Story By: BUFFY SWANSON / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – Milford, DE’s Harold Bunting, a standard-bearer in the southernmost reaches of Modified territory, has been selected as a 2020 inductee into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame.
Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday, July 23 at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.
Bunting earns the distinction of becoming the first Delaware driver to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, joining an elite group of dirt Modified champions from the United States and Canada who have been honored over the past 29 years.
The elder statesman from The First State was an accomplished Kart racer before Harry Dutton gave him a shot in his dirt Mod at the now-defunct Little Lincoln Speedway in 1969. After a rocky start, Bunting clicked that first season, teamed with Harry and later his brother Harvey Dutton, winning at Little Lincoln, Georgetown and U.S. 13 speedways. In 1972, he picked up a ride in the Hitchens brothers #80, scoring twice at Little Lincoln.
Then came 1973, the year Bunting set the state of Delaware aflame.
Harold was still racing the Hitchens Mod when Sportsman car owner Paul Whitelock approached him at the State Fairgrounds track in Harrington. Whitelock’s driver hadn’t shown up that day; would Harold do the honors?
That impromptu pairing was the match that ignited an inferno: from June through October of ’73 Bunting won 11 times in the 8-cyl. Mod and an incredible 42 times in Whitelock’s 6-cyl. car, at all four Delaware dirt tracks — U.S. 13, Little Lincoln, Georgetown and the State Fairgrounds — for a whopping season total of 53 victories.
In 1974, Bunting went all in with the Whitelocks, driving father Floyd’s Modified and son Paul’s Sportsman to victory lane 51 times, winning the Mod title at Georgetown and 6-cyl. championships at both Georgetown and U.S. 13.
What sparked that wild success?
“1973 was the first year of the tubular cars — the Tobias chassis — and the beginning of ‘new’ racing,” Paul Whitelock recollected. “Coming from Go-Karts, that type of car was a natural fit for Harold. He drove it the same way he drove the Karts.”
And it didn’t hurt that Harold wasn’t afraid to get up on the wheel. “He was a clean driver, but really determined,” Whitelock said. “He would worry any driver who was in front of him — running under them, outside them, right up on them — until he had them so confused they didn’t know where they were at.”
The team continued to reel off the wins through the middle of ’75. After scoring six in a row from late April through mid-June, Bunting had a bounty placed on his head. By then, the Whitelocks had become disillusioned with the sport, and sold out their entire operation to Dutch Warrington.
“They had real, real good cars,” Harold said of the Whitelocks. “If they hadn’t gotten out of racing, I don’t know how many we would have won.”
But Bunting had landed in a good place. He won a pair of Fourth of July holiday races for his new car owner less than a week after the Whitelocks closed shop. And Dutch Warrington, also, was intent on keeping the team on top.
To that end, he was in negotiations with Will Cagle for a coveted Kenny Weld frame. Weld had just quit building Modifieds in 1976 so Cagle was asking for a premium price, which didn’t sit well with Warrington. Dutch drove up to Kenny’s shop — and by the time he left, Weld had agreed to build him a car.
“If you knew Dutch, how nice a man he was — an old farmer, a real good machinist who built his own motors and carburetors and everything — you would understand why Kenny built that car,” Bunting related.
Then, Warrington suffered a heart attack and the whole operation was once again on the block.
Steve Dale and his buddies Lester Davis and Mike Cole bought the Weld car for Harold to drive in 1978, and then Olsen cars in ’79 and ’80.
Bunting had the opportunity to drive Eugene Mills’ Blue Hen #30 in 1981 and he took it, racing three years for the Hall of Fame car owner. Although they did connect for 29 victories in Delaware and New Jersey, their final season together was agony.
“It was the worst year I ever had in racing,” admitted Bunting, who went winless in 1983 with the Blue Hens. “We did set fast time and sat on the pole that year at Nazareth National, so I guess it wasn’t all bad. But it was rough.”
Bunting was working as a superintendent at Steve Dale’s demolition company, D&D Dismantling, at the time. When he told his former car owner he was considering getting out altogether, Dale would have none of it.
“You’re not quitting like that,” Steve said to Harold. “We’re going to race.”
Bunting agreed — for one year only. That single year commitment extended through three productive seasons, with Dale prodding Bunting into “just one more” at the end of each year.
The final wheel was turned in the fall of 1986. That season, Bunting and Dale won 13 times and swept all three Delaware short track titles. Bunting retired at the height of his game. He was 45 years old.
“You have to understand: everyone who worked on the car — including me — worked a regular job,” Harold explained. “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.”
Although Steve Dale was “a good owner” and supplied “the best of everything,” Bunting was burned out. He was ready to hand over the helmet to his son, H.J.
“He was one of the best drivers down there,” Doug Olsen said of Bunting. “He ran hard, he very seldom wrecked, he knew chassis setups — he could do it all. Any place Harold went, other drivers had to reckon with him.”
But Olsen is appreciative of Bunting’s persona in addition to his on-track prowess.
“There’s just a coolness about Harold. Quiet, taking it all in while chewing on his tobacco, not saying much, not letting much get to him,” Olsen reflected. “He’s a lot like Jack Johnson — a genuine person, easy to talk to, always willing to help you out. Jack and Harold have a lot of the same qualities.”
At the end of the day, Bunting is credited with 234 career wins at all the Delaware short tracks, Bridgeport in NJ, Grandview in PA, and the old A&N Speedway in Tasley, VA. He’s taken three Mod and one Sportsman title at Georgetown, four Mod and one Sportsman crown at Delmar’s U.S. 13, and was the overall State Fair champion in 1977, 1980, 1985 and 1986.
“When interviewing racers for my book, they consistently named Harold Bunting as the most feared and most respected driver they had to compete against,” said Chad Culver, author of Legends of Delaware Auto Racing. “He dominated for a lot of years.”