Story By: BUFFY SWANSON / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – 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, will be honored with the 2022 Gene DeWitt Car Owner Award when the 30th annual Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are held on July 20 at the Hall of Fame and Museum on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.
Madsen first fielded a Street Stock for his friend Lou Gerrain’s son Brian at the Valley. It turned into a two-car team in 1986, with Guy’s son Michael taking the wheel of the second car, and his younger son Brian replacing Gerrain to form an all-Madsen effort in ’87.
The Valley was Tremont territory—if the kids were going to move up, who better to teach them than Kenny himself? Guy threw some sponsorship support Tremont’s way, and Michael got out from behind the wheel to hit the road as Kenny’s tire-changer on the tour. By ’89, Brian was in a Sportsman car—surprisingly, not at Lebanon Valley, but at Weedsport and Rolling Wheels.
Based in Spencertown, NY, “I’m 20 minutes from Lebanon, 55 minutes from Malta,” Madsen stated, “but we wanted to race DIRT. You understand? It was a learning experience. Kenny was helping Brian; Decker was helping Brian. You have to remember who was in the pits in those days—Alan Johnson, Danny Johnson, Jack Johnson, Bob McCreadie, Billy Decker. A lot of good people! You had the chance to learn from them.”
After winning the 1992 Sportsman championship at Rolling Wheels, Brian Madsen moved up to the 358 Mods. “We raced Lebanon Valley, the DIRT series, we raced all over the place. But then he got hurt at Syracuse in ’94: he hit the wall so hard, he hurt his back,” Madsen reported. “He couldn’t walk! I can tell you exactly what I said to him at that point: buddy, we do garage doors for a living. You can’t do this no more.”
The next year, the most successful driver in the history of our sport—Brett Hearn—climbed in the seat of Madsen’s small-block car, beginning one of the most successful and long-lived driver/owner pairings ever put together.
In the Madsen Overhead Doors ride, Hearn 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, at his sons’ suggestion, Madsen took a chance on a young up-and-comer named Stewart Friesen, giving the future superstar his first break in 2004-5.
“When Stewart came to us, he was 19 or 20 years old. Wilder than hell! I watched him roll a car one night at Utica-Rome—gets out of the car, tips it back over, gets back in it and goes on to win the race!
“Stewart was a talent—you had to be crazy not to see it,” Madsen maintained. “If you look at the stuff he’s done since he left us—I am prouder than hell of him. He has done really, really well,” in everything from dirt Mods to NASCAR Trucks.
But at the time, “he wasn’t really prepared mentally to do what he was doing,” Guy assessed. “So we went back with Brett. And the rest is history.”
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.
“We did really well!” Madsen understated. “We had a great crew. They were with us for a long time. I had guys on our crew who are with other teams now—Andrew Phillips, Tommy Conroy, Kevin Palmer and John Albanese. The racing is about the car and about the motor and about the driver—but without a crew, you ain’t going nowhere.”
One year stands out in Madsen’s mind. “I can’t remember the year [it was 2012], but we won Mr. Dirt at Lebanon, Syracuse, Orange County, Charlotte…if there was a big race that year, we won it! I thought that was a great year,” he said. “My brother called me up and said, ‘Guy, you should retire. You’re never gonna get any higher than you are now.’”
Guy’s brother Dan, owner of Dutchess Overhead Doors, was speaking from experience: his rival race team won the Syracuse small-block race with Kenny Tremont in 1988, and the big-block race with Jimmy Horton in ’94. “There are a lot of really good owners who were involved in the sport who are now gone. I don’t know why,” Madsen considered. “My brother Dan is one of them. I don’t think he’s been to a race in 20 years.”
Madsen is one who’s sticking around for a while, even with Hearn all but retired. In 2020, his grandson Dylan made his racing debut at Albany-Saratoga, collecting three wins and finishing second in Limited Sportsman points in his rookie season. Trying his wings, Dylan competed in the STSS Sunshine Swing down in Florida this past winter, and came away with the Crate 602 Sportsman tour title.
“Racing is a lot of things. But it’s all about family,” Madsen determined. “You look at some of the people I’ve been involved with, like the Tremonts. There’s no one more family-oriented than they are! The Friesens are tight. The Hearns are tight. And my family, too.
“We’ve been fortunate—in the cars that I own, I’ve had Brett, Stewart, Jeff Heotzler, Billy Decker for one race at Rolling Wheels, and the kid that drives the Late Model, the Rocket guy, Richards. He drove my car in Virginia one day,” he said proudly.
“We do it as a family. We like what we’re doing. We’ve made some of the greatest friends in the world through racing.”
And always the businessman, Guy recognizes another benefit, as well. “We think we sell a lot of garage doors through racing,” he added.