WEST HAVEN, Vt. - A new era of racing will begin on the Champlain Valley Racing Association in 2010, as both Albany-Saratoga and Devil's Bowl speedways will make the transformation from dirt to asphalt.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway has already run two shows on its original asphalt surface, and is scheduled to be resurfaced beginning Nov. 9. A sub-base has been put down at Devil's Bowl, and the track will be paved in the spring.
The transformation actually began as an experiment, when Albany-Saratoga Speedway promoter Bruce Richards decided to remove the clay in September and run some shows on the original asphalt surface. At that time, he also booked dates with three asphalt touring groups (American Canadian late models, ISMA supermodifieds and True Value/ROC asphalt modifieds) for races in the spring, and the plan was to put the clay back down in May 2010.
But after discussions with his business partners, sponsors and race teams, the decision was made to make a complete change to asphalt at both tracks.
"This year was really tough," Richards said. "I can't tell you the time and effort that was put into track preparation this year, just to have it rain at 5 or 6 p.m. on a Friday night. After many, many years of working with the dirt deal, it's time to move on.
"I'm really excited about the change," he added. "We're opening up a new world of opportunities in regard to fans, race teams and sponsorship. By going asphalt, we're also going to be unique. There are a lot of dirt tracks in this area, but we will have the only show on asphalt, and we're going to be able to do some things the other tracks can't do."
Albany-Saratoga Speedway was built by Joe Lesik in 1965, and ran as an asphalt track from 1965 until 1976, when it was purchased by CVRA founder C.J. Richards, who switched to a clay surface for the 1977 season.
Richards also carved Devil's Bowl out of Vermont farm land in the 1960s. The track had an asphalt surface for two years in the early 1970s before Richards went back to a clay surface in 1977 to conform both CVRA tracks to the same specifications.
During its asphalt heyday, Albany-Saratoga Speedway drew the top NASCAR modified and sportsman competitors from throughout the Northeast, including Richie Evans, Jerry Cook, Freddy DeSarro, Eddie Flemke and Geoff Bodine.
Bill Greco won the first race ever held at the speedway, on July 16, 1965, and Cook won the last asphalt race on Sept. 5, 1975.
Will Cagle won the first race on the new dirt surface in 1977, and Ronnie Johnson has the distinction of winning the final dirt race, on Sept. 13.
Albany-Saratoga has always lived up to its reputation as "The Great Race Place," providing thrilling side-by-side racing involving some of the biggest names in stock race racing, including Brett Hearn, Ken Tremont Jr., Jack Johnson, Dave Lape and Lou Lazzaro.
One of the biggest issues Bruce Richards will be attacking at Albany-Saratoga with the new asphalt surface will be tire wear, as competitors were used to running the same set of Goodyears for weeks on end on the dirt surface.
"I've gotten assurances from Goodyear that they were going to take their very best asphalt product and put it on a dirt carcass," said Richards. "I've been told that the asphalt product they're going to use is a proven repeater, which means it can repeat the same track times for five or six weeks. "We're going to test the Goodyears at Airborne Speedway, because the surface at Airborne is going to be duplicated at Albany-Saratoga next year. We're confident that the new Goodyears will be perfect for what we're going to do next year."
Albany-Saratoga will still be running 358 modifieds, budget sportsman, pro-street stocks, limited and mini/stocks next season. The sportsman class will be absorbed into the modified division, which had previously been announced, giving Albany-Saratoga one 358-modified division.
Jerry Richards will take on the promoter's responsibilities at Devil's Bowl in 2010, while Sharon Richards will continue in her role as treasurer of the CVRA.
"We're been involved in racing our whole lives, and we're excited about entering a new era," said Bruce Richards. "Race teams will see minimal changes in our program next season, but anyone with concerns should call me."