WHITE LAKE, NY — What a way to wrap up a season of auto racing at Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) on Saturday and Sunday, November 2 and 3. The local quarter-mile asphalt oval presented its final …
WHITE LAKE, NY — What a way to wrap up a season of auto racing at Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) on Saturday and Sunday, November 2 and 3. The local quarter-mile asphalt oval presented its final series of events of 2019 under the headline banner “NovemberFest” to showcase numerous wheel-to-wheel contests—one last thrill to hold the racing crowd over until next year.
Earlier this year, the local race track entered the NASCAR family as part of the Whelen All-American Series. Many folks consider White Lake, NY in the Town of Bethel to be best known for the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival; however, what is now BMS predates the famed music and arts fair by almost a full decade, as the track opened up for racing in 1960.
Peter “Crackers” Reynolds (Crackers Motorsports Marketing LLC) joined the track’s new management team this year as promoter and director of marketing and sponsorship. Looking ahead and just around the next turn to 2020, he shared, “We will be going NASCAR again next year.” The continued sanction is an important feather in the speedway’s cap, granting drivers bragging rights and other benefits.
“The season was good, we had a lot of highpoints,” Reynolds said, adding that he’s always looking for more fans to fill the grandstand seats and additional drivers to crank it up on the asphalt.
On Saturday, November 2, the local speedway featured racing in several divisions: ATQMRA midgets, the “Fall of ‘69 Feature,” a full-fender feature, a 100-lap street-stock shootout billed as the “Sullivan 100” and a Bandoleos feature race.
A highlight of the first day of competition was the American Three Quarter Midget Racing Association (ATQMRA) feature race. Several of the mighty three-quarter size rockets topped 75 miles-per-hour on the short-track oval, adding a hazy mist of screaming rubber to the fading light as the rockets smoked the asphalt under a waxing moon.
ATQMRA was founded in 1956, and the moniker “TQ” came from the fact that these cars are basically three-fourths the size of a United States Auto Club (USAC) Midget.
According to popular auto-racing lore, midget-car racing began in the United States in the 1930s. The cars are known for their very high power-to-weight ratio.
Several notable IndyCar and NASCAR drivers, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sarah Fisher and Jeff Gordon, got their start in midgets before advancing to the higher-octane divisions of auto racing.
On Saturday, the action was hot and heavy as racers got in their final laps at the local track.
The top three winners to take the checkered flag in each race: ATQMRA Feature (Joey Bailey, Ryan Tidman, Mark Yoder); Fall of ‘69 Feature (Ed Dachnaausen, Jamie Yannone, Vince Quennebile); Full Fender Feature (Kenny Hyde, Joe Barnes, Walt Henry); Street-Stock Non-Winners Race (Emerson Cargain, Jr, Patti Falkena, Gary VanOrden, Jr); Street Stock 100 (JB Morris, Walt Henry, Emerson Cargain, Jr); Bandolero Feature (Leland Oefelein, Darren Krantz, Walt Henry).
At the halfway point in the 100-lap “Sullivan 100,” the racers took a time out on the track in front of the grandstands with the option to have their respective pits crews switch tires and add high-octane fuel to top up the tanks. Taking advantage of the opportunity, track announcer Paul Szmal conducted a few live, on-air trackside interviews with some of the competitors, adding a bit of spice to the racing action before it geared up again for the final 50-laps.
Sunday’s racing action drew the curtain on the season with races in a trio of classes: a 25-lap BMS modifieds non-winners race, a 40-lap Legends Feature and a 25-lap Sportman Feature to wrap it up.
Steve Conklin, a perennial favorite at the local speedway, took first place of the BMS Modifieds, about 11.5 seconds in front of Blair Culhane. Joe Graf, Jr. finished in first of the Legends Feature just ahead of Joe Graf. In the Sportsman’s Feature, Ed Dachnhausen edged Jeff Parker to take the checkered flag.
As a rule, the track flaggers decide the race from a steel catwalk overlooking the short-track asphalt with their array of brightly colored flags, ranging from green to yellow and, of course, the traditional black-and-white checked for the victors.
From a spectator’s viewpoint, it’s like watching a choreographer as they direct the position of the racers with semaphore-like signals, as different colors denote specific instructions, and the flaggers control the yellow caution lights that switch to green, as a signal to resume racing at speed.
And speaking of flaggers, during “NovemberFest,” the county’s short-track oval had a duo of flagmen up in the steel-grid perch: head flagman Jonathan Gibbon of Youngsville, NY and his assistant Todd Lovelace, who hails from the village Greentown, PA, just over the border near Lake Wallenpaupack.
In a perfect example of one generation passing the torch to the next, or in this case the flag, Gibbon said he grew up watching the local racing scene with his folks, and later got into the sport for a few years, starting out in four-cylinders (he won the championship in ‘09) and then moved up to street stock, at times under the watchful eye of head flagger Lovelace.
But as the years progressed, Gibbon moved up to head flagman, and Lovelace took over the assistant’s slot.
“I was head flagger back in the days of Kauneonga Speedway,” recalled Lovelace, adding, “Jonathan was knee-high when I was working here… It gets in your blood, and I like it because it’s family oriented… with no alcohol, there are a lot less fights.”
Speaking of a family-oriented atmosphere, there are plenty of signs banning booze and telling folks if they use profanity up in the grandstands, it’s adios and sayonara for the offender.
But not to say that in the pits that if a lug nut snaps, or a couple of knuckles get skinned while swapping out a busted part, you aren’t going to hear a couple of choice cuss words.
“I really wouldn’t miss it for anything,” said Lovelace. “When Jonathan was four or five years old, he used to watch me flag, and now it’s coming full circle… I’m proud of him.”
As any sports scribbler knows, when covering happenings in the world of sports, whether its high school games or NASCAR races, it is always a good idea to learn where the good eats are hiding.
When it comes to good pizza, this seasoned scribbler has been around the block a time or two—did I just hear someone sat half-baked? (About me—not the pizza, of course.)
The pizza at the local speedway is fiendishly great, just this earthly side of the pearly gates. Anissa Bauerfeind of Callicoon Center, NY is totally in charge of the pizza. While she is busy preparing the dough, cooking up her special tomato sauce and baking it all to perfection, her father Brian Bauerfeind is often out on the track racing in street stocker #07.
Meanwhile, up in the announcer’s booth overlooking the track, a team of live-action reporters and a scorekeeper entertain the fans with auto-racing lore while keeping the records straight as the drivers strive to see who’s going to post the winning times, whether in practice, heats, features or championship races.
Fred Mulharin has been at it since 1994 (he took a break from 2011-2015), starting announcing at the track back in the days when it was run by Ed and Betty Woodruff. Along the way, he has seen the name of the track go thought several transitional evolutions: Catskill Mountain Speedway, Kauneonga Speedway to Bethel Motor Speedway.
But whatever you call it, one thing remains the same: speed.
“I really enjoy the family atmosphere of the track, have made so many friends and seen so many little kids grow up around the track, many of whom are now behind the wheels of cars in several divisions,” said Mulharin.
Among those he listed as moving on from the local asphalt to bigger venues in motor sports are Joe Graf, Jr and Christian Eckes, now regulars on the NASCAR ARCA Series who have also run some Xfinity races this season, along with Daniel Hemric and William Byran, former Legend Stock winners, who are currently fulltime drivers in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series.
“When I’m on the mic, it’s more like having a conversation with my friends at the races… I’ve been so lucky to work with guys like Andy Crane and Paul Szmal, who both have such great knowledge of not only the current drivers, but the rich history of short track racing in the region,” he added.
In those times when he’s not at the track or his day job, Mulharin plays drums for No Lost Time, a band based in North Jersey.
It all just goes to show you that if a photojournalist has the time to talk to folks, fascinating stories from behind the scenes emerge to become the meat on the bone. As they say “all’s well that ends well.”
Short-track racing action resumes next spring at Bethel Motor Speedway, located at 361 Horseshoe Lake Rd. To contact BMS, call 845/319-7908 or visit www.bethelmotorspeedway.com.