Story By: BUFFY SWANSON / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – Guy Madsen, Eric Mack, C.J. Richards, Ace Lane Jr. and Mimi Lazzaro will be honored at the July 20th Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The 2022 Gene DeWitt Car Owner Award goes to Guy Madsen, who got his feet wet at Lebanon Valley back in 1985 and went on to make a huge splash with some of the biggest names in the sport.
Madsen first fielded a Street Stock for his friend Lou Gerrain’s son Brian at the Valley — which is where he got hooked up with Hall of Fame Modified driver Kenny Tremont. In the early ’90s, Madsen Overhead Doors of Spencertown, NY, sponsored Tremont on the Modified circuit, as Guy’s son Brian began his Sportsman career. After winning the 1992 division championship at Rolling Wheels, the younger Madsen moved up to the 358 Mods, traveling the small-block series before a back injury sustained in a crash at Syracuse in 1994 ended that.
The next year, the most successful driver in the history of our sport — Brett Hearn — climbed in the seat of Madsen’s SBM and won everything there was to win in the 358 ranks from 1995-2004, at tracks in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and two Canadian provinces. Then Madsen took a chance on a young up-and-comer named Stewart Friesen, giving the future star his first break in 2004-5; Friesen proved his promise, winning 15 times for Madsen before hitting the road. Hearn returned to the seat for good the next season and has driven for Madsen exclusively since 2010.
Together, they have accrued an astounding 281 wins, including five of Brett’s 12 Eastern States 200s; Brett’s last Syracuse Modified victory in 2012; Super DIRT Week small-block scores in 2013 and ’14; the Mr. DIRT 358 title in 2006 and the Modified series title in 2013; nine championships at Lebanon Valley, six at Albany-Saratoga, and one each at Orange County and Accord.
Eric Mack, recipient of this year’s Mechanic/Engineering Award, was just a youngster in 1986, riding his bicycle a half mile up the road from his home in Perth, NY, to hang around the race car garage of two-time Fonda Speedway champion Maynard Forrette.
The kid got hooked: although Forrette was at the tail end of his racing career by that time, he was a good teacher, showing Mack and his buddy Dave Constantino how to do it all—from engine rebuilds to chassis fabrication. By the time Eric was in high school, he was running Forrette’s parts truck in the pits at Fonda and setting up his car on race night. He got behind the wheel himself, briefly in the early 2000s, before pursuing more lucrative business ventures, buying a bar/restaurant in 2006. That’s where he connected with Stewart Friesen, whose career was just beginning to skyrocket. Mack was “the toolbox,” traveling with Friesen, wrenching on all of his random rides.
As Stewart’s star rose, Mack was content in the role of team player until 2015, when he assumed the official title of crew chief. Eric was in the pits, calling the shots when Friesen won the finale at the Syracuse Fairgrounds, and the following year when Super DIRT Week was moved to Oswego.
In the meantime, Mack and his old friends Dave Constantino and Kyle Hoffman formed DKM Motorsports in 2012, pioneering CNC race car bodies for their customers and other fabricators, and then constructing complete race cars. Their DKM chassis, nicknamed “The Cyclone,” is an homage to the man who sparked it all: Maynard Forrette.
The late C.J. Richards, founder of the Champlain Valley Racing Association whose innovations helped reshape the landscape of Northeast dirt track racing, will receive the prestigious Leonard J. Sammons Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to Auto Racing.
Richards began his career in motorsports in the mid 1960s, promoting races at Fairmont Speedway in his home state of Vermont. Two years after taking over Fairmont, faced with increasing opposition from local townspeople, Richards bought farmland on Route 22A and built Devil’s Bowl. But it wasn’t until he took over operations at Albany-Saratoga Speedway in 1977 that Richards really put his promotional skills to work. Once a hotbed of asphalt racing in the 1960s and ’70s, the Malta, NY, track was in decline when Richards took the reins.
He immediately did something radical: C.J. threw dirt down on the old pavement and began pulling the greatest drivers from Lebanon Valley and Fonda on Friday nights. A true visionary, Richards realized that racing needed to cut costs in order to survive. With an eye on economics, he became the first promoter in the region to mandate track tires, then took the biggest gamble of his career in 1985, outlawing big-block Modified motors and instituting small-block 358s in his premier division.
The switch to more affordable 358s rejuvenated the careers of many drivers who could no longer compete against the big-money big-blocks, and racers like Don Ackner, Bob Savoie, Don Ronca and Hector Stratton thrived on the CVRA circuit. Today, following Richards’ lead, the 358 small-block is the engine of choice at most Northeast dirt tracks.
Second-generation photographer extraordinaire, John “Ace” Lane Jr. of Parlin, NJ, will receive the Andrew S. Fusco Award for Media Excellence, in memory of Hall of Fame board member and legal counsel Andy Fusco. From the age of five, Lane shadowed his father, award-winning Hall of Famer Ace Sr., at area tracks and in the darkroom, learning about racing and photography and falling in love with both. At Flemington, where his dad was track photographer, young Lane would shoot 8mm movies of the racing action, perched atop a stepladder in the infield parking area. At Langhorne, he filmed for his dad from inside the first turn.
After the races, father and son would rush to the darkroom in their home in South Plainfield, to develop the film and print the most spectacular shots by deadline for the area’s daily newspapers before sending them to the trades. When Lane reached the age of 18, old enough to be permitted in the pits at New Jersey tracks, he began shooting in tandem with his father, and forming his own style. After the senior Lane died suddenly, at age 54 in 1973, his son stepped into his shoes.
For the past 58 years, Ace Jr. has contributed many of the most iconic images in auto racing to such titles as Area Auto Racing News, Stock Car Racing, Open Wheel and National Speed Sport News, among others. Always looking to perfect his craft, Lane holds a B.S. from Montclair State and continues his studies in Photoshop techniques. A member of the Eastern Motorsports Press Association and the North Jersey Press Association, Ace Jr. is the winner of over 150 awards for his photography.
Melissa “Mimi” Lazzaro, victory lane announcer at Fonda Speedway and on-the-spot pit reporter for DTD, will be honored with this year’s Outstanding Woman in Racing Award. The daughter of the late Hall of Fame driver Lou Lazzaro wasn’t even born when her father was in his prime, but she relished all the stories growing up—his exploits and those of Steve Danish and Ernie Gahan and all the local stars of the era.
It gave Mimi an abiding respect for the history of the sport, leading her to volunteer time and effort to the Fonda Speedway Museum, and mounting a memorial race for her father at the track he loved so much. In 2010, she accompanied her uncle to the Chili Bowl, winning a fan auction to announce a heat race, and Lazzaro discovered her calling. Back at Fonda, she began handling weekly post-race interviews, and friend Scott Morlock, who worked at the Albany FOX News affiliate, put together a demo tape of her driver recaps which she submitted to MAVTV.
Mimi did some pit reporting for Race Pro Weekly, and when Brett Deyo took over Fonda in 2019, he tapped her as victory lane interviewer. For the last two years, Lazzaro has been working with the DTD broadcast team, as pit reporter for some of their STSS racing programs, which air on Flo Racing and MAVTV. With her contagious enthusiasm and knowledge of the sport and its local players, Mimi is a bright spot on those programs—one of the only woman announcers currently covering the dirt Modified division.