By KEN BRUCE
The Hieber family is steeped in history when it comes to the sport of auto racing. The patriarch of the family Eugene “Reds” Hieber first got involved back in the late 60’s at the now defunct Langhorne Speedway when his company Scrappy’s Auto and Truck Service provided their tow trucks for use at the track. Reds became friends with some of the participants and routinely offered their garage to teams to work on their race cars when in town, thus starting the family’s history in auto racing.
As time went on, the Hieber’s became more and more involved with racing as sons Gary Hieber and Danny Hieber started driving gokarts and quarter midgets along with their sisters Kim and Cyndy. What started out as a bunch of kids racing on a homemade track around the family’s home quickly turned into a passion for young Gary and Danny.
Gary went on to have a very successful career driving Modifieds on the local dirt circuit, but wanted something more and eventually left the Modified division to embark on driving in the USAC Silver Crown series. Gary’s career driving in the Silver Crown series was a successful one and led to him winning the biggest race of his career when he won the 1990 Hoosier 100 race.
“The Silver Crown series is just a nice professional run series; friends of ours Mike Haggenbottem is doing it and Toby (Tobias) did it and it is a good series to run,” explained Danny. “Back then for Gary, it was the perfect series for him to run. Even though you are traveling fifteen hours to get to most tracks, it was only an eight to ten race schedule that fit into his work schedule and he did really well on it. I think he (Gary) had the track record on the mile track at Nazareth and he ran really well at Indianapolis Raceway Park.”
While Gary chased his dream running the national series, younger brother Danny was back home learning the ropes of racing driving a Modified. After running in the Modifieds for years, and with the blessing of his father Reds, the family run team took a stab at running in the then Craftsman Truck Series. It turned out to be more than the team could handle for many reasons. The team attempted three races and was able to qualify in one. Realizing it wasn’t for them, Danny returned to drive the family’s Modified.
“Running the truck series was a nightmare,” cited Danny. “It was a deal when my brother was running Silver Crown cars and was doing real well. My dad saw the trucks out there when it first kind of started and talked to some of the NASCAR guys. We had been running well at Flemington with the dirt asphalt cars for Sal (Debruno) and at that time the trucks only ran about a ten week schedule. My dad thought it was something we could do since they didn’t have live pit-stops at that time.”
“But by the time we decided to do it after a couple of months it just snowballed, the bigger teams started to get into it. We ordered a chassis from Hutcherson-Pagan and we were supposed to get it pretty quick, but then they started the Richard Petty Driving Experience and they (Hutcherson-Pagan) had to build about eighty cars for that. So instead of two months it was about a year before we were able to get it. We probably should’ve just gone somewhere else and got it. We put the truck together and it looked good, but by then the series had just got too big, too fast. When we went to Flemington the first time, we didn’t get the motor until the night before and we just never really got it rolling.”
“Kenny Koretsky was helping us out and we were supposed to get money from some other people that we never received, and it just became too much. We ran a little bit with it and my dad wanted to keep going but I thought it was just a waste of money and we went back to running the Modifieds. Years later my dad said we probably should’ve just rented a ride to see how it went, but it wasn’t like it is now where you can rent something decent for a race or two to showcase yourself, it was different back then.”
Danny ran the families Modified at tracks all over the Northeast and was also tabbed to run for legendary owner Sal Debruno’s on the old DIRT/Asphalt car series and at the Flemington Speedway. Danny has always loved the sport of Modified racing and has been in and out of it for the last 15 years for a variety of reasons, but like a true racer has always kept his tabs on what was going on and now is ready to jump back into the water running in the highly successful Brett Deyo owned Short Track Super Series. The last time Hieber was behind of the wheel of a Modified was back in 2012 and talked about the reasons he stepped away.
“I never really planned on stopping, but some things in my life were changing at the end of that year,” commented Danny. “I hurt my neck at Bridgeport and the last few races of that season I didn’t feel good. I planned on taking off at the beginning of the next year and kind of regroup and retool and do our own deal again. Time just started slipping by and you don’t realize how fast time goes.”
Hieber purchased the 2016 Troyer chassis that Tad Cox ran at New Egypt over a year ago, but due to taking a more expanded role in the family business Bucks County International after the death of his father, he was forced to put his return on hold. Even though he’s still busy at work he’s had a year to prepare the No. 11 Modified. Hieber is now ready to make his return. With a Clements Engines big small-block bolted in the car, along with a newly purchased enclosed trailer, the team is ready to head south to All-Tech Speedway to participate in the Sunshine Swing.
“When we originally got the car, we had a motor here that we were going to freshen and just get out there and run a few races,” explained Danny. “I just wanted to see how I felt and how things went, but then we expanded the International Dealership (Bucks County International) we have and added a location in Flemington. That kind of put us behind. Then at home my wife and I bought another building so she could add another hair salon. She already has one salon and wanted to expand and add another one so that kind of put everything on the backburner as well.”
Once everything started to come together at work and at home for the Langhorne, Pa., native, it was time to get things in line for a return to racing. The motor the team has available is a big small-block so that sort of limited Hieber’s racing options as to where he could race. Realistically there was no decision to be made as he knew the Short Track Super Series was where he wanted to make his return. With a strong field of cars running the STSS, Hieber knows it will be a challenge after being out of the car for seven years.
“We’re not doing this because we think it will be easy,” mentioned Danny. “We’re doing it because it’s a challenge. I believe in what Brett (Deyo) is doing and I think that’s the way the sport’s going to survive with someone like him. You want to support him, plus it fits into our schedule. I still would love to run two nights a week and all the series races, but it’s just not possible for me to do that. So, with running his south series, it pays well, and it pays well to start and that’s the way I look at it. It also gives us those two or three weeks to get the car ready to go to the track. If we ran every week, with my schedule, we would not be one 100 percent going to the racetrack. With the south series schedule we can make sure we are ready as we can be when we get to the racetrack.”
Being out from behind the wheel for such a long time I asked Hieber if he expected to have some rust when he straps himself back into the car and hits the track.
“Some of that will depend on how much I actually think about it,” he said. “If I can pretty much just go there, run, and get focused, I’ll be fine. It’s when you start getting out there, like when I came back to Grandview after I had taken off for a couple of years before. You get going good and say to yourself, ‘wow, I’m doing pretty good here’ and then you start thinking too much about it and cars start going past you. If I can get out there and just let it naturally come back to me and do what I used to do all the time, it’s not that bad. But yes, to answer your question I’m sure there will be some rust.”
Hieber’s season will get underway next week down in Florida as he will take part in the Brett Deyo promoted Sunshine Swing. Although Hieber expects to do well, running the Florida races will act more like a test session for him and his team so they will be prepared when it comes time for the STSS South Region to get underway at Georgetown Speedway the weekend of March 6th & 7th with the running of the Melvin Joseph Memorial race.
“Getting the rust off is one of the main reasons we are going to Florida,” cited Danny. “We are only planning on running the eight races in the STSS south series. Running in Florida you get four nights in a row counting the practice night to get on the track and if we don’t do that we would be lost until August or September. That’s the main reason we are going there so we can get a jump on the season and to see if there is anything we need to work on to get ready when the series opens in Georgetown.”
After a long absence from being behind the wheel and running against the talent level that Hieber will be running against it would be normal for any driver to be skeptical about returning. With the experience the talented driver has the team has high hopes for a successful return.
“To be honest, I think we will run well and plan on running in the top ten,” said a confident Danny. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think I could, but someone has to run in the back and who know maybe it will be me. We’ll just see how everything falls and how things are with the car and motor. There’s a lot of variables going into it, but the main thing is we are going to the racetrack and we’re going to be racing.”
“It’s not like when I stopped racing, I didn’t think about it. I think about racing every day and not to be funny and I definitely don’t want to make light of it, but racing is an addiction. No matter what else you do, in racing you spend all your money, all your time and it’s not good for your health and it’s not good for you, but we do it anyways. Why, because it’s the racing bug and I think everyone who races knows what I’m talking about. You just can’t get away from it all the way, you think about racing constantly. That’s all I ever did growing up; we were either racing or going to racetracks. I don’t go to a lot of races now because I can’t stand watching.”
Danny Hieber is not the only family member set to return to racing this year as his nephews Gary Jr., and Kyle will also be returning this season.
“Gary (Jr) and Kyle will be racing at Bridgeport this season. I am not sure of their exact schedule, but I know they will run the Modifieds (Gary Jr – Big Block & Kyle – Crate Sportsman) and when the SpeedSTRs are there. Both of them have taken on a lot more the past couple of years with the business (Scrappy’s), they both got married and bought houses. I think it’s good they are getting back out again. You need a little release every now and then to unwind.”
Sponsors for the No. 11 include the trio of the Hieber’s family businesses: Bucks County International, BCI Truck, Inc., Scrappy’s Auto Service along with Bill Brown & Company and A & J Auto Glass. Product sponsors include Jones Racing Products, Art’s Radiator, Eibach Springs, Lineman Racing, Beyea Headers, Hoffman Speed Supplies, ISC Racers Tape, Clements Racing Engines, Penske Shocks, Bowen Lettering and Kelly Racing Fuels.
I have had the pleasure of being friends with Danny for around 20 years now. He and I first met when I was working part-time at a hockey rink and Danny’s son Andrew started to play hockey. We immediately hit it off because of our passion for racing, especially dirt Modifieds. I have had the pleasure of crewing for Danny in past years and even when not racing we have always remained close and talked to each other quite frequently (mostly about racing). Danny is one of the people who has encouraged me the most to write about the sport I love and has always been there for me when I needed to talk to someone regarding a technical issue. The Hieber family is a blessing to the racing community and I am proud to be a friend to all of them. Good luck to Danny in his comeback and I will be behind him 100%!
As always, I can be reached for any comments and questions by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25