Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – WEST LEBANON, NY – History. Every race track is built on it, and Lebanon Valley Speedway is no exception. On Friday and Saturday, the West Lebanon, NY oval celebrated last year’s best and added to the history of the legendary facility in the process.
For the second time ever, all five of the track’s top division champions successfully defended their titles from the year before. Brett Hearn (Modified), Kenny Tremont (358-Modified), Whitey Slavin (Sportsman), Rob Yetman (Pro Stock) and Ed Hatch (Pure Stock) were all able to return to the stage on banquet night as the top point getter.
For Hearn, the 2018 racing season also marked his 13th career Modified crown on the high banks in just 16 full seasons. Another year where he was a model of consistency, Hearn racked up three wins, nine top fives and 11 top 10s enroute to his seventh championship in-a-row, also a record for the Valley.
“It’s amazing to think of how many years I’ve been up here and how many I’ve been with the Madsen family,” Hearn said Saturday evening. “I’m very proud of the opportunity they’ve given me for sure. Seven championships in-a-row is something that has never been done here and 13 in 16 tries is a pretty good number at any track.”
In all of those titles, the 20 team has been one of the most prepared week in and week out and last season was no exception.
“There’s a lot to be proud of over the years,” he said. “Our success has been with several different members of the team. However, every single one of them has given everything they could give me in terms of effort. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m lucky to have that effort behind me.”
Hearn made note that as even though the team owners (the Madsen family) are local (roughly 20 minutes from the Valley), coming from New Jersey each week to the Capital Region of New York could take its toll on any team.
“For us coming out of Jersey, being up here is definitely a lifestyle,” he said. “It’s a situation where we stay on the road a lot. We sleep in campers and work outside during the day to prepare the racecars. It’s definitely a tough life but one my team works hard for.”
The one constant for Hearn and his operation is the Madsen family, who has given their unwavering support to this racing program for several seasons.
“The best thing about being part with the Madsen family, I think, is that when things don’t go our way, Brian Madsen will get on the phone and keep us positive and tell us to just dig a little deeper,” he said. “There’s not finger pointing. There’s no blaming. It’s just what do we need to do to stay focused on the job at hand.”
The big question is where Hearn will be racing in 2019, and he addressed that “somewhat” on stage while talking with co-emcee Dan Martin.
“Well, I’ll be at Lebanon Valley on Opening Night, for sure,” Hearn said with a laugh.
No other news about his weekly plans talked about, but he did say that news will be released within the next week or so.
Small Block Modified champion Kenny Tremont recorded his fifth career title and fourth in-a-row during the 2018 season on the strength of five wins and four second place finishes. He also garnered 11 top fives and 12 top 10’s as well and pushed his career 358-Modified win total to 33…the most all-time in the division.
“We really had another amazing year with the Small Block here,” Tremont said. “I’ve been really fortunate to have such a great team behind me. I’m really impressed with the amount of effort they put in on this program. They really work hard and the results the last four years has really showed. That’s what it takes.”
Their dedication to the team isn’t always just on race day. Tremont is very thankful for what they do away from the track to be as successful as they can.
“Before we even set foot on the grounds here at Lebanon Valley, this team is ready to go,” he said. “Sometimes you scramble to make things work here, but the majority of the work is done and done well at the shop and these guys make it happen.
For 2019, however, it looks like there will be a changing of the guard in the division as Tremont and company will not be racing the class full-time.
“We’re going to be at Lebanon Valley with the Big Block but we’re going to give the Small Block a little bit of a breather,” he said. “We’re going to give that car some time off while still competing at Malta on Friday’s and Devil’s Bowl on Sundays.”
Sportsman track champion Whitey Slavin was a model of consistency in 2018. While he didn’t get to victory lane, he did record three runner-up performances, seven top fives and nine top 10’s.
“Man, getting back-to-back championships is amazing,” Slavin said. “Hats off to my crew for that because this means a lot. It took us almost 18 years to get the first one so to go back-to-back is just crazy.”
It was a hard-fought season for the Slavin #53 team as the championship came down to the final laps of the final night of points. In the end, Whitey came out on top by just 11 markers over Rob Maxon and 13 over Chris Curtis.
“We worked hard this past year and hopefully we can step things up for 2019,” he said. “Rob, Chris and everyone were very tough and congratulations to them for their accomplishments, but that just means we need to improve our program to be back here and that’s what we’re working on right now.”
With the amazing amount of support he has behind him, both with his crew and sponsors, plans for 2019 include a chase of a third career title on the high banks.
“We’re going to try and go after a three-peat here at the Valley this season,” he said. “We bought a car from the Curtis team and are going to go out on the road some as well. We’re going to run some at Malta, Devil’s Bowl and other select shows.”
Lebanon Valley’s all-time winningest Pro Stock competitor Rob Yetman picked up right where he left off in 2017 and was able to take home another championship in the full-fendered class at the Speedway. Yetman was able to win on five occasions, took home eight top five’s and had nine top 10’s, but it was his run at the end of the season that has him still scratching his head.
“With two point races left, I was sitting seventh in points, about 39 points back,” Yetman said. “In the Langenback race, I got lucky as I just narrowly missed getting taken out in a wreck that nearly the entire field was involved in. I was lucky enough to win the race and we closed in and on the last night our car was just super hooked up and we got the job done.”
Yetman was quick to give credit to the level of competition in the class, and the guys he had to fight with to win this title.
“Jason Meltz…the Casey kid…Dempsey…everyone was tough last year,” he said. “This year, I expect more of the same. It was hard to get the championship again and I’ll be honest, I was surprised we pulled this one off.”
In the Pure Stock class, “Big” Ed Hatch was able to secure his second career championship in the class, joining his brother JJ as the only brother combination to win titles in the class at LVS.
“I am so thankful for everyone that has helped me to get to this spot,” Hatch said. “My wife and my son stand behind me 100%. They’re my biggest critics…telling me when something’s going wrong. My brother helps me out a lot. My dad and all my sponsors that support this car are amazing.”
Hatch made note that the engines that are allowed in the class now are what has helped his program succeed over the last couple seasons.
“The crate motors we can run now have really stepped things up a lot,” he said. “Zach (Seyerlein) gave me a real good run this past season and we were only able to beat him by like six points. The crates are where it’s at. They’ve made the competition a lot better and this just shows how tight the class is. Hopefully we can come back and make it three-in-a-row.”
The two 4-Cylinder champions were Gary Malloy (Single Cam) and Kenny Stager (Dual Cam).
News & Notes…
It was announced during banquet that Lane VanDeusen has stepped down as pit steward at the Valley after two seasons. He will be replaced for 2019 by Fred Lee who has spent many years in the pit area working on various cars.
While the Modified teams were receiving their perfect attendance awards, it was announced that this past season marked some major milestones for three longtime teams at the track. Eddie Marshall has been to every event at the Valley for 40 years. Not to be outdone, 2019 will mark Mike King’s 47th season of racing on the high banks. However, the most astonishing feat is that Ken Tremont season has now fielded a car at Lebanon Valley for 57 consecutive seasons without missing a single event. That’s quite an accomplishment for all three of these men.
I will be putting together another column highlighting the special awards that were handed out at the banquets this weekend during this week, but wanted to make reference to the winners here so they get their recognition as well.
• Hall Of Fame Induction (posthumously): Bobby Waters & Kenny Coon
• Modified Entertainer Of The Year: Keith Flach
• Modified Rookie Of The Year: Josh Marcus
• 358-Modified Outstanding Achievement: Dillon Steuer
• Jeff Yasinsac Mr. Excitement (Sportsman): Rob Maxon
• Pro Stock Outstanding Performance: Jason Casey & Jon Routhier
• Pure Stock Outstanding Performance: Zach Seyerlein
• Dedication To Racing: Brian Bedell