Hearn Headlines Northeast Dirt Modified HoF Class

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Hearn Headlines NE Dirt
Brett Hearn is the headlining member of the NE Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction class this year. (Adam Fenwick photo)

WEEDSPORT, N.Y. — DIRTcar’s all-time winningest driver Brett Hearn, Harold Bunting and Joe Donahue will be inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame in July.

The three racing legends add their names to a stellar list of modified standouts that was started in 1992, when the Hall of Fame was established on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in Weedsport, N.Y.

The 29th annual induction ceremonies, honoring the Class of 2020, will take place July 23 at 7 p.m. in the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame, on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway.

The event is free and open to the public, and will feature pre- and post-program festivities.

The following Sunday, Weedsport Speedway will present its Super DIRTcar Series Hall of Fame 100 for the big-block modifieds.

No driver in the modern era of dirt modified racing — and arguably ever in motorsport history — has taken down as many wins, titles and trophies as New Jersey’s Brett Hearn.

His astounding career numbers simply blow every other contender out of the water, with a whopping 919 victories at 48 different tracks in 11 states and two Canadian provinces.

Starting in a sportsman car he and his father put together in 1975 when he was a junior in high school, Hearn crushed the competition at both Orange County and Nazareth before moving up to run Modified with the “big boys” in 1978.

His control, consistency and professionalism have produced an unmatchable body of work: 97 track and series championships, including eight overall Super DIRTcar Series titles and crowns in every other title series DIRTcar ever dreamed up.

Hearn is a six-time Super DIRT Week winner in both the big-blocks and small-blocks (a dozen overall) and a 12-time winner of Orange County’s crown jewel Eastern States 200, topping the companion Eastern States 358 event 17 times.

He is Orange County’s all-time feature winner, with 308 victories in four divisions, and also tops the leader board at Albany-Saratoga Speedway, with 136 wins.

Hearn was named Driver of the Year in 1986 by the Eastern Motorsports Press Ass’n, and was No. 1 on Area Auto Racing News’ 50 Greatest Drivers of the Past 50 Years in 2013.

Milford’s Harold Bunting earns the distinction of becoming the first Hall of Fame driver inductee from the state of Delaware.

The elder statesman from The First State was an accomplished Kart racer before climbing into Harry Dutton’s stock car at the now-defunct Little Lincoln Speedway in 1969.

Bunting was successful right off the bat, teamed with Dutton and his brother Harvey, then driving for the Hitchens brothers in 1972.

The following year, Harold’s career shot off like a roman candle.

From June to October 1973, Bunting won 53 times at U.S. 13, Little Lincoln, Georgetown and the Delaware State Fairgrounds, driving the 8-cylinder mod for the Hitchens crew, and a 6-cylinder car for Paul Whitelock.

For ’74, Bunting went all in with the Whitelocks, driving father Floyd’s Mod and son Paul’s Sportsman to victory lane 51 times, winning the Mod title at Georgetown and 6-cyl. championships at both U.S. 13 and Georgetown.

Bunting has won 234 times in his career, at all the Delaware short tracks, Bridgeport in New Jersey, Grandview in Pennsylvania, and the old A&N Speedway on the Tasley Fairgrounds in Virginia.

He’s taken three modified and one Sportsman title at Georgetown, four modified and one Sportsman crown at Delmar’s U.S. 13, and was the overall State Fair champion in 1977, 1980, 1985 and 1986.

Bunting retired at the top of his game in 1986, sweeping all three Delaware titles that year for car owner Steve Dale at the age of 45.

A polarizing figure on the Southern Tier scene, Kirkwood, N.Y., native Joe Donahue was the man everyone loved to hate — and he relished the role of villain.

Returning from WWII, Donahue discovered he could make a few bucks steering a stock car at local races. He put together a ’36 Chevy sedan in 1948, and won his first feature at Doty Hill the following year.

Throughout the 1950s and well into the ’60s, “Irish Joe” continued to build better cars and attract better rides, with a hell-bent-for-leather driving style and undisguised intimidation.

At rough-and-tumble bullrings like Five Mile Point, Glen Aubrey and Susquehanna (now Penn Can), he terrorized his fellow competitors — and won a lot of races.

Fans who flocked to the tracks to see him lose to their favorites and “get his” were, more times than not, disappointed.

In 1957, Donahue won every race but one at Glen Aubrey and the points title; he pretty much did the same thing at Five Mile Point. He backed that up with repeat championships at both venues in ’58.

During a career that spanned five decades, Donahue won four titles at the Point, a pair at both Susquehanna and Glen Aubrey, a single title at Midstate, two Southern Tier championship races — and always, always put on a show.

Donahue passed away in 2007, at age 80.