1927-1938 First Automobile Race
The first automobile race ever held at Fonda was an American Automobile Association event on September 10, 1927. Bob Robinson in a Dusenburg Special won the 20-lap event.
During this period only six automobile racing events were held at the track. The reason for the scant number of events was the concern for safety. The rail fence that ran along the backstretch of the track offered little resistance to the fast cars and many drivers and cars ended up submerged in the Mohawk River.
For an AAA event in 1937, the promoter hired a fully equipped life-saving boat from the Troy Army Troop “A” to anchor in the Mohawk behind the track. Although the boat was not needed, the race was significant to the track’s history. Lee Wallard of Altamont, who went on to win the 1951 Indianapolis 500, won the 20 laps main event.
1948-1949 First NASCAR Connection
Jack Kochman, president of the Speed Corporation of America (SCOA) leased the track to run races featuring a group of modified stock car drivers from the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing (NASCAR). Kochman installed guardrails, a cyclone fence, and track lights. The first event was scheduled for May 21, 1948, only 96 days after NASCAR sanctioned the first race in its history.
1953-Present The “Track of Champions”
Approximately 2500 fans came out in unseasonably cold weather to see the new speed plant at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Fonda. Track promoter, Ed Feuz of Esperance, NY and track manager, Lee Wallard of Altamont, NY met with many interested drivers the week prior to the opening on May 30th.
NASCAR sanctioned the events at Fonda Speedway in 1953. This brought in many out of town drivers. A relative unknown, Charlie Kotwica from Rome, NY won the first event a Fonda.
Steve Danish was the class of the field at Fonda and was crowned the track champion in 1953. In his quest for the New York State Sportsman Point Championship, he recorded 14 top five finishes in 17 starts and took 12 feature events, a record that still stands. Jack Johnson tied Danish’s record in 1985.
Soon after it’s opening Fonda Speedway became known as the “Track of Champions” Fonda Speedway has been the regular Saturday night track of national champions such as Bill Wimble, Pete Corey, Ernie Gahan, Rene Charland, Jerry Cook and Don MacTavish. New York State Champions Ken Shoemaker, Jeep
Herbert, Steve Danish, and the late Lou Lazzaro also called Fonda their home track as Jack Johnson and Dave Lape still does today.
1955, 1966, 1967 and 1968 Before Winston Cup
Fonda held special events for the NASCAR Grand National Tour. Drivers that competed at Fonda in these years were, Lee and Richard Petty, Bobby and Donnie Allison, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, Buck Baker, Elmo Langley, Junior Johnson, the Flock Brothers, and Buddy Baker.
1957- 1968 Drag Strip Added
Fonda Speedway also held drag races on the 1/8-mile drag strip that runs through the center of the infield. Shirley Muldowney started her career at Fonda’s drag strip in 1958.
1980 D.I.R.T. Banner Flies at Fonda
Ron Compani took the reigns as the promoter and oversaw several improvements. The Drivers Independent Race Tracks (D.I.R.T.) started sanctioning racing at the track. One major endeavor by Compani was the moving of the famous Fonda Cemetery that sat in the third turn protected from the racing cars by a wooden barricade. When the fairground was originally built in 1863 many of the graves in the cemetery had been moved. However, several graves were left because the families didn’t have the money to move them.
1988 Compani and Hayes Join Forces
Ralph Compani and Seymour Hayes took over the promotion of the track as co-promoters. In 1992, to commemorate the tracks 40th year, Compani and Hayes launched the first “Thunder on the Mohawk” event. The biggest paying event in the track’s history, it also attracted one of the largest crowds ever to see a race at the speedway.
1996 First National TV Broadcast
“Rush Hour Live” the first ever nationally televised race by D.I.R.T. Motorsports debuted at Fonda Speedway on June 27th.
1997 Lucia Takes Reigns
When Ric Lucia took over the promoting duties at Fonda he vowed to make the speedway a showcase in time for the 50th Anniversary. He began with new concession stands, a new VIP Tower and new aluminum bleachers between the historic grandstand and turn four. The most controversial was the moving of the pit area to the outside of turns three and four. In 1998 the famous Fonda boards, along with the front stretch, were replaced with a concrete wall.