Story By: BUFFY SWANSON / NORTHEAST DIRT MODIFIED HALL OF FAME – WEEDSPORT, NY – A protégé of Fonda Speedway champion Maynard Forrette, DKM’s Eric Mack will be honored with the distinguished Mechanic/Engineering Award during the 2022 Hall of Fame ceremonies, on Wednesday, July 20, at the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame on the grounds of Weedsport Speedway in New York.
Mack was just a youngster in 1986, riding his bicycle a half mile up the road from his home in Perth, NY, to hang around Forrette’s race car garage. 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 buddies Dave and Chip Constantino how to do it all—from engine rebuilds to chassis fabrication.
“We were kids, putting motors on dynos and everything else!” Eric remembered. “It was hands-on learning.”
By the time Eric was in high school, he was running Forrette’s parts truck in the pits at Fonda. “Did tires and fuel and everything else. Maynard gave me full control of it,” he said.
Mack was barely out of his teens when he felt he was ready to step up and take more control. He had been keenly eyeing the action from the sidelines for years, had some ideas of his own he’d like to put into play.
“So one night I asked Maynard, ‘Listen, will you let me set the car up and you just drive it? If it don’t go good, I’ll never do it again,’” he swore. “‘But just give me 100 percent.’”
Eric changed shocks, got the car set up the way he wanted it—and Forrette went out and won the feature at Lebanon Valley. “After that night, I kinda had full rein with it,” he said.
Mack always had the desire to drive himself, and got the chance in 2000, subbing for Forrette in a new Troyer four-link he’d built. Two years later, he was steering his own Sportsman at Malta, then moved up to Modified.
“At that point, Maynard was out of it,” he explained. “I was working construction, putting my own money into it. Rebuilding bulldozers during the day, doing the race car stuff at night.”
Once he purchased a local bar/nightclub in 2006, it all became too much. “I thought I could do the bar business, make a ton of money, and go racing,” Mack figured. “Well, that’s not how it works. The bar became so busy, I had to quit.”
Around that time, his old friend Jessica Zemken started coming around the restaurant with her boyfriend, Stewart Friesen.
“Me and him really hit it off right from the start,” Eric said. “The beginning of 2012 is when I began helping him. Malta opened up with a Thursday night show, and he won that in Marty Burdick’s car. Then he won at I-88 and Fonda for Tad Parks.
“Everyone he raced for, I went with him,” Mack said of his role as Friesen’s right-hand man. “It was like a package deal: If he drove Tom Cullen’s car, I worked on Tom Cullen’s car. If he drove Tad Parks’ car, I worked on Tad’s car. I was the toolbox.”
Mack was full-bore in, standing wrench in hand by Stewart’s side as he racked up big victories at Fonda, Charlotte, Orange County, Utica-Rome, Grandview’s 76er, Bridgeport—and at the Syracuse Fairgrounds.
“All those years, when it was just me and Stew, I never had any official title,” he admitted. “I never took the role of crew chief until halfway through 2015, when we were getting ready for Syracuse.
“The year before we had so many people involved! You needed someone to delegate and stay in charge and Stew can’t do that. So I told Stew, ‘I’m gonna be the crew chief and keep everything straight.’”
Eric was on the pitbox, calling the shots when Friesen won the 2015 finale at the Syracuse Fairgrounds in dominant fashion, and the following year when Super DIRT Week was moved to Oswego.
In the meantime, Mack had divested himself of the bar/restaurant business; and he and his old friends Dave Constantino and Kyle Hoffman formed DKM Motorsports in 2012.
“Growing up around the speed shop, I watched people spend their last dollar to buy a tire to go race a Sportsman,” Eric observed. “I loved the sport! But I always said: if I’m gonna do racing, racing’s gonna pay me. That was our determination—me and Dave.”
Maynard’s life partner, Marilyn Buanno, gave them space in her trucking company garage, behind the backstretch at Fonda. They began pioneering CNC race car bodies for their customers and other fabricators, like Teo and Bicknell.
“That was more Dave than anybody—he’s an engineer with an RPI degree,” Mack informed. “Instead of cutting out a body with shears, you run it through a computer router, a laser. It cuts it out and it’s all exact—even bend lines on the tubing. Every piece is dead-on accurate.”
From there, DKM came out with their own chassis design in 2017, nicknamed “The Cyclone,” as an homage to the man who sparked it all: Maynard Forrette.
Stewart Friesen debuted the car in Florida, where “we were fast but had a motor problem,” Mack detailed. “Then we went to Bridgeport—broke the track record by four-tenths of a second and won it. A month later, we went back and did it again.”
Friesen jumped back and forth between his Teo and DKM cars, winning for both chassis manufacturers, until the fall of 2019, when he suddenly switched to Bicknell.
Losing their high-profile driver didn’t deter DKM. “After Stew left and switched, two of the three cars he sold had wins, and one of ’em finished second in the Centennial race,” Eric pointed out. “So it wasn’t like they weren’t going anywhere.”
Today, DKM (“Damn Kids Motorsports”) builds between 40 and 50 race cars each year, along with 300-some bodies, out of their 20,000 square-foot shop in Hagaman, NY. “We are nonstop. We fix, we repair, we do it all,” said Eric.
As busy as they are, Eric and Dave have never forgotten their roots in the sport—as kids at Fonda, in awe of driving heroes like Johnson, Coville, Savoie and, yes, their old mentor Forrette.
“We’re very big on the old-timers and the old way of racing,” said Mack. That carries over to the old cars, as well, which DKM has had a hand in restoring.
“I love doing the cars that have history. I redid the Batmobile. Halmar brought me the Statewide Weld car, and we redid that. Right now, I’m working on the Billie Harvey 31.”
Mack took a moment to think back on it all. “I’ve had great times in racing. A lot of my success is because of Stew Friesen. We had good times! I’ve seen Dave Constantino win Sportsman championships. I helped a lot of people win races.”
But he makes no bones about the final fact: “Maynard’s the reason why I am where I am today.”