Chasin’ Racin’ – Loss of a legend: Jack Johnson

By Mark Kane

Jumpin’ Jack Johnson in the early years

After completing this week’s article I found out that I had lost my hero in racing, Jumpin’ Jack Johnson. Those who know me understand the loss that I feel, the same loss that many of his fans are feeling. To this day I still wear my Jumper hat and shirts proudly.

He was a champion both on the track and off and was in the toughest race of his life, ALS, a race even Jack could not win. When I heard the news it was hard to hold back the emotion, okay, to be honest, I couldn’t. The racing community is like a family, and we have just lost someone very special to all of us. The man and the legend had a special way with his fans and always had time for them even when he was getting ready to do battle in the always potent Orange 12A.

I have been a race fan since age 5 and now at 62 I have seen Jack Johnson go from a raw rookie to the multi-time champion he had become and was at Fonda the night that ended his career in 2009 on the front stretch.

Jumpin’ Jack Johnson was more than a race driver; he was my hero.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Johnson family. He was one of the very best to ever turn left here in the Capital District and across the entire Northeast. He is the king of Fonda Speedway, he is the Champion in the phrase “Track of Champions.”

His racing career started in 1966, and he would win his first feature at Fonda Speedway in 1971, then would go on to pick up a total of 149 Big Block and 3 Small Block wins and his first of 11 championships in 1975. In all, Jack picked up 428 wins at 35 different tracks, including 90 at Albany Saratoga Speedway.

The winner of countless races from Canada to Florida and even three in Texas, Jack was a threat to win right up to his last race.

He was the first New Yorker to win at the Moody Mile at the Syracuse Fairgrounds, a place he felt right at home and with the stats to prove it with six wins.

Along with his many wins came many championships. He was a mentor to many drivers including Billy Decker, Dave Camera, Bobby Varin and his son Ronnie as well as others who have all gone on to be top wheelmen in their own right as well as champions.

In his career he ran against the very best, and that is something he never shied away from as racing was his profession along with Jumpin’ Jacks Pro Speed Shop. The name Jumpin’ Jack Johnson will remain a huge part of racing history.

The “Jumper” Jack Johnson was one of the very best to strap in and turn left.

His records will be tough to break, and he will never leave the hearts of those who called him a hero. We have lost one of the greats, and I have lost my hero. The pain is over for Jack. Race on my friend, God speed, the final checker has fallen. Thank you, Jumpin’ Jack Johnson, it was one hell of a ride and I am glad I was there to witness the very best to ever turn left. Rest in peace 12A.

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You can almost hear the thunder, you can almost taste those dust-covered fries . . . yes, race fans, the 2021 race season is almost upon us. There is something special about opening day no matter what track you call home.

For me it is like waking up on Christmas morning as a kid and, yes, I will be up early and get little sleep. Even with the races I have attended in Delaware and Pennsylvania there is just something special about returning back to my roots here at our local tracks. Time is clicking away for teams to put the final touches on their cars and track promoters are busy dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.

Unlike past years, with everything going on around us, for a promoter it is a whole different deal having to work closely with local, county and state government officials during the ever-changing regulations that are being handed down. And don’t forget what it takes to plan their busy season ahead and get the grounds, kitchens, bathrooms and – most importantly – the track ready after a long winter, and everything else that goes along with it. We all hope come opening day there will be fans in the stands and wonder how many there will be.

Here is a look at the upcoming race season at the Fonda Speedway. Get ready, folks, as it is going to be busy season with some great racing action from the first green until the last checker falls. Next week I will bring you the busy Albany Saratoga and Lebanon Valley schedules.

After a much smaller show than in past years due to regulations that were in place at the Via Port Mall, the “Track of Champions,” Fonda Speedway, will run practice on Saturday, April 10,  from 3 to 6 p.m. then will kick off the regular season on April 17 with a regular weekly show with gates opening at 3:30 p.m., hot laps at 5:30 p.m. and heats starting at 6:30 p.m. during the month of April.

One week later on April 24 the Montgomery County Open with the Modifieds will put on sail panels and go 35 laps for $4,000 to win along with all divisions and the Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modifieds (MVVDM).

The month of May will kick off May 1 with a 7 p.m. starting time and dollar dogs – hot dogs for just $1 – with a regular show with the Pro Stocks going for $1,000 to win with Round 1 of the American Racer/Lias Tire Super Six Series. On May 8 the Thunder on the Thruway Series will be on tap with Modifieds, Crate 602 Sportsmen and Pro Stocks all running for a higher purse along with the MVVDM. On May 15 it will be dollar night, with $1 grandstand admission – yes, that’s right, $1 for a night of racing action at the historic half mile.

Dave Lape will be honored on May 29, a true winner, champion and veteran of 50 years turning left.

On May 29 the Fonda Speedway and its fan will pay tribute to Mr. David Lape, a true champion at Fonda with 99 wins and seven track championships to his credit. During his storied career Lape accumulated a total of 191 wins across the Northeast along with the 1977 Mr. DIRT title, two Utica Rome championships and numerous other accomplishments including designing and building cars known as Champ Car.

Now you can find Dave at the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame each week where he and his wife Jackie proudly have turned it into a true history of the speedway. The Mods will be running twin 22-lap features.

On June 5, the CRSA 305 Sprint cars will make their way to Fonda, along with all weekly divisions. On June 12, the MVVDM will be on hand along with a regular show and Pro Stock Super Six Series. The Bill Ag Memorial One-on-One Match Race will take place on June 199, and one week later on June 26, the 360 winged warriors of the Patriot Sprints will make their way into the Speedway along with all divisions.

The month of July kicks off with a big two-day event beginning Saturday, July 3, with the Red, White, and Blue Thunder on Thruway Series along with Hall of Fame night, once again with high-paying features in the Modifieds, 602 Crate Sportsmen, and Pro Stocks as well as the MVVDM on hand as well. Then on Sunday, July 4, they will come right back with the Short Track Super Series “Firecracker 50” for the Sunoco Modifieds, paying a cool $10,000 to win along with the STSS 602 Crates. Look for a great field of invaders looking to take on the Fonda Speedway stars. The Popular HONDOOO Classic will take place for Pro Stocks along with a regular show.

On July 17 it will be a meet-and-greet along with $5 grandstand admission.

“The Monk” Lou Lazzaro Memorial Night will take place on July 24. Lou had wins in 30 consecutive seasons.

July 24 will feature Lou Lazzaro Memorial Night along with the Thunder on the Thruway Series. “The Monk” Lou Lazzaro like Lape had a 50-year career in the sport and won at Fonda for 30 consecutive seasons picking up four championships and 113 wins along the way. A threat no matter where he ran, no matter whether on dirt or asphalt, Lou had more than 250 wins, countless championships and was well-known and respected across the Northeast.

We lost Mr. Lazzaro doing what he loved to do, where he loved to be each Saturday night, as he pulled into the pits during the feature after not feeling well. He was rushed to the hospital where he would pass away a few days later, news that hit the Fonda Speedway family hard. The following week there was not a dry eye in the house as Jimmy King did an amazing job to honor his friend Lou “The Monk” Lazzaro as the maroon and white no. 4 would make its last laps around the oval Louie loved so much. The Mods will go 44 laps for $4,444.

On July 31, the CRSA will make a return with all divisions in action, and then on Aug. 7, Fonda Speedway and the fans will pay tribute to the “Gentleman” Harry Peek, and the name fit him well.

Known as the “Gentleman” by both fans and other drivers, Harry Peek will be honored on Aug. 7.

Fans will remember Mr. Peek for the beautifully prepared cars that he brought to the track weekly on his way to 21 wins and four championships as well as 23 wins and one championship in the tough Late Model class.

He was an innovator way ahead of his time in the creations he brought to the track as well as building cars for other teams. He was a favorite through the years with his clean driving style and his special way with the fans. The points will end and champions crowned on Aug. 14.

The track will be silent until Thursday, Sept. 16, when the Big Fonda Speedway 200 kicks off a practice day, then Friday they will come right back for three action-packed days of racing that will all come down to the $53,000 to win Fonda 200.

This year the weekly schedule will consist of Sunoco Modifieds, Swagger Factory Apparel 602 Crate Sportsmen, Algonkin Motel Pro Stocks and Montgomery County Office for Aging Limited Sportsman and Four Cylinders. Weekly grandstand pricing will be $11 for adults, $9 for seniors over 65 and free for kids 11 and under.

Look for Mike Mahaney to make his return to the Mohawk Valley as Mike will be bringing the George Huttig–owned 35 to Fonda Speedway and a welcome addition to the Sunoco Modifieds. The Mahaney-Huttig combination have proven they can run with the best in the business, becoming the 2020 Albany Saratoga champion and running both the Short Track Super Series and the Super DIRTcar series with success holding their own with consistent runs upfront. Back in 2017 the second-generation driver called Fonda Speedway home and ended up with a fifth-place in points and three wins to his credit.

Mike Mahaney is off to a good 2021 season and will once again be calling Fonda Speedway home for the 2021 season.

Last year Mike Maresca came into his own at Fonda Speedway and walked away with his first “Track of Champions” Sunoco Modified title. So far in 2021 Maresca has shown he is at the top of his game, picking up a couple early-season wins including last week’s win at the very tough Bridgeport Speedway over Mahaney, Ryan Godown, Billy Pauch Jr., with veteran Frank Cozze rounding out the top five.

Please remember to support those who support our local dirt tracks and teams, stay safe and get the car packed as the racing season is about to take the green.