2019 Awards Banquet
FRIENDS OF AUTO RACING HONORS HOSSFELD, ROUSE; INDUCTS TED RENSHAW, FRANK BATISTA, KARL HEHR, BILL ESCHBORN TO HALL OF FAME
Asphalt racing stand-out Chuck Hossfeld and multi-track dirt Sportsman champion Brad Rouse were named as the 2019 season Drivers of the Year at the Friends of Auto Racing (Foar Score) Fan Club annual awards dinner, held on Saturday evening, January 11. Approximately 250 people attended the event, held at the Elks Club in Lancaster, NY. This annual affair of the Buffalo-based fan club honors top drivers in Western New York and the Niagara Region of Ontario.
In addition, the Friends of Auto Racing inducted Ted Renshaw, Frank Batista, Sr., Karl Hehr, and Bill Eschborn into its Hall of Fame.
Chuck Hossfeld wheeled his way to the Race of Champions Sportsman Series title, scoring five victories throughout the 2019 season. In addition, the long-time Modified star, though winless for the season in his Modified starts, was in the hunt for the RoC Modified Series title on the strength of consistent top five finishes, placing third in the final Modified charts. “The Hotshoe” announced late in the season that in 2020, he would be stepping away from regular competition in his own rides, although would keep his options open for occasional starts as a hired driver.
Brad Rouse amassed three 2019 Sportsman track crowns (Freedom, Merrittville, Humberstone), and secured championships in the Race of Champions Sportsman Series, the DIRTCar Western Region Sportsman Series and the GRIT Western Region Series. Rouse visited victory lane on sixteen occasions, and had numerous top five finishes throughout the year. Brad was away on a family vacation; Theo Curvin accepted the award on his behalf.
Frank Batista has worn many hats throughout the years, from racer to track official to car owner/crew chief. Frank was a long time top competitor in the Late Model, Street Stock and Super Stock divisions, focusing most of his efforts at Lancaster Speedway from the early 1960’s through the mid-1980’s. After stepping away from driving, he worked as a track official at Lancaster. He helped son Frank, Jr. in the building and maintaining of his cars during the early years of the younger Batista’s racing career. Frank has retired from active participation, but can be found in his favorite spot in the Lancaster grandstands on race nights.
Bill Eschborn started his personal involvement in the sport while in his early teens, and has been part of the area racing scene for over 40 years. He has been a driver, mechanic, crew chief, car builder, team owner, friend, and mentor to many in motorsports in the Western New York region. Known not only for home built competitive Street Stocks, Super Stocks, and Late Models, he has also developed the knack for tweaking a car just right to achieve maximum performance. He is willing to assist nearly anyone who seeks his help and has taken a particular interest in providing opportunities for new drivers looking to get into motorsports. Bill can be found in the pits at asphalt ovals throughout the area providing his valued expertise for anyone seeking his assistance.
Karl Hehr has made his mark as a top level driver as well as a valued crew member. He had his start assisting the Hoddick brothers racing team in the late 1970’s and would begin competing in a Street Stock in the mid-1980’s. He earned track titles in Lancaster Speedway’s Super Stock and Sportsman divisions in the 1990’s, then moved into a Modified, competing at his home track at Lancaster as well as in the Race of Champions Series. He was the first driver to earn Lancaster US Open victories in three different divisions over his career, taking wins in his Super Stock, Sportsman, and Modified. Hehr was seriously injured in a devastating Modified wreck at Lancaster in 2006, but after taking a year off to recover, was back behind the wheel in 2008 and continued to compete before announcing his retirement in 2019. Karl currently assists as a crew member for the Trey Hoddick racing team, working with the Sprint Car operations.
Ted Renshaw began his involvement in racing as a teen-aged crew member for Jerry Winger at Merrittville Speedway in 1955 and three years later, started his own driving career in the Jalopy division. After numerous victories and a championship, he moved to the Sportsman Modified ranks in the early 1960’s and was a front runner at Speedway Park, Merrittville, and Humberstone, earning the 1964 Humberstone track title. He turned his attention to asphalt in the late 60’s and was a top flight competitor in Modified action before returning to the dirt in the mid-1970’s. He would continue in competition through 1994 before hanging up his helmet. He was a founding member of the Merrittville Speedway Reunion Committee in 1996 and remains active in the sport to this day, assisting Mat Williamson’s racing efforts.
Two longtime racing families, the Kluths and the Leatys, were recipients of the Family in Racing Awards. Dick Kluth, patriarch of that racing clan, has been in competition for parts of six decades in open-wheeled racing in the region. His son Rick, also a wheelman for a number of seasons, has more recently made a name for himself with his 2Kwik Modified chassis. Son-in-law Kevin Lewis has also been a driver for a number of seasons, and daughters Suzie and Debbie have been an active part of the crew for all three.
Jan Leaty was one of the northeast’s top Modified pilots for over 25 years, scoring notable victories on both the NASCAR Whelen and Race of Champions circuits. He is still very much involved in open-wheeled action as a car-owner and crew chief, teaming with son Mike at L2 Autosport with driver Patrick Emerling. Mike has an accomplished resume behind the wheel as well, with multiple Spencer Speedway Sportsman Modified championships and a Race of Champions Modified Series title. Mike’s son and daughter are now active competitors in the Sodus Microd Club.
For the second consecutive year, Matt Farnham was named Rookie-of-the-year. In 2018, Farnham was recognized for his first-time Modified efforts; in 2019, Matt’s successful first season in Crate and 360 Sprint Car action merited the award.
Joe Mancuso, himself a top asphalt Super Stock pilot, was the recipient of the Mechanical Achievement Award in recognition of his work as crew chief for the Chuck Hossfeld team and his assistance with the Sam Fullone Late Model.
Brothers Scott and Jake Wylie received the Perseverance Award for their continued top-level on track performances despite the untimely passing of their father and crew chief, Rick Wylie.
Race of Champions Late Model Series Champion Terry Weldy received the Achievement Award, while Wyoming County International SST Modified champion Alan Bookmiller was named the Most Improved Driver. Genesee Speedway Mini Stock co-champion Ashley Blech received the Woman in Racing Award.
Loretta Troester, a long-time active member of the Friends of Auto Racing and an ardent supporter of Lancaster Speedway, was honored with the Dick Hammond Memorial Dedication to Auto Racing Award. Photographer Craig Duve was recognized with the Media Award, while team owner and multi-team sponsor John Lyon received the Sportsmanship Award. Zach Skotnicki, the Assistant to the Director of the Race of Champions Series, was presented with the Unsung Hero Award.
(contact: Rick Mooney: Rmooneypr@aol.com