In the driver’s seat: like father, like daughter

By TED WADDELL
Posted 7/1/20

OBERNBERG, NY — Maybe it’s in the blood, or perhaps it resides in the genes.

But whatever the case, 14-year-old Monika Deckelman is following her father’s passion for speed at …

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In the driver’s seat: like father, like daughter

Posted

OBERNBERG, NY — Maybe it’s in the blood, or perhaps it resides in the genes.

But whatever the case, 14-year-old Monika Deckelman is following her father’s passion for speed at the wheel of a racecar.

Last year, the young driver, who’s looking forward to entering her freshman year at Sullivan West High School, placed 10th in her division at the Soap Box Derby Nationals in Akron, OH.

A couple of years ago, Monika switched from Soap Box Derby racers and took to the track at Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) in Bandoleros, a real step up in the world of motorsports.

Reflecting on his early career as a race car driver, Bill Deckelman said that while racing at what was once known as White Lake Speedway (now BMS) in the early ‘80s, Richard Cucci of Callicoon, NY helped him out by cutting out a piece of plywood, and after it was wedged in the right side of the cockpit, that “made a huge difference in my driving ability…”

Cherished memories of his first racecar entered the conversation between this itinerant sports scribbler and the father-and-daughter speed demons.

“I was an 18-year-old, and somebody gave my old man a pure stock,” said Deckelman. “The car ran down the highway, and somebody put a roll cage in it… it was a Dodge, painted purple. The ugliest car, it was the most gutless piece of crap I’ve ever driven on or off the racetrack.”

His first outing in the car at Five Mile Point Speedway over in Broome County, NY was less than auspicious as it was hit in the rear by another driver, “blowing the rear end right out of it.”

“I worked most of the week putting it back together without any help. The old man went out and looked at it, and then got this modified out of storage, and we started racing together,” he said of his father, Charlie.

The racing rumor mill has it that both Charlie and his brother George have a couple of old Soap Box Derby racers hanging up in the overhead rafters of a barn at an undisclosed location. When asked about it at last year’s Sullivan County Soap Box Derby, George Deckelman replied laconically, “Well, that’s exactly where they’re staying!”

So, moving down the track of life a few years, and in the wake of competing at several tracks, Bill began racing at Bethel “a little bit” about eight years ago with the help of Louis Lacey and Kip Lowitz. “We ran the car out of Kip’s basemen… We ran seven times, won three and got kicked out the last time… I guess it was a difference of opinion.”

Bill hung up his driver’s gear for a couple of years but then got back into it when Mike Roth, a young championship driver at Bethel Motor Speedway and beyond, couldn’t finish the racing season after he was injured playing football.

“It’s a phenomenal car,” he said of #90, which is owned by Rudy Roth, Mike’s father who now sponsors by both father and daughter drivers.

“It wasn’t bad when I first jumped into it… We raced it three or four times that year, and then spent a lot of time that winter tuning the chassis and the engine… We made it into something.”

These days, Deckelman runs in the open Sportsman class at Afton Speedway, noting “It’s a dying class; 20 years ago, it was a prevailing class.”

But in keeping up with the times, he and Rudy Roth, the car’s owner and sponsor, are in the process of building “a big small block,” an engine that starts out as a GM 350 CID motor and winds out pumping out 800-plus mechanical ponies.

Both Monika’s #9 Outlaw Bandolero and her father’s #90, a high-octane sportsman dirt modified, are sponsored by Rudy Roth, proprietor of Sullivan County Engines in North Branch, NY—sort of “racecar central” for local motorsports.

In addition to sponsoring and setting up the Deckelman’s rides, Roth sponsors several other racers (owning four of the six racing rides): Leland Oeferlein-Brush (Beginner Bandolero), Mike Roth (Crate Sportsman), Rodney Dowless Jr. (Beginner Bandolero), Ty Smith (Outlaw Bandelero) and Kip Lowitz (Vintage Modified).

Meanwhile back at another shop, Bill Deckelman runs Circle Machine & Cylinder in Obernberg, which is home to Monika’s collection of Soap Box Derby racers while her Banderelo car calls Sullivan County Engines homeport.

Monika Deckelman got into her first Soap Box Derby racer as a third-grader at Sullivan West Elementary and started racing Bandeleros in sixth grade.

In her second season racing at BMS, she posted six wins out of 20-something starts. In 2020, she is back on the track with aspirations of making it to the big leagues of NASCAR as one of the few women drivers in the top tier of motorsports.

As a point of historical interest, Sara Christian was NASCAR’S first female driver who finished 14th out of 33 drivers in a strictly stock race at Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949.

Other notable female NASCAR drivers include, but are no means limited to: Janet Guthrie, Patty Moise, Shawna Robinson, Danica Patrick, Julia Landauer and Hailie Deegan.

So, what about the move from gravity-powered racecars to gas-fueled Bandeleros?

“My dad said this guy Rudy wanted to put a car together for me, and I said ‘Yeah!,’” recalled Monika Deckelman.

She said a lot of folks think being a girl at the wheel of a race car “is a really big deal,” but takes that view with a grain of salt with a personal touch.

“Right now, I like being the only girl out there, but it’s like being like any other person on the track. It’s not really special to me, it’s just racing… I hope they don’t see me as ‘it’s a girl I’m racing against.’”

Bill Deckelman chimed in about an incident that occurred during his daughter’s first year in Bandeleros last year when a “fellow roughed her up a bit” on the track, an incident she recalled as “he had me right up against the wall.”

“I had a few words to say about that, and then Monika went out on the track and took care of business,” he said.

Monika Deckelman’s goals for this year at the local speedway?

“I want to be able to get wins, maybe the championship this year,” replied the 14-year-old racecar driver, who added that, in 2021, she hopes to serve on the pit crew for her sister, seven-year-old Emma, when she takes over her old Soap Box Derby racer.

For the rest of this story and more photos, visit www.riverreporter.com/sports.

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