Brown Thompson Newspapers
The long and winding road
Buesink, who grew up and still resides in the Findley Lake area, has deep roots in NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series and on the regional racing circuit, most notably at Stateline Speedway in Busti, NY.
The now retired owner of several used car lots throughout his life, Buesink, 76, considers himself “automobile crazy.”
“I’ve bought ‘em, I’ve sold ‘em and I’ve raced ‘em” said Buesink. “I’ve done everything you can do with an automobile all my life. Racing was just a natural extension of my love of automobiles.”
The car lover, NASCAR’S Owner of the Year in 1950, who has had approximately 12 different drivers pilot his cars, got into the racing market when NASCAR was still in its infancy.
“Even back then people took racing seriously,” says Buesink who entered his first car in a NASCAR event 50 years ago. “NASCAR first organized in 1948 and the first races they had were modified races with the little souped-up Ford coupes. In 1949 they started what was called Strictly Stock, or new cars (Late Models), which is what I was interested in.”
After the first NASCAR race in Charlotte, N.C., for the “new cars”, Buesink took a ’49 Ford and a Conewango Valley, N.Y., driver to Langhorne, PA, to race on its now defunct track at a NASCAR event.
“I heard about that first race in Charlotte and got kind of excited,” Buesink recalls. “They only had eight races that year for the new cars and I was toying with the idea of letting the word around that I’d like to do something like that. A guy by the name of Bill Rexford walked in and said, ‘I hear you’re looking or a race driver.’ I didn’t know him, and he didn’t have much experience, just the local bullrings.”
But Buesink had found a diamond in the rough as Rexford went on to win NASCAR’S Grand National Points Championship in 1950. Rexford’s championship season began in Daytona Beach, Fla., (NASCAR’S national headquarters) where cars actually ran on a sand packed stretch of beach for half the race.
“They had to run it when the tide was out and it was theoretically supposed to be over by the time the tide came back in. They always managed to get it done in time,” Buesink explained. The 160 mile race consisted of laps involving two miles down the beach, two miles on the road and a tenth of a mile while crossing over each time.
Lloyd Moore from Frewsburg, N.Y., another Buesink driver, joined Rexford at that first Daytona event of the 1950 NASCAR season.
“They took notice of us,” Buesink says. “We had a Lincoln and an Oldsmobile. Moore drove the Lincoln and finished third out of about 50 drivers. Rexford didn’t finish because the Olds quit running after a line was knocked out of the fuel pump.
“Moore was really driving hard….he almost lost control and went over a sandbank. After that race, everybody knew who Lloyd Moore was, even though he was just a farmer from Frewsburg.”
Buesink’s success with his driver at Daytona could be attributed in part to NASCAR president Bill France, the man who gave Daytona its start.
“He was a real promoter. The federal government owned the beach, the state owned the highway and private property was in between, and he had to get everybody happy to run his race there,” the car owner said of France, a man also credited with starting the first 500 mile stock car race amid skepticism – many thought only Indy cars could run that distance.
France’s work at Daytona even included having signs put up that stated: Beware of Rattlesnakes. The warning was to keep people who didn’t want to pay admission from sneaking into the race for free, said Buesink. The last season of Daytona’s beach races was 1958.
Buesink followed his drivers on the Grand National circuit in 1950, but he couldn’t attend all the races because of his business obligations. Rexford and his No. 60 Ford, took NASCAR’S second ever points championship and Moore was the Grand National points leader for part of that season. Red Bryon was the first Strictly Stock champion.
But Rexford was not the only NASCAR Grand National champ ever to race in a Buesink-owned stock car.
Lee Petty, the Grand National points winner in 1954, ’58 and ’59, and father of Richard Petty (champ in ’64, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’79) drove one of Buesink’s Lincolns at Daytona in 1951.
Buesink, as he tells the story, decided not to run one of the two Lincolns he had down at the beach/road track because of mechanical problems.
“The Pettys came to me and said ‘We hear you have an extra car. Would you let Lee run it?’,” Buesink said. “I told them it wouldn’t run, it would only go 90 miles per hour. They said Lee was running for the points championship and needed the points.”
Buesink let the Pettys take the car at that very moment- at 10 o’clock at night- the night before the race.
“He ran pretty strong and I think he finished 10th,” Buesink continues. “When I got the car back, the speedometer went to 120 (mph). But there’s a peg down in there, and they’d got it to 120 so much that the speedometer hand hit the peg and broke it right off. Those Southerners really tuned it during the night.”
Cale Yarborough, another NASCAR great with connections to Buesink, was a Winston Cup points leader for three consecutive seasons (1976-78) before becoming an owner himself. Yarborough drove at Darlington International Raceway in South Carolina and at Daytona for Buesink a few times in the early 1960s.
One of the top professional drivers in ’58, Fireball Roberts, a one-time driver for Buesink, drove a Ford convertible in the short-lived convertible circuit at the last race on the beach at Daytona Beach.
“Eventually he got so much sand on the radiator that it overheated, so he didn’t finish very well,” said Buesink of Roberts.
A man who grew up during the Great Depression and started out as car salesman for a Corry Ford dealership, Buesink has been out of racing as an owner in the NASCAR arena since 1966.
“It got so it wasn’t any fun anymore. It became so expensive that an ordinary guy couldn’t do it anymore,” he explained. “You had to have big sponsor money. At the same time, I was unwilling to make it a career. I’ve spent a lot of money doing it, and I’ve made some money. I used to hope to break even, and sometimes I’d show a little profit.”
Buesink, a self-proclaimed Ford man, was offered to become a part of a NASCAR owner partnership with a pair of Ford specialists, but he didn’t want to give up his business and home in Findley Lake.
“I started running in ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America) - they’re going strong today-which is like one step down from NASCAR. You could run with them without being a millionaire,” Buesink noted. “I had drivers run several times in ARCA races at Daytona.”
Since 1966 and up until his recent retirement (1995) as a stock car owner, Buesink has run his cars on regional tracks.
Jamestown’s Floyd Fanale, Fred Knapp, and Frewsburg’s Bob Duell each won races at Stateline Speedway for Buesink.
“Racing is still very much a part of my life,” added Buesink, who doesn’t attend many regional races due to health problems. “Whenever the races are on, you’ll find me watching the TV.”
Although racing has changed- the average NASCAR purse was $ 25,000 in 1951 compared to over $1 million for today’s events-in the way of cars, speeds and rules, Buesink’s love for the sport still burns strong.