Car racing on a small scale still a thrill in Johnstown


JOHNSTOWN — Racing down straightaways and drifting into the high banks on a dirt oval doesn’t require a driver’s license on Sundays in Johnstown, as all the drivers — from age 7 to 70 — can’t even fit inside their race cars.

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

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

Foxtrot RC Park is adjacent to Checkers Out Speedway’s indoor go-kart racing, created in cooperation with owner Don Greco Sr. Now in its fourth year, Foxtrot RC Park has become the racing place to be on Sunday mornings 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 I had a little in with him,” Holland said. “He gave me the plot of land and said do what you want and this is 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 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 racers said you really need to put a bank in 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.

This past Sunday, more than 75 cars took to the dirt oval in five race divisions — limited sportsman, sportsman, big blocks, late models and sprint cars — with drivers of all ages.

Abby Lawyer, 11, of Fonda was entered in two divisions on Sunday — limited sportsman and late model. Both are entry-level divisions for rookies of all ages.

“I saw my family doing it, so I thought I could try to do it better,” Lawyer said with a laugh.

This past Sunday, she raced her limited sportsman — which looks like a modified division open-wheeler at Fonda Speedway, with a design that mimics local fan favorite Jessica Friesen’s car.

“She’s my favorite racecar driver,” Lawyer said.

Lawyer isn’t alone, there are several other female racers competing at Foxtrot each Sunday — joining together using the hashtag #GirlPower among themselves.

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

“It’s more about trying to stay out of the wrecks,” Lawyer said. “If someone wrecks in front of you, you have to instantly turn or you end up wrecking.”

Lawyer’s face lit up when talking about making her limited sportsman RC slide into the two banked turns, throwing up pieces of dirt over the wooden safety walls.

“It’s cool when I end up drifting into the corner, going up on top and then actually making the corner,” Lawyer said. “I get really excited.”

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

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

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

Just as Holland learned how to groom and care for his dirt oval, he learned a lot about retail as part of his hobby/career.

“I thought all my business was going to be racers and local guys that needed race 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 racing car from a stock chassis and adds on the necessary adjustments for race day.

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

At 74 years old, “Hank” Rivenburg is the speedway’s oldest rookie, guiding 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 from another younger generation.

“My nephew asked me for a ride to Ryan’s store, he needed parts for his RC car,” Don Rivenburg said. “I went in, saw one of the racers and said, ‘You race these?’”

Don Rivenburg was hooked on racing — once again.

A computer glitch at Upstate RC and Hobbies wouldn’t allow two Don Rivenburg entries into its system. The elder of the two was randomly entered into the system as “Hank,” and the nickname stuck.

Both Rivenburg men have spent numerous nights at Fonda Speedway as part of pit crews for Hall of Fame drivers like Jack Johnson, Maynard Forrette and Lou Lazzarro.

“I picked up this one and started running,” the elder Rivenburg said. “At home I have four or five cones and when I am done with supper I go around them, right in my driveway. He even said I was doing better.”

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

“He’s got a little bit of eye trouble, 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 track. We’re trying to get him to stay straight.”

Former Fonda Speedway sportsman driver Mike Peek joined Foxtrot RC Park as the track announcer and race director.

“I’ve always liked to announce and talk to this crowd, talk to people,” Peek said. “You see guys from five-years-old up to 85-years-old,” Peek said. “It’s not as demanding as a big car, but you’re still racing.”

Peek was excited about the upcoming Foxtrot 200 on Sept. 9 and 10 with 200-, 150- and 100-lap races.

“I think it’s one of the spectacles of RC racing in New York State,” Peek said “It’s unbelievable to see guys drive five, six, seven hours to come race, especially at a little, little track like we’ve got.”

Until the annual highlight at Foxtrot, Peek is pleased to call out race lap times and announce winners each Sunday.

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

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.