Frank LeSueur: Drag Racer, Promoter, Entrepreneur, Visionary
2015 HOF inductee Frank LeSueur’s career included being a drag racer, track manager, promoter, booking agent and for securing a reliable source for nitromethane. Frank’s son Steve LeSueur was on hand in Henderson, NC, Oct., 18, to receive his Hall of Fame plaque. Photo by Al Crews
Frank LeSueur is best remembered as the founder of World Wide Racing Fuels, the primary distributor of nitromethane. Nitro can also have explosive results when problems occur. Doug Herbert’s engine exploded at the 1999 NHRA World Finals. Although pieces were found hundreds of feet away, there were no injuries reported!
Nitromethane creates in excess of 5,000 horsepower. Nitro also produces spectacularly long exhaust flames, especially visible at night, as in the photo above of Top Fuel racer Shelly Anderson.
World Wide Racing Fuels distributed hundreds of thousands of gallons of nitromethane racing fuel. “Nitro” is shipped as 98% pure, with 2% alcohol added, for shipping stability. When mixed with alcohol nitro’s final percentage is checked using a chemist’s hydrometer set such as this.
East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame Story by Jim Hill
When drag racing in the eastern U.S., and in particular the Commonwealth of Virginia is mentioned, the name of Frank LeSueur will almost always surface. LeSueur was so influential in operating drag strips, and marketing events that his career acquired a lofty status among early track promoters. Those skills were later called upon when he became the kingpin in a globally inspired business deal that assured an affordable, reliable source for vital nitromethane as a racing fuel. Lest you think the nitro deal was merely a Frank-friendly scheme, think again. LeSueur’s negotiated nitromethane distributorship saved drag racing from the very real possibility that nitro was mere months from extinction! That would have meant an end to fuel racing at every level. Nitromethane/alcohol fuels are also used in the very popular and widespread hobby of radio controlled aircraft, and the RC market would have likewise crashed.
The looming nitro disconnect was a potentially bad situation for a large number of folks who relied on nitro for their livelihoods. Frank LeSueur stepped in and found an alternative source for precious nitromethane, putting together a deal that created a reliable source direct from the Peoples Republic of China. But that came much later. Frank’s personal story in drag racing begins much earlier, in the 1950’s, and a far less volatile environment, weekend hobby drag racing.
While Frank LeSueur’s career reputation is best known for his track operations skills, Frank was also a hands-on, successful “little guy” racer who enjoyed lining up and competing. In the mid 1950’s, from 1955 to 1959, he successfully prepared, tuned and drove a C/Stock Pontiac at various tracks in Virginia. Frank’s career took a different path in ’59 when he leased Louisa Dragway, in Louisa, Virginia. Although Frank parked his racer and his driving career, his experience as a true weekend racer, at the very bottom of the drag racing food chain, never left him. As manager and promoter of Louisa Dragway Frank still drove his Sunday-racer Pontiac, capped-up and street-worthy, as his daily transportation!
Frank’s management of Louisa Dragway continued until 1965 when he learned that the former military airfield at Suffolk, Virginia had become available. Frank secured the rights to Suffolk and it became legendary as Suffolk Raceway. Frank’s reign at Suffolk was lengthy, and the famous old track played host to some of the best drag racing events in the southeast.
Suffolk was racer-renowned for its superb traction, largely due to its dense concrete racing surface. Like many WW-II era airfields, Suffolk was built to train combat-ready pilots. As a result, airfields sprung up across the “good weather” Sunbelt region. Most were built hastily, on a “get it done by yesterday” timetable, and were quickly paved with asphalt.
By contrast, Suffolk’s main runway was poured concrete and delivered drag racing bite that was without equal. During its four decades of operation Suffolk earned a reputation as a “record track” and racers traveled from afar for its “stand it up on the bumper” grip. Over its lifetime Suffolk saw loads of official class records set for both Elapsed Time and speed and hosted nearly one hundred official NHRA, NASCAR and later IHRA record events.
Frank LeSueur split his track operator duties by working as an official with the then-new NASCAR Drag Race Division. NASCAR’s drag racing effort was headed up by veteran eastern race promoter, Ed Otto.
During that time Frank also assembled, promoted and booked a circuit of heads-up stocker racers known as “Ultra Stocks”. NASCAR’s Ultra Stocks were an early effort that combined both Funny Cars and Pro Stocks. LeSueur’s Ultra Stocks became a backbone for the NASCAR program. Among his Ultra Stock stars were the Bob Banning Dodge team, Dave Koffel’s “Flintstone Flyer”, Wayne Gapp & Jack Roush, PeeWee Wallace, Dave Lyall’s Ford Mustang, Bob Faubel’s “Honker” Dodges and others.
When Big Bill France abandoned his NASCAR drag racing division Suffolk was left without a sanction. Frank quickly secured sanction and insurance with AHRA’s Jim Tice, in those NHRA’s main competitor. Suffolk Raceway maintained its schedule.
To provide top Funny Cars for his own track and bring the west coast’s best “back East”, LeSueur created World Wide Agency in 1970. The somewhat ambitious name was a booking and promotion agency designed to assemble top-ranked match races with Funny Cars. Of course, Funny Cars, and in particular, those booked by LeSueur, were almost exclusively found in the USA, but Frank LeSueur always thought big!
In 1970 Pro Stock was created by NHRA and its counterpart, Super-Stock, in AHRA. The new class was immediately successful and Frank organized the East Coast and Midwest-based Pro Stocks into the “NHRA All-Stars”. This early effort showcased the new and suddenly wildly popular Pro Stock racers.
Frank’s booking agency and work included top rank cars such as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, Gary “Orange Baron” Burgin, Roland Leong’s “Hawaiian”, Dale Pulde and Mike Hamby’s “War Eagle” Trans-Am, John Force and “Jungle Jim” Liberman along with the equally popular “Jungle Pam” Hardy, Liberman’s hyper-active back-up girl.
In the early 70’s dark clouds formed on the fuel racing horizon. Only a few nitro producers were still in business and suddenly they elected to abandon making the chemical. Nitro supplies disappeared and prices soared. This created a potentially dire-straits situation for fuel racers. It also jeopardized Frank LeSueur’s race bookings. After a hasty but in-depth search LeSueur’s new firm, World Wide Racing Fuels secured a reliable manufacturer for nitromethane. The supply situation and pricing stabilized.
In the meantime LeSueur secured the exclusive distributorship for Sunoco’s Cam2 racing gasoline. Gasoline fuels were needed for racers such as Pro Stock, where engine compression ratios often exceeded 15:1. Such extreme compression ratios required gasoline with high octane ratings, to prevent detonation. Sunoco made the gasolines and agreed to let LeSueur market them.
The nitro supply situation remained stable until 1988, when manufacturers again announced they were abandoning manufacture of nitro fuels. The scramble to find a replacement supplier resembled a “Chinese Fire Drill”. Ironically, it was the Chinese themselves who provided a solution, through Frank LeSueur.
In 1988 LeSueur began negotiations with the Chinese government’s international export arm. They had large and reliable manufacturing sources for nitromethane, which in China was used mainly as an agricultural product. Better yet, the Chinese had excess manufacturing capacity.
LeSueur’s negotiating was successful and he was awarded the exclusive rights to distribute nitromethane fuel made in the Peoples Republic of China. With an adequate supply secured, quantities began reaching U.S. shores. Product quality, at first a concern, was a non-issue. Nitro pricing stabilized and then dropped. LeSueur’s nitro deal had eased the threat of another shortage for the nitro-guzzling Top Fuel and Funny Car racers and the RC hobbyists.
In 2002 the old promoter retired and Frank sold World Wide Racing Fuels. The transition was a smooth one, and there was no problem with interruption of the supply or price of nitro.
Frank LeSueur, drag racer, track promoter, booking agent, distributor and importer of exotic racing fuels passed away on April 20, 2007. He was 75 years old at the time of his death. Frank’s lengthy career was notable, but it was conducted mainly behind the scenes. Few even hard-core drag racing fans would likely recognize his name, but two decades later Frank’s legacy is stronger than ever. Today nitromethane manufactured in China remains the sole source, the lifeblood of fuel drag racing and for hundreds of thousands of radio control airplane and boat hobbyists.
The East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame is pleased to honor 2015 posthumous inductee, drag racing promoter, entrepreneur, businessman and visionary Frank LeSueur.