Small-scale auto racing is still a thrill in Johnstown

JOHNSTOWN — Racing down the high banks of a black oval doesn’t require a driver’s license Sunday in Johnstown, as all the drivers — ages 7 to 70 — can’t even fit in their race cars. cars.

Welcome to dirt racing at Foxtrot RC Park on Route 30A, an open dirt oval created by Ryan Holland four years ago to race remote control cars.

“I’ve always been into dirt track racing my whole life, I’ve been to Fonda [Speedway] since I was a little kid,” Holland said. “My friend, Mike Peek, introduced me to the RC scene at Full Throttle in Watervliet. I fell in love with the fact that it was a dirt oval and there was no local venue.’

Foxtrot RC Park is adjacent to Checkers Out Speedway’s indoor go-kart racetrack, created in collaboration with owner Don Greco Sr. Now in its fourth year, Foxtrot RC Park has become the Sunday morning racing venue for remote control racing enthusiasts. The small dirt oval opens to racers in mid-April and will host races through the end of September.

“I worked here for Donnie for about eight years and had a little bit of a relationship with him,” Holland said. “He gave me the plot of land and said do whatever you want and that’s where we ended up four years later.”

Holland 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, loose dirt. At the end of that first year, the contestants said you really have to bank on it – just like Fonda [Speedway].”

He invested in a 20-ton load of dirt, created a 70-foot-long, 40-foot-wide oval with 2 ½-foot banks, and interest exploded.

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 Loyer, 11, of Fonda, was entered in two categories on Sunday – limited athlete and late model. Both are entry-level divisions for rookies of all ages.

“I saw my family do it, so I thought I might as well try to do it better,” Advocate said with a laugh.

Last Sunday, she raced her limited-edition sports car, which looks like a modified open-wheel car at Fonda Speedway, with a design that mimics the car of local fan favorite Jessica Friesen.

“She’s my favorite race car driver,” Lauer said.

The lawyer isn’t alone, there are several other female racers who compete in the Foxtrot every Sunday – uniting by using the hashtag #GirlPower amongst themselves.

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

“It’s more about trying to stay away from the debris,” Advocate said. “If someone crashes in front of you, you have to turn around immediately or you’ll end up wrecking.”

Lawyer’s face lit up as she talked about getting her limited RC sportsman to slide into the two banked turns, throwing chunks of dirt onto the wooden guardrails.

“It’s great when I end up going into the turn, get on top and then actually make the turn,” Advocate said. “I’m really excited.”

Mayfield’s Don “Hank” Rivenberg entered his No. 3 car in several heats, with the racer boasting a Budweiser paint scheme modeled after the car of black car racing legend Brett Hearn.

Foxtrot RC Park has seen the creation of new racers along with career changes.

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

Just as Holland learned how to maintain and care for 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. “At first people were looking for different RC stuff and I lost money. Now I try to keep as much as I can in stock for every possible RC.”

Holland builds a race car from a stock chassis and adds the necessary race day tweaks.

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

At 74, “Hank” Rivenburg is the oldest rookie on the spewway, driving the No. 3 around the track under the guidance of his son Don Rivenburg, 54, of Amsterdam. The younger Rivenburg was introduced to the sport by another younger generation.

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

Don Rivenburg was addicted to racing – again.

A computer error at Upstate RC and Hobbies would not allow two Don Rivenburg entries into the system. The older of the two was randomly entered into the system as “Hank” and the nickname stuck.

Both Rivenburg men have spent many nights at Fonda Speedway as part of the crews of Hall of Fame drivers such as Jack Johnson, Maynard Forret and Lou Lazaro.

“I took that one and started running,” the elder Rivenburg said. “I have four or five pine cones at home and when I’m done with dinner I walk them around, right in my driveway. He even said I was doing better.

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

“He’s got a little bit of an eye problem, it’s hard when he has to look at the backstretch,” Don Rivenburg said. “I have to tell him to go higher [right] On the runway. We’re trying to get him to stay upright.”

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

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

Peake was excited about the upcoming Foxtrot 200 on September 9 and 10 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 unbelievable to see guys driving five, six, seven hours before the race, especially at a small, small track like we have.”

Alongside the annual Foxtrot highlight, Peek is pleased to announce the race’s lap times and announce the winners each Sunday.

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

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