Small-scale auto racing is still a thrill in Johnstown

Small-scale auto racing is still a thrill in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN — No driver’s license is required to race straightaways and drift high banks on the dirt oval at Johnstown on Sundays, as all the drivers — ages 7 to 70 — can’t even fit in their race cars.

Welcome to dirt racing at Foxtrot RC Park on Route 30A, an outdoor dirt oval created four years ago by Ryan Holland for remote-controlled racing cars.

“I’ve enjoyed dirt track racing all my life, I’ve been to Fonda [Speedway] from a young age,” Holland said. “My buddy Mike Peek got me into the RC scene at Full Throttle in Watervliet. I fell in love with it being a dirt oval and there was no room.

Foxtrot RC Park is adjacent to Checkers Out Speedway indoor go-kart racing, developed in partnership with owner Don Greco Sr. Now in its fourth year, Foxtrot RC Park has become a racing destination for remote control racing enthusiasts on Sunday mornings. The small dirt oval opens to racers in mid-April, with racing running through the end of September.

“I’ve worked here for Donnie for about eight years and I’ve been around him a little bit,” Holland said. “He gave me a piece of land and said do what you want and here we are four years later.

The Dutchman first created a flat oval in the corner of the property and spread the word – hoping that if he built it, the racers would come.

“We were only getting 20 to 25 guys a week,” Holland said. “Our track was flat, dirt. At the end of the first year, the racers said you really need to put the bank in – just like Fonda [Speedway].

He invested in a 20-ton load of dirt, created a 70-foot-long, 40-foot-wide oval with 2.5-foot banks, and the interest grew.

Last Sunday, more than 75 cars took to the dirt oval in five racing divisions – Limited Sportsmen, Sportsmen, Big Blocks, Late Models and Sprint Cars – with drivers of all ages.

Abby Lawyer, 11, of Fonda, was entered in two divisions on Sunday, Limited Athlete and Late Model. Both are entry-level divisions for beginners of all ages.

“I saw my family do it, so I thought I could do it better,” the lawyer said with a laugh.

Last Sunday, she raced her limited-edition sport, which looks like a modified open bike, at Fonda Speedway, with a design that mimics local fan favorite Jessica Friesen’s car.

“She’s my favorite racing driver,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer is not alone, every Sunday Foxtrot features several other female racers who connect with each other using the hashtag #GirlPower.

A quick learner on the dirt oval, she has three wins in 10 race weeks.

“It’s more about trying to distance yourself from the wreckage,” the lawyer said. “If something breaks down in front of you, you have to turn right away or you’re going to crash.”

The lawyer’s face lit up as she talked about her limited sports RC sliding into two turns, throwing chunks of dirt onto the wooden guardrails.

“It’s cool when I slide into a corner and go up and actually beat the corner,” the lawyer said. “I’m really excited.”

Don “Hank” Rivenburg of Mayfield entered his No. 3, the racer boasted a Budweiser paint scheme modeled after dirt car racing legend Brett Hearn’s car.

Foxtrot RC Park has encouraged the emergence of new racers along with career changes.

Holland was a commercial appliance technician, and when the space opened up on Comrie Avenue in Johnstown, he took a leap of faith and moved to 2021. in April opened by Upstate RC and Hobbies.

Just as Holland learned to manage and maintain his dirt oval, he learned a lot about retail as part of his hobby/career.

“I thought all my business would be racers and local guys who needed racing stuff,” Holland said. “In the beginning, people were looking for all kinds of RC stuff, and I lost money. Now I try to have as much stock as I can for every possible RC.

Holland builds a race car from a standard chassis and adds the necessary modifications for race day.

“You can buy it on Saturday, charge the battery and race it on Sunday,” Holland said.

At 74, “Hank” Rivenburg is the oldest speedway rookie driving the No. 3 around the track, led by his son Don Rivenburg, 54, from Amsterdam. The younger Rivenburg was introduced to the sport from another younger generation.

“My nephew asked me to take him to Ryan’s shop, he needed parts for his RC car,” said Don Rivenburg. “I walked in and saw one of the racers and said, ‘You race these?’

Don Rivenburg is hooked on racing again.

A computer glitch will keep Upstate RC and Hobbies from allowing two Don Rivenburg entries into their system. The older of the two was accidentally entered into the system as “Hank,” and the nickname stuck.

Both Rivenburg men spent many nights at Fonda Speedway as crew members for Hall of Fame drivers such as Jack Johnson, Maynard Forrette and Lou Lazzarro.

“I grabbed this one and started running,” the elder Rivenburg said. “I have four or five cones at home, and after I finish dinner, I walk right around them in my driveway. He even said I was doing better.

Don Rivenburg was at his father’s side, giving him instructions.

“He’s got a little bit of an eye problem, it’s hard when you have to look at a stretched back,” Don Rivenburg said. “I have to tell him to go higher [right] on the track. We try to keep it straight.

Former Fonda Speedway sports driver Mike Peek has joined Foxtrot RC Park as track announcer and race director.

“I’ve always loved preaching and talking to this crowd, talking to people,” Peek said. “You see guys from five to 85,” Peek said. “It’s not as demanding as a big car, but you’re still racing.

Peek was excited for the Foxtrot 200 on September 9th and 10th with races of 200, 150 and 100 laps.

“I think it’s one of the spectacles of RC racing in New York state,” Peek said, “It’s incredible to see guys drive five, six, seven hours before a race, especially on a small track like we have.”

In the lead up to the annual Foxtrot event, Peek is happy to post race lap times and announce winners every Sunday.

“It doesn’t take that much to get an adrenaline rush while you’re out there, and it’s a lot of fun,” Peek said.

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