July 23, 2012


Frank & Liz Manafort's


Plainville Stadium legend still going strong

Frank on his way to winning the 1996 National Legends Championship

By Brian Danko, Staff Writer
The New Britain Herald & Bristol Press

Photos Provided By Tom Ormsby's  SpeedwayLineReport.com

Frank Manafort has done a lot in racing. From his days driving in the novice and modified divisions at Plainville Stadium to winning the national championship for the Legend cars to running the USAC dirt midgets, Manafort, now 70, hasn’t slowed down.

When he came into the world “on a day that will live in infamy, ”Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941, the businessman turned cattle farmer hasn’t shown signs of slowing.

Manafort, who now lives in Wethersfield, VT, where his cattle farm and race car shop is, also helps a young up and coming driver get the needed exposure to move up his driving career.

Frank in his early days of racing was a multi-time Novice Division Champion.

Frank at his and wife Liz's farm, Black Watch Farms

While Manafort is busy with his cattle, one night he went to Bear Ridge Speedway and saw the midgets and was immediately impressed with their speed and agility and he said to his friend and former crew chief, Elliott Beverage, “we need to get one of these.”

But it was his start at Plainville Stadium that gave the young Manafort, whose family ran and continues to run Manafort Brothers Construction Company his start.

“I remember my cousin, Jon and my uncle Jack were walking in the woods across from the track, and we heard all the noise and figured we’d go take a look at what this was all about.”

But one of the saddest days was when Plainville Stadium came down, the stands, the press box, the hot dog and photo stands, everything, and it was Manafort Brothers that got the demolition job.

“It was a real sad day for all of us. That’s how we started and that’s where we grew up,” Manafort said. “I remember buying a 1950 Ford, put a big front tire on it and went racing.”

Seeing that Manafort was friends with local racing legend, Eddie Flemke, Sr., he built his next car to look just like Eddie’s down to the Flemke front end.

“Eddie had his shop near the railroad station in New Britain and we’d go down there and on Monday, after Eddie would get back after racing for seven nights, we’d listen to him tell stories and there I got to meet Pete Hamilton (who would go on to win the Daytona 500) and others. Eddie was my hero.”

Besides running Plainville, Manafort ran at Malta Speedway in New York on Fridays and then would run at Islip Speedway on Long Island on Saturdays, but when his father lost his leg, it was time to step in and help run the family business.

“The business really got going and it was time to get more involved.”

But the racing bug still wouldn’t leave him.

“They were starting this Legend cars series (small versions of 1930’s cars). Jackie Arute, Jr was involved with them and said ‘you should take a look at them, you might like it,’” Manafort said.

Stafford Speedway made them part of their weekly divisions at Stafford and built a small inner track on the infield where they ran, the Manafort’s helped build it and thus it became the Manafort Mini mile.

Manafort, though, would continue to drive and would end up in 1996 winning the Legend cars national title.

“We ran 83 races that year, starting out in Florida, running in Alabama, Georgia, Charlotte, New York, Pennsylvania and New England. Every track was running them. We were one of the first families up here to buy one and start racing them.”

Manafort said it was Plainville Stadium that helped him form many relationships and when he got back in racing with the Legend Cars that he continued to see old friends now living in North Carolina and Florida.

After getting out of Legend Car racing, Manafort and his wife bought some land in Vermont and ended up making it a cattle farm.

“I was looking for something else to do. We had a few head of cattle and now we are showing them and breeding them. I am having a lot of fun with it.”

The farm is named Black Watch Farm and after buying 235 acres, which was mostly wooded, 88 acres are now converted to pasture. Manafort has won cattle shows and like racing, this journey has taken him all over the country.

The majority of the herd are registered Highlanders.

But it was that trip over to Bear Ridge Speedway and the midgets that now has him once again racing with New England Auto Racing Hall of Famer Ray Miller as a teammate.

“We are having a blast with it. We are just having fun.”

True legend passes away

This past weekend, “Wild Bill” Slater, one of the true racing pioneers and legends in the sport of auto racing, passed away. Slater was 83.

He drove his first race in 1949 and for the next 20 years was one of the most consistent winners in the northeast.

Slater was one of the first drivers to work a weekly job and still compete on a weekly basis where many drivers like Eddie Flemke, Sr were full time racers.

Bill, after retiring from the drivers’ seat then settled into a management role at tracks such as Stafford Speedway and the Thompson Speedway.

He was also someone who helped this at the time young reporter get to know some of the ‘name’ drivers of the day. If you were a friend of Bill’s, you were all right in the eyes of many of the drivers.

Bill won many of the nations biggest modified races including the Race of Champions at the Langhorne Speedway, the first year it was paved. He also drove at Daytona and Charlotte but was best known for his driving days in the V8 modified at tracks such as Thompson, Norwood and Waterford Speedbowl.

  Frank's Racing Years  

Chase Dowling in the Manafort USAC Dirt Midget at Bear Ridge Speedway-2012
Elliott Beverage, Frank's Crew Chief and still Right Hand man was a pretty good racer himself.

Brian Danko has been covering Auto Racing for over 30 years for various magazines & and racing papers including Area Auto Racing News. His weekly column can be seen "In The Print Editions" of  The New Britain Herald & The Bristol Press.


Copyright © 2012 Brian Danko