By Ken Bruce
As the 2020 dirt modified winds down to a close with the running of this Saturday’s “Gobbler” at the Georgetown Speedway, silly season is in full stride as we head towards 2021. Today was the day the first domino fell into place. It was announced this morning on the 126 Keystone Racing Facebook page that Jeff Strunk would no longer be the driver of the Glenn Hyneman All-Fab Racing No. 126.
The combination of Jeff Strunk and Glenn Hyneman has produced 40 wins in eight years of competition (2006 to 2008 & 2016 to 2020) together. Included in those eight years were four Freedom 76 wins and multiple championships at Grandview Speedway. However, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end, so owner Glenn Hyneman decided he wanted to go in a different direction for 2021.
Picked to pilot the iconic No. 126 is veteran modified driver Dominick Buffalino out of Sayreville, NJ. Buffalino has been part of the local modified wars for many years and has racked up multiple wins at both New Egypt Speedway and Bridgeport Motorsports Park driving for different car owners.
I reached out to car owner Glenn Hyneman earlier tonight and he was nice enough to take the time to talk to me and let me know what was going on with his race team.
“Jeff (Strunk) and I have split up,” cited Hyneman. “I am not sure where Jeff is going, I have a good idea, but I am not going to say it. That is for them to say. I am going to be going with Dominick Buffalino. We really haven’t worked out a schedule, but we sat down last night and had a long meeting together and tried to work out all the details. I am a detail guy, I like to have all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. That’s what it made it a little bit more difficult with Jeff, he’s more of a free spirit.”
“I wish Jeff well, we had some really good years and won some nice races together, but I just wanted to go in a different direction. I think I took pretty good care of him here the last seven years and I think it was three years before that so we’ve together almost 10 years together, that’s a long time.”
Hyneman who is the owner of All-Fab Fabrication talked about wanting to slow down at work and maybe travel and attend some different races in the future.
“Bonita (Hyneman, Glenn’s wife) and I want to do a little more traveling,” explained Hyneman. “I am getting closer to retirement or at least cutting back at work to give myself some more free time. I want to do some more traveling shows, maybe some DIRTcar shows.”
Buffalino will get a jump start in his new ride this weekend as the team travels to Georgetown Speedway for the Gobbler and Hyneman is excited to see what his new driver can do.
“In meeting with Dominick and talking to him and all the text messages I got today from people who know him and such I am pretty excited to see what we can do together, mentioned Hyneman. “You know sometimes just making a change is exciting, you know what I mean? It is something different and I am not saying it’s good or bad, but it’s different and exciting and it gets your blood flowing again and that’s just how I feel. You go your way and I go my way and hopefully we’re both successful.”
With Strunk also being an employee at All-Fab Fabrication I asked Hyneman if that has changed at all.
“This is separate from the job,” explained Hyneman. “When I talk about Jeff, I am talking about Jeff the race car driver, not Jeff the All-Fab employee. That’s a whole different thing, he (Jeff) still works for me.”
With Strunk being an All-Fab employee and the race shop being right there, it was easy for Strunk to be at the shop to work on the cars. Buffalino who lives in Sayreville, New Jersey which is probably (at least) an hour and a half ride to the shop will not have that luxury but Hyneman says they are working on a plan to make it all work.
“I am going to send a car down to New Jersey to make it easier for him to work on it down there,” cited Hyneman. “We have four cars, so we’ll keep three here at the shop and send one down to his shop in New Jersey. We’ll probably race Bridgeport out of his shop and all the rest of shows out of my shop. As a matter of fact, I just got back from the shop after we finished getting the car ready and loaded for Saturday. I am excited to see what we can do together.”
Buffalino excited for opportunity of a lifetime
Dominick Buffalino has been around the NJ/PA modified scene for many years now. Most years it was with equipment that just did not match up to what the big teams were running. Starting in 2021, Buffanlino will not have to worry about that as he has been hired as the new driver of the Glenn & Bonita Hyneman owned No. 126. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for Buffalino and he is aware of the pressure that comes along with being the driver of such a iconic team.
“I don’t know what to think right now,” cited a very happy Buffalino. “It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had and it’s a lot of pressure on me, but I can honestly say they are not putting any pressure on me at least as far as tomorrow goes (The Gobbler at Georgetown). I know there will be pressure on me next year and that comes with driving for Glenn, and I understand that.”
“It feels like anytime I ever drove a race car in my life I had an excuse, someone had a better car, a better motor, better this and that or whatever it was. We won a lot of races; we beat some really good cars and if we didn’t run well, we knew why. We got beat by money and I don’t have that excuse anymore, so I have to do well and that’s where I am putting pressure on myself” cited Buffalino.
“If I can’t win in Glenn’s car, and I know you can’t do good every race, and you will have bad days here and there, but if I can’t do really well most of the time in this car than I’m not going to do well in anything. But, at the same time I don’t see any reason we won’t do really well. I have done pretty well in cars that haven’t been anything like this before. That being said I won’t get mad at myself if we don’t set the world on fire tomorrow. Listen, I haven’t been to Georgetown in probably five years and I have never driven an open small block before or that car so it will be a lot of new and different things for me.”
I asked Buffalino how the dynamic of him working with the team along with the distance between where he lives in New Jersey and the shop will play into how they will work together.
“It’s a two-hour ride for me and I’ve been there the last two nights,” explained Buffalino. “I didn’t get home each night until about 1am and then had to be a work a 7am this morning. We worked out a deal, so I don’t have to go there that much. They will maintain most of the cars there and I will maintain one here at my shop” mentioned Buffalino. “Going in, I assumed the worst, that, Glenn would tell me how many nights I need to be there, but it is not like that at all. Glenn said right from the start that he wants to make it as easy as possible on both of us and he knows that if I have to drive to his shop three nights a week that by April I’ll be burnt out and hate racing and not want to do it anymore. The way it’s working out is that he told me I would never have to wash a car there because Glenn and Bonita will do that. They’ll also strip it and put in the garage for me. I hope to be there one night with another crew guy to do all the maintenance. Ray (Carroll) takes care of all the motors so I won’t have to do anything with them so one night should be enough to get everything done so the car is ready for the next race. Now obviously I will have to wash and maintain the car we have at my shop but that’s okay, I am used to doing that anyways.”
Buffalino talked about how this deal all came together and how surprised he was when Hyneman told him about the phone calls and texts he received from his peers when the word started to get out about the new driver/owner combo.
“I’ve been talking to Ray Carroll for years, one of my crew guys knew Ray from when he used to work with Kenny Brightbill back in the day,” said Buffalino. “So, the last few years I got to talking to Ray more and more and he knows my situation and what I have. It was 2018 and I was driving for John Packenham at New Egypt and they (Ray Carroll & Glenn Hyneman) called me and said they wanted to help me and they were trying to put something together at the end of 2017 when I drove for Pat (Michaels) but I had already made a deal to drive for Packenham in 2018. I was already driving for John and committed when Ray called me and said that him and Glenn wanted to help me.
“Someone in New York was selling a complete small block team, car, motor, trailer and some spare parts and they said they wanted to buy me all that stuff, have it delivered to my shop and lettered up like Glenn’s cars. They said I would drive for them, keep everything here and they would pay and I thought about it for awhile and said that I had shook John Packenham’s hand and had committed to driving for him for the season and I just can’t up and leave after John spent the money and did things just for me. I just couldn’t do it so I didn’t do it. There were other times where they called and offered things but I was already committed to other owners and I just couldn’t do it so when this came about again, I just couldn’t turn it down.”
“ I know this is turning out to be a long story but, they called last Wednesday before Susquehanna (BAPS Speedway) and offered to buy my tires for the race knowing I had used up every tire I had at Bridgeport. At first, I said no, that I had the car stripped and that I was done for the year. Then they said we want you to run our body and we’ll give you anything you need to go so then I said I can’t really turn this down and I did it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out to well, but we did it and finished 11th,. But it really meant something to me when he asked me to run his body on my car because now, I am representing him and that was big to me. Then when Jeff (Strunk) was let go as the driver they called, and I went there this past Wednesday and talked to Glenn and we made a deal for next season. I was pretty surprised last night when Glenn told me about all the phone calls and texts, he received from different people telling him he made a good choice. It really makes you feel good when you hear people like Randy Williamson and Jimmy Horton reached out to Glenn about me. That’s pretty cool.”
Buffalino also knows that Jeff Strunk is a very popular driver and has many fans. Replacing a driver that popular will come with repercussions and Buffalino wants to set the record straight that he wasn’t behind the letting go of Strunk.
“I know there is a lot of hard feelings out there, explained Buffalino. “Jeff drove for them for a long time and the crew guys that were even with Glenn were very tight with Jeff and now they’re gone. It’s a mess and I am sure everyone is mad at me now too but if I wasn’t driving for Glenn next year it would be somebody else. I think everyone is probably more upset than mad, but it wasn’t me. Glenn is a businessman and if he wants to make a change, he is going to make a change. I understand I won’t drive for Glenn forever and I know that’s just how it is. I just don’t want anyone thinking that I was working on getting Jeff out because that’s not the case at all.”
As always, I can be reached for any comments or questions via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25