By MIKE MALLETT
Right before the holidays Ronnie Johnson found himself without a ride for the 2016 racing season. The long-time Fonda Speedway regular and car owners Alton and Carole Palmer parted ways leaving him looking for a ride for the upcoming year. At that time Johnson indicated he was looking for support to go racing.
It didn’t take long for Johnson to find that support. Dirt Track Digest has learned that Johnson has worked a deal and he’s teaming up with one of the most notable car owners in the history of the Fonda Speedway. Johnson will join forces with Jake Spraker for his assault on Fonda for the coming year.
“I haven’t been this excited about a race season for a long, long time,” said Johnson. “The split with Carole and Alton (Palmer) had its positives and negatives. We were going to race this year no matter what. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of good sponsors and car owners over the years. Jake and I started talking a while ago and one thing led to another. I never knew Jake that well other than joking around with him. Over the last week or so I learned a lot about Jake Spraker and I can tell you he’s for real and knows what it takes to go racing and do it right. I see why he’s been so successful in the past. He’s a standup guy and I really look forward to this opportunity.”
Initially Spraker wasn’t sure if he was going to get back into big-block Modified racing or not, but once he had an opportunity to chat with Johnson things quickly came together with the team ordering a new car and engine this week. It’s a deal that has Spraker excited.
“When I first heard this I kind of got thinking about it, you know him parting ways with Palmer,” commented Spraker. “I didn’t call him or anything, but different guys that knew him kind of mentioned him to me. I didn’t think he needed my help. He called me and we discussed things. I went back and forth. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend a bunch of money again, but the end of day I made up my mind so I went to Kevlar’s and order the motor and he called Teo and ordered the car. I’m excited and everyone seems really happy Ronnie’s end. I’m happy to be back in.”
Spraker was quick to dispel the rumor that this new relationship with Johnson means an end for his efforts with Rocky Warner. Spraker reiterated that is not the case.
“I still have three Troyers for Rocky (Warner) and four engines,” Spraker said. “We are ready to go in that direction. Everyone is thinking that I’m dumping Rocky and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
LJL/Kevlar power will be a change from Johnson’s traditional JPM Engines, but Johnson will continue to utilize a Teo car which will be numbered 1RJ. The deal with Spraker only gives Johnson one car and one motor for now. Johnson has more equipment at his disposal, some of which was purchased from the Palmer including JPM Engines. For Spraker, he’s liked what he’s seen out of the Kevlar shop making the decision easy for him to go in that direction.
“The cars were fast all year and they have all the stuff right there,” said Spraker of the LJL/Kevlar powerplants. “They got everything in stock, they have the blocks, cams, everything you need. I’m kind of a Larry Wight fan and I like the way he goes. He does good with them and Billy Decker had good success with them too. So I figured they are on top of their game. So that is what route we went.”
Johnson understands that joining Spraker comes with a whole new set of expectations. Spraker is known for having top level talent in his cars and winning. Spraker’s won multiple Fonda Speedway titles with several different drivers over the years. This is something that Johnson is aware of and ready for.
“Yeah now I have stress in a different fashion,” joked Johnson. “I went and told my father (Jack) the news this morning and he was all smiles. He told me Jake is a real good guy and knows what it takes to race. Racing needs more people like Jake Spraker. He understands it and he’s real about what it takes to do it. My father also told me this morning that I have work to do. I have a whole different type of stress now. It’s a good stress. It is going to make us hungry and strive for success.”
Johnson sees this as the fresh start he needs to start running like he believes he should be which is out front and winning races. Something he hasn’t done as of late.
“It’s no secret that we’ve struggled the last few years,” stated Johnson. “We weren’t happy running mid-pack. I’m pretty confident right now that things are going to go in a different direction. I’m real excited. I got a meeting with my guys tonight at the shop so we call talk about all of this. Hopefully things blend well and do what we need to do and that’s win races. I think this is a positive change for our race team. We have a lot of dedicated sponsors, a lot of dedicated fans, great support my family and this is a new beginning for all of us. Hopefully we’ll race well and have a good time.”
The current plan for the team is to compete weekly at the Fonda Speedway while hitting select shows at various speedways including Utica-Rome. If they can be successful together it may lead to more events being placed on the schedule.
“With Jake if he’s feeling good about what we are doing and having fun God only knows what the future brings for us racing,” Johnson stated. “We are going to run Fonda and some of the big shows at Utica. I’ll do whatever Jake wants to do and race where he wants to race. We’ll do whatever he wants.”
At the end of the conversation, the Duanesburg, N.Y., driver summed up the opportunity by saying, “I don’t know how much better it can get than this. I guess the pressure is now on RJ.”