You can quickly start a lively argument by talking about who was the greatest short-track driver in the history of American motorsports. A lot of people say that distinction belongs to Bob Burman, said to have been the most gifted natural dirt-track driver ever when he was killed at Corona, California, in 1916. Others will give the nod to the late Dick Trickle, an immortal in pavement Late Model racing who racked up around 1,000 feature event wins. Others will pick Steve Kinser, who owns 20 World of Outlaws season titles, a record dozen wins in the Knoxville Nationals and 690 World of Outlaws A-feature victories. Still others will point to the late Frankie Schneider, a pioneer of the northeast dirt Modifieds who I was able to get to know late in his life, and like Trickle, may have been able to boast 1,000 victories. And then there’s Brett Hearn.
In the world of the upright, center-seat, big-block northeast dirt Modified, Hearn is indisputably the greatest of all time. Even though they both came of age in the same racing discipline, many of Schneider’s wins were lost to history. Hearn, on the contrary, precisely documented every step of his career, which began in 1975 when he emerged from his hometown of Kinnelon, New Jersey, and proceeded to annihilate the Sportsman competition at Nazareth Raceway in Pennsylvania and Orange County Fair Speedway in New York. Late last season, Hearn announced he was stepping away from full-time competition at age 61 to take a managment position at OCFS. The record he left behind will stand forever: A documented 919 feature event wins at 48 tracks in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. Hearn is a six-time Super DIRT Week champion in both big-block and small-block Modifieds, owns a dozen wins in OCFS’ biggest race, the Eastern States 200, has a total of 308 wins overall at the same track, and in a scene that the Brett Hearn photo typifies perfectly, shows one of his record-setting 136 big-block victories at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in Malta, New York, many of which I was lucky enough to witness personally. Put plainly, there is next to nothing in the world of the dirt-slinging big blocks that this guy hasn’t accomplished. He is being recognized by enshrinement in the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame at Weedsport Speedway in New York this July. Also being honored are the Delaware star Harold Bunting, the black-hat star of New York’s Southern Tier, Joe Donahue; car owner Tico Conley, owner and builder Billy Taylor, the acclaimed promotional spouses Bob and Donna Miller, DIRT TV producer Terry Rumsey, and April Preston-Elms, the co-owner of Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Vermont, the last speedway in the United States running prewar coupe bodies as a weekly division. All are eminently worthy honorees. Me? I want to see Brett the Corporate Jet enshrined in the New Jersey Hall of Fame, alongside worthies such as Peter Benchley, Jon Stewart, the basketball broadcast legend Dick Vitale and Bruce Springsteen. In fact, I think I’ll go right out and suggest his nomination.