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And that title is ended by question marks because I could never fully come to a conclusion on what could and should constitute an all time top ten drivers in the modified division. To narrow it down to ten drivers is just too confining and to be honest, there are numerous factors that would need to be examined in determining a list such as this.
What prompted me to engage in such an endeavor? Well, I was browsing the internet and checking in on my usual or semi-usual haunts in my “Favorites” and one of the recent threads in the forum at Dirt Track Digest dealt with this particular subject and I thought that it might be fun to try to concoct my own list of top ten modified drivers. And I know, just as soon as I complete this little project, I will think of another driver who, upon a little bit of thinking, would be a justifiable entry onto the list. So, keep that in mind. This particular list is one that I am coming up with NOW……it all could change within minutes after I commit it to the net. So, without any further ado…..let me give this thing a try. Please note…this list is definitely not in any sort of order.
Billy Pauch – Certainly worthy of entrance onto this list. Currently enjoying over 650 feature event wins in his career, no one in Northeast racing can claim to have as varied a success story as “The Kid”! The kid from Stockton, NJ has collected checkered flags in sprint cars of many different divisions, stock cars, midgets, pavement modifieds, late models, ¾ midgets….and on both dirt and asphalt. Some of his greatest accomplishments, in my opinion are (1)the World of Outlaw sprint car win at DIRT Week, beating Dave Blaney and setting a one lap mile record at Syracuse that week that stands to this day as the fastest ever turned on the mile (2) his Race of Champions asphalt modified win at Flemington, where, as a last minute replacement for a no-show driver, showed up with his helmet bag, started near dead last in the feature after qualifying through the consi and, in his first and only pavement event of that season, beat some of the best in the business in a final laps drive to the front (3) his five straight Fulton Speedway Victoria 200 wins, something that I don’t think anyone would, or could have predicted when this event was first inaugurated. I could be wrong on this, but I think of all of the current day modified drivers, Billy is second in number of wins only to Brett Hearn. Which brings me to…
Brett Hearn – If you make such a list as this one and do not include Brett Hearn on it, you simply have no right to be making such a list! Brett’s record speaks for itself – loud and clear! According to Brett’s website, he currently has 752 wins to his credit. You don’t win that many feature events and not achieve superstardom status. Brett is the master at figuring out the long distance events. He has won a ton of them. He has always kept his cars and team in very presentable fashion, which has gone a long way towards his ability to attract top notch sponsorship. No doubt the king of the Orange County Speedway, he has never failed to be able to go out on the road and snare a feature win at some obscure track in his first visit there.
It has often been made a conversation of as to whom, between Pauch and Hearn, who is the best driver. As I said earlier, how do you determine that? Let’s take a quick look at some things here. While Brett has almost 100 more feature wins to his credit over Billy, Brett’s record is nowhere near as diverse as Billy’s. Brett’s wins have come in just three divisions and one, the sprint cars, he has just two and they are both in the URC division while they visited Orange County. The entire rest of his win collection came in stock cars. I stated earlier the various divisions that Billy has won in. Brett gets the nod as far as the professionalism of his team efforts go and the nod again as to how many different tracks that he has won at. But Pauch gets the nod for versatility. A good argument can be made for each as to if they are the “best ever”. Personally, I think it’s a tight battle, but if pressed for an answer, I would probably have to give the nod to Brett.
Frankie Schneider - The sentimental favorite in the Northeast for “Top modified driver” is probably Frankie Schnieder. “The Old Master”. The name was given to him long ago and it has stuck and pretty much rightfully so….. so what I am going to say here – I want qualified by that. Northeast dirt track racing folklore has seen many, many different opinions as to how many wins Frankie has to his credit. Some have gone to say that total is up over one thousand. To that I say hogwash! Listen, as I said, Frank is certainly “The Old Master”, but I think many fans in the Northeast will go to any length to keep him considered the winningest driver of all time. There was a time, at the twilight of his career where the accepted amount of his feature wins was around three or four hundred. And at the time, that sat well with his admirers. Well, as the current crop of hot shoes crept upwards towards Frankie’s supposed amount, Schneider’s total suddenly began to multiply upwards, in my opinion, to keep him considered the greatest there ever was.
Don’t get me wrong, Frankie Schneider is and always will be one of the greatest drivers there ever was in the Northeast. I say that with conviction, he won up and down the east coast when he was running five and six nights a week. But I think his real win total is probably somewhere around four or five hundred wins. The shame of it all is that there will never be a way to really verify just how many wins he has. That is why these days; I occasionally take on the task of documenting the career win totals of drivers. It’s for posterity and accountability and just plain record keeping so that when they retire, there is an accurate record of their careers. I truly believe that Brett Hearn is the driver with the most feature event wins EVER in the Northeast.
I was originally going to include the Johnson trio on this list. However, once I gathered up a list of names, it came down to culling the list and I’m afraid that I had to knock “The Doctor” off of the top ten list. That means that I was left with:
Jack Johnson – “Jumpin’ Jack is legend in our sport here in the Northeast. Can anyone deny that? Yes, he is in the twilight of his career, and not winning as often as he used to. That has no bearing on his merit to be included on this list. Heck man, the guy is up there in age and still racing and racing competitively. What more could you ask for. Back in his super competitive days, he could tow anywhere and win. And still might be able to today. I remember back in, I think it was 1972, when Flemington had their season ending 200 lap championship event and Jack came in with his little coupe and dusted the competition. If I remember correctly, he went to East Windsor the next night and did the same thing in a regular distance event. Talk about an invasion. Somewhere around here at home, I have one of my most cherished pictures. It’s a photo taken in the pit area of the Bridgeport Speedway by photographer Chris Bodhias and it’s of myself and Jack on top of his trailer shooting the bull.
Alan Johnson – One of the earliest members of DIRT’s modified elite drivers. In fact, his talent at his very young age rubbed another of DIRT’s finest the wrong way because he was always there threatening to win. Will Cagle, who was also in the running for inclusion on my list, was right there alongside of Alan when DIRT was formed and they were two of the best there was in Central New York and each week, they were rubbing rails to see who got to the checkered flag first. Still active and winning to this day. Alan seems to have been around forever in this sport. But then, because he started when he was sixteen years old, I guess he has around thirty five years behind the wheel under his belt! Wow…think about that. Alan is another driver who could go anywhere and win. Again using Flemington as an example, he came in for one of their 200 lappers and claimed the top prize when I think he was running for Tico Conley. Alan has had some of the top rides in the Northeast under him. Never one to stay with a team for long, I think this fact has hurt him to some degree over the years and these days, he has sometimes been forced to scrounge for a ride or even supply his own mount.
Kenny Brightbill – “The Shillington Slingshot” has done his share of winning over his long and storied career. The absolute king of the fabled Reading Speedway – the House of Lindy – Kenny ruled with an iron fist there and I can still remember the tons of pictures in the local racing trade papers of Kenny’s #19’s throwing huge rooster tails of dirt high in the air as his car was tucked up tight up against the outside retaining wall at the central Pennsy track. He had big wins such as the DIRT Week modified win in the Eugene Mills machine that he personally built in his garage. He also took top prize in the Nazareth National event. He spent a few years chasing the late model dream with the NDRA division and became a regular winner with them. He crossed the big pond and did some late model racing in Australia and to this day, about eleven or twelve wins he got down there simply cannot be verified (although I know that they occurred) for his career win list. For the record, Kenny has 428 verifiable feature event wins to his credit, but with the eleven or twelve late model event wins, it could be considered to be up near 440. The past number of years has seen Kenny struggle just to get a car to the track. Lack of proper sponsorship, lack of time (he built a new home) and the fact that no one wants to put an old timer behind the wheel, has led him through some winless seasons as of late. To be exact, his last win came way back on 9/6/03 at the New Egypt Speedway. I don’t think anyone would have guessed at that time, that it just may have been his last. I don’t believe that his wins have come to an end yet, but who the heck knows?
Bob McCreadie – “Barefoot” Bob, as he has affectionately been known for years is another pretty much sure bet for inclusion on this list. I can say that just about every list on the Dirt Track Digest thread had him included. That says something doesn’t it? If there were one or two reasons why I would have loved to live in the central New York region in the seventies and eighties, one of them would have been to be able to watch Bob McCreadie do his thing on the racing ovals back in those days. I really mean that! A quick look at some of his career stats reveals just how much he has accomplished. Wins at over fifty different tracks, a season high record of 47 wins in 1994, the same season that he won a DIRT record of 43 big block modified features. He enjoys a record of over 500 feature wins and was voted DIRT’s Most Popular Driver five times. In 2003, Bob became the first ever DIRT modified driver to be inducted into the Lowes Motor Speedway Walk of Fame. Bob came up from a hardscrabble life that included many instances where he would rather just not include in his life story, but he made a hero of himself to thousands of race fans here in the Northeast. If you really would like to read an inspiring story, get his biographical book. You won’t be sorry. For me, it was a “couldn’t put it down” type of book.
Buzzie Reutimann – Emil L. Reutimann grew up in Florida, but came north seeking fame and fortune behind the wheel of a dirt track modified stock car. I don’t know if he acquire a fortune, but I can rest assured that he won a boatload of fame! I had the fortune to catch the tail end years of Buzzie’s career. I didn’t see him win many races (he competed at a different track than I usually attended) but I was fortunate enough to see him take a win in the Flemington 200 in his famous coupe. I guess I’m going to somewhat date myself here, but I would say that many reading this blog will not really be able to remember Buzzie’s winning simply because they weren’t even around back then. But trust me, Buzzie was a terror in his day and when you saw that #00 pull into the pit area, you knew that the other top dogs were going to have to deal with him. Buzzie was another driver who fared well in the cross-over to asphalt racing. The winner of the very first two DIRT premier events up in Syracuse, Buzzie did quite a bit of his winning at the Orange County and Nazareth Speedways, but certainly won at a great many different tracks up and down the East coast. Even at his advanced age of up in his late sixties, Buzzie is still competing, and winning, back down in Florida, where it all started and now fully follows the NASCAR racing of his son David.
Gary Balough – I almost didn’t include Gary on this list, and the reasoning behind it is that he pretty much never had junk for equipment. Gary always had top notch and capable cars under him and that certainly went a long way towards his winning efforts while he competed here in the Northeast. But, I relented when I sat down and thought just how much of a terror he was when he showed up at any track. Be it Orange County, Nazareth, East Windsor, Flemington and of course, the mile at Syracuse, among others. Gary could almost be called a flash in the pan due to his short time on top of the racing world here in the Northeast. Almost. He was around for a while, but not as long as he should have been and I guess we all know why and I won’t delve into that right here. But while he was here, he gave the Richard Ege cars, the Ferriaoulo cars and a few others, some mighty memorable drives and collected a sh*tload of wins while doing so.
Al Tasnady – “The Polecat”….so named because of a skunk painted on the back of one of his more famous rides……the Piscopo #39 coupe. The story behind that Polecat moniker goes something like back then they were racing, and winning, so often, oft times for many nights in a row, that none of the crew had a chance to take showers and they often ended up showing up for events smelling less than desirable. I think that story is more fable than fact, but he did win often!
“Tas” was personally, my first favorite driver. As it turns out, back then in the early sixties, I wasn’t alone. Tas was probably the biggest fan favorite back then and was the first driver to actually have a fan club. He was popular across the board with fans. The ladies liked him for not only his driving, but also because he was a handsome dude. The men liked him for his fierce driving and the kids, well, the kids just liked him because he was an easy idol. Tasnady was another of those early years drivers who could run on both asphalt and dirt and win at any given moment, and often did! Flemington, Vineland, East Windsor, Harmony, you name the track and Al Tasnady probably won an event there. Tas has been gone from us for quite a while now, but thinking back to those early days of my going to the races really brings me back to them and it brings an innocent smile to my face. God were those days so much less complicated.
So there you go. My CURRENT top ten modified drivers of all time here in the Northeast. I’m sure that if you ask twenty different fans who theirs is, you will get twenty different answers and all of them will have trouble narrowing it down to just ten. It IS hard and I would like to include a real fast Honorable Mention list here. Doug Hoffman, Danny “Dr. J” Johnson, Will Cagle, Gerald Chamberlain, Jimmy Horton, Billy Decker, Frank Cozze, Tommy Corellis, Stan Ploski, Lou Lazarro, Toby Tobias Sr…….and the list just goes on and on. How about your list??
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With 50 years of attending local racing events behind him, Fred ponders its past and present.