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NASCAR shifts into ‘Top Gear’ in Sullivan County

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BETHEL, NY — While 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Aquarian Exposition, commonly known as the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, it also chronicles the advent of NASCAR- sanctioned auto-racing events at Bethel Motor Speedway, just a few miles away from the site of the fabled festival.

The quarter-mile oval asphalt track was built in 1959 and opened a year later.

In the decades since, it has operated under various names, including White Lake Speedway, Catskill Mountain Speedway, Sullivan County Speedway and Kauneonga Speedway, until it was renamed Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS) on August 9, 2008 by Fred Graf Racing.

In 2019, the local race track’s management team of owner Jeffrey Lefcourt, general manager George Van Arsdall and Peter “Crackers” Reynolds as promoter, arranged a full-ride sponsorship with the legendary National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR), founded in 1948.

Bethel Motor Speedway’s racing events are now part of the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, formerly known as the Winston Racing Series and the Dodge Weekly Series, and is a points championship for NASCAR-sanctioned, local short-track motor racing around the United States and a bit farther north across the border into Canada.

Three years ago, Lefcourt, a major force in Alliance Shipping, a Miami, Florida-based global market leader in international shipping and logistics, bought the track from Graf Racing.

“I found out a group was going to buy it, knock it down, and develop it,” recalled Lefcourt, a highly successful former real estate developer, who in his spare time fueled his passion for Legends car racing at the local track for several years.

“As a developer, I used to knock things down,” he recalled, adding, “and then I looked at the audience with different eyes, saw the excitement in the kids’ eyes and the racers, and myself as a racer, I didn’t want it to disappear… so I decided to buy it.”

Lefcourt said owning a race track is unlike “any other business I’ve ever owned,” in that it has a lot of variables that you can’t control such as “weather and attendance on both sides of the gate, or the back end of the house,” including concerts, graduations and other events competing for attention during the summer months.

In the years prior to acquiring Bethel Motor Speedway, Lefcourt used to race a Pontiac Trans Am at Lime Rock Speedway in Connecticut during the 1980s, back in the days of the legendary Skip Barber.

“I was always a road racing guy, never a circuit guy,” he said, noting that he put the brakes on racing until his daughter Courtney started to show a lot of natural ability by smoking the competition in go-kart racing, a notion reinforced when this “guy who looked like Jackie Stewart showed me some telemetry from a race” during which his daughter lapped the Stewart look-alike’s top two team drivers.

For the record, Jackie “The Flying Scot” Stewart competed on the Formula One circuit (1965-1973) and won three World Driver’s Championships during his career at speed.

A few short years ago, Joe Graf Jr. piloted a Legendstock car through the turns at Bethel Motor Speedway, before joining the storied ranks of professional race car drivers.

Today, he races full-time pro stock in the American Race Car Association (ARCA) Menards Series in #77, a Ford Fusion under the banner of Chad Bryant Racing, and part-time for Richard Childress Racing in #21 as part of the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

In the aftermath of buying the local track, Lefcourt said Joe Graf Jr. told him, “You know Jeff, you’re going to turn this into the Taj Mahal… You’re going to have the best quarter-mile track in the country.”

NASCAR Cup Series drivers William Byron and Daniel Hemric have taken the checkered flag at Bethel in Legends cars. In addition to Joe Graf Jr., Christian Eckes also got his start at the local track.

As an increasing number of young women get into auto racing. Lefcourt said the lifestyle of motorsports “takes a major commitment…If it was fifty/fifty, guys would be in trouble… women just have that tenacity.”

What has the NASCAR affiliation done for Bethel Motor Speedway?

“It gives people a sense of belonging, bragging rights—and exposure is everything, it’s been wonderful, a big success,” said Lefcourt, noting that in addition to offering a million bucks in insurance for the drivers, attendance at the track has increased.

“When they designed the track, they put in different components from other tracks,” said Lefcourt, explaining that it features some driver-testing curves and a very tight dip with a following turn similar to one at Martinsville.

Lefcourt fields two cars at the local speedway, including his signature ride #14, a Legends car in the masters series, while his other Legends, which he calls his “traveling car… we go all around the country,” is based in Charlotte, NC.

“When you sit in the stands, boy, that looks easy, but when you get behind the wheel, boy, it’s a whole different story,” he said of a common perception of auto racing, adding that four of five years ago he was ranked second or third in the country in Legends.

“Once I got into a Legends car, I was hooked,” said Lefcourt. “I got into a Legends car for the first time thinking who I was, was going faster and faster, and then found out who I wasn’t, and almost put it into the fence.”

“I did another six or seven laps, got out of the car and felt the adrenaline rush… and thought, I’m going to get myself a Legends car.”

That experience seven years ago left a lasting impression on Jeffrey Lefcourt, and three years ago he was inspired to buy the local speedway, and later bring it and its drivers and motorsports fans into the NASCAR family.

Bethel Motor Speedway is located at 361 Horseshoe Lake Road, Bethel, NY 12720.

For information about BMS, which typically operates from April 20 through November 3, call 845/319-7908 or visit www.bethelmotorspedway.com or www.hometracks.nascar.com.

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

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