FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Buffy Swanson, 609-213-7722
NE Dirt Modified Hall of Fame To Induct Danny Johnson
By Robin Yasinsac-Gillespie
On Thursday, July 25, Modified sensation Danny Johnson will join racing’s elite as he is officially inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame. The 28th annual induction ceremonies will be held in the Hall of Fame Museum located on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.
The second-generation driver is extremely appreciative of the celebration.
"Certainly this is huge for me — it’s a great honor to be included in this induction," said the 59 year-old Johnson, who resides in Phelps, NY. “It's been 40 years I’ve been racing now, and I guess I’ve done something right along the way to end up here."
One of the winningest drivers on the circuit today, Johnson has racked up 593 victories in the past four decades for 40 different car owners, which is a challenge in itself. The guy can drive a race car — one that he’s familiar with or one that he’s never seen before; one that’s hooked up perfectly or a car so ill-handling that he needs to carry it across the finish line. And Danny’s done it at 55 different speedways in 13 states and two Canadian provinces — a feat unmatched by any other driver in the modern era.
"I was born into it, I didn’t really know anything else," Johnson said of his adventurous career. "My dad [Milt] raced, my brother [Alan] raced, and I was 18 years old and I needed to do something with my life, something to stay out of trouble. I had the opportunity — with my parents' help — to put some sponsors together and get a race car," he related.
His first checker was at nearby Canandaigua Speedway in 1979.
"The first win was so cool! I was racing with Will Cagle at the time. He tried to get me on the bottom and I kind of closed the door on him and went off to win. Cagle was always the guy to beat so that felt good, real good."
The future superstar’s role model was his older brother, Alan, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. The Johnson brothers occupy two of the top three spots on DIRTcar’s all-time Modified win list.
"On DIRT, [my idol] would have been my brother," Johnson revealed. "I used to go to the races with him, I would help work on his car and I wanted to do what he was doing. And I wanted to be good at it! That was the competitive side of me, always coming through."
The pair traveled up and down the highways, looking for the next race show. Both going their own ways eventually, and both becoming legends in the auto racing arena.
"When [DIRT promoter] Glenn Donnelly had all those tracks, we were racing a lot. If you didn’t make some money one night, you would most likely make some money on one of the other nights, so it kept you going," Johnson said.
He followed Donnelly’s Super DIRT Series, ride-hopping much of the time in order to maintain a full schedule. Johnson had huge success, and a steady gig from 1992-98, with Ray Bramall’s Freightliner Express team.
In those seven years, Ray and Danny won 92 times, starting with a DIRT Asphalt Series event at PA International Speedway in the spring of 1992 and ending with a Super DIRT Series race at Weedsport in September 1998. In between, the Freightliner team took both the SDS and Mr. DIRT Mod series titles in '92 and '97; Mr. DIRT 358 and 358 series championships in 1996; point titles at Orange County, Ransomville and Rolling Wheels; three of Danny’s six Eastern States 200 victories; two Eastern States small-block races; the 1994 Syracuse 358 event; and — the mother of them all — the 1997 Super DIRT Week 300. It was Ray’s third time winning that big one on the NYS Fairgrounds mile, and Danny’s first of two.
Bramall, who’s had no less than Brett Hearn in his seat, summed up Johnson as a racer who "had more natural ability than anyone I’ve ever seen."
All told, Johnson has four overall Mr. DIRT Modified titles, three Super DIRT Series trophies, five Modified championships at Rolling Wheels, four at Canandaigua, two at Weedsport, three on the Florida tour, and 89 Super DIRT Series victories. On the 358 side of the ledger, Johnson’s scored four Mr. DIRT 358 and three series titles, championships at Ransomville, Orange County and Weedsport, and 56 358 Modified Series wins. His pair of SDW Mod triumphs came in 1997 and 2006.
"I was fortunate to have been involved with a lot of good people over the years," Johnson said. “I've made good money at it [racing] but I also spent a lot of money on it, too. I’ve seen every part of it."
And as Johnson became one of the most feared drivers out there, controversy often followed him, mostly due to his aggressive driving style.
"Somebody wrote something about me the other day and it wasn’t the nicest," admitted Johnson, who acquired the nickname “Danimal" before settling down some to become known as "The Doctor."
"I didn’t ever go out and try to crash people. Sometimes things happened while we were racing, but that was just racing. We were all out there trying to make a living at it," he reasoned.
Throughout his career, Johnson always had guidance from his late father Milt, a former racer and successful engine builder. The elder Johnson’s B&M Speed Shop in Rochester, NY, supplied the power to such high-profile racers as Richie Evans, Jerry Cook and Merv Treichler. In 2013, Milt posthumously received Hall of Fame honors for his contributions as a mechanic. As Danny ages, his resemblance to his dad is uncanny.
"I saw a picture of me the other day and I couldn’t believe how much I looked like him," Johnson reflected on his father. "I think I’m a lot like him — there’s no doubt that he rubbed off on me. As I get older, I wish I would have paid more attention and spent more time with him."
Johnson also respected what he learned from car-building mastermind Maynard Troyer, who passed away last year.
"I don’t know if we had a close relationship, but I spent a lot of time racing his cars," said Johnson. "And in 1983, I started working for him, and that went on for quite a while. I learned a lot from Maynard. I recently had a dream about him! It was pretty cool seeing him again."
Like most, Johnson can’t believe how fast time has gone. But he’s really enjoyed the ride along the way — the good, the bad and the ugly.
"There has been a lot of success, a lot of hard work and a lot of time! But I feel very fortunate that I didn’t get hurt over the years doing it," Johnson said, remembering a long-ago incident where a broken driveshaft severely damaged Will Cagle’s leg. "Look at Cagle! I was driving the same car he was driving — that could have been me! But I’ve been fortunate and I am so thankful for that."
Johnson is a dad to seven children — do they realize their pop’s accomplishments?
"To them, I’m just dad," chuckled Johnson who has one son (Daniel) already racing. "There would be more racers in the family if there was more money." The son has raced on and off for a couple of years. "He makes his own deals and does his own thing," Danny informed. "I think his desire is as strong as mine was when I was his age. He works really hard for me at the race tracks and has put in his time, so I hope it works out for him."
As for dad — he’s not stepping down anytime soon. He’s still wishing for more seat time.
"We don’t race that much anymore, not like we used to,” Johnson lamented. "There aren’t enough shows anymore so it’s hard to make a living at it."
And he admits the competition is greater.
As his career begins to wind down, "The wins seem to come few and far between now. But they still feel really good," Johnson bottom-lined.
Despite having reached the Hall of Fame career milestone, he’s not done yet. Danny is still actively looking for that next ride and next race.
"I will probably stop when I can’t get in the car anymore or when I don’t have someone that wants me in their car," laughed Johnson. "I don’t feel any different than I did 20 years ago. I may not be as fast or as spunky as I was, but I’m fortunate. You just can’t plan the future — it is what it is and that’s pretty much how I’ve been doing it my whole life. I do things day to day. And today’s not over yet."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Buffy Swanson, 609-213-7722
Pat O’Brien Joins Elite in NE Dirt Mod Hall of Fame
By Gary Rowe
The “Flyin’ O’Brien," Pat O’Brien Jr. from Kingston, ONT, has been selected as a 2019 inductee into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame. Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday, July 25 at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.
Although Pat O’Brien Sr. was a long-time driver and winner at the old Watertown and Kingston speedways, among others, it was never really a given that his son and namesake would follow him into the seat of a dirt Modified.
"By the time I was nine or 10 years old, dad was pretty much out of racing," Pat related. Senior had hung up his helmet to focus on raising a family and building a business, Pat’s Radiator Shop.
"To be honest, I was really too young to actually recall my dad in competition. But I would still go to the races, usually sitting in the stands with family, and eventually, as I got older, I would go with friends,” O'Brien said.
Kingston Speedway closed in 1976 when Pat was 12, so in later years he and his buddies would frequent Brockville, Can-Am and Cornwall speedways. In 1985, at the age of 20, he decided it was time to try his hand at piloting a Modified.
Donnie Carlyle, brother of Hall of Fame driver Doug "The Ox" Carlyle, was his mentor, showing him the way to win. "He helped me build my first car and went with me to all the races,” O'Brien stated. "It was Donnie’s philosophy that the only way you got good was through seat time -- so for those first couple of years, we raced four nights a week.
"Me and the guys were probably about as close to being full-time as you can be, without actually being full-time," Pat admitted. "We would race at night, get home in the wee hours of the morning, shower, get some sleep and go to work, and repeat that cycle all week long, week in and week out, during that first season."
It took Pat more than two years to garner that first win. It came on May 2, 1987, the season opener at Can-Am.
"That was an unbelievable thrill," Pat proclaimed. His first career win wasn’t his last that year: O’Brien went on to score four more victories before season’s end, a second win at Can-Am, two at Brockville and one at Cornwall.
O’Brien’s success on the North Country tracks caught the eye of Hall of Fame car owner Sheldon Legue. And after Legue and driver Doug Carlyle decided to part ways for 1988, Pat got the call.
"I got to know Sheldon from following the [358 DIRT] series," Pat recounted. "We would often be parked close to one another in the pits."
The Legue ride was a sought-after seat, but the car owner liked what he saw in O’Brien.
"I liked his personality. He was good with people, presented himself well and was showing some promise as a driver in being able to find victory lane," Sheldon said at the time. "He was a clean driver and usually brought the car home in one piece."
Upon Carlyle’s departure, O’Brien called Legue, asking to be considered for the ride. When the two met, "I could see the hunger in his eyes," Sheldon remembered then.
And, prophetically, 1988 was a magical year for the new team. By the end of the season, O’Brien and Legue had clicked for 16 wins, track championships at Cornwall and Can-Am, and the all-important Mr. DIRT 358 tour title, racing against high-profile heavyweights like Brett Hearn and Bob McCreadie.
Between 1988 and 1993, the Legue-O’Brien pairing won a total of 66 feature events, eight track championships and a benchmark three Mr. DIRT 358 series titles.
In 1994, Legue cut back his racing involvement to spend more time with his family, and O’Brien returned to being an owner/driver. Pat also started a family with wife Christina, and daughters Shannon and Sarah came along in 1996 and 1998.
"I was fortunate in that, even with a young family, the race car pretty much supported itself," Pat said. But in 2000 -- even with 10 wins and a track championship at Can-Am — O'Brien found himself struggling financially to keep the operation going. "So I elected to do what my father did, and that was to step away and sell everything," he conceded.
In the fall of 2000, en route to bringing his race motor to builder Pat Morrison for sale, O’Brien made a fateful visit to John Wight, who had just purchased Can-Am Speedway.
"He saw the engine in the back of my truck and wanted to know if I was taking it to get freshened. When I told him I was going to sell it, John couldn’t believe it. Here, he had just purchased Can-Am -- and his track champion was getting out!" Pat detailed.
O’Brien sat out 2001 and 2002, but still went to the races to help out his brother Danny. And John Wight and Pat kept in touch.
"In 2003, with John’s help, I was able to return to racing," Pat acknowledged. Competing primarily at Can-Am in 2003 and '04, O’Brien settled right back into his winning groove, taking down two big-block victories in the Gypsum team #6, along with the 2004 Can-Am track championship.
In 2005, Pat was as prolific as he’d been in the late '80s and early '90s, scoring a dozen wins in both big- and small-block Mods at Can-Am, Brockville and Cornwall, and claiming track titles at Can-Am and Brockville. It was his 10th championship at Can-Am, where he is the winningest driver in the track’s history.
Quietly retiring at the end of 2016, Pat O’Brien amassed more than 185 wins at seven speedways in two countries, four Mr. DIRT 358 series titles and 22 track championships in a sterling career that spanned 31 years.
But more importantly, O’Brien earned the respect and admiration of his racing rivals.
Hall of Fame driver Marcel Lafrance and his son, Edelweiss and Cornwall champ Stephane, both chased Pat O’Brien at various points in their racing careers.
"In the late '80s, it was between Pat and my dad a lot. In the early 2000s, it was Pat, his brother Danny and me," said Stephane, who used to pit beside Pat at Brockville. "I won a lot myself, but Pat was THE GUY! Even at the end of a race you were winning by a mile, if you backed down at all, he’d take you.
"Pat was everything you would want in a race car driver," the younger Lafrance summarized. "He put on a good show for the fans. He was never dirty. And he never made mistakes."
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Buffy Swanson, 609-213-7722
Pioneer Driver Ray Brown Joins NE Mod Hall of Fame
By Bob Marlow
The late Ray Brown, a pioneering Modified driver in the 1950s and later a standout ARDC Midget racer, will be honored as a 2019 inductee into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame. Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday, July 25, at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in Weedsport, NY.
Returning to his home near White Plains, NY, following his service in World War II, Brown started out racing stock cars -- junkyard-refugee jalopies that required manhandling and mechanical ingenuity to make them fast.
Ray Brown had both those attributes, as a driver and as a mechanic, and achieved success early on. Doug Post, whose father Harold worked with Ray at the local Sears, Roebuck & Co. auto center in the post-war 1940s, can recall it all. After Post’s dad died in 1950, Brown took young Doug on the road with the race team -- so he had a singular front-row vantage point for all of those victory-lane celebrations.
And there were many: At long-gone New York tracks like Empire Raceway in Menands; Freeport, Long Island; Rhinebeck, Peekskill, Arlington and others. Candlelight Stadium in Connecticut. Nazareth Raceway in Pennsylvania. Morristown, NJ, and particularly Old Bridge Stadium, where Brown aced the track’s inaugural race in 1953, was crowned the track’s first champion, and won 15 events in a scant two years.
In New England, Ray was the 1950 champion at Riverside Park, in Agawam, MA, and had success with Harvey Tattersall’s United Stock Car Racing Club. When the American Racing Drivers Club (known for sanctioning Midget racing) instituted a stock car class in 1953, Ray Brown took the title.
But it was at the Orange County Fair Speedway in nearby Middletown that Brown cemented his lasting legacy.
From July 4, 1951 to August 1, 1959 -- a span of only nine years -- Brown recorded 43 Modified victories on the Middletown hard clay, claimed three Mod championship titles in 1952, '53 and '57, and finished runner-up in points in two other seasons. Sixty years later, Ray still sits solidly in sixth on Orange County’s all-time Modified win list.
"He owned the place," was Doug Post’s remark about Brown’s mastery of Middletown.
There was no question that Brown liked the big tracks. In 1958, he won Orange County’s Langhorne qualifier and headed to Pennsylvania for the mile speedway’s notorious National Open for Sportsman Modifieds. Although he’d never before seen the treacherous track, Ray went out and set fast time at Langhorne, seizing the pole, and was leading the big event when a fan belt disengaged, causing his car to overheat. He still hung on to finish sixth, behind winner and Hall of Fame driver Jim Delaney.
Always a thrill-seeker, Brown wasn’t content to settle down in stock cars as his status quo. Following the 1959 season, Ray sold off everything to sign on as a Midget racer with ARDC. His first ARDC Midget win came on August 27, 1960 in Danbury, CT, where he led club stars Russ Klar and Len Duncan to the flag. His second Midget win came only a few days later at Vermont’s Essex Junction Fair.
Between 1960 and 1967, Brown won 27 Midget features, including seven at Middletown, placing him at 50 victories overall at the "House of Power."
Echoing Post’s earlier comment about Ray’s command of OCFS, nationally celebrated Midget car owner Ken Brenn has a keen recollection of a 1967 ARDC meet.
"Because he was so good in the stock cars at Middletown, Ray Brown was almost unbeatable at that track when he ran with ARDC. The only time we ever beat Ray was when we had Jimmy Caruthers, from California, in the car," Brenn recounted. "Ray had us covered but Jimmy kept dogging him and dogging him. He tried everything! Finally pulled it off with a daring last lap pass. Jimmy really worked for that one! Yeah, Ray Brown was pretty much untouchable at Middletown."
Among the cars of Ray’s ARDC career was the Darrell-Villa #83, one of the top rides throughout its long club history, driven by many of the greats of the era. Brown went toe-to-toe with all of them, winning at Williams Grove and Old Bridge, in addition to his home track. He even took a crack at the USAC Champ Cars.
Brown’s final win occurred on June 10, 1967, at Middletown. Later that year, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that seriously mangled one of his legs -- and, in that instant, his career was over. Ray’s daughter, Carole, remembered the traumatic aftermath. "It broke his heart to have to give up racing," she admitted.
Brown’s son, Ray Jr., wondered if perhaps that was the way it was destined to be. "I don’t know if he would have liked racing in the '70s and '80s, after the roll cages came in. My dad was all about the danger of the open cockpit," Ray Jr. reasoned. "I think that was the lure for many drivers back then."
Doug Post repeated that premise. "Ray never took any stupid chances. But he liked to live on the edge," he conceded.
After racing, Ray Brown continued to operate his longtime service station in Elmsford, NY, before retiring to Florida. He passed away in 1989, at age 65.
Ray Jr. reflected on his father’s place in racing history.
"What is remarkable about my dad’s accomplishments is that he did what he did in a very short time span, compared to the drivers listed ahead of him in all-time wins," Brown Jr. observed. "If he had five decades or more of racing like many other well-known drivers, I am sure he would have been at the very top."