Modified legend Jack Johnson, the king of Fonda, 1945-2021

A second-generation racer from upstate New York, where the open-wheel Modified rules supreme, Jack Johnson was the undisputed all-time great at one of Modified racing’s holiest shrines, Fonda Speedway, located west of Albany along the Mohawk River. For all his accomplishments elsewhere, including two wins at Syracuse and more than 420 other wins at 35 tracks in 10 states and two Canadian provinces, it was at the historic Fonda half-mile where Johnson attained his greatest fame, winning 149 Modified features between 1971 and 2009, along with 11 track titles. A Schenectady native who called Duanesburg, New York, as his home, Johnson passed away at age 76 following a struggle with ALS that had gripped him after he sustained a vicious, career-ending 2009 wreck at Fonda. His win total at Fonda elevated him past some of the track’s other stars to achieve New York racing glory, names that include Pete Corey, Dave Lape, Lou Lazzaro and Bill Wimble.

Jumpin’ Jack, as he came to be known, posed this way a lot during his career; a happy, plainspoken winner, just another guy from upstate, albeit a brilliant talent. Johnson excelled at big tracks, not just Syracuse, scoring three major wins on the Nazareth National mile during the 1980s. He was also very good at long-distance races on fast tracks, epitomized by his winning the first Flemington 200 at the four-corner New Jersey fairgrounds oval in 1972, despite having never seen the place before. He is enshrined, deservedly, in the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame, the Eastern Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, and by the New York State Stock Car Association, whose hall is located at the Saratoga Automobile Museum. His son, Ronnie, made New York history in 2011 by winning the Modified title at Fonda, his first.

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