Trevose, PA — January 27, 2008 – By Tom Skibinski, DIRTcar Racing NorthEast PR Director & Ernie Saxton, EMPA President
*DIRTcar founder Glenn Donnelly (L) & DIRTcar NorthEast all-time feature winner Brett Hearn (Ace Lane Jr. Photo)
DIRTcar Racing took center stage at the 40th Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) working convention and awards banquet held January 25-27 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, with organization founder Glenn Donnelly and all-time winningest driver Brett Hearn receiving special awards while World Racing Group President Tom Deery and WRG VP Public Relations Chris Dolack addressed area media that participated in the Saturday conferences.
Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series PR Director Tony Veneziano, World of Outlaws Late Model Series PR Director Kevin Kovac and Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series PR Director Tom Skibinski were in attendance throughout the annual weekend affair, answering specific questions and providing schedule information for the upcoming season.
“We’re glad to be back here again with EMPA,” began Deery, now in his third full year helping guide the biggest short-track sanctioning body in the nation. He closed out the 45-minute morning session by responding to questions posed by members of the Northeastern press corps regarding the future of DIRTcar Racing; including the possibility of television coverage around the DIRTcar NE circuit, race track attendance and participation in light of ever-rising fuel costs, and the future of Orange County Fair (NY) Speedway which is currently leased by WRG.
“There are a lot of milestones to reach this season and we can’t wait to get into full gear. The Advance Auto Parts Sprint Series is celebrating it’s 30th Anniversary and the Advance Series for Big-Block Modifieds is in its 10th season. When the UMP Late Models took their first green flag this week it officially kicked off the 33rd straight year of DIRTcar operation. Bringing stability to short-track racing from coast to coast is something we’ve worked very hard for, and being able to protect and preserve tradition along the way is what we can be most proud of.”
Joining Donnelly in the diverse group of well known names in the motorsports industry that were inducted into the EMPA Hall of Fame during the Awards Dinner on Saturday night were Roger Penske, Parker Bohn, Tom Skinner, Tim Sullivan, Wally Parks, Ned Jarrett and Alan Kreitzer.
Penske cars have won 14 Indianapolis 500 races, more than 250 events in IndyCar, NASCAR and American LeMans competition; Bohn, now 90, is a past Modified champion at Wall Township (NJ) Speedway, one of the first stars at the old Old Bridge (NJ) Speedway; Skinner was the mechanical and motor wizard behind the legendary white and black-trimmed No. 659 GMC driven by Bohn; Sullivan was one of the most popular public relations figures in the industry for many years; Parks is the man who gets credit for making drag racing what it is today with the founding of the National Hot Rod Association; Jarrett is a two-time NASCAR Cup champion who went on to become a popular figure on TV and radio; and Kreitzer is regarded as one of the most successful promoters in the sport, considered by many to be responsible for the huge success of dirt track racing in Central Pennsylvania.
“This is certainly a great honor looking at the list of those who are being inducted tonight and all those recognized in previous years,” said Donnelly, 66, who was voted 1985 Auto Racing Promoter of the Year; short track racing’s most prestigious award. The New Jersey native and Central New York resident was inducted into The Dirt Track @ Lowe’s Motor Speedway ‘Walk of Fame’ in 2004 and more recently earned a place in the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. “Its nice to be here tonight with some of the same guys that were with me during this ride, like Ace (Lane), Ron (Hedger) and John (Snyder). Everybody in this room loves the sport, there’s truly a passion with a purpose, and that makes EMPA a very unique group.”
Starting with the idea of bringing rules uniformity and increased sponsorship to Modified stock car racing at a trio of Upstate New York dirt tracks, Donnelly built one of the most successful sanctioning bodies in the motorsports industry. His auto racing promotional efforts date back to 1970 when he purchased what was then known as Weedsport Speedway, a three-eighths-mile dirt track located 26 miles west of Syracuse. In autumn of 1972 he launched what has emerged as one of the premier dirt track events in the nation — Super DIRT Week. In 1976, Donnelly joined forces with Bob and Don Petrocci, former co-promoters of Rolling Wheels Raceway in Elbridge, N.Y., to form Drivers Independent Race Tracks. The fledgling organization sanctioned, organized and promoted Modified races at Weedsport, Rolling Wheels and the New York State Fairgrounds.
Under Donnelly’s guidance for nearly 30 years, DIRT MotorSports grew into the top regional sanctioning body of short-track racing on dirt in the country; including 27 full-member tracks when he departed in 2004, with over 70 speedways raising the DIRT banner for both weekly and special events, as far west as Texas and southernmost in Florida. With the recent acquisition of the Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car and WoO Late Model Series, as well as Mid-America Racing Series (MARS) and United Midwestern Promoters (UMP) divisions, the now nationally recognized World Racing Group today organizes and promotes a dozen national and regional racing series and sanctions over 5,000 events at more than 120 member tracks across the United States and Canada.
“It’s a real honor to be selected Driver of the Year by the EMPA members, and even more special with this award named in honor of one of the greatest short track drivers of all time,” said Hearn, 49, after receiving the prestigious Richie Evans Memorial EMPA Northeast Driver of the Year honor for the third time, his first coming in 1986 and again in 2002. The Sussex, New Jersey speedster steered the Madsen Motorsports no. 20 Wentworth Custom Homes-Kruger-WLR/TEO ride to a record-tying sixth overall Hoosier Tire-Sunoco Race Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship for Big-Block Modifieds, posting a tour-best seven feature wins during the year. “Our motto all season was ‘the harder we work the luckier we get.’
“We had a good solid year, and I really appreciate the recognition. But it’s not just me, credit car owners Guy and Patricia Madsen, Vinny Salerno, Joe Knoth and Steve Hastings, and my own B.H. Racing Enterprises team for giving me outstanding race cars week in and week out. We hope to be back just as strong in ’08, I still have a few good years left. I don’t think you ever really lose that desire to win, its just the will to prepare that drops off and we’re quite a ways from reaching that point,” Hearn added.
The most prolific driver in DIRTcar’s Big-Block traveling show, Hearn led an Advance Series high 630 laps in 11 main events while posting 17 top-five feature race finishes in 32 starts, setting Integra Shocks fast time on four occasions. The 30-year open-wheel veteran scored a circuit-high 14 DIRTcar Big-Block Modified feature wins at seven tracks throughout the Northeast, also taking a division-best seven checkered flags in DIRTcar 358-Modified competition.
The Garden State ace ranks first in Advance Auto Parts Series wins (98) and holds the Modified Tour mark of 10 wins in a single season (2002) with at least one Series victory registered in 23 different years. With extra distance events remaining his forté Hearn has captured five titles in the Rite Aid 200 on the Syracuse Mile, eight in the Eastern States 200 at Orange County and six in the Lebanon Valley 200 while logging four more in the Rolling Wheels 200.
In other special award presentations: Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series Champion Donny Schatz was named the Al Holbert Memorial/EMPA Driver of the Year Award; Speedway Motorsports Inc. Chairman Bruton Smith earned the Wayne T. Robertson Newsmaker Award; Pete Schnatz of the Philadelphia Inquirer received the Frank Blunk Memorial/EMPA Journalist of the Year Award; Bobby Santos III collected the John Blewett III Young Guns Award presented by John Holland from New England Fuels; NASCAR Modified car owner Bob Garbarino (championship won by his driver Donny Lia) was voted the Junie Donlavey Spirit of the Sport Award winner; long time photographer Ace Lane Jr. was presented the Art McHugh Memorial Award; and Howie Hodge accepted the Ace Lane Memorial/EMPA Photographer of the Year Award.
Ernie and Marilyn Saxton continued their tradition of presenting the Jerry Glase Memorial award to a deserving member of the EMPA. This award is named in honor of their long time friend who was a loyal supporter of the organization and worked with them at Grandview (PA) Speedway. Veteran announcer and journalist, as well as the EMPA Awards Banquet emcee, Earl Krause was honored for his outstanding efforts on behalf of the organization.
“The convention was one of our best,” said Saxton, who was elected to another two-year term as president of the EMPA organization that he helped found in 1969. He has served as president for all but one year. “It’s hard to believe that it has been 40 years since the organization was first formed. We are already busy working on the next convention. Our thanks goes out to all who participated.”
Cash prizes were awarded to the first and second-place finishers in the annual Valvoline/EMPA Writers Contest, with the winner in each category also taking home a commemorative plaque for their achievement. Individual winners were John Snyder for his column in Area Auto Racing News titled “It ain’t cheatin’ son…”, Rob Fisher for his feature article titled “Not Your Typical Race Shop” appearing in Circle Track Magazine, Dick Berggren for his “Remembering Bill France Jr.” personality profile in Speedway Illustrated, Dino Oberto for his “Martini cracks win column in ARDC” race report which appeared in the Hazleton, PA Standard-Speaker and Lenny Sammons for his News story in Area Auto Racing News titled “Szegedy Declared Winner In Race That Claims Life Of JB III.”
In the Brice’s Auto Supply/NAPA/EMPA Photography competition, top prizes (plaque and cash) went to Rev. Dan Schafer – Action Photo – South Jersey Dirt Racing.com, Don Marks – Action Sequence – Area Auto Racing News, Chris Budihas – Crash Action – South Jersey Dirt Racing.com, Dave Delasandro – Feature – Area Auto Racing News, Mel Stettler –Picture Story (Super DIRT Week) – Area Auto Racing News, Bob Yurko – Portrait Personality – Area Auto Racing News, Todd Dziadosz – Pure Art and Unpublished color, Dave D’Alessandro – Portfolio of the Year, and Rev. Dan Schafer – Best of Show.
Information on membership and other details about the EMPA is available by e-mail Esaxton144@aol.com or telephone 215/752-7797.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts is the second-largest retailer of automotive aftermarket parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, based on store count and sales. As of October 6, 2007, the company operated 3,228 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The company serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire and Sunoco Race Fuels. Promotional partners include AMB i.t., Rite Aid Corporation and the University of Northwestern Ohio and the contingency sponsors are Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Integra Shocks, MSD Ignitions, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks and Wrisco Industries.