FONDA SPEEDWAY MUSEUM TO INDUCT THE 2022 CLASS INTO THE FONDA SPEEDWAY HALL OF FAME THIS SATURDAY, JULY, 2
By: Ron Szczerba
Fonda, NY – This Saturday July 2 at the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame & Museum, the class of 2022 will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the “Track of Champions”. The ceremony will begin at 3:00 p.m. at the Fonda Speedway Museum which is located at the back of the Fairgrounds along the railroad tracks.
2022 inductees will include drivers AJ Romano, Tim Clemons, and Steve Welch along with car owner Jeff McWalker. The 6th Annual Dedication to the Fonda Speedway Museum Award will be given to Alton & Carole Palmer and the Eagles Club 3846 of Canajoharie, NY.
AJ Romano raced motorcycles as a teenager, but after being bummed out by constant crashes and injuries in motocross, thought he should retreat to four-wheel racing. So, he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather Joe, his father Andy, and older brother Mike and began racing stock cars. Being “slighter” than either Andy or Mike according to the book Fonda, AJ required a pillow for seat padding to see over the hood of what back then was an L & R machine.
AJ took a little longer to learn his trade in stock car racing, but he was also very respectful of what he didn’t know. “Learning is so important in this sport. I can’t believe some of these newcomers today, they are arrogant,” he said in the Fonda book. “Back in 1991 when I drove for Tom Spencer, he called me Out of Control AJ.”
AJ won his first Modified feature at Fulton Speedway in 1986 when he was running the 320-Modified class, and first sat in victory lane at Fonda in the opening event of 1986 in the same division. He’s also won races at Albany-Saratoga, New Venture and Canandaigua speedways, and there were numerous nights at Fonda when the Romano brothers finished 1-2, including the 1999 Mohawk Valley 200, with A.J. following Mike across the finish line.
The biggest victory of AJ Romano’s career came on July 27, 1995, when he won the 75-lap $10,000.00 to win “Rumble,” an open-competition 358 version of “Thunder” at the Fonda Speedway. “It was my all-time best night,” he said that night after the win. “There were no holds barred and we won $10,000 over the likes of Brightbill, and Pauch. We didn’t get home early that night.”
After a 34-year career, A.J. Romano sat behind the wheel of his race car for the final time at Fonda Speedway’s 2015 “Mohawk Valley Weekend”. All total Romano has two career 320-Modified wins at Fonda along with one career 358-Modified win to go along with 34 Big Block Modified wins in 16 winning seasons, the first one coming on 7/4/1987 and his last win coming back on 7/14/2012.
TIM CLEMONS (Special thanks to Scott Belknap for the information on Tim Clemons)
When Tim Clemons was about ten years old, his older brother Harry started taking him to the races at Fonda. “And I just got hooked,” Tim said in an interview for Redline Magazine back in 2000. Back then one of Clemons’ racing heroes was Harry Peek who he looked up to and admired a lot. “One thing led to another, and I always said when I was a little kid that I wanted to drive a race car.”
At one point Tim’s brother Harry started sponsoring Jack Johnson so Tim would go down to Jack’s garage, hang around, and learn whatever he could. From there the sponsorship went over to Larry Dalmata’s car and Tim started working on Larry’s car pretty much full time. “When I was working on Larry’s car I would get out of school and go right to the garage,” Clemons said. “I was doing pretty much all of the maintenance on the car.”
Tim’s first time in a race car was at the Lebanon Valley Speedway in the “Race of Kings” event. “Larry’s brother Ray was getting married the day of the race, so Larry told me to take the car to the Valley and try it. Clemons ended up crashing the car but thought that he did very well. “I was keeping pace and passing cars,” Tim said. “I got out of the car, which had no front end left on it, with a smile from ear to ear. It was then I said to myself I have to have one of these.” So, Clemons fixed the wrecked car and the following year had one of his own.
After having his own car for quite a while, Clemons sold his entire operation to Tom Spencer in 1985. He had stints in different cars owned by car owners Dick Vokatis, Mike Parillo, Spencer, Mercoglan/Lombardi Racing, Harry Shaffer Sr., Mike Ketchum/Tom Spencer, Dave & Bobby Bez, and Jake Spraker.
Clemons has been back and forth between the Sportsman and Modified division a couple of times during his career. What it all boiled down to was that he loves racing and if it meant that he had to run a Sportsman car in order to race then he would. “I wanted to race so what was I to do,” he said. “I can’t afford to do it on my own, so I always took the deal that was offered to me.”
Clemons has one career win in each of the following divisions at Fonda, the 320-Modified, 358-Modified, and Big Block Modified divisions, the Big Block Modified win coming on 5/31/1997. He was also the DIRT Sportsman Track Champion at Fonda back in 1990, 1991, & 1992. He had a total of 39 victories in the DIRT Sportsman division and won the Mr. DIRT Sportsman Series title back in 2003.
As for a career highlight for Clemons he chose all of his Track Championships. “I can’t single one of them out because they don’t come that easy,” he said. “To win one of them is doing something but to win four of them is definitely doing something.”
Steve Welch from Wells NY competed in the Pro Stock (formerly known as Street Stock) division at The Fonda Speedway from 1991 through 2005. He collected 15 feature event wins at Fonda, the first win coming on 6/6/1998 and his last on 5/1/2004. Welch was crowned the 1999 Fonda track champion and finished runner up in points in both 1998 and 2003.
Welch raced for seven years before getting his first career win, primarily running at Fonda through those years and winning a couple of Dash for Cash events there before getting his first career checkered flag. He started his career in car #37 before he and his crew built a car which they numbered 218. When he started his racing career in the Street Stocks, he admitted that he had no clue, none at all.
“It took me a few years but after a while I started getting competitive,” Welch said in an interview I did with him back in 1998 after his first career win. “We got a lot of help from other people especially Phlan Hart who resided in the same area as I did.”
Welch’s first career win at Fonda came in a car owned by Tony Johnson who had Steve drive his car while Johnson concentrated on his successful business A. Johnson Plumbing & Heating along with his son’s Go-Kart racing career at the time. But the bulk of Welch’s wins and his track title came while driving for Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame car owner Jake Spraker.
His 1999 Pro Stock Track Championship (the first year the division was known as the Pro Stocks) was actually the second of eleven that Spraker would eventually win as a car owner at Fonda, and the only one that came in a full fendered division.
JEFF MCWALKER (Special thanks to Joe Achzet for the information on Jeff McWalker)
Dream. Set a goal. Make it happen even if the world is against you.
When you want to get one of the best drivers of his era behind the wheel of “your race car,” you find a way. You make the connections, you do the work, and you answer the door when opportunity knocks. This sums up Jeff McWalker and his time in racing.
In an era where life was different, racing was different. The quiet Ford Mechanic stood out for the wrong reasons. Jeff was African American at a time when society was divided but changing. While Wendell Scott felt the inequality in the sport and public, Jeff was undeterred in his dream.
Jeff always dreamt to put “The Shoe,” Fonda Speedway Hall of Famer Kenny Shoemaker behind the wheel of “his” car. Working as crew member on Andy Romano’s #97 he started to put the pieces together. Teaming up with a pair other future hall of famers, Tony and Lee Achzet and family, the car started to come together, Shoemaker became available, but the team was left without a heartbeat.
Enter John C. Miller’s, the garage Jeff worked at. When a customer’s Big Block powered Mercury Cougar had issues, the Ford Motor Company replaced the engine, and the original engine was left to live a life of scrap metal. Miller donated the engine to McWalker’s dream.
After disassembling the engine, Hall of Fame Mechanic Tony Achzet was able to sniff out the problem, a missing oil plug. Bolting the 427 cubic inch power plant in the Lee Achzet fabricated #81a coupe the team took to the track in May of 1970. The now quintet of Fonda Speedway Hall of Famers found their way to victory lane one month later for their only victory on June 6, 1970.
The significance of this victory? It was the last time a Ford powered modified would grace victory lane until the 90’s, 25 years later with Jack Johnson and Caprara owned FX1 Modified.
DEDICATION TO THE FONDA SPEEDWAY MUSEUM AWARD IN MEMORY OF BRUCE DOSTAL
One other award that will be handed out at the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies this Saturday will be the 6TH Annual Dedication to the Fonda Speedway Museum Award, given in memory of Bruce Dostal who was the museum curator at the time of his passing, a position he was very dedicated to and very proud of. This year the award will go to Alton & Carole Palmer and the Eagles Club #3846 in Canajoharie, NY.
“We appreciate that you both believe in the importance of keeping the history of our sport well documented as well as its items preserved,” the Fonda Speedway Museum said regarding Alton & Carole Palmer. “To have Jack Johnson’s last driven race car on display in our museum is an amazing accomplishment which we are so very appreciative of.” Another interesting fact about Carole Palmer is the fact that she started the “Fonda Futures Kid’s Club back in 1998 along with her parents Ed & June Keyser.
“We appreciate that you have reached out to assist with the growth of the Fonda Speedway Museum,” the museum staff said about the Eagles Club #3846 in Canajoharie, NY. “As support for the museum has grown, we have been able to afford to gather the resources we need to do a good job at the museum. Thanks to your donation we were able to purchase our great new audio system. The Eagles are an amazing group of people who are known for involvement in a wide variety of community events.”
For more information about the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum you can go to their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FondaHoFandMuseum
|FONDA SPEEDWAY HALL OF FAME MEMBERS|
|Ron Narducci, Sr.|
|Jerry “Jereome” Emiden|
|Jerry Pennock, Sr.|
|Tom Wilson, Jr.|
|Hertha & Marty Beberwyk|
|Ed & Betty Biittig|
|Alton & Carole Palmer|
|Jim Gage Sr.|
|Jim Gage Jr.|
|Ric & Laura Lucia|
|Keith Tesiero Sr.|
|Warren Roosevelt Sr.|
|Bob & Karolann Grimm|
|Peter “Junior” Bianco|
|Ed & Betty Biittig|
|2020 NO INDUCTEES|
|5th Annual Bruce Dostal Dedication to the Fonda Speedway Museum Award – Adam Fusco|
|5th Annual Bruce Dostal Dedication to the Fonda Speedway Museum Award – Alton & Carole Palmer and the Eagles Club #3846 Canajoharie, NY