OBSERVE AND REPORT: RJ's 800TH ROOKIE
Written By Hazer For DTD - This month we’re going to examine a 2nd generation championship courting by the flamboyant Glen Ridge track promoter Jake Spraker, discuss why a jet is monumental, and indulge in a sportsman driver’s decision to give up a title opportunity. Strap in race fans, its time to get busy.
What’s the best way to invite a track champion with a legendary father to your track? Some would say not by a public form, but with a staggering amount of views and replies on Dirt Track Digest the topic was hotly debated; should or shouldn’t Ronnie Johnson race the fastest ¼ mile on dirt? Jake Spraker, the vocal part of the promoter’s duo at the ridge, posted on the DTD forum “Ronnie bring your parts truck and your Teo and if you win on any regular night I’ll give you a $500 bonus!”
It would seem he was frustrated that one of the most popular drivers in the area has yet to make a stop to experience life on the ridge. According to RJ the opportunity just hasn’t presented itself at this point. With concentrating efforts on his Saturday night home at Fonda Speedway and Sunday night home at Utica Rome Speedway, RJ just doesn’t have the equipment available to commit to a weekly program on Friday nights at this point. The orange and black 2RJ just won a track championship at Fonda and maybe in the future an opportunity to wheel at the ridge may come about.
Speaking of being a champion, this season Ronnie Johnson joined the champions fraternity and did his pops proud by becoming a Modified track champion at the track Jumpin’ Jack ruled for many years. RJ also made the Johnson family proud by becoming only the 2nd father/son duo to win a track title in the Modified division anywhere. The only other’s were the Flach’s at Lebanon Valley. “As a kid growing up I dreamt of being Jack Johnson, but I never dreamed I could get a feature win let alone a track championship here at Fonda” RJ said in a interview after night of features.
Perhaps the most memorable part of RJ’s 2011 track championship effort will be the story behind his championship car. “There is a story behind this car. After my father’s accident Alton and Carol Palmer bought a new car for him to use the following year. This car is the last 12A that was ever built and I said we were going to make the 12A proud and we were able to do that” Ronnie said during his championship celebration interview with Ron Szczerba.
While winning is fresh in our virally abused minds, how many guys start total in their entire racing career, 800 races? Well if that stat is staggering to the mind how about a guy who wins 800 races. Brett “the jet” Hearn did just that on August 10th after dominating double features at the track of champions including a Thunder On The Thruway Series event. “As good as I was at one time here we’ve been off a little bit, searching a little bit,” said Hearn in an interview with RPW’s Mimi Lazzaro.
Some guys don’t even start 800 career races, but Hearn who is arguably the best dirt modified driver of all time has won this staggering amount of races. When asked about it he was quite humbled saying with a smile “We come in here tonight and we just had an awesome race car right from the get go and it was very unexpected.” Hearn who has built a winning tradition in his career brought his small block to Fonda Speedway for the evening didn’t think he was going to win both features.
When asked what cracking the 800 win barrier meant to him personally the jet responded “I think the biggest thing is that after 35 seasons we’re still relevant, we still have a great race team, and I still have great people behind me.” When a driver reaches a milestone rarely heard of in racing he must have big plans one would think. Not Brett, he’s relaxed and adding to his win count. His plans after winning the 800th were simple; back to work at the shop and play a little golf.
What does a kid looking up to a driver like Hearn do when he hasn’t tasted a championship or rode to title town going to do? It’s easy right; win a title in the Sportsman division and chase that modified dream. Well Lebanon Valley Sportsman stand out Kolby Schroder was on the right path leading the Sportsman point chase by a slim margin until recently when he chose to give up the possible title and move up to the big block modified ranks and an opportunity to develop into a modified contender.
“Even though we were leading points it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down Hazer. If I did someone else would get the opportunity and I would still be in the Sportsman division” Kolby explained. He is extremely grateful that a gentlemen like Steve Daniels would offer him the chance to see what he can do with a big block and was overwhelmed with the offer at first. “I thought man I would love to, but I don’t want anyone to be disappointed” he said, but they decided there is no better time than the present.
“My goal the first night out was to get experience in a modified. If I passed 3 cars I would have been happy and thought ok now we’re moving forward, lets see what I can learn and we can do to go faster next week” said Schroder. With a willingness to learn, family supporting him, and his peers wishing him the best Kolby finished 8th his first night out on in a modified. At the end of the night guys like Matt Pupello, Kyle Sheldon, and Eddie Marshall congratulated him on his run. No question Kolby is a talented kid, has great family support, and now a great opportunity for a young driver. “I know I’m the new guy and I have to earn their respect. I’ll do that by racing them hard and clean” Kolby concluded.
With a total of over 16 thousand views and nearly 300 replies RJ is in demand as a champion and the fastest ¼ mile on dirt just may get to see him on his title tour next summer. Brett Hearn’s 800th win and Kolby Schroder passing up a possible title for a shot at the Modifieds were very intriguing topics this month. Until next time kids I’ll leave you with something simple, a philosophy that is catching on all over the racing world; my logic is undeniable.
***Photos in this story were edited for the purpose of the story. Credit is still given to the original photographers.***