Since 1990, when race teams have pulled into the pit sign-in area at various local speedways, there has been a smiling, friendly face waiting to greet them. That person has loyally spent many hours toiling at local speedways without any real fanfare or recognition. The faithful person is Buffalo’s Fran Bushardt.
From following the sport of auto racing as a young fan to a long career that has included filling the roles of videographer, public relations specialist, statistician, announcer and compiling rosters, Bushardt has done it all, often filling many of these responsibilities at the same time.
Currently he is the statistician at Ransomville, Merrittville and New Humberstone speedways. He has been at New Humberstone since 1990, Merrittville since 1992, and Ransomville since 2000 with the exception of a five-year period a few seasons ago when day job scheduling took him on a brief hiatus from Ransomville.
“I guess I got my love of racing from watching it on the old Wide World of Sports program on TV when I was young,” recalled Bushardt. “Also my late uncle Joe Racz owned a Modified that raced mostly in New Jersey, where he lived, in the 1950s and 1960s and I saw several pictures of his car when I was young and when I would visit him I saw his race car in the garage and that got my attention on racing.
“A funny thing is, when I was 4 or 5 years old my parents took me to a race at Lancaster but I don’t think I paid much attention to the stock car races because I was so young. I do remember that they had a demo derby that night and when the smashing of the cars started, I started to cry real tears because I thought the idea of the whole thing was that you weren’t supposed to be crashing.”
Eventually in his adult life Bushardt would become a race official.
“I owe my career to Al and Edith Wagner, who were running Humberstone back in 1990 when the track was called Gasport Speedway,” said Bushardt, 57. “I started at Gasport in 1990 taking videos of the racing and in 1993 the Wagners appointed me their public relations director. From there my career spread. My good friend Kenny Hangauer Jr. has been a big supporter of mine too.”
For all the times that Bushardt has been involved in racing he has one memory that left a definite impact with him.
“I remember going to the All-Canadian Championships at Humberstone in 1975 and it was a big day because NASCAR racer Earl Ross was there with his car to compete,” Bushardt said. “I was a real fan of Earl’s. During this time, Earl had a teammate he raced with in NASCAR, Larry Smith.
“While Earl was busy at Humberstone, Smith was racing that same day in a NASCAR event at Talladega. We found out later that day that Smith was killed that day at Talladega and I was shocked. It made an impression on me how special people are.”
Anyone who has been to local races knows Bushardt as a friendly, personable and outgoing individual who goes above and beyond to help the sport, usually behind the scenes.
While Bushardt follows and enjoys all the divisions of racing that the area tracks offer, he says his favorites are the Sportsman and Street Stock classes because he feels they offer the most competition.
One visit to Bushardt’s home leaves no doubt about his passion for racing. He has a display set up with 190 die-cast miniature metal collectible cars on it and that number is seemingly growing by the day.
“I’m not going to give up my racing jobs anytime soon,” Bushardt said. “I’m having too much fun. I would never trade all my friends I’ve made in racing for anything in the world.
“If there is one thing that I’m most proud of is that through all these years I’ve gotten to know most of the drivers very well and they always tell me things in confidence and that shows that I’ve earned their trust and respect. They know when they tell me something I will handle it in the right way.”
• One of the biggest races in the area this season will take place on Saturday when the World of Outlaws Late Models visit Stateline Speedway in Busti for a $10,000-to-win race event. The WOO is a nationally ranked traveling series that will also appear Aug. 22 at Little Valley Speedway.
• Bob Close topped 15 other Super Late Models to claim the season opening checkered flag last Sunday at Little Valley. Ron Davies was a close second.
• Mike Janis Racing Inc., featuring drag racing Pro Modified driver Mike Janis Sr., is making a big sponsorship announcement this week leading up to this weekend’s National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Toyota Summer Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. Janis, of Lancaster, has secured sponsorship assistance from Valvoline Oil, a major national brand.
• Two local racers earned victories last Saturday at Lake Erie Speedway. Scott Wylie claimed the NASCAR Modified headliner while Dave Krawczyk triumphed in the Street Stock ranks.
• Erick Rudolph outraced eight other competitors to win the 358 Modified special last Sunday at New Humberstone. Proving he is a strong competitor on asphalt as well, Rudolph, of Ransomville, finished second to Matt Hirschman in the Race of Champions Modified Tour Richie Evans Memorial 75, contested last Saturday at Oswego Speedway.
• Defending Holland Motorsports Complex 2012 NASCAR Pro Modified champion Andy Jankowiak placed a solid fifth at Oswego in his very first career Modified event.
• Fans at Holland saw a scary accident last Saturday when TQ Midget racer Brandon Zavarella barrel rolled multiple times end over end up through the Turn Three banking before flying out of the speedway and landing at the base of a hill just narrowly missing the scoreboard as well as a stand of large trees. Miraculously he was very sore but otherwise uninjured.