INDIANAPOLIS — United States Auto Club car owner Frank Manafort, whose cars earned eight USAC National Midget Series wins over the last four years, died Saturday morning after a battle with cancer.
Manafort was 78.
Born in the Northeast, Manafort raced stock cars at Plainville (Conn.) Stadium for many years, winning a Legend car championship in 1996 before transitioning into team ownership.
While his wins weren’t numerous, when Manafort’s FMR Racing entries did go to victory lane, they reached it in the biggest and most-prestigious events in the sport.
His first USAC national win as a car owner came in the fall of 2016, when Brady Bacon wheeled the now-iconic No. 76m to victory lane at Illinois’ Wayne County Speedway during the Jason Leffler Memorial.
That victory, worth $20,000 to Manafort’s operation, was the start of a run by Bacon that included five major triumphs during a two-year span. Bacon added a sweep of the Kokomo (Ind.) Grand Prix doubleheader in 2017 and a November Classic victory at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway late that year as well.
Then came the biggest victory of all for Manafort and Bacon.
Bacon took Manafort to the win on the biggest stage of all in September of 2018, piloting the No. 76m to a $15,000 score in the inaugural BC39 at The Dirt Track at IMS, cementing their names forever in the history books at the legendary facility.
When Bacon stepped back into a part-time driving role ahead of the 2019 season, C.J. Leary stepped into the car to start the year before Jason McDougal took over the reins and drove to his first two USAC national midget wins at Nebraska’s Jefferson County Speedway and Indiana’s Tri-State Speedway.
Fittingly, Bacon secured Manafort’s final victory as a car owner during the Western World Championships in November, driving to a statement victory at Arizona Speedway.
Bacon also earned FMR Racing’s best points finish in USAC national midget competition, ranking third in the standings three years in a row from 2016 to 2018.
The team was sixth in points last year thanks to the combined efforts of Leary, McDougal and Bacon.
Aside from his team’s prowess at the national level, Manafort was also a prolific performer in USAC DMA Midget Series competition, with 39 victories as a car owner between 2013 and ’16.
That stellar record included a sweep of the 13-race DMA schedule in 2016, with Adam Pierson matching Billy Boat’s USAC-record winning streak of 11-straight race wins that year to close the season.
Pierson and Manafort combined to win three-straight USAC DMA championships from 2014 to ’16.
Away from the race track, Manafort was a member of the Board of Directors for the Northeast Motorsports Museum.
Perhaps Manafort’s most well-known driver, and certainly his longest-tenured, Bacon offered a remembrance of his longtime car owner on social media after the news of Manafort’s passing broke.
“It’s so sad to hear of the passing of Frank Manafort this morning,” said Bacon in his statement. “Racing for FMR has been a highlight of my career. Frank was a great friend and a great man. We will miss him.”