Street Stocks was designed as a beginner class. Over 50 drivers ran the class in 2007.
A lot of local tracks have trouble with complaints from their neighbors. They complain about the noise. They complain about the dust. They complain about the traffic. Ransomville Speedway in rural Western New York doesn't have those problems.
"Our nearest neighbors are 300 head of dairy cattle," says Joel Friesen, who runs the track with his brother, Jamie. "And the farmer is a racer."
The farmer, Kevin Wills, is a past champion at Ransomville and his son now races there. "We black flagged Kevin a few years back," Joel recalls. "The next day he spread cow manure on the fields. The air was pretty rich. I think it was just a coincidence. He's a pretty good friend."
Tech inspectors check the carburetor before the Sunoco Super DIRT Sportsman Trail Series 5
Ransomville Speedway celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer. It's a paperclip-shaped dirt track covering not quite a half-mile, and it was built by people who loved racing. About 15 miles from Niagara Falls, New York, and not much farther from the Canadian border, the track draws drivers and spectators from both countries. Surrounded on three sides by woods, the site is ideal.
It all began in 1954.
"I got out of the army and was watching racing on TV," says Ed Ortiz, one of the founders of the track. "We said 'we can do that!'"
Ortiz's father owned a car business. "There were a bunch of junkers out back," he says. With easy access to "racecars," he and some friends borrowed a grader and built a track on a neighbor's property. "It was so narrow you'd just about have to turn around to go back," he adds. But they were racing.
The next year they built a better track on his family's property. But it was right in the town of Ransomville, a village with a current population of about 1,500. "Dust used to be a problem," he says. "You didn't dare put out wash on race day. The dust got pretty bad."
Tony Purgarich and Scott Just compete in the Sunoco Super DIRT Sportsman Trail Series 50-l
When land became available outside of town, he and some friends who called themselves the Slowpoke Club formed a corporation, sold shares of stock, and passed the hat at races to come up with the down payment. A local woman advanced the money for the rest of the cost and held the mortgage. They convinced the town fathers that the track was a good idea, telling them that if they had a track they would be able to control themselves on the highway.
"We got the bleachers from Niagara University," Ortiz recalls. "A lot of the work was done for free. I think the guy who ran the bulldozer got paid some, but that was about it." Fortunately there was a source of good clay on the property. "I'm not sure we could have afforded it if we hadn't had our own clay." Digging out the clay also created a pond and a water supply. Ransomville Speedway opened at its current location in 1958.
A track official directs racers during a caution period.
Canadian Stan Friesen, Joel and Jamie's father, raced Ransomville and knew the track well. He was the 1969 track champion in Modifieds, the premier series. When the track became available for sale in 1972, Stan and a partner bought it. He already owned Miracle Speedway in Ontario, Canada. Friesen's children grew up going to races with their dad and learned to love racing too. Joel remembers selling programs in the stands at the age of 10, and he and his brothers raced at the track.
In 1990, Jamie and Joel bought out their father's partner, and they currently run the track with family members. "My mom and wife are the payroll masters and take care of concessions." Joel says. "My sister and a niece are scorers. One son races Modifieds, one runs the water truck and one is the handicapper." Asked what Stan Friesen is doing now, Joel says, "cutting grass and telling my brother and me what we're doing wrong."
Ed Ortiz, who helped found Ransomville Speedway 50 years ago, inspects his son "Jip's" Spo
The track is a member of DIRT Motorsports, a group of at least 16 New York State tracks that race with the same rules for Pro Stock, 358 Modified and Sportsman classes, providing racers with a variety of venues on any given weekend. Other shows at Ransomville include Late Models, Street Stocks, Mini Stocks/Pro 4 Trucks and the occasional demolition derby. Thursday nights the track runs a Go-Kart program, and it occasionally hosts a Rollover Contest, which Joel describes as hilarious.
Each New Year's Day the track runs the Hangover 150 Enduro. Unseasonably warm (46 degrees) weather in 2007 brought out a standing-room-only crowd and 244 entrants. Classes for four-, six- and eight-cylinder cars run 50 laps each.
"It's the 'funnest' day of the year," says Trish Friesen, Joel's wife. "We don't charge admission, just a food donation for the food bank. The food bank says we stock them for four months. Our concession stands are open but there are so many people we can't feed them all. They bring leftover Christmas food and tailgate. It's pure joy."
Many racers come from Canada to compete at Ransomville Speedway.
Jim Mullen of Performance Video tapes the races and sells the videos at the track. His daughter, Alyssa, runs in the Go-Kart program which he calls "Little League for racers."
"It brings in young drivers," he says, and points out that five kids in the Karting program moved up to Street Stocks recently. One such graduate of the Go-Kart program is Joel's nephew, Stewart Friesen, who won the New Yorker 200 at Utica-Rome in September 2007 and took home a check for $10,000.
The latest class at Ransomville is the Fire Hall Enduro. The brainchild of Dave Rinker, a pit steward at the track, the class pits local fire companies against each other five times a season. Teams that claim the three top positions in points split $1,000 for their fire halls and $1,000 for the charities of their choice. The real prize, of course, is bragging rights. The rules prohibit anyone who has raced in the last two years from entering, so it has brought a lot of new visitors to Ransomville, with 26 drivers and the fan following they bring with them.
Joel Friesen, who operates Ransomville Speedway with his brother, Jamie, talks with a driv
"The crowds fall off after Labor Day," Joel says. That's when each division has its championship. Each subsequent weekend is the finale for a different series, ending with a 100-lap Enduro on the last weekend.
Weather in Western New York is legendary, with winters that are long, snowy, and bitterly cold, followed by hot, humid summers. But weather was surprisingly not a big problem for the dirt track last season. "We only had two dates we couldn't run this year," Joel says. "It's been 10 (lost dates) other years. I don't even like to talk about it."
This is where sponsorship comes in. Ransomville Speedway's help includes a sponsored coloring contest and a year-end banquet. Joel points out that when the weather is a factor and attendance is down, sponsorship money can smooth out the economic bumps.
The Fire Hall Enduros have brought new racers and fans to the track. Some local fire compa
Joel is proud that the track has run successfully for the last 35 years. "A lot of tracks are being bought by big businesses that plow money from their businesses into the track," he says. Ransomville, meanwhile, is self-supporting. "Of course, we don't pay ourselves (wages). If we did, we'd probably be working for about 35 cents an hour." If there's anything left at the end of the year the family splits a dividend.
The track employs 55 people on race day, with three full-time employees, including an office staffer in charge of PR and marketing, and two grounds-keepers. "If a sponsor calls on a Tuesday and wants to talk, somebody needs to be there to answer his questions," Joel says. "It's just good business."
Even though he says he's at the track almost every day but Sunday, Joel and most of his family have "day" jobs, coming to the track after work from St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada. "It takes about 45 minutes," Joel says, "including the border crossing." Working a full day, driving 45 minutes each way, and showing up six days a week makes for some very long days.