I have to say, I appreciate winning now a lot more than I used to.”