Rt 5 Vernon, NY
sold again to upstart young promoter Alex Friesen and Pennsylvania businessman John Zemitas and looked to be going on to new heights. After one headline making season, Friesen was killed in a snowmobile accident and all the promise of the 1995 season died with him. In 1998, Eric and Giselle Kingsley again came to the rescue as the regained control of the speedway and again operated it successfully until they again sold the speedway in 2002 to Gene Cole and his family. Since then, the track has flourished under the Cole family’s guidance as it continues to be one of the most successful tracks in the northeast.
The Drivers- Utica-Rome Speedway is different than most tracks in the country as it has had great history on both the asphalt and dirt surfaces. In the 1960s and 70s, an impressive group of drivers competed at the speedway, some on a weekly basis and others just for special events. Arguably the most famous is Rome native Richie Evans. Evans honed his skills at Utica-Rome before hitting the road to chase valuable NASCAR points. Evans would go on to win an unprecedented nine NASCAR National Modified Championships, his last coming posthumously after a tragic accident at Virginia’s Martinsville Speedway in October 1985. Evans is part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s class of 2012, one of 15 drivers inducted so far and the first outside of NASCAR’s “premier” series. Other notable drivers that have come through the gates at Utica-Rome include Evans’ chief rival and six time NASCAR Modified National Champion Jerry Cook, former Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine, Sprint Cup winner and current NASCAR TV analyst Jimmy Spencer, Lou Lazzaro, Bill Wimble, and many more. On the dirt surface, the history is equally as impressive with Modified stars Donnie Wetmore and Roger Phelps bringing their rivalry to UR in the late 80s and early 90s, Paul Jensen and three time NASCAR Winston Racing Series Regional champion Dale Planck’s dominance in the mid to late 90s. Through the 2000s, Planck, Ron Holmes, Todd Burley, Matt Sheppard, Willy Decker, Pat Ward, and Stewart Friesen have all been crowned as champions. Friesen is quickly becoming a household name himself as he has taken himself on the road with much success, just like Evans before him. In 2010, Friesen was the top winner in the highly competitive Dirt Modified division including the crown jewel in Dirt Modified racing at Syracuse NY’s fairgrounds, as he was the 2010 Super DIRT Week Modified champion.
Sanctioning- During its asphalt days, Utica-Rome Speedway spent most of the time under the NASCAR sanction. Once the dirt was applied, UR has been independent of any sanctioning bodies on several occasions. During the mid 90s, NASCAR again had a presence at the speedway as drivers competed for lucrative point money as part of the weekly NASCAR series. When the Kingsley family regained control of the speedway, the DIRT sanction was brought in which brought uniformity to the rules for drivers, allowing them to travel across the region with their cars being legal at all tracks under the DIRT sanction. When Gene Cole took over, he continued to operate under the DIRT sanction until the end of the 2004 season when the DIRTcar brand seemed to begin to fracture. Cole then decided to go on as an independent, allowing him some flexibility with rules, point funds, and other incentive programs for his drivers. That foresight to leave DIRTcar has allowed Utica-Rome Speedway to continue to be successful without losing its identity as one of the top tracks in the northeast.
The Book- “Home of Heroes” will be a hardcover coffee table type book with 400 pages of photos, statistics, and the stories that shaped Utica-Rome Speedway to what it is today. From its beginning in 1961 until the checkered flag in 2010, “Home of Heroes” will touch on everything in between. Through the tireless efforts of author Bones Bourcier, track historian Doug Zupan, and the staff at Coastal 181, the book will be a must have for any fan of short track racing, particularly Asphalt and Dirt Modifieds. The book will cost $55 and be released on August 17 as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration at the track. Only 1,500 copies will be printed, so supplies will be limited.
The Author- Bones Bourcier is one of the top motorsports writers in the nation, as he covers grassroots racing to the highest levels including NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. A senior writer at Speedway Illustrated, Bourcier has been exposed to a lot of UR’s storied past as he was researching material for his book “RICHIE, The Fast Life and Times of NASCAR’s Greatest Modified Driver.” If it races and goes in circles, Bourcier has probably covered it. Bourcier will be on “Bridge Street” on Wednesday morning to talk about writing the “Home of Heroes” and the incredible amount of history at the Vernon oval. “Bridge Street” is a local talk show out of Syracuse, NY that covers local events and topics. Aired daily on Channel 9 WSYR, the show is repeated several times throughout the day on its digital platform. Check www.9wsyr.com for more details.
The Event- On Wednesday August 17, the Utica-Rome Speedway will host its biggest event in history as it will celebrate its 50th year anniversary. The event will include racing at the Vernon oval, with a special Race of Champions Modified Series/Thunder on the Thruway Modified Series combined event. Former track owner Dick Waterman and VP Racing Fuels will present the “VP Racing Fuels 100”, paying $10,000 to winner of this huge event. The Empire Super Sprints, the premier 360 Sprint organization in the northeast, will also be in action in this fast paced, fun filled event. The much anticipated book “Home of Heroes” will first be released during this show. Fireworks by Majestic Fireworks will cap off the evening’s activities. The rain date for this event is Thursday, August 18.
In the Race of Champions Modified Series, Billy Decker is currently shown as the point leader over Stewart Friesen, Jeff Strunk, Danny Johnson, Matt Sheppard, Pat Ward, Duane Howard, Brett Hearn, Rick Laubach, and Bobby Varin.
The Thunder of the Thruway Series standings show Ward leading the way over Friesen, Decker, Varin, Matt Delorenzo, Sheppard, Ronnie Johnson, Elmo Reckner, Brett Hearn, and Jim Gabriel, Jr.
The winner will receive the “Coastal 181 Cup”, courtesy of Coastal 181 who published the “Home of Heroes”.
Schedule of Events-
4 p.m. Gates open
6:10 p.m. Hot Laps
Empire Super Sprints
7 p.m. Heats
Empire Super Sprints
Consolations, ESS B Main and ESS Dash
Empire Super Sprint A Main-25 laps
VP Racing Fuels 100 for Modifieds
Fireworks by Majestic Fireworks
50th Anniversary Celebration!
The Track- Utica-Rome Speedway came to be in 1961 as a quarter mile asphalt oval just on the outskirts of Vernon, NY in some farmland just off Route 5. Through the years, the speedway transformed from the quarter mile bullring to a 1/3 mile asphalt oval, and in 1962 an eighth mile drag strip was added which was run successfully for many years. In 1979, a change in ownership brought some major changes to the speedway, most notably a change in size and in the surface. The asphalt was replaced with a dirt surface and the track was expanded to a big 5/8 mile oval. Several changes in ownership in the 1980’s brought the speedway to the brink of closing forever but in 1989, Bub Benway along with Eric and Giselle Kingsley took control of the speedway. Already operating the Fulton Speedway with much success, the Benway and Kingsley team invigorated new life into the Vernon oval. After several successful seasons, the track was