Mark Hufcut, Pine Bush Join in Auto Racing’s Saturday Night Fever

Fri May 16, 2003 - Northeast Edition
James Van Horn

When the Orange County (New York) Fair Speedway ran its first races of 2003 season in mid-April, it marked the 84th year of auto racing on the historic five-eighth mile hard clay track, the 55th straight year of stock car racing there — and the 12th year for driver mark Hufcut and Pine Bush Equipment.

Hufcut, of nearby Bloomingburg, NY, drives No. 11 in the DIRT Sportsman class; his sponsor is dealer Pine Bush Equipment Inc., where he works as a parts manager. His other sponsors also are local, and friends and co-workers make up his pit crew.

Auto racing to many people means first the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and drivers, such as Ward Burton and Greg Biffle, and national sponsors, such as Caterpillar and Grainger (see CEG, Feb. 12 and March 26, 2003), or the Indianapolis 500. But there also is a huge network of smaller local and regional tracks outside major urban centers, usually running on ovals of hard-packed clay, a quarter mile to a mile in length.

Hufcut’s home track, Orange County, expects to have a full race card nearly every Saturday night from mid-April through October. It’s one of 27 full-fledged member tracks (commonly called speedways) of DIRT Motorsports Inc. in New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario and Quebec. (At five-eighth mile, Orange County is the second largest track in the DIRT group.) In addition, DIRT Motorsports lists 12 associate member tracks.

So with nearly 40 tracks, most with almost weekly events, plus special events, DIRT Motorsports gives auto racing fans a dizzying array of venues. In 2001, DIRT staged more than 750 feature race events at 36 tracks, including ones outside the Northeast, such as The Dirt Track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in North Carolina and at Hagerstown (Maryland) Speedway. The association awarded approximately $500,000 in point fund money and called the year one of its best. Its national television show reached a reported record 70 million homes.

So the modest dirt tracks are like the “Saturday Night Fever” of auto racing.

DIRT Motorsports traces its origins to 1976, when Drivers Independent Race Tracks (or DIRT) was formed in central New York. The original circuit consisted of Rolling Wheels Raceway, Weedsport Speedway and the New York State Fairgrounds mile oval. The association recognized in 1996 as just plain DIRT Motorsports Inc. The organization bills itself as “The top regional sanctioning body of short-track racing on dirt in the United States.

Nearly 70 speedways have raised the DIRT banner for both weekly and special events, as far west as Texas and southernmost in Florida.” DIRT is international, as circuits in Ontario and Quebec are integral to its makeup.

A number of DIRT’s hundreds of drivers have gained regional and national prominence in the auto racing world, but most are “semi-pros,” like Mark Hufcut with “day jobs” elsewhere. However, after 11 years of racing just about every weekend for nearly seven months each year, Hufcut plans to cut back this year.

“I like it but for a part-time deal it gets to be almost a full-time schedule. So I’ll still be racing at the Orange County track but on a limited schedule.”

Most drivers race because they like to — although prizes and recognition certainly are motivation. And, while a number of International companies, such as Budweiser and Sunoco extend their racing activity to the local level, most sponsors are local businesses, like contractors and construction equipment dealers such as Pine Bush.

Pine Bush Equipment, which started out more than 50 years ago as a farm equipment dealer and has been run almost as long by the Boniface family — Steve Boniface is now president and CEO. The company handles Case, Komatsu and Kubota as prime lines. Other manufacturers represented include Bomag, Grove, LaBounty, Moxy and Stihl, plus the new Gilchrest Pro Paver.

For Pine Bush, dirt track racing is a way to translate the growing popularity of auto racing nationwide to a sponsorship that benefits them the most — at the local/regional level. Other sponsors of No. 11 include East Coast Concrete and Poured Foundations, Canadian Tree Service, Ken’s Logging, A&W Vinyl Graphics, and Windows and Doors Inc.

There’s a definite construction/construction equipment market push here, since numerous studies have confirmed the popularity of auto racing among construction people.

Hufcut started racing in 1990. “I got involved by helping work on a Street Stock one day and just decided to go racing. I’ve been in it ever since,” he said. (Street Stock is the basic class of dirt track racing.) He won the Rookie Street Stock championship in 1993 and earned the Orange County track championship in the DIRT Sportsman division in 2001.

Hufcut’s racing car type, the DIRT Sportsman, originated in the early days of stock car racing. It’s part of the Modified class, which was originally a stock automobile with glass removed, rollcage installed and a souped-up motor — hence the name. Now, however, cars in the modified class are built from the tires up as racers specifically for dirt tracks, and bear little resemblance to the modified “street stocks” of earlier years. The DIRT Sportsman is one of three in the Open Wheel class (1998 specifications):

• Modified: engine 467 cu. in. displacement maximum, average 750-hp, four-barrel carburetor.

• 358 Modified: engine, 358 cu. in. maximum, 550 average hp, four-barrel carburetor.

• Sportsman: engine, 358 cu. in. maximum, 400 average hp, two-barrel carburetor only.

Chassis and bodies are specially made — Hufcut’s is by TEO, a popular manufacturer — using tubular steel frames and flat panel sides.

Like the “big leagues,” DIRT track racing is a team event. Hufcut’s crew chief (since 1991) is Bob McCarthy, who also is of Pine Bush Equipment. Other pit crew members from Pine Bush Equipment include Karl Kessler and Mike Pietrzak. Owner of the car is John Hufcut.

And, of course, there are others, as Mark said, “I would like to thank all the fans and my sponsors for the support they give to the Hufcut racing team.”