A race to the checkered flag
WHITE LAKE, NY — On August 25 to 26, 2017, the Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) hosted the 20th annual ZMAX Bandolero Nationals and the 10th annual LegendStock races at the historic quarter-mile oval asphalt track, just a few miles as the crow flies from the site of the 1969 Aquarian Exposition.
The track broke ground in 1959, and opened up for racing one year later. Over the years, it operated under several names, including White Lake Speedway, Catskill Mountain Speedway, Sullivan County Speedway and Kauneonga Speedway. But one thing remained the same: the word “speed” never took a back seat even though management of the track changed hands several times.
After a hiatus of a year (2006-07), Fred Graf Racing LLC, bought the track in 2008, and it was actively promoted by Dave and Joanne Rocket, who had given it a real boost from 1998 until 2004.
Starting with the 2017 racing season, former racer and current car owner Paul DeGracia assumed the title of general manager and track boss. DeGracia, the owner of a cement and excavation business in New Jersey, has the racing fever and need for speed in his veins, as he started racing at the age of “about 14” at BMS, after racing enduros and flat-track motorcycles in high school.
At the local track, he began as a tire groover on big-block modifieds, working his way up to “the chassis guy” and then behind the wheel as a race car driver.
In 1996, DeGracia bought his first Legends car, a 5/8-scale motorcycle-engined design created to resemble cars from the ‘30s and ’40s, which competed on the early National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) modified circuit.
And speaking of NASCAR, legendary drivers who started out in Legends include Ryan Blaney, Red Sorenson, David Ragan, Joey Logano and the lead-foot brothers Kyle and Kurt Busch.
“This is one of the most technical tracks you’ll ever race… it’s a difficult track to run any size car on, period,” said DeGracia.
He noted that while everybody (well, almost) who starts out in Legends “thinks they’re going to NASCAR… but it doesn’t work that way.”
Reflecting upon years past, he said the previous owner before Joe Graf ran the track “like it was the ‘Wild Wild West,’ but since taking over the operational helm, things have changed—a lot.
“If you’re going to bumper somebody, don’t do it here,” cautioned DeGracia.
Reflecting back upon his early days in racing, he recalled winning a race at the Kutstown Fairgrounds Racetrack in PA “upside down and on fire… I slid over the finish line.”
“We all started out as short-track racers, fender-to-fender, bumper-to-bumper,” added DeGracia.
“This is one of the most fun things you’re ever going to do with your clothes on!,” he said of the sport of auto racing.
Bethel Motor Speedway’s season typically runs from late April through October, with races on Saturday nights.
It hosts a variety of divisions including DIRT Sportsman cars on asphalt, BMS Modifieds, Pro Stocks and Street Stocks, along with Legends and Bandoleros.
It also features a limited number of races for Vintage DIRT (dirt vs. asphalt) Modifieds and American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association (ATQMRA) Midgets.
For more information about Bethel Motor Speedway, located at 361 Horseshoe Lake Rd., visit its Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com or call 845/319-7908.
For Ted Waddell’s coverage of the Eldred/Sullivan West boys’ soccer game, online only, visit http://riverreporter.com/sports/eldred-booters-win-first-game-season.