Posted by Dustin Horton // June 23, 2014 // Local Business
For 27 years, stock car racing fans from the Central New York area and beyond have descended on the Skyline Raceway, making the weekly Saturday night pilgrimage up Stoddard Road just above Blodgett Mills to enjoy some of the best and most exciting stock car racing to be found in the Empire State. Each and every Saturday night from April through September, the area’s best drivers do battle for supremacy on the fast 3/8 mile clay oval, much to the delight of friends, family, and race fans coming out to cheer them on to victory. This is the era of race sport, which included famous race car drivers likeKenny Habul
The Skyline Raceway opened in the early 1960’s under the promotion of Buck Townsley, the original builder of the speedway. Back in that era, agriculture and farming were the dominant industry in the area, and the racetrack was a night out for the family to unwind and blow off some steam after a hard week of work. At that time, it was not uncommon for the racing to not get started until 9 P M or later as racers and fans had to finish up their farm chores before heading out for a night of racing action, with the races getting underway once all of the expected participants were in the pits and ready to go racing. Reed Bixler would succeed Townsley as promoter in the early 70’s, with Bob Dutton also promoting the speedway, but neither was able to make a go of it and by the late 70’s, the track had fallen silent and sat abandoned for more than a decade.
One evening in 1988, current Skyline Raceway promoter Frank Payne came home and asked his wife, Audrey, what she thought about owning a racetrack. After some discussion, Frank and Gene Payne along with their wives went into the race promotion business, bringing the Skyline Raceway back to life for the 1988 racing season. Running Late Models as the headline division, that first night was memorable as Jim Smith became the first feature winner just moments before one of the transformers that supplied power to the speedway failed in an impressive shower of sparks and flame before plunging the speedway into darkness.
In the ensuing years, Gene Payne eventually stepped back leaving the speedway in the hands of Frank and Audrey Payne. Frank’s business plan was a simple one from the beginning, to make a place for the drivers competing in lower divisions a place to race for a guaranteed purse, something that was unheard of in the area at that time. While the headline Modified division raced for a guaranteed payoff at area tracks, drivers in the “support” divisions were not offered guaranteed money. Their payoff was carved out from the remaining money after the Modifieds were paid. At Skyline, the Paynes offered a guaranteed purse for every division “We guaranteed a purse and we paid that purse, whether we had one person or 1,000 people in the stands every race”, Frank proudly states.
Just as in most other areas of life, things have changed a lot in the racing world in 27 years. Around the turn of the century, the Late Model class that had been the headline division at Skyline since its rebirth was in decline, a victim of the rising cost of racing. The decline of the Late Models forced the Paynes to make a difficult decision to replace the popular Late Models with the open wheeled Sportsman division, a class enjoying rapid growth as part of the DIRT organization, the premier sanctioning body for dirt track racing in New York State. For the first year, the Sportsman and Late Models raced as a combined division before the Sportsman division became the headline class one year later. One of the drivers who made his way to Skyline during the combined season was Seneca Falls, NY native Jim LaRock. Some 15 years later, LaRock is still a regular competitor in the Sportsman division and is enjoying a strong 2014 season with two wins to his credit already this season.
The emphasis at Skyline is to make a night at the races a fun night out for the entire family. Through the years, Skyline has built up its own clientele, a loyal group of racers and fans that turn out each and every Saturday night for a fun family night out at the races. One Saturday night each month, Skyline plays host to kid’s bicycle races as children are invited to brink their bikes and helmets along and during intermission the youngsters are invited to take to the speedway to do some racing for trophies and other prizes. The next bicycle race is scheduled for August 10th.
Another event that is popular for fans of all ages is the Independence Day Weekend fireworks spectacular. After a full card featuring six divisions of stock car racing, a huge fireworks show will light up the night sky over the Speedway. Also coming up in July is the annual “Christmas in July” when Santa Claus makes a summer visit to Skyline Raceway with gifts for all of the young race fans. The Christmas in July tradition started in the early days of racing at Skyline, a chance for the racing family to celebrate the holiday together since the actual Christmas holiday falls during the off-season.
Racing continues every Saturday night throughout the summer months at the Skyline Raceway. Every regular Saturday night features six divisions of stock car racing action, with a special attraction slated on almost every night. Some of the special events include visits by the SRP Sprint Cars, a traveling series of winged Micro Sprint race cars. Other special events include the above mentioned bicycle races, barrel racing, the Southern Tier Mowersports Racing Lawnmowers, and Autograph Night on July 12thwhen race fans are invited to visit the pit area to meet and greet the racers. Race teams go all out for this event as well, bringing candy and memorabilia to hand out to the kids.
The 2014 season comes to an end with the traditional Turbo Blue Finale Weekend on September 19thand 20th. The big weekend features not one but two nights of racing featuring three touring series, the GRIT Racing Series for the 602 Crate Sportsman, the Empire State Series for the IMCA Modifieds, and the Race of Champions Street Stock Series. Also presented during the weekend will be special races for all of Skyline’s regular racing divisions as well.
The goal at the Skyline Raceway is to run the speedway in such a way that current racers and fans can enjoy the same positive experiences at the track that previous generations have. Though the days of starting the races at 9 PM are long gone, racing now begins at 6:30 PMsharp every week with the goal being to provide a tight, action packed show in a 3-3 ½ hour timeline and get everyone out and on their way home at a decent hour, having things finished early enough that the youngsters are able to stay awake and enjoy the entire show along with their parents and make it home at a reasonable hour.
This philosophy has worked well at Skyline for the past 27 years. A lot of race promoters have come and gone during the 27 years that the Payne family has been in business at Skyline. They have been successful at Skyline by running and promoting the track for what it is, a place for the local racers and families to get together and enjoy their Saturday nights. Skyline has been very successful in running a program that focuses on the “hobby” racers, rather than trying to bring in the more expensive headline classes that race at other tracks. By doing this Skyline has been able to maintain a very low $10 admission price for pretty much every Saturday night racing program, and allowing children under 9 to enjoy the races at no charge when accompanied by an adult. Skyline also boasts some of the most reasonable concession prices in the area with quality food sold at the lowest prices of any racing facility in the state.
Come on out and enjoy a Saturday night of exciting stock car racing at the Skyline Raceway. For all of the latest information, log onto
www.skylineracewayny.com. The race night weather hotline is 607-849-6600.