Story By: JOE GRABIANOWSKI / DIRTCAR – BARBERVILLE, FL – For 50 years, Volusia Speedway Park has been an annual destination for some of the greatest dirt track racers to ever strap in behind the wheel.
Standing out among them are Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modified legends like Jack Johnson, Bob McCreadie, and Kenny Brightbill.
Meanwhile, Brett Hearn, Matt Sheppard, and Larry Wight continue to add to their win totals on “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.”
D.I.R.T. founder Glenn Donnelly first promoted Big Block Modified racing at Volusia in 1978. The inaugural Big Block visit featured nine straight nights of racing for the “Beasts of the Northeast.”
Three-time Super DIRTcar Series Feature winner Lou Lazzaro captured the very first checkered flag awarded for a Big Block Modified race at Volusia Speedway Park. Lazzaro was followed by winners Walt Breeding and Gary Lulg the next two nights. All three of those wins turned out to be the only DIRTcar Nationals Feature wins of their careers.
Drivers Ray Dalmata, Tom Hager, C.D. Coville, Richie Tobias Jr., Craig VonDohren, J.R. Heffner, Andy Bachetti, Dale Planck, Rob Bellinger, Neal Williams, Justin Haers, and Tyler Siri make up the rest of the one-win DIRTcar Nationals Feature winners.
Also in that inaugural 1978 visit, Kenny Brightbill put together a winning streak of three. Only two other drivers have accomplished that since: Hearn won four in a row spanning 2000 and 2001, and “Lighting” Larry Wight did it in 2020 to take the Big Gator back to New York.
The Big Blocks did not return to Volusia until 1982, which included a 100-lap Feature won by “Marvelous” Merv Treichler. The rest of the 1980s were contested by the likes of Billy Pauch, Jack Johnson, Jimmy Horton, Doug Hoffman, and Danny Jonson. These heavyweights thrilled the excited crowds of local fans and visiting Daytona International Speedway goers for the decade.
In 1990, Volusia Speedway Park opened the season as an asphalt track. Doug Hoffman’s back-to-back wins in 1989 held as the final Big Block Modified DIRTcar Nationals wins until 1993. In ‘93, the Big Blocks returned but instead of “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile,” they raced on a 3/8-mile dirt track on the same grounds.
Hearn’s first DIRTcar Nationals victory was on the small track on Feb. 11, 1993. Only 10 Big Block races are on record at the 3/8-mile and Hearn won four of them. Prior to his great run at the dirt track in the ’90s, Hearn was both a fan and a participant at Daytona International Speedway.
“I finished up my NASCAR stuff in ’89 and my first opportunity to run the dirt track wasn’t until 1993. In ’93 we ran on the second track. It was small and flat,” Hearn noted. “We’d always gone there really well prepared and both tracks have been good to me. We’ve enjoyed some great success there and I haven’t missed a year since 1993.”
“The Jet” has gone on to win nine DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator championships.
“In 1996 I got my 500th career win there. We went on a string of some really great success there. We had a lot of good preparation before we went and just always came out of the box strong,” Hearn said of his Volusia success.
“It always breaks the winter up. As a team it always pushed us to get ready earlier rather than stretching the winter out and barely being ready by April,” the eight-time Super DIRTcar Series champion said. “It gave us a huge head start. A lot of times we would stop at other tracks to test during the trip down there. We used that information to see where we were going into the year.”
In 2000, the dirt came back to Volusia Speedway Park’s half-mile oval. Jamie Mills opened up the new dirt track era for Big Block Modifieds with the win on Feb. 15, 2000. Then Brett Hearn went on a four-race streak winning the last three in 2000 plus the 2001 opener.
2005 brought the Super DIRTcar Series non-points status to DIRTcar Nationals Features at Volusia Speedway Park, and wins counted toward Series career statistics for the first time.
This modern era has ushered in the stars we know and love today like Matt Sheppard, Stewart Friesen, Larry Wight, and Mat Williamson. However, that is not to say Billy Decker and Brett Hearn are ready to let them have all the fun in the sun just yet.
The Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds return to Volusia Speedway Park Feb. 9-13 to celebrate 50 years of the DIRTcar Nationals. Tickets are available online to see the Big Blocks in person, or fans can watch live on DIRTVision with their Fast Pass subscriptions.