Bethel Motor Speedway in White Lake, NY is deeply saddened by the passing of long time speedway supporter Gary O’Donnell of Grahamsville, NY after a long illness. O’Donnell was a long time fixture at the track dating back to the 1970’s.
O’Donnell ran the majority of his race driving career at Bethel Motor Speedway but also competed at Accord and Orange County Fair Speedways. O’Donnell proved to be a successful racer and mechanic as he picked up elusive track championships in the street stock class in 1979 and 1995. O’Donnell was known as a fan favorite at the track and was affectionately nicknamed ‘Gary O’ and was often called by that name by track announcers. O’Donnell was known to exciting the crowd with his thrilling driving style and unique #5 race cars. One street stock that was jet black adorned Jolly Rogers flags and bright silver wheels which brought the delight to many, another was a ‘street stock’ truck that was raced very competitively against a very strong field every week. The last car he competed in was a four cylinder stock Chevy Cavalier that he brought home to Victory Lane in his final season of driving in 2009. The final season of driving was a highlight for Gary as he was able to compete with his brother and cousin in the same class.
While O’Donnell was a successful driver at Bethel, he did more than just that. O’Donnell was known to help spruce up the track before the track’s opening day, he hosted a radio show that had a focal point on the racing in Sullivan County, he spent much time talking with people and getting them to attend the speedway, and he was a founding member of a group of racers known as ‘Steel Horse’. The last several years in racing, he took great pleasure in turning wrenches and coaching his younger brother Larry O’Donnell with their racing stable of cars. That brotherly combination led to much success with winning a championship and picking up several feature wins mainly in the Pro Stock and Four Cylinder classes. Gary often said that he was more proud to see his younger brother winning races than the wins he achieved himself.
O’Donnell’s passion to the speedway and it’s local racing was second to none. He loved to share the ‘ole times’ of the track and explaining the history in years past. He was not afraid to speak against the status quo and often would speak his mind on improving the racing at the track he cherished. He really championed for the full fender classes that the track was founded on and was keen on keeping the racing affordable so everyone willing can get involved in the hobby of grassroots stock car racing. O’Donnell also was a big fan of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Although O’Donnell loved the speedway and the racing, it did not compare to the love of his family and friends. He was thoughtful, caring, and always willing those in need. He was an animal lover and loved the communities of Sullivan County. He was very thankful to all of those who helped him.
It is with a heavy heart that we will no longer see ‘Gary O’ at Bethel Motor Speedway. It will never be the same without him, he was a one-of-a-kind man that will be sorely missed. We send thoughts and prayers to all his family and friends during this difficult time. The spirit of ‘Gary O’ will be flying high at the speedway every Saturday night. We miss you Gary! Rest in Peace.