CONCORD, N.C. — This weekend’s Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte will mark the end of an era, not only in the Super DIRTcar Series, but in all of Northeastern big-block modified racing.
Brett Hearn, the only eight-time Super DIRTcar national champion and the series’ all-time winningest driver with 140 victories, plans to quit racing full time and become the promoter for the five-eighths-mile Orange County Fair Speedway dirt track in Middletown, N.Y.
It’s a fitting move for the proverbial “King of Orange County,” as Hearn is the track’s all-time winningest driver with 302 victories, including 174 in a dirt modified.
He also boasts 16 modified track championships there, including this year’s title.
Hearn’s decision, first revealed by Area Auto Racing News on Monday, was not a choice that came due to any sort of diminished passion for driving by the 61-year-old. That fire still burns as strong as ever.
“I’ve said from about from the time I was 45 or so that I’m never going to get tired of driving. I’m going to get tired of getting these cars ready to drive. You know what I mean? And that’s exactly how I felt,” Hearn told SPEED SPORT. “I was just getting to where I didn’t like the pressure and the grind to hurry up and get ready for the next race, with deadlines and lot of pressure, you know? It’s not a lot of young volunteer help that I’ve got … it just seemed right. It just seemed like the right time to do it.
“The opportunity (to go to Orange County) has been there for a couple of years and I didn’t want the opportunity to slip away,” he added. “I wanted that opportunity, you know? That was important also.”
Hearn will oversee all the motorsports activities that take place at the fairgrounds, working under Halmar International’s Chris Larsen, the current lease holder at the century-old race track.
The change was originally going to be announced during the recent Eastern States 200 weekend, but the timing wasn’t quite right, according to Hearn.
Thus, the news came at a BH Racing Reunion party in Middletown last weekend.
“We’d been talking about it for three years actually and I really thought that it was going to happen this year and then the conversation was on the amount of money that they were paying out this year and the Centennial race — which they paid $100,000 to win — and the longer we thought about it, the more we thought it might be better for me to race one more year and better for the track if I raced one more year.
“We weren’t on the cusp of making a decision that day, but I think the timing now … it’s all worked out.”
Hearn begins his new position Dec. 1, but was quick to note that in all of his discussions with Larsen about stepping into Orange County’s management, a full retirement from driving was never an option.
“He (Larsen) told me I’m too good to do that (step away completely),” Hearn grinned. “At least, that’s what I’ve been told. So we’re going to do a limited schedule and just pick and choose what we’d like to do. It is way too early to know what that schedule is going to look like. But we’ll scale the shop back from six or seven cars to one or two and make it manageable.”
Hearn said that while there is a staff already in place at OCFS, he’s not against shaking things up.
“I want to look at everything,” noted Hearn. “I want to look at everybody and everything and just, you know, change the culture a little bit if I can.
“So that’s ultimately what I want to do, but I want to get partners and sponsors and friends and volunteers involved … and whatever else I can put together, you know?” he added. “I want to build this place up just like we did with the race team.”
After 45 years on the road racing full time, Hearn said emphatically that he won’t miss the grind of a year-long points chase. He’s been there and done that far too many times.
“I never realized how much of what I did was traveling … with Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and further up into Canada, and how much of a disadvantage I was at by traveling from New Jersey all the time,” Hearn explained. “I won’t say it was wasted time, but you know, hours and hours of driving isn’t productive, you know? I won’t miss it. I’m not going to miss that part at all.”
Going forward, he’ll pick and choose his handful of races next year in a fashion that ensures the Sussex, N.J., native will be enjoying everything he’s doing — management and driving alike.
“I’ll make a lot of those (racing) choices by the amount of fun I think I’ll have,” Hearn said. “I’ve got a lot of relationships with different track operators and owners, and they’re already like, ‘Oh, you can come to my big race next year,’ and I’ll see how the schedule works … but that (racing) won’t be my priority.
“I don’t really want to get wrapped up in race prep, because I know once I do that, it will suck up all my time and I really want to concentrate on the track and on the speedway in 2020. That’s my main focus.”
But first comes two more outings as a full-time driver and a chance to secure a fifth win at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, as well as a much-needed victory to end the season on the Super DIRTcar Series tour.
“We haven’t won on the series all year,” Hearn pointed out. “It sure would be neat to cap off the full-time chapter with one more here in Charlotte. That would be pretty special, in my mind.”