Grassroots racing

TED WADDELL
Posted 9/12/18

KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — Memories of speed and the flow of time. The time in the ‘50s my dad took me to a midget race, a wheel came spinning off a car at speed, sailed over the fence and …

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Grassroots racing

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KAUNEONGA LAKE, NY — Memories of speed and the flow of time.

The time in the ‘50s my dad took me to a midget race, a wheel came spinning off a car at speed, sailed over the fence and crashed to earth a few feet from us.

A bit later, drag racing a 426 hemi Sport Fury with a Hurst 4-speed on the floor in what was then horse country outside D.C., dreaming of out-shifting the legendary Ronnie Sox.

It didn’t happen, but that’s what dreams are made of.

A bit of street racing in my hometown—hopefully the statute of limitations has expired. 

Not to worry, I checked.

Getting an offer to warm up a private entry at Daytona before the real deal.

Blasting through the night and into the dawn in ’59 Jag XK-150, running against the wind and the passage of time.

Fast forward a couple of decades—actually more than just a few, and a visit to Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) brings back the memories: the sights and sounds of speed mixed with the roar of the crowd and the rush of adrenaline, real or imagined.

The local quarter-mile asphalt oval track was constructed in 1959, and opened a year later near the site of the original Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

Over the seasons, it has seen its ups and downs, but always maintained a fierce sense of independence, operating under various names including White Lake Speedway, Catskill Mountain Speedway, Sullivan County Speedway and Kauneonga Speedway until being renamed Bethel Motor Speedway.

But with every incarnation, one thing has always remained the same: speed is always the leader of the pack, and it pays to be a winner at the checkered flag.

A trip to BMS is like a throwback in time, as the sense of  grassroots racing is in the air, as the competition is fierce out on the track, but racers and their crews are quick to lend a hand or spin a wrench to help a fellow racer solve a last-minute problem.

Do politics and auto racing mix? Think oil and water.

The other afternoon, more than a few race cars displayed Trump bumper stickers, but I didn’t see a single Hillary sign.

As discretion is most likely the better part of valor, I really didn’t look too hard.

On Saturday, September 1, BMS hosted “Nostalgia Night – Dick Crumley Memorial Night,” and featured several races in all classes, plus NE Vintage Club and Atlantic Coast Old Timers.

A special event showcased the reunion of numerous former (and current) lead-foot drivers and past officials, who lined up against the fence to enthrall the packed grandstand with stories of old glories on the track and memorable events during the early years at the speedway.

John Butka, of Gardner, NY recently moved up from sportsman’s class to modifieds after purchasing a car driven by Mike Todalback that was dedicated to the fallen FDNY heroes of 9/11.

John Hager, takes to the track with his brother Jeff under the banner of Hager Bros. Racing, after starting out competing at Orange County Fair Speedway back in the late ‘70s.

The brothers go wheel-to-wheel in cars #65, from stockers to modifieds, and last week John took to the track in #65, a 1937 Chevy-bodied vintage car sitting on a frame constructed by locally famous African American driver Freddie Lee White, who recently passed at the age of 79.

“The body sat in a garage for 20-some years…we put it all together,” said Hager. adding, “It’s been a lot of fun over the years.”

Joe Collins trailered his racecar, #37J, a purple and yellow Gremlin, to the local speedway from Mantage, NJ.

“The thrill is the adrenaline rush… I just love the sport,” he said of oval track racing.

“Hard turn right, go left and go fast.”

Peter “Crackers” Reynolds took over the wheel this year as BMS’s promoter.

He got his first taste of racing as a five-year-old tagging along with his dad to Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, NY.

According to Reynolds, he picked up the nickname “Crackers” in his late teens and early 20s, as he and his buddies “went racing three to four nights a week.”

“Racing is really a passionate sport, once you’re hooked you’re hooked… once it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood,” he said.

“This is real grassroots racing.”

For more information about Bethel Motor Speedway, located at 361 Horseshoe Lake Rd. in Bethel, NY call 845/319-7908, visit their official website www.bethelmotorspeedway.com, or check out their Facebook page.

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