BARBERVILLE, Fla. — When Brett Hearn wins, he wins with style. His victory Saturday at the Super DIRTcar Series UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit Racing Equipment finale was nothing short.
Not only did big-block modified legend Hearn usurp the lead in lap 49 of the 50-lapper, but he also did so after a lap-35 flat in took him from the lead to the tail of the field.
“At that point, the crew had a really dejected look on their faces,” Hearn recalled pulling up to his pit crew for a tire change. “They were changing the right rear tire, and I’m thinking, they think I don’t have a chance.”
Nonetheless, Hearn worked his magic, navigating to second place off a lap-45 restart and, in a stunning last-lap lead change, passed Mario Clair on the back straightaway to take the win.
“I knew that if I was going to pass him I had to go on the inside and nail a really good turn – stay low in the middle of (turn) two and then get ahold of a shot off the backstretch and move up on him a little bit,” Hearn said. “I could run that lap over in my mind a hundred times.”
Hearn started the race in 10th with H.J. Bunting III taking the lead off the initial green. Stewart Friesen passed Bunting in lap two and, by lap 15, Friesen was darting between lapped cars with Hearn at his back bumper.
On lap 20, Hearn cruised past Friesen on the backstretch, continuing to tenaciously maneuver lapped cars for 15 more green laps. “The Jet” was so persistent, in fact, that when he reached Pete Britten and Eric Kormann racing two-wide, he never slowed to let one pull to the side — he sped between the two, nearly touching the sides of both as he passed. That daring maneuver cost him a tire.
“I thought I’d get through the hole and I didn’t quite fit, but maybe bent the wheel or scuffed the side wall,” Hearn said. “I probably should have been a little more patient at that point.”
The timing worked out for Hearn, with the tire giving at the turn-four pit entrance, allowing him to steer to the pit crew without further damaging the car. The crew worked quickly through the lap-35 caution, sending Hearn back to the track before the green. Having lapped more than half the field when he was in the lead, Hearn was able to restart 10th as the last lead-lap car.
“Right off the get-go, I had a fresh tire and passed five or six cars on the first lap,” Hearn said of the lap-35 restart. “Before I knew it, I was a contender again.”
For Clair, who gained the lead when Hearn pitted for a tire change, Hearn’s last-lap challenge was not a surprise.
“I had a really fast car tonight, but when I saw Brett Hearn on the scoreboard in third I knew that his was the fastest car here,” said Francophone Clair via a translator. “I’m really happy with our performance here the last four days.”
With a sixth-place finish, Danny Johnson topped the Super DIRTcar Series competitors in points for the week, taking home the prized UNOH DIRTcar Nationals presented by Summit Racing Equipment gator trophy.
“We’re really excited to get that big gator. The championship means a lot to the race team and myself, so it’s just a really cool situation for us all,” Johnson said, although he would have liked to have made it to victory lane, and was in contention for the lead for much of the race. “As long as we could get a good finish and get the championship, that was really important to us.”
Justin Haers finished third after running in second for most of the race and very nearly passing Clair on the first of two lap-45 restarts. Friesen started fourth, made his way to the lead early, but ended up back at fourth by the time the checked flags waved. After an uncharacteristically poor qualifying round, three-time defending series champion Matt Sheppard started 16th on the grid, but made his way up to fifth.
Brett Hearn, Mario Clair, Justin Haers, Stewart Friesen, Matt Sheppard, Danny Johnson, Mat Williamson, Rick Laubach, Rich Scagliotta, H.J. Bunting III, Pete Britten, Rob Bellinger, Bruno LaPage, Jimmy Horton, Randy Chrysler, Darwin Greene, Chris Ostrowsky, Dave Rauscher, Jeremy Markle, Francois Bernier, Dan Vauter, Andy Bachetti, Michel Chicoine, Billy VanInwegen, Eric Kormann, Jamie Mills, Neal Williams.