By Dan Shine
Twenty-Four-year-old Frank Belbusti sat behind the wheel of the race car as it slowly circled the track at Savin Rock’s Donovan Field. How had he gotten himself into this mess, he asked himself. Earlier that day, the scheduled driver for one novice race car had reneged, and Frank had half-jokingly said, “You bring the car, I’ll drive it.” He forgot the statement and went to the West Haven Speedway to watch the races. Suddenly, they were searching the stands for him to drive that race car. And what were his qualifications? Only that he knew how to drive a car! Frank’s bluff had been called, and he was scared, but he had to save face, so he had gotten behind the wheel.
That race car was a 1935 Plymouth coupe, rescued from the junkyard, with a flathead six-cylinder engine and a single-barrel carburetor and an unmuffled exhaust system. Inside, the car was gutted: the windows had all been removed—only the windshield remained–and there was only one seat. Outside, the fenders had been removed, and the tires were treadless “slicks.” The race was performed with the manual transmission always in second gear.
Suddenly, the flagman waved the twenty-four cars on with a green flag; this was immediately followed by the deafening roar of two dozen engines screaming for all they were worth. Inside of the race car, even though Frank had ear flaps on his helmet, he could hear the roar of the engines, and the rattling of the car’s sheet metal. It was like being in a big tin can, he thought to himself.
Each quarter-mile lap took about fifteen seconds and was covered at speeds of sixty miles per hour. Fear was replaced by purposeful action, as Frank began to pass other cars. At the corners, he felt the car sliding sideways a bit—he’d have to watch it. If another car tapped his car while he was sliding, he knew that he would spin out of control. A few minutes later, the race was over. Frank thought he had won for sure, until the checkered flag was given to another driver and Frank’s car was waved off into the pits.
So, he hadn’t won the race, but Frank had caught the fever, and he began to race regularly, for Marshall’s Garage had seen him drive, and had asked him to be the driver of one of their cars. In 1953 he became the Donovan Field Track Champion, and in 1954 he became the Circuit Champion for the tracks in the state of Connecticut. He raced—and often won—until he quit racing in 1958; for now, Frank Belbusti had a young family, and a growing construction business, and his priorities had changed.