Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo courtesy Speed Sport.
You know that guy?
The guy that walks into a room and everyone knows he is there. Some may be happy, while others not to so much. Some are jealous, some are observing on how to get better, and the rest want to leave because that guy is here.
Brett Hearn’s hauler pulled into the pit area during the afternoon before that evening’s race. The fans gathering and Hearn’s fellow competitors generally had some form of the above reactions.
Feelings varied upon his arrival, but few people at the speedway felt apathy.
Brett Hearn is that guy.
The above scene was a snapshot at Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, NY on a summer night…
…. in 1982.
The summer of 1981 brought about the final year of racing for my hometrack, the Danbury Racearena in Connecticut. With the track shuttered, traveling was my only choice to see Saturday night racing. I visited Orange County for my first time in ’82.
Watching weekly races from the Danbury grandstands taught me to notice who the guys were. Don LaJoie, Chick Stockwell, and Kenny Webb moved the meter at the Racearena simply by showing up. Hearn carried the same energy in Middletown. To a newcomer, ‘Brett the Jet’ clearly stood out.
Picture in your mind what a grassroots speedway’s pit area looked like- a sea of pickup trucks towing Modifieds and Street Stocks. Got it in your head? Good.
Now here comes Hearn’s truck along the backstretch entrance road to OCFS’s infield pit area. The rig stood out from every other competitor by leaps and bounds. Not the pickup truck, which I cannot truly recall, but the trailer.
Hearn’s car pulled in while being towed inside a 24-foot white enclosed trailer. That’s right, an enclosed trailer in 1982. On a night that featured enough street stocks, big block & small block Modifieds to require meaningful heats and consolation races to set the 24-car plus feature lineups, Hearn’s was the only race car transported in an enclosed trailer on the entire property.
As previously noted, Hearn gave off different vibes. He was a professional racer who traveled, arrived prepared, and ready to represent a corporate sponsor- to some. To others, he was a rich kid with money to show off and buy his wins.
The former group admired the talent that was in front of them. The latter fell into the envious category. Hearn was a young man in his early 20s and building a winning race-car driver resume.
Life takes us all on a journey. Hearn’s trip has passed through many short tracks and a few NASCAR superspeedways. Over three-and-a-half decades later he is still winning races and championships in the Northeast.
My journey has taken me from New England short tracks, to professional NASCAR teams, and now to keyboards and microphones just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the fall of 2018, while covering the World of Outlaws World Finals at the Dirt Track in Charlotte, I watched Brett Hearn win yet another feature race.
Following his victory, Hearn spoke of attention to detail as a key to winning that afternoon. Some things he was knowledgeable about through his championship season at Lebanon Valley Speedway in New York transferred over to the Charlotte track.
At 60 years old, he stretched out his back between his victory and finishing fourth in the race program’s second feature race. Drivers half his age were not seen performing the same exercise.
He racked up his fourth triumph at the Charlotte track, his 140th Super Dirtcar Series victory, and 912th overall career win- quite the display of racing excellence over the years. Much of that can be attributed to attention to detail.
My first-ever view of Hearn displayed that same excellence and attention to detail 36 summers ago, and he hasn’t let up yet.
Being that guy happens on purpose, not on accident.
Hearn has been- and still is- that guy.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report live on Facebook Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT and uploaded on http://speedwayreport.wpengine.com/ . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.