By Ben Shelton
Racing is a tough sport. There’s nothing easy about it. It’s an expensive hobby with finite potential for success. It’s far easier to fail than it is to succeed.
A walk through the pit area at any show for any division on any night will typically reveal the same complaints from teams. I don’t care if it’s a weekly show, a regional show, or a top-tier event, the words that are uttered tend to be uniform across the board. Tracks need to pay more. Racers need more crew help and more sponsor help. Costs for parts need to be cheaper.
The list goes on and on. And the casual observer the conclusion can quickly be drawn that there are far more reasons that it shouldn’t work to be a professional racer than should.
However, like anything in life there are always exceptions to the rule. There are people who refuse to accept “No” as an answer. There are folks who love racing so much that they will find a way to live their dreams. It’s not easy, and it’s not always fun for them. But rarely is there anything worth having in life that doesn’t come without abundant blood, sweat, and tears.
Second cousins Jerry “Chub” Frank and Rick “Boom” Briggs are the epitome of this never-say-die mentality. With half the funding of most teams and less than half the crew help, these two Bear Lake, Pennsylvania drivers tackle the grueling World of Outlaws Late Model Series docket each year.
“Racing is all I know, and it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known,” says the 53-year-old Frank. “Maybe that’s the reason I’m too damn stubborn to ever give up.”
Known as Chub since he was 2-years-old, due to his more-than-healthy stature as a toddler, Jerry Frank has lived and breathed racing his entire life. As a child he watched his dad build and operate Stateline Speedway (Busti, New York) and Eriez Speedway (Erie, Pennsylvania). There’s no doubt about it, racing was in his blood from day one, and it was only a matter of time before he got his first chance behind the wheel.
“Back in those days you had to be at least 16-years-old to race, so I didn’t get to drive for the first time until 1978,” reminisces Frank. “My brother, some friends and I competed in a class called the Spectators, which was basically street cars with roll cages. That was some big-time fun, and needless to say I was hooked from the first time I strapped in a car.”
Not only did Chub learn a lot about racing at an early age, but he also witnessed firsthand what it took to successfully run a race track.
“I learned early in life that racing was a tough business and that running a track was an equally tough endeavor,” comments Frank. “In either situation, though, my dad instilled in me the fact that if you wanted something bad enough, you could find a way to make it happen.”
Chub quickly progressed through the Spectator division and soon found himself in Limited Late Models, where he won championships in five consecutive seasons. That success gave him his first opportunity to drive a Super Late Model in 1985. At that point he instantly found the class that best suited his racing desires.
“From day one the Super Late Models really piqued my interest,” recollects Chub. “They had a lot of power, were really fun to race, and you could make a decent living if you performed at the top of your game. I mean, what was not to love there in that scenario?”
As Chub progressed into his racing career, his younger second cousin began to find his way into the sport as well. Boom Briggs, who got his nickname at a young age from his Grandmother Kay due to his proneness to falling down, also possessed a strong desire for everything racing.
“Watching what Chub’s dad was doing with the race tracks, my dad, Rick, always wanted to race. And in 1981, when I was 10-years-old, he finally got his first car,” remembers Boom. “I’d say from 1981 to 1990 I didn’t miss a single race at Stateline or Eriez.”
By the age of 12 Boom was not only helping his dad with his race car, but he also began working at both tracks doing odd jobs. That’s when the bond between he and Chub really took root.
“I always looked up to Chub because he loved racing like I did, and because he was older he got to race first,” notes the now 44-year-old Briggs. “When I started working at the tracks, we started spending more time together, and we got even closer. We became really good friends, and that’s still true thirty years later.”
Just like his partner in crime, Boom got his first chance behind the wheel at the age of 16. He not only raced, but he still helped his Dad with his racing program. Briggs raced regularly for the next few years until he got married and made the decision to sell his equipment to focus on his new life.
Much like so many others, Boom just couldn’t stay away from racing, and by 1998 he was back at the track helping his dad once again. Soon after that the family connection reemerged with Chub building Boom’s dad a new car, and before long Boom began working for Chub. The bond between the two cousins grew even stronger as Boom hit the road with Chub as his crew chief on the WoOLMS tour.
“I learned a lot about racing on a national level, traveling up and down the highway with Chub,” remembers Briggs. “We had some really good runs together, and I might have still been on the road with him as his crew chief today if life hadn’t intervened in late 2005.”
In late 2005, Boom’s dad had a massive heart attack. While he was able to recover, his racing days were over. Even though he couldn’t drive, he wanted to continue to show support for his home track, McKean County Speedway (Smethport, Pennsylvania). As a result he asked his son, Boom to take over the driving duties.
“It was a definite change of pace for me to start driving again, but at the same time it was a great opportunity,” remembers Briggs. “We enjoyed a lot of success around the house, winning races and championships. I guess you could say it set the stage for where we are now with the program.”
Briggs success in the northeast motivated him to try something more challenging in 2014. With the assistance of his dad, his brother, and Chub Frank, Boom made the decision to follow the full WoOLMS tour to compete for rookie of the year honors.
“Plain and simple this was a bucket list thing that I wanted to try, and my family stepped in to help make it happen,” notes Boom. “Without my family to look after my trucking business while I’m on the road, there was no way this could happen.”
As teammates, Chub and Boom hit the road in 2014, but they did so with bare minimum funds and help.
“There’s a lot of regional teams that operate with higher budgets and a lot more crew help than what Boom and I have, but we find a way to make it work,” Chub says with a smile. “For us, it’s a matter of wanting to do something so bad that we find a way to make it happen. It’s not always fun, and rarely is it easy, but we just find a way.”
The driving duo spent much of 2014 traveling to events with just one crew guy. From time-to-time friends and family lent a hand, but most often it was just Chub, Boom, and crewman, Shane Winans.
“I do all the tires. Shane does all of the nuts and bolts on both cars, and Chub does most everything else,” comments Briggs. “We are stretched pretty thin, and because of that we have to focus primarily on the big things at the track and rarely do the small details get the attention that they deserve. We know that puts us at a disadvantage at times, but we are OK with that.”
For Briggs, he fully realizes the opportunity that Chub affords him to race.
“Even with my family helping run my business back home, there are days when I still get a hundred phone calls or more,” Briggs reveals. “While I’m taking these calls, Chub is making sure the cars are ready for action. Without him there is no way that I could race on this level.”
Chub, who typically has a smile on his face even during the toughest of moments, often times finds humor in hearing some of the bigger teams complaining about not having enough help.
“Most of these guys are smarter than to come by at the track and tell me about how rough they have it,” laughs Frank. “However, sometimes a guy will forget who he is talking to and comment about being shorthanded. I can usually line him out pretty quick.”
Much like 99 percent of the teams in the business, these two operations struggle to find sponsorship. Knowing that they operate on a shoestring budget, the two drivers cut any corner that they can. In addition, Chub owns Chub Frank Racing, which provides parts and services for several teams from his area. The income from this company provides some funding for the teams.
“I learned early on in racing that to survive you have to be smart with your money,” comments Frank. “I’ve watched a lot of guys come and go in racing. Sometimes it’s a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul, but you just do what it takes. We also build and repurpose a lot of the parts that we use versus buying new stuff all the time. It allows us to stay both competitive and afloat in this sport.”
Frank’s approach to the sport as a business has been a battle since day one.
“I can remember starting in Street Stocks and racing in that class until I could get enough money to move up. Then I would sell that car, buy one in another division and save again until I could move one step higher up the ladder. In those early days I worked as a mechanic, gas pumper, trailer builder, and even at a junkyard. Bottom line is that I did whatever it took to make enough money to keep racing.”
The 2014 season on the long and dusty WoOLMS trail was a true struggle for Boom in his rookie campaign, and Chub battled his own issues throughout the season as well. However, 2015 has been a year of resurgence for the close-knit duo with improved performances across the board.
“I knew this deal wouldn’t be easy, but I’ll admit that I thought I would’ve performed better than I did my first year,” says Briggs. “This year we switched to these Longhorn cars, and it seems like things are finally starting to click. Every little detail can make such a difference when you are battling the talent on this tour every night.”
For Frank the move to Longhorn Chassis and JRI Shocks for 2015 has been a game changer in his program.
“These new cars and shocks have really improved our program as far as technology, and that’s really been one of our biggest struggles over the past several years,” notes Frank. “When you are worried about just keeping your cars on the track, sometimes you lose track of where technology is headed. I feel like right now we are in a real good place.”
While neither driver has won a race yet on the tour in 2015, both drivers have flirted with victory. As the tour enters its homestretch of the season Frank sits third in the current standings.
“We are performing so much better, and heck Boom even almost won that race at Deer Creek Speedway in July,” says Frank. “For his lack of experience and our lack of resources, I couldn’t be any prouder for him. I feel like we do so much with so little, and that’s something to not take lightly.”
Looking back on his storied career, Frank has a lot of great memories. From winning the coveted World 100 at Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, Ohio) in 2004 to countless victories across the country, Chub can truly tell some great stories from his celebrated career. However, the witty driver likes to think that some of the best may still be yet to come.
“Right now I feel as good about my racing program as I have in a long time,” Chub comments. “It gets harder every day to win in this sport, but you never know when I might park this ol’ 1* in victory lane in a major event somewhere. The fire is definitely still burning strong inside.”
For Briggs, his major goal is to bag a WoOLMS victory.
“I want one so bad,” laughs Boom. “Leading all but the last few laps at Deer Creek Speedway this year made me want it even more. If I do get one I can promise there will be a party afterwards like few have ever seen.”
The drive to compete for Chub Frank and Boom Briggs, regardless of the circumstances, is true, old-school racing at its finest. They don’t use limited resources as an excuse. Instead they just work that much harder to find a way to keep their dreams alive. In my opinion, that kind of relentless, true-grit determination just makes you root a little harder for guys like that to achieve greatness.