Grassroots 51: Taking the “Dirt” Out of the
Sportsman Class at Bethel Motor Speedway
Dirt Mods Try Out a Paved Track in New York
By Tracy Chirico

Some dirt racers live by the motto that “asphalt is what you drive on to get to the race track”. In White Lake, New York, however, a number of Dirt Sportsman drivers have taken the opportunity to try their hand competing on the paved surface of Bethel Motor Speedway. Bethel is one of several tracks in the Northeast that have opened their gates and their track for dirt drivers to race on asphalt.

The track that was known as White Lake Speedway closed suddenly before the conclusion of the 2006 racing season, and the track remained silent for the entire 2007 season. As many tracks in the area were kicking off their 2008 seasons, word began to spread that the speedway was getting new ownership and a new name, and that it would reopen. Indeed, Bethel Motor Speedway ran from August until November, drawing enough drivers back in to warrant an awards banquet for the champions after the season concluded.

In 2009, Bethel is open for a full regular season, under the direction of promoters Dave and Joanne Rocket. On the schedule each weekend through the end of September is the Dirt Sportsman class, which has already drawn in some big talent.

Dan Conklin won two out of the division's first four races. Conklin competes on the dirt surface of Accord Speedway on Friday nights, and then changes his car over to take on the pavement at Bethel on Saturday. The driver finished second in points in his class at Accord in 2008, and he looks to be a strong contender at Bethel so far in 2009. Conklin admits that he spends several hours on Saturday morning making changes to the car and prepping it for the asphalt. According to his fellow competitors, Conklin's car requires a spring change, while newer cars tend to fare better when they are changed from a torsion bar setup to a coilover suspension.

“The torsion is not as forgiving on the asphalt,” noted driver Danny Hedges. “I was burning up the right rear.”

Hedges competed for the first three weeks of 2009 with the torsion bar setup in his car before going to the coilover suspension prior to the fourth race. Hedges has focused predominantly on the asphalt competition this season, having made only one start at Accord so far in 2009.

“I plan to make a couple of stops at Accord,” he stated, noting that he started last in his only attempt this year and came home with a fifth place finish.

Brian Krummel, the 2008 Dirt Sportsman champ at Accord, made a stop at Bethel on May 9th, and he opted to bring his car unchanged from its usual dirt setup. The night was especially challenging for Krummel, whose only previous experience on asphalt came in go-karts several years ago.

“I didn't know what to expect,” he stated as he stood in Victory Lane after winning the race. “This is my first time racing up here, on asphalt and in this kind of car. I've got a feeling I'll be back here.”

At Bethel, the cars are running on a dirt hard tire.

“They make all kinds of tires - extra hard, hard, soft,” explained Mike McKerrell, who looked to have the May 9th win in his hands before lapped traffic came into play, allowing Krummel to slip by for the lead. “Soft won't last here,” he said. “I've tried.”

The drivers agree that the asphalt requires a different style of driving.

“On dirt, you steer with the rear of the car,” stated Greg Morgan, one of the drivers who has opted to forgo competition on dirt to concentrate on their chances on the pavement so far in 2009. “Here, you have to steer with the front.”

After his opening night win, Conklin stated, “You've got to get the rhythm down. It's different than dirt. On dirt, you have to run it in. Here, you have to lift real early and let it coast."

Hedges agreed, stating, “Here you have to be a lot easier on the throttle, and you have to get out sooner. On dirt, you get so used to driving into the corners.”

“Here, the corners come up real quick,” added Morgan.

“If you were driving a little quarter-mile like this and it was dirt, we'd go in wide open,” stated Jeff Richardson, “but if you did that here, you'd go right around.”

Richardson also competes at Accord on Fridays, and he won a divisional championship at that track in 2008. Richardson has plenty of experience on the track at Bethel, however, as his resume includes two Modified titles and a Pro Stock championship at the speedway.

That poses another challenge for the drivers, when they are trying to run down the competition.

Following his win, Krummel stated, “It's just so hard when you're trying to catch the guy in front of you to try to go into the turns slower.” In his case, he said, “It's not that easy but it worked out. I had a feeling if I got out into the lead, I could try to smooth it out a little bit and it worked out perfect.”

So far in 2009, more than 13 different dirt competitors have tried their hand at racing on Bethel's asphalt. More are expected in the coming weeks. For more information, both competitors and fans can call the Bethel Motor Speedway office at (845) 778-3839 or go online to www.bethelmotorspeedway.com.


Dan Conklin at Bethel.  (Lisa Andresen Photos)
Danny Hedges at Bethel.
Dan Conklin in Victory Lane