BETHEL, NY — It was championship night on Saturday, October 5 at NASCAR’s local quarter-mile oval asphalt race track, situated a few miles from the 1969 Aquarian Exposition, commonly …
BETHEL, NY — It was championship night on Saturday, October 5 at NASCAR’s local quarter-mile oval asphalt race track, situated a few miles from the 1969 Aquarian Exposition, commonly known as Woodstock.
The NASCAR event was part of the organization’s Whelen All-American Series and featured a special appearance by NASCAR/ARCA driver Sean Corr at Bethel Motor Speedway (BMS).
George Van Arsdall, Jr. is in his second year as general manager of the speedway, and with more than 35 years of racing under his safety harness, has been associated with the area’s racetrack for 15 years in various capacities, ranging from race director, head technical inspector and then advisor to the previous management.
In 2018, Jeffrey Lefcourt, a highly successful entrepreneur, Legends car driver and a real auto-racing aficionado, took over ownership of the track and Van Arsdall joined the new team with the mission to put Bethel Motor Speedway back on the map under the famed NASCAR banner.
“This is a nice little speedway hidden away in the Catskills… It’s a lot of family-oriented grassroots racing,” said Van Arsdall, a former racer in street stock and pro stock divisions, crew chief and car builder.
So what’s the association with NASCAR done for BMS? “It’s blown it right up,” replied Van Arsdall. “This year has definitely been a big shot in the arm that this place needed for a long time.”
Mac Crawson of Long Eddy started racing in the late 1970s and, back in the day, named his car #2 1/2 in honor of his daughter who was that age at the time.
He left the racing circuit for about 30 years, but got back “on track” five-some years ago in the wake of a divorce, adding, “I can spend money any way I want now….”
These days, Crawson’s kids, Porter and Juliana, serve as his pit crew, while his girlfriend Tracy Chirico works as crew chief, making sure the car passes the tech inspection with flying colors.
“I enjoy racing, it takes twenty years off the top of my age,” said Crawson. “It’s a lot of fun. Most of the guys are really good, but there are a few who bang a lot… The course is fast and tight.” And of the new association with NASCAR? “We get a little more recognition, and that helps the track.”
John Cote hails from New Milford, CT and, on Saturday, took the checkered flag in the BMS modified holdover race, and later fourth in the BMS modified feature race in homebuilt car #9.
He began racing 44 years ago and has been gearing it up ever since, following the exploits of his father and uncles, noting, “Everybody raced in our family… So you just keep going.” His take of BMS and NASCAR? “It’s good competition, it’s kind of affordable, and money doesn’t always win here. NASCAR is really no different, you’re still out there by yourself in a racecar.”
“I’ve been around,” added Cote, noting that he has racked up eight-point championships at BMS since 2006, and has posted more than 140 feature wins at the local quarter mile oval.
Richard “Skip” Lapolt doesn’t have to travel very far to get to BMS, as he lives in Bethel.
“My grandfather started here when it was dirt,” he recalled, adding that his father, brother and father-in-law Steve Conklin are also part of the local speedway’s history.
In 1996-97, Lapolt took over driving “off and on,” as he switched over from his role as a mechanic when his brother Kevin began to move on from the racing scene, and in 2011 took the championship.
“It’s very tight quarters,” he said, adding of the competition, “At the end of the night, we’re mostly all friends, nobody stays mad for too long.”
“This is our first year being NASCAR sanctioned, and it’s pretty good for the first season,” said Lapolt, who finished the season in the top-10 points NASCAR rankings in the state in car #5.
Steve Conklin of Grahamsville has been at the helm of #4, a BMS modified going on 30 years, and, after a break, recently returned to the action at Bethel Motor Speedway. While his car is no longer state-of-the-art with its full frame construction, Conklin still mixes it up with more up-to-date race cars, similar to those piloted by his son-in-law “Skip” Lapolt.
“These newer cars are much faster, and it’s fun to race against my son-in-law. Win, lose or wreck, whatever happens we try to have fun,” he said.
Patty Pop Falkena of Walden, NY drives street stocker #28, while her husband Ralph serves as crew chief. Her brother built her a car after she moved up from the four-cylinder division. Her take on being one of the few women drivers at the speedway? “They don’t cut you any slack, and I wouldn’t want them to,” she said of her mostly male competitors. “NASCAR is a step up for everybody, now we’re included in a bigger fraternity.”
Rick Ryder of Loch Sheldrake, NY has been “involved with racing my whole life,” starting with the role of public-address announcer in 1986 at various tracks ranging from Accord to Orange County Fair Speedway and Bethel Motor Speedway. “It’s in my blood, I love it!” he exclaimed while walking through the pits headed up to the grandstands.
One of the highlights of the day was the appearance of Sean Corr of Goshen, NY, who currently drives car #48 under the banners of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and its recently acquired Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA).
Corr made his racing debut in 1999 as a 15-year driver on a dirt track, and in 2001, he earned pure stock rookie of the year honors in his first year as a full-time racer.
During his early career, as Corr moved up the ladder on the racing circuit, he posted 18 career wins and 30 top-five finishes.
Several checkered flags later, his team in the 2018 Lucas Oil 200 at Daytona International Speedway, Corr piloted his first fully in-house constructed Grumpy’s Performance/Empire Racing Driver Development car to the lead in the 80-lap race, only to be involved in a wreck on the final lap.
Originally bearing Richard Petty’s legendary #43, Corr’s ARCA ride was recently re-numbered #48 and repainted in tan “in honor of our military,” proudly emblazoned on the hood with the patriotic sentiment “Support Our Troops.”
“It’s always been a good car with a steel body, but the new cars with composite bodies are a lot faster,” Corr said, noting that he’s run with the best of the best 14 times at Daytona Beach International Speedway and Talladega Speedway.
“They do such a good job here at Bethel Motor Speedway,” said Corr, taking a break from signing autographs and talking racing with fans. “I’m in the middle of working on a street stock just to tinker with.”