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Delaware racing legend recognized

Shannon McNaught * Delaware
shannon.marvel@doverpost.com
Dover Post
Dover Post

The first Delaware driver inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame hails from Milford.

The now 77-year-old Harold Bunting was already an accomplished go-kart racer in 1969, when he was given a shot at racing a dirt modified car. He went on to at least 244 career wins. Recordkeeping back then was poor.

“It’s still a work in progress. We know there are victories missing from 1969 to 1971,” said Buffy Swanson.

Swanson is an award-winning motorsports journalist and chair of the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame. She reported on Bunting’s career as it happened, calling him “a standard-bearer in the southernmost reaches of modified territory.”

Bunting’s best year in racing was undoubtedly 1973, when car owner Paul Whitelock’s driver didn’t show up. Bunting took the wheel and that season, between June and October, he won an unheard of 53 Delaware races.

Swanson called it “the year Bunting set the state of Delaware aflame.”

“Nothing rattled him. He didn’t get these huge outbursts of emotion. You didn’t see that out of Harold,” she said. “He was just a very cool character taking it all in.”

In 1974, Bunting drove Whitelock cars to victory 51 times. The wins kept adding up for years, until 1983.

“It was the worst year I ever had in racing,” said Bunting. He didn’t win once.

He kept racing for three more years and competed for the last time in fall 1986. He was 45.

“You have to understand: everyone who worked on the car, including me, worked a regular job,” Bunting said. “We’d leave Milford at 5:30 in the morning, work all day at an oil refinery in Pennsylvania, pull back into the yard around 6-6:30 and walk across the property to the race car shop.”

Bunting turned the keys over to his son, H.J., who was 17. He’s been racing ever since and is a legend in his own right.

“Dad was there for one reason: to win,” H.J. said. “He was fair. He wasn’t a rough driver but he raced people the way they raced him. If someone roughed him up they would get the same in return.”

The induction ceremony will be Thursday, July 23, at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame, on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.

Dirt modified racing for beginners

Dirt racing is the most popular and common form of automobile racing in the U.S., where there are over 1,500 oval dirt or clay tracks. Most of them are less than a half-mile in length. Each track has different rules.

Dirt track racing involves two types of cars, raced in different areas. Open-wheel cars, including sprint and modified cars, are raced in the Northeast and Midwest. Dirt track stock cars are raced in the South. Open-wheel cars have uncovered wheels, outside of the car body, and a single seat in the center of the car body. They sit very close to the ground.

Dirt modified cars have evolved from the traditional open-wheel car to become a combination of open-wheel and stock cars, built with speed in mind. The bodies are hand-fabricated and the only street parts used are engine components.

Weekly dirt modified race prizes range between $1,200 and $2,500, sometimes more.