Bragunier in driver's seat at local speedway

February 13, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

WASHINGTON COUNTY - When the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series kicks off next weekend with the Daytona 500, Hagerstown Speedway General Manager Lisa Bragunier will be watching the race on television.

Since she began running the speedway west of Hagerstown nine years ago, Bragunier only has been to one NASCAR race - the 1998 Daytona 500 - because of her work schedule.

She thinks NASCAR could be pricing itself out of reach for many families, a move Bragunier would like to turn into a positive for the local speedway.


Bragunier hopes race fans who find NASCAR too expensive will turn to the more affordable, local speedway, where general admission is $9 and children younger than 12 get in free.

The speedway's racing season starts Feb. 27 with the East Coast Opener.

The 34-year-old Clear Spring-area resident understands the appeal of auto racing to fans and families because she grew up around the sport thanks to her father, Frank Plessinger Sr.

She remembers standing by the racetrack fence around the age of 6, rooting on Tom Peck, a driver for her father, while her friend would root on his father, Jerry Fries.

While Bragunier is the only one of Plessinger and Rita Spoonire's four children who hasn't raced, racing is in her blood, she said.

"It is an adrenaline rush that you get. ... The rev of the motors is what gets your blood going," Bragunier said.

"They're coming down the straightaway and you want them to go, go, go," she said.

Her brothers Frank Jr., 39, and Mark, 38, raced premiere late models (Frankie still does) and her sister, Jeanne, 33, raced quarter midgets, Bragunier said. Quarter midgets are go-karts with a body and roll cage.

Instead of driving race cars, Bragunier learned to fly single-engine planes while she was in high school.

As a youth, she rode a Suzuki RM80 or a go-kart. She still rides a motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson, and met her husband at the racetrack when he let her take his Harley for a ride.

Recently, she and Curtis, had their first child, Coleman, spelled "just like the cooler," but named for his father's middle name, she said.

Filling many roles

So you can add mother to the list of Bragunier's jobs. In addition to being general manager at the speedway her father has owned since 1980, she is a quality control technician with her father's P&W Excavating in McConnellsburg, Pa.

After earning a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Bragunier joined the U.S. Army.

Her four-year Army tour included a one-year stint in Seoul, South Korea, as a special agent with the Army's counterintelligence unit, Bragunier said. She said she conducted background investigations of U.S. military personnel and Korean nationals working for the U.S. government to determine whether they're granted security clearance.

When her Army tour was done, Bragunier visited her father in Daytona in 1995. She told him she was considering applying for a job with the FBI's Atlanta office, but he told her she didn't want to do that.

Bragunier said he was right - she didn't want a desk job.

Instead, she came to work for him at P&W Excavating, briefly.

At first, they didn't get along well, Bragunier said. She said her father wouldn't put her in a position of authority like he did with her brothers. If she wanted to be in a position of authority, she could work at the speedway, Bragunier said her father told her.

"She wanted to take over the speedway and run it," Frank Plessinger Sr. said in a telephone interview Friday from Florida. The boys were working with the excavating company and she was interested in the track, he said.

"Even though she's a woman, she's got experience doing things. I give her a lot of credit," said Plessinger, 63.

'That's racing'

At the speedway, Bragunier helped modernize the office with computers and a $200 fax machine that could be programmed in a few minutes to send 50 to 60 news agencies race results rather than taking 11/2 days to do it the old way.

When announcer Frank Sagi retired in 1996, Bragunier became general manager of the speedway.

Her duties include putting together the speedway's schedule, handling contracts for events such as monster trucks, insurance and claims for the half-mile dirt track, ticket sales, bookkeeping, media needs and making sure the concession stands are set up for the following week.

She also makes sure the speedway is maintained. This year, that includes approximately $100,000 for new fencing, wiring for the track lights and sound, guardrails and stone.

Her cousin, Stephanie Richards, serves as office manager and helps her a lot, Bragunier said.

"It's not as easy as it looks," Richards said. "We're here all week long, all winter long, all the time."

Soon after becoming general manager, Bragunier discovered one of the main parts of her job would be answering complaint calls, mostly from drivers' wives and upset fans, Bragunier said.

Callers would complain about race results or a racer being black flagged or disqualified. Even though it was the racing officials that made that call, Bragunier would explain to callers the race rules dictating those decisions, she said.

Bragunier said those calls, which she referred to as "nuisance calls" at first, "were what trained me to work better with people."

She gets calls infrequently now, more often getting anonymous e-mails, or "nastygrams" as she calls them.

Bragunier talks about the complaints, including a threat once to burn down the track and some calls from drunken fans, with good humor.

"That's racing," she said. "You have to take it with a grain of salt."

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