The racing community suffered some stunning losses in the last three weeks, with two of them hitting fairly close to home.

Racing standout Ron Narducci passed away, which certainly leaves a hole in the fabric and history of our racing scene. Beyond the regular oval track shrines, two influential people passed in a most heartbreaking sequence. Racer and announcer Stewart Ovens passed on Nov. 3, and then his son, 31-year old racer and producer Brad passed 16 days later.

Stu was a unique guy. My first memories of the Ovens family were made at Black Rock Speedway. Stewart was a very proud father, and heavily involved in various facets of racing and vehemently supportive of his sons, Brad and Steven. He was also immersed in the community, serving as a regular DJ at the local VFW and supporting local fair activities. What I didn’t know was his own opening salvos in racing included driving. I think it was Bob Miller who recently posted a clipping from a racing trade paper, pointing out that Stu Ovens won his first full-fender race — a division he loved — the same night Danny Johnson won his first modified feature at Land of Legends Raceway — then Canandaigua Speedway.

As time evolved, I was working on DVD projects with Demolition Derby, and ended up spending several summers taping at Yates County Fair in Penn Yan. I was able to reconnect with Stu there; he was the track announcer and it came off that he was essentially the unofficial mayor of Penn Yan for that week. He knew everyone, had a voice or a direction and genuinely loved what he did. From his perch atop the track or on the concrete slab near the fire trucks, he would drop his funny or wacky sayings, known as ‘Stuisms’ and chronicle the derby action.

But that isn’t even the jumping off point. When breaking into Mudboss racing down at Radio Hill Raceway in Dundee, the third or fourth person I bumped into was Stu. And just like with the DVD stuff, or announcing myself, or Black Rock, Stu was there. He offered advice, or told me what to do — at times volunteering a word or two even when I wasn’t looking for help! But he would be a go-to for setup help, or questions — or just conversation. I remember finishing a cut-out mudboss body of Kenny Brightbill’s white gremlin and he was so proud of that car. When I needed a DJ for the New Year’s Eve events a few years ago, Stu and Creekside Entertainment was the call I made.

Even when time and proximity passed, reconnecting with Stu happened in a vacuum. He remembered the last conversation, however long ago, and the present would pick up where it left off as if no time had ever passed. He was genuine; emotions were never hidden and he was so proud to share in the accomplishments of others. If he said he was happy for you, he truly was. To hundreds of people, Stu was a contributor in ways I haven’t even touched on. He was working on the third Veterans Day Celebration at Winner’s Circle Deli, where he served as master of ceremonies, before he fell ill, and the sound system there has a plaque dedicated to Stu.

When asked about RC car setups, Steven Ovens — Brad’s older brother — and Stu would both ultimately defer to Brad. Brad raced in his own right, and Stu was beaming with pride when Brad was hired to drive the Jared Hill No. 93 four-cylinder in a successful campaign at Black Rock in ‘05. My connection with Brad was more proximitial; Steven Ovens and I had become good friends but I never found the personal connection with Brad for whatever reason. Now, of course, allowing time and careers and whatever minutiae to be what intervened seems trivial. However, I learned a lot from Brad just by being around him. He was an excellent camera operator. Brad was an even more skilled producer. He ran Three Nine Designs, helmed the productions at Land of Legends TV, and was influential in iRacing circles. He often found ways to help Steve solve challenges tied to play by play work for iRacing events. He worked with Thomas Video, and coached me effectively the few times I ran camera for Matt Thomas’ productions. I greatly admired his skill at flying drones for livestream events, eye for cameras and graphics, and abilities in the iRacing event setup. He had a few pointers to offer back in my own DVD production days, as primitive as my setups were.

Steven was just blessed with his first child. I struggle to digest the loss of a father and brother within such a short amount of time. Steven is a skilled announcer and currently manages social media and announcing work at Land of Legends Raceway. He also handles social media and announcing work with CRSA Springs and social media and public relations for Insinger Performance.

The family will be announcing final details about a celebration of life, expected to be May 7 — two days after what would have been Stu’s 62nd birthday — with the memorials running in tandem ahead of a racing event at the Ontario County Fairgrounds that night. Hobby Stocks will race in honor of Stu Ovens and Street Stocks will race in honor of Brad.

Brad and Stu will be missed.

Stebbins taking over at Genesee

Wellsville NY’s Bonnie and Kurt Stebbins will take over promotions and operations of Genesee Speedway and the Kartway. Jim and Pam Johnson have operated the facility for the last six seasons.

Kurt is a past feature winner at Genesee, taking checkered flags in both the late model and street stock divisions. He will continue to race at area tracks in 2022 in addition to nightly promoter duties at Genesee. Bonnie grew up watching her father, Gary Schultz, race at Woodhull. Kurt and Bonnie continue to operate KB Speedway, go-kart track in Wellsville.

The ⅓-mile Genesee oval has been resurfaced for 2022, and there are plans to reconfigure the kartway area. The track will feature new branding for this year, as well.

Visit www.genesee-speedway.com for details and contact information for the new promoting team.

Utica-Rome, Fonda hands out over $105,000 in posts season prizes

Utica-Rome and Fonda Speedways celebrated the 2021 season Nov. 19 at Vernon Downs. In all, $105,725 were handed out to drivers at the two venues.

Top ten finishers in point divisions were recognized, along with the THunder on the Thruway series top 10. Stewart Friesen and Matt Janczuk were recognized for their American Racer Cup Championships in the modified and sportsman divisions, respectively.

Matt Sheppard took home $6,000 for his fifth Utica Rome Track Championship. Janczuk also won the Sportsman track championship at Utica-Rome, worth $1,500. Beau Ballard won the Pro Stock title, worth $1,000. David Hackett took home the Limited Sportsman championship at Utica-Rome.

Wayne Russell (SOHC) and Justin Pope were recognized as the UR four-cylinder champions. Corky Warner and Brett Putman were honored in the slingshot divisions at Utica-Rome.

Schedule news and off-season updates will be posted at www.uticaromespeedway.com/

Sheppard wins Cajun Swing finale

Matt Sheppard took home $20,000 in winning the 75-lap Cajun Swing finale with the Short Track Super Series. Sheppard topped Erick Rudolph Nov. 13 at Super Bee Speedway in Chatham, LA to capture the Mods in the Marsh headline event. Ryan Godown was third ahead of Steve Davis and Mike Mahaney.

On Nov. 12, Stewart Freisen won the 40-lapper at Super Bee, topping Sheppard and Ryan Godown. Godown won two events, taking night 3 at The Revolution Park in Monroe, LA. Mike Mahaney and Sheppard were chasing him in that 40-lap affair. He won the opening night as well, scoring a $4,000 payday at Boothill Speedway.

Erick Rudolph won the second night of racing, taking the 40-lapper at Ark-La-Tex Speedway in Vivian, LA ahead of Godown and Rocky Warner.

Chris Marquart’s “Motorsports” appears every other Tuesday during racing’s offseason. Contact Chris at (315) 729-3999 or at smashedempirefilms@gmail.com.

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