Chasing the checkered flag with Leland Oefelein-Brush

By TED WADDELL
Posted 7/22/20

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — His dad is a former street-stock racer at Bethel Motor Speedway, and his mother is the track’s new official photographer.

So what could more fitting for …

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Chasing the checkered flag with Leland Oefelein-Brush

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KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — His dad is a former street-stock racer at Bethel Motor Speedway, and his mother is the track’s new official photographer.

So what could more fitting for 12-year-old Leland Oefelein-Brush than this: furthering his motorsports career by moving up from Beginners Bandolero to the Outlaw Bandos division.

The young racer’s stepfather, John Brush, made a name for himself at the wheel of #26, and his stepson is posting some stats of his own in Bando #26L.

Meanwhile, after taking some time off to raise a newborn into the family, Melissa Brush, the local quarter-mile asphalt track’s official photographer, took over the snaps from Lisa Andresen, who recently moved up the ladder into an administration-focused position at the speedway.

“I raced street stock for many years at Bethel Motor Speedway, but I gave it up so my son could go racing,” said John Brush.

The Brush family owns Leland’s tiny but speedy racecar, which is sponsored in part by several local businesses: JBM Truck Repair, Fulton & Son Well Drilling, Sullivan County Engines and, of course, Melissa Brush Photography, whose logo takes center stage on the racecar’s hood.

According to Brush, Rudy Roth, owner of Sullivan County Engines in North Branch, NY, “has helped out a lot... these cars are so different than what I’m used to racing.” Her comment referred to the contrast in setting up and fine-tuning a V-8 engine pushing hundreds of ponies to a motorcycle-powered racer pumping out 38-some horsepower.

“It was a huge learning curve,” said Brush, adding of Roth, “He’s always there to help, he’s a good guy.”

Leland started out in the beginner’s division of Bandoleros a few years ago, in which the outputs of the engines are limited by restrictor plates between the carbs and the intake manifold to reduce the amount of horsepower laid down on the track.

“They smother the motor so it can’t run to its full potential,” said Brush of the restrictor plates.

In the Outlaw Division, the restrictor plates are yanked, but the cars otherwise remain the same.

“The short version is that, with more air and fuel, you get more power... it’s like twice the horsepower now,” said Brush.

Melissa Brush has been around the local oval for a while and learned about the art of racetrack photography from Andresen, who anchored that position for several years, in addition to “other duties as assigned.”

“I helped Lisa a few years ago, but last year, [I] had a newborn child. This in my first year of doing it on my own,” said Melissa Brush, adding that when not taking pics of action on the track or in Victory Lane, she “helps out as needed in the pit shack”—that place where the drivers meet and check out their times on the track.

Asked what it was like from the viewpoint of a mother to watch her son mix it up on the blistering asphalt, Brush replied “It’s a proud moment to see him out there!”

So what about safety, and does she get white knuckles watching her eldest of three sons race?

“The cars are so safe, so many safety features... They have roll cages and are limited on how fast they can go,” said Brush, adding that Leland’s experiences on a race track will put him lanes ahead of other young folks when it comes time to get a driver’s license in the real world.

Long Island Expressway at rush hour? Forget about it. Get in the fast lane and keep the hammer down.

Well, maybe not the best idea!

While the grassroots Bethel Motor Speedway is a NASCAR Whelen All-American-Series-sanctioned track, the Brush’s have their own opinions about the upper reaches of the national organization.

“It gets boring to watch them go around in circles. It takes so long,” said Melissa Brush.

But, on the plus side, she made a pitch for the drivers on the local short track and its affiliation with the big boys of NASCAR. “It gives them more visibility and points with NASCAR. It’s a good feature for the drivers.”

So what does a local street stocker think about NASCAR?  “I used to like it, but with all the stuff they’re doing now... series racing, restrictor plates, bathroom breaks... not so much,” replied John Brush.

“I like beginning-to-end racing, that’s the way it should be,” he added, echoing this sports scribbler’s old-school view of balls-to-the-wall motorsports, don’t look back as something may be gaining on you and can the commercials.

Asked about the local speedway, he responded, “It’s not a money track, money doesn’t win here—the drivers win here. That’s why I like this track. It’s a tighter track, the biggest motor doesn’t always win. You’ve got to be able to drive the corners and handle the car.”

And now to the star of the story: “It’s fun,” said Leland Oefelein-Brush when asked what it’s like to race at Bethel Motor Speedway. He said when his folks inquired if he was interested in getting behind the wheel of a Bando, he replied “yes.”

He started out in the beginner’s division alongside Monika Deckelman of Obernberg, NY, but when she moved up to Outlaws last year, he had to play catch-up, and this season, he finds himself going wheel-to-wheel with her in the higher class.

Same little cars but with double the horses.

What’s Leland’s take on NASCAR?

“The cars look cool, and I like the people, especially Kyle Busch,” said the soon-to-be seventh-grader at Sullivan West High School.

His goals for the future as a racecar driver?

“Get rookie of the year, and the championship... and try to beat Monika,” said Leland.

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