Weedsport, NY — May 16, 2008 – By Gary E. Rowe, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
Garden State legend Carl “Fuzzy” VanHorn has been selected as a 2008 inductee into the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for Sunday, May 25 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series event at the adjacent speedway.
Recognized around the Northeast behind the wheel of his familiar yellow no. 71e Modifieds for 45 years, Van Horn earned a reputation as a hard charger from Florida to New Jersey to New York. One of the most exciting drivers to ever strap into a race car, his electrifying driving style attracted an affectionate fan following up and down the east coast. He would run the cushion at the Reading (Pa.) Fairgrounds for all it was worth then race on pavement the next day. His customary charges from the rear on the Syracuse Mile are what legends are truly made of.
Carl was first introduced to racing by his younger brother Clifford “J.C.” Van Horn in August of 1951 when he was just 18 years old. “I had no interest in driving a race car,” Carl said. “It was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact I had never been to a race until a few weeks before we entered that first race at East Stroudsburg Speedway in Pennsylvania. We were looking for a number to put on the car so I went up to Flemington Speedway to scout one out. There were no cars there with the number 71 painted on them so that was the number that we used. Then when we showed up that first night wouldn’t you know it, there were four other cars numbered 71 so the promoter lettered them ‘A’ ‘B’ ‘C’ ‘D’ and ‘E.’ We were the ‘E’ and have been 71e ever since.”
“My brother is 20 months younger than I and he couldn’t drive the car,” Carl later recounted. “So he had Harry Charles try driving. Harry wasn’t able to qualify the car and there was no one else left to drive the car so I jumped in. It took me seven attempts just to qualify for the first time and four years to win my first feature race.”
After East Stroudsburg, Carl competed at such New Jersey home state tracks as Vineland Speedway and Pitman Stadium. Nicknamed “The Belvidere Bandit” Carl represented Nazareth (PA) Raceway in the All-Star Racing League promoted by the late Larry Mendelsohn as well as garnering track titles at Orange County Fair Speedway (1971) and Nazareth Raceway (1974) while racking up nearly 130 career feature wins. “The biggest single race that I won was the 1968 Lebanon Valley Speedway 200,” he said. Also, during the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, he competed in a total of 10 Super DIRT Week 200s. Fuzzy was involved in a very harrowing wreck in the 1987 Super DIRT Week when, while exiting the pits, he was spun out right in the middle of the track, just as the race was restarting. While Fuzzy’s car was heavily damaged in the incident he emerged uninjured. “I still have that car today,” Fuzzy commented. “It is still sitting in my garage just as I brought it home that night from Syracuse. Someday I am going to put it back together.”
“Running in the All-Star Racing League was a tough deal. We were racing up to five nights a week. I was driving my own car back then. After racing at some track hours from home I would go home get maybe three or four hours of sleep and then go to work (Carl was a Union Iron Worker working as a superintendent for E.G. Smith at the time). Then because I build my own engines and did my own maintenance work, I would somehow have to fit that into my schedule.”
“While I did own, build and drive my own equipment, I was still fortunate enough to have some great car owners during my career,” Fuzzy recalled. “I drove Walt Garrett’s two ace to the Nazareth track championship. I drove the number 125 for Leonard Conklin but the owner that I maybe had the most success with was with George VanDerwall in his number 28 car. I won the first night that I drove it in 1971 and then went on to win the Middletown track championship. Interestingly enough the drivers that he had before me had trouble just qualifying the car. It was only qualified a couple two or three times before I got into it. But I had no trouble qualifying it. I thought the car really flew.”
“One night at Middletown, because he was late in getting to the track, I qualified Tighe Scott’s car in the first heat and then went out and qualified my own 71e machine. Wouldn’t you know it, I ended up finishing second to Tighe that night. If I had known that was going to happen maybe I wouldn’t have qualified Tighe’s car.”
“My first, and only, NASCAR Cup Series race came at Pocono Int’l Raceway in 1974. They had these “Big Chance Specials” to boost local interest in the race. The year before I drove, sprint car driver Jan Opperman drove Benny Parson’s back-up car and finished eighth in the machine for L.G. DeWitt Racing. The other “Big Chance Special” car was for 2007 Hall of Famer Kenny Brightbill, who finished 10th while driving for Walter Ballard. The next year I got to drive the Ballard car in the Purolator 500 with a young man by the name of Robert Yates as my crew chief. Then in 1976 Tighe Scott, who became a regular in the series and nearly won the 1979 Daytona 500, drove that same car, also at Pocono. I started 17th and got as high as 5th when the engine let go and I was scored in 23rd position. Ironically, the race was rained delayed while I was in fifth position, then when racing resumed my engine let go. Only a few laps later the rains really came and the race was declared finished. I always remember that if we hadn’t gone back racing after the delay I would have been credited with a fifth-place finish in my very first Cup race.”
Carl eventually retired from racing in 1996. “I was racing one night at Middletown and after the race I was sweating more than I had ever before. I went to see the doctor and learned that I had some problems with my heart, it’s called arterial fibulation, and so I retired from racing. I still have the car that I drove that night. It is sitting in the trailer out by my garage. It wouldn’t take much to get it going again but nowadays I enjoy watching my grandson David (VanHorn Jr.) drive.”
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 and Hoosier Racing Tire. Rite Aid Corporation is a promotional partner and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks, Bert Transmission, Bicknell Racing Products, Bilstein Shocks, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Crane Cams, Dig Safely New York, Holley HP Carburetors, Integra Shocks, Intercomp, KSE Racing Products, Motorsports Safety Systems, Penske Shocks, Rislone Oil Stabilizer and Wrisco Industries.