Utica-Rome Speedway sold to Tom Cole

VERNON, NY -- After nearly a year of speculation and rumors, the sale of the New Utica-Rome Speedway on Route 5 in Vernon was officially completed during a closing procedure on Friday March 8. Tom Cole, a championship motorcycle racer from nearby...

VERNON, NY -- After nearly a year of speculation and rumors, the sale of the New Utica-Rome Speedway on Route 5 in Vernon was officially completed during a closing procedure on Friday March 8. Tom Cole, a championship motorcycle racer from nearby Paris, New York, has purchased the popular half-mile track from the Kingsley family, and renamed it Utica-Rome Speedway, LLC.

"I am extremely proud to be the new owner and promoter of Utica-Rome Speedway," said Cole, 32, who bought the track despite recent land claim litigation from the Wisconsin branch of the Oneida Indians. "My goal is to make Utica-Rome one of the premier motorsports facilities in the Northeast, and I am excited about that challenge."

Cole, who is a stockbroker by trade as well as a part owner and vice president of Gates-Cole Insurance, has been a race fan all his life. Racing has been part of his family since the pioneer days at the Brookfield and Morris Speedways, where his father, Gene, was one of the top drivers year in and year out. Currently, Gene is a member of the Central New York Stock Car Old Timer's Hall of Fame. In addition, Tom himself has successfully raced motocross events for 25-years, including on the top AMA circuit against some of the nationally known stars.

Although he is new to the promotion of stock car racing, for one season in 1994, Cole promoted and completely turned around the Thunder Ridge Cycle Park in South Edmeston, New York. However, he sold that facility in order to return to the motocross circuit full time. It was that involvement in promoting racing that made him interested in purchasing Utica-Rome Speedway, and he has longed to return to the business side of motorsports ever since.

Cole eventually would love to hold motocross racing at Utica-Rome, and is considering building a new track in the current dirt track infield or in the vacant acres towards turn two on the property. Currently, he is looking at the possibility of holding Thursday night motocross events as well as special free style expositions.

"Utica-Rome Speedway has a great foundation of drivers and race fans," said Cole, who recently attended the RPM Promoters' Workshops in Daytona Beach, Florida. "We will continue the winning Sunday evening stock car racing formula that Eric started and stay with that successful tradition as our main focus."

There will be no major changes for the upcoming season, and the historic speedway will continue to operate under the DIRT Motorsports banner for the fourth consecutive year. The 2002 race schedule will go on as planned, with weekly 6pm Sunday evening competition featuring the mighty DIRT 358-Modifieds as well as the DIRT Sportsman, DIRT Pro Stocks, and Pure Stocks.

Opening night has been scheduled for Sunday May 5th with an ambitious 21-race lineup planned full of exciting three and even four wide racing that Utica-Rome has come to be known for. The year will feature the return of both the 358 and Big Block Modified Super DIRT Series 100-lap specials as well as an Empire Super Sprint midweek event on Wednesday of Super DIRT Week, which will close out the 2002 season. The Empire Super Sprints will also be on hand for the Labor Day Weekend show, along with the Central New York Mini-Sprints.

Many of the major track officials have confirmed they will be returning for the 2002 season, headed by popular Track Announcer Shane Andrews. Other returning employees are: Cory Reed - Race Director, the Twin 20's John Tiff Jr. and Jerry Brooks - Scorers and Handicappers, Ray Turner - Pit Steward, John King - Backstretch Flagger, and Jon Button - Tech Inspector. Doug Zupan will be back as the Public Relations Director and Website Administrator, while Brenda Belden will continue on as the Marketing Representative and VIP Hostess. The only position that currently needs to be filled will be head starter, as Dick Sweet is unable to return to the flagstand this year.

Cole said that he expects the excellent track conditions at the speedway to continue throughout the season, much due to the fact that previous owner and promoter Eric Kingsley will remain on hand for a while to teach him the proper methods of track preparation.

"Eric is going to be working hand in hand with us to ensure that the track is prepared correctly and that we continue to have a consistent surface for our drivers," said Cole, who expects to learn the tools of the trade from Kingsley throughout the summer.

Shortly after the final checkered flag of the 2001 season on September 16, the speedway surface was freshened with hundreds of loads of all-new clay, and the rocks were screened out as well. Over the next few weeks, the surface, which has sat and cured all winter long, will be graded and the new clay will be tilled in preparation for the May 5th season opener. Utica-Rome drivers can be certain that a top-notch track surface will be in place for the first green flag of the 2002 season.

"We are going to have a lot of fun this year," laughed Cole, who noted that he plans on running quick, fast-paced shows every Sunday in order to get everyone home at a decent hour.

The headline DIRT 358-Modified division at the super fast speedway expects to have a stellar year, with a handful of returning veterans complete with some new faces and younger drivers. Returning will be 2001 track champion Todd Burley, although he may not be a title contender this season because he will be racing the Big Block series and will have to miss three Utica-Rome events.

Other top drivers coming back will be Mitch Gibbs, the legendary Jack Johnson, J.J. Michaels, Andy Bachetti, Jim Rothwell, Gordy Button, John Ramsey, Ted Lamb, and several others. Speedway management expects a strong 358-Modified rookie class of former Sportsman drivers including local drivers Willy Decker, Paul Kinney, Kevin Battelle, and Tony Ross. There could also be several other top name drivers making Utica-Rome their Sunday night home, although their names cannot be announced at this time.

The Sportsman division will feature a return of last year's champion Tim Clemons, who will be challenged closely by Jamie Christian, Kevin Crave, Mike Button, and Paul Carey. An influx of new Sportsman drivers is expected on opening night. Bret Belden will return to attempt for his fourth Pro Stock title as will his rivals Jerry Holmes and Jason Rood. In addition, there could very well be more Pro Stock, as well as Pure Stock, teams on hand for opening day to test out the new clay surface.

Without a doubt, the future of Utica-Rome Speedway is in good hands under the ownership of Tom Cole. For 41 years, the speedway has been a family tradition in the eastern Mohawk Valley, and consistently one of the top entertainment draws in Oneida County. Not to mention one of the most attended and popular tracks on the entire DIRT Motorsports circuit. Utica-Rome race fans and drivers should expect nothing less this year.

"We'd like to thank the Kingsley family for this opportunity," said the excited rookie promoter. "They have done a super job over the years and we plan on continuing their tradition of excellence, but we would like to bring it to another level."

For more information on the 2002-race season at Utica-Rome Speedway, LLC. contact the speedway office at (315) 829-4557 or log on to the all-new website address at www.uticaromespeedway.com.

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Series Automotive , Stock car
Drivers John King