RPW Column: Third Generation Racers Keeping Their Family Traditions Going At OCFS

Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – It’s often seen in the sports world. A competitor who plays out their career and eventually, their child follows them to a high level of the same sport.

It may be possible that it’s more prevalent in racing than in any other sport. And quite often, a 3rd generation will follow the first two into racing.

On the national level, three of the most recognizable names in racing have had 3rd generation drivers who made it to the top levels. Petty and Earnhardt in NASCAR and Andretti in Indy Car are family names that immediately comes to mind when thinking about those who have had 3 generations in racing. It’s so sad that we never got to see Adam Petty’s full potential due to his death at New Hampshire in 2001.

We have seen 3 generations of racing like the Blaney Family who made their mark in the sport in different ways. Lou Blaney won hundreds of races in Sprint Cars and Modifieds on the short tracks of Western Pennsylvania and Ohio. His son, Dave, is a former World of Outlaws champion and also raced in the NASCAR Cup Series and took an Xfinity Series win. Dave’s son, Ryan, has had success in all 3 of NASCAR’s top divisions, posting wins in Cup, Xfinity and in the Camping World Truck Series.

And in the Lower Hudson Valley, the Orange County Fair Speedway has a number of racers who are 3rd generation participants in the sport. And when you look at the list of racers that currently race or raced in the recent past, you can see how racing success has followed from grandparent to child to grandchild.

“The 3rd generation racers are a big piece of the fabric of the sport here at OCFS,” said Doug Dulgarian, OCFS General Manager and resident track historian. “With the track entering it’s 102nd year, it’s great to see how these families stayed in racing from generation to generation.”

Some of the most beautiful looking cars in the history of the Orange County fair Speedway have come from the Strupp Family. Sonny Strupp was one of the early big winners in the Modifieds at the speedway. He recorded 36 victories which currently places him 7th on the all time winners list. Sonny’s mid 70’s Gremlin #24 stands out as one of the best looking cars I’ve ever seen at OCFS. Sonny’s son, John, had a win in the final year of the OCFS Limited Sportsman Division in 1982 and afterward, added 7 wins in the Small Blocks. John’s son Thomas hasn’t competed at OCFS in a few years, but he was a winner in both the Rookie Sportsman and Sportsman divisions.

In fact, a recent conversation that Doug had with John Strupp indicates that there are actually 4 generations of the Strupp Family involvement with racing at OCFS. John said that his grandfather, Sonny’s dad, owned a roadster that raced in the very early years of OCFS. Four generations of involvement by the Strupp family, that’s incredible.

The Higbie Family has had a long record of success at OCFS. Gerry Higbie had a brief driving career, but he certainly made his impact as a car owner. Along with his brother, Gary, they formed the Higbie Brother’s Racing Team. The iconic red, white and blue #97 was one of the best known and most recognizable cars in the 70’s and 80’s and was driven to many wins with Bobby Bottcher, Rich Ricci Sr, Steve Bottcher and Jeff Heotzler. Gerry’s son, Jerry has won 27 Modified and 13 Small Block races at OCFS. Add in 4 Modified and 2 Small Block championships and an Eastern States 200 win and you have the type of statistics that just about any competitor would love to have. These days, Jerry gets to watch the progress of his son, Cody. Cody started racing at the Accord Speedway in 2019 and by the late season, he grabbed a Sportsman win. And racing at OCFS in 2020, Cody won a thrilling Sportsman feature over the 2019 Sportsman Champion, Grant Hilfiger. It was great side by side battle by both competitors for the win that night. It seems that fans are going to see Cody often in Victory Lane in the upcoming seasons.

The Dodd Family was quite active in the early years of the Modifieds at OCFS. Brothers Russ and Stan Sr were winners in the early to mid 50’s at the track with Russ taking 10 wins and Stan Sr 4. Stan Jr raced the 88 in the Limited Sportsman division in the 70’s. Stan Jr’s son, Steve has been a long time competitor at OCFS with successes in 3 divisions. In 1988, the first year of what is now the Sportsman division, Steve won 8 times and was that season’s champion. He also has 2 Small Block wins and 12 in the Big Blocks, the most recent in 2016.

The Ricci Family has made their impact on local racing throughout the generations. Rich Sr began racing in the 60’s and has had his share of wins over the years. He posted 4 Big Block and 2 Limited Sportsman wins at OCFS and plenty of others at Accord and other tracks. Rich’s sons, Mike and Rich Jr have had very successful racing careers. In addition to their many wins at Accord, both of Rich Sr’s sons have multiple wins at OCFS. Mike has 18 Small Block and 7 Big Block OCFS victories. Mike also has the distinction of recording the first Big Block win for the powerhouse Halmar Racing Team. Rich Jr has 6 Small Block and 2 Big Block OCFS wins. And in 1994, Rich Jr won the prestigious Mr. Dirt race at Lebanon Valley. And the brothers continue to win races with both Mike and Rich Jr winning at Accord in their most recent season of racing in 2019. Rich Jr’s daughter and son, Allison and Rich III have been racing for a few years now and both have won in the Rookies at OCFS. Allison is well known for her involvement with the Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation and her pink #55 has been a familiar sight in late season races in past years. Rich III raced Modifieds at Accord in 2019 and in a memorable race, finished 2nd, just ahead of his dad, Rich Jr. On the most recent edition of the OCFS “Talkin’ Dirty” podcast, Allison has indicated that she will be racing in both the Big Blocks and Small Blocks at OCFS in 2021. Rich III will also be competing in the Small Blocks at the Hard Clay.

It doesn’t happen always that two of the generations get to mix it up a bit on the track, but occasionally, it is the case. On the recent “Talkin’ Dirty”, Allison and Rich Jr had some friendly banter going about whether she had ever passed and finished ahead of her dad. Allison said yes she had and Rich replied no way. Allison also said that if there was $100,000 at stake, she would definitely move her dad out of the way to get it. It was a fun segment of the podcast to watch.

The Edwards Family name has been around OCFS since the 70’s. Gary Edwards Sr raced in the Limited Sportsman and these days, he will occasionally take a few hot laps. His son, Gary Jr, has been a top racer at OCFS for many years. He is a 3 time OCFS Small Block champion and has scored 9 Big Blocks and 9 Small Block wins. Gary III is currently competing in the Sportsman at OCFS.

Don Elliott raced in the Limited Sportsman and Modified divisions at OCFS in the 60’s and 70’s, picking up 3 wins in the limited. Don’s #49 Pinto was one of my favorite cars in my early years at OCFS. Don’s son, Donnie, followed him into racing and he has 6 Small Block and 2 Big Block wins at OCFS and he’s won races at other tracks as well. Donnie’s son, Aidan, made the jump in 2020 from Slingshots to Sportsman and did so successfully, racing to a win at 5 Mile Point. Aidan looks like a driver with the potential to win a lot of races. He’s definitely a driver to watch as he will be racing at both Accord and OCFS in 2021.

The Bedell #395 has seen 3 generations race at OCFS. Howard Bedell raced a coupe in the 70’s and his son, Howie raced in later years. Howie’s son, Jake, is a racer who is definitely on the way up in the OCFS Sportsman division. He has steadily improved his points position in recent season’s, finishing 4th in 2020. It may be possible that Jake is ready for a breakout season at OCFS in 2021.

Frank Stevens raced a sharp looking #111 coupe in the 70’s at OCFS. His son, Chris, has been racing for many years . He has driven his #83 into the OCFS Victory Lane in both the Sportsman and Small Blocks. And Chris’s son, Kevin, has been racing his #38 at both Accord and OCFS. Interesting to note that while many generations continue on with the the same number, the Stevens Family all went with different car numbers.

Bobby Green was a dominant driver in the Limited Sportsman in the early 70’s. He had 8 wins in a two year span of 1972-73 and was the 1973 points champion. A move to the Modifieds in the “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” #69 yielded a win in 1976. Bobby’s son, Rob, was also an OCFS Champion, winning the Small Block title in 1984. Rob was unstoppable that season, piling up 12 victories. His 21 OCFS Small Block wins are 3rd on the all time list behind Brett Hearn and Danny Johnson. These days, Rob’s sons, Randy and Travis, are carving out their own successes at area tracks.

The Dembek Family Racing Tree really branches out. Andy Sr was one of the competitors when full fender returned after a few years absence in the early 80’s. Andy’s sons, Andy Jr and Tom both became champions in the Pro Stock division. Andy Jr’s daughter, Missy, raced in the Street Stocks. And Tom’s son, Braxton, has plans to do some racing at the new Victory Speedway at OCFS in 2021.

And the VanHorn Family formed a different type of of 3 generations in racing. Any longtime fan of OCFS will recall the colorful career of Carl ‘Fuzzy’ VanHorn. Fuzzy won 29 Modified features at OCFS from 1956 thru 1989. Carl’s son, David, was a car owner for his son, David Jr who won 2 Modified features and won the 2008 Modified point title without the benefit of a win, a very difficult task.

So there you have it. There may be a family or more that didn’t get mentioned here. But you look at the list and it makes one think about all the things that these or any racing family puts into the sport to be a competitor at OCFS or any other weekly racing venue. There are so many sacrifices that are made. Sometimes, birthdays and anniversaries are spent at the track. Vacation plans are often altered. Barbecues and family outings have to work around the racing and car maintenance schedules. And weddings can be most problematic. Even as a fan, I bailed out early at two weddings (including my brother’s) to get to the track on time. But more often than not, the commitment to racing overrides everything else stated in this paragraph. It amazes me sometimes to see a racecar get totally wrecked and seeing that same car show up the following week. The car may look battered, bruised and beat up, but it’s there and it was that particular family and crew had the dedication to make it happen. And I for one are very glad that they to it.

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