FONDA, N.Y. – On Saturday evening at Fonda Speedway, a place that the late Jack Johnson called home for many years during his career, his family and friends stood in victory lane telling stories and sharing thoughts on their time spent with Johnson and what he meant to them.
It was a heartfelt and special moment in the history of the Fonda Speedway and won’t ever be forgotten by those in attendance at the track or those listening to it on the live broadcast of the event.
The following is a recap of the ceremony on victory lane as said in their own words.
Brett Deyo was first to speak on behalf of Fonda Speedway.
“The Johnson family has done so much for the Fonda Speedway and given so much that, today, we want to give them something back. To Ronnie and Natalie here is something for you and your family,” Deyo said.
Deyo then handed them a plaque saying ‘Godspeed 12A’ with photos of Johnson and two of his former race cars on it.
“Thank you very much,” said Ronnie Johnson, the son of Jack Johnson. “It is such an honor to be here, this is gonna be tough, but I really appreciate it.”
“You have supported me since I took over Fonda,” Deyo told Ronnie Johnson. “We love having you here tonight.”
Next to take the mic was Melissa Lazzaro, better known to most by her nickname, “Mimi”. She didn’t need any of Jack’s stats to talk about, she spoke and asked questions from the heart. At one point during the ceremony, there were three family representatives of Fonda Speedway history in victory lane: Ronnie Johnson, Lazzaro, and Jessica Lape-Schwab, who was representing the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame & Museum.
“We are going to keep this positive, no crying in victory lane,” Lazzaro said.
Ronnie Johnson went on to talk about his father’s career and his demeanor away from the race track.
“When I started coming to the races as a little kid, I would see all of these people around my dad and I didn’t like it,” Ronnie Johnson said. “Maybe I was a little jealous, I didn’t understand it because I was so young. As I became old enough to understand it, I would sit in the grandstands just like everything else and I said, ‘Wow, my dad is pretty cool.’
“It was a whole learning curve of figuring out who my father was. It was really a privilege to be his son, come to the races, and see all his orange t-shirts, along with all the fights between the Jack Johnson and CD Coville fans back in the day. I grew up in a great era, when I walked down the hallways in school and saw the kids walking down the halls with a Jack Johnson t-shirt on, I would put my head down because I was shy.
“On the flip side of that he is a hero to many including myself, but I also got to know the back of his hand. What I mean by that is his discipline and there were times that I didn’t like it when he gave me the belt, or the back of his hand and I said, ‘What do these people like about this guy?’
“He had a way with people that was second to none. He always knew how to make everyone smile and he had a touch for everybody including myself because if I did get the belt five minutes later, I still loved him. It was really cool and an honor to be his son and grow up here at Fonda.”
“It’s pretty funny, I sent George Smith a couple of drawings that my father did. Back in the 50’s my father was doing drawings of race cars which he signed drawings by Jack Johnson. It just goes to show that he started out as a little kid coming to this racetrack and looking up to people like Lou Lazzaro and different drivers back in the day. So, it shows that you can start out in the grandstands and still become a race car driver.”
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