Weedsport, NY — May 5, 2009 – By Herb Anastor, Northeast Modified Hall of Fame Selection Committee
Garden State standout Ken Brenn Jr. has been selected as a 2009 inductee into the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame. Driver inductions and special award ceremonies are scheduled for Sunday, May 24 on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Weekend holiday show at the adjacent speedway.
Brenn had an advantage in racing that few rookie racers have. When he began his career in the high-powered world of dirt-track Modified stock-car competition, his first car owner – his father – was a man who was familiar with winning.
A well-respected Midget owner in United States Auto Club and American Racing Drivers Club circles, Ken Brenn Sr. got into the Modifieds in the early 1970s when interest in the open-cockpit mighty-mites began to fade. And since he knew what it took to field a winning race car, he purchased a 427-cubic-inch Chevrolet-powered 1937 Chevy coupe that was built by Northeast Modified Hall of Fame member Budd Olsen and he put Stan Ploski, another Northeast Modified Hall of Famer, into its cockpit.
As a kid growing up, Ken Jr. often went with his father to the Midget races, but as he got older other things occupied his time. Yet just that simple formation of the new Modified-oriented No. 24 Ken Brenn Racing Team was enough to regenerate the youngster’s interest in racing. And when that operation brought forth young Brenn’s desire to get behind the steering wheel, he took full advantage of his situation and developed into one of the most successful drivers on New Jersey’s tough Flemington Fair Speedway and East Windsor Speedway circuit.
“I’m not a win-or-spin, guy,” Ken Jr. said some years ago when he was asked to evaluate his driving style. “I want to be there at the end.” Being there at the end, of course, meant that he had a chance to win the race. And at Flemington and East Windsor he did so a bunch of times.
The first-ever Rookie Champion at Flemington in 1972, Ken Jr. turned that trick in the same yellow No. 24 ’37 Chevy coupe that Ploski first drove under the Ken Brenn Racing Team colors. And then, after this three-year apprenticeship in the Sportsman ranks was through, he moved up to the Modifieds and began to make a name for himself as a top-flight competitor.
In 1975, Ken Jr. posted the first of his 18 Modified victories at the old half-mile East Windsor Speedway, and he was a frontrunner there each Friday night until the end of the 1980 season when the track converted its headline class into a proprietary but highly competitive Small-Block Modified operation.
With East Windsor now a thing of the past, the 1978 New Jersey State Modified Champion now focused his efforts on the Saturday night Modified action at Flemington’s famed Route 31 speed plant where he was also one of the top drivers.
In 1982 and 1983, the Warren, New Jersey, hot shoe won Flemington’s highly-coveted Modified titles, and his total number of 59 triumphs there places him fourth on “The Square’s” All-Time Dirt-Track Modified Victory List behind Billy Pauch (114), Northeast Modified Hall of Fame member Al Tasnady (96) and Ploski (74). Ken Jr. also won the 1979 & 1980 Tri-Track 100s on the old Flemington layout and he won at least one feature race on the venerable dirt surface for 12 consecutive seasons (1976-1987).
After Flemington’s famed 5/8-mile racing surface was paved for the 1991 season, the former dirt-track ace continued to compete there until the track closed for good at the end of 2000. He liked the asphalt and said that it was fun to drive on it, and he proved his blacktop talents by sharing Flemington’s 1996 Small-Block Modified title with Dean Gulick.
In general terms, Ken Jr. raced mostly close to home, but the competition that he faced in the Garden State was some of the best in Modified racing. However, when he did go off and travel to some of the bigger races he could hold his own just about anywhere that he went. And this was underscored by the big win that he posted at Syracuse on July 3, 1983, in a No. 24 Ken Brenn Racing Team entry that was built by Sprint Car wizard Gary Stanton.
His racing luck, however, wasn’t all that great at the New York State Fairgrounds though when it came to Super DIRT Week. In a recounting of his long career, Ken Jr. cites winning the pole position (34.524 seconds/104.275 mph) at the 1979 Rite Aid 200 as one of his biggest accomplishments.
But although the trimly-built driver with the flowing Sam Elliott moustache was always fast on the “Moody Mile,” he surprisingly only had two top-five finishes (third in 1979 and fifth in 1980) in his 17 Super DIRT Week starts (1976-1992). And equally as amazing is the fact that he only led 40 laps in all those years as mechanical problems or accidents often hurt his chances to win the sport’s biggest race.
There are two other interesting notes about Ken Brenn Jr.’s career: he didn’t make any money driving a race car until after he joined up with Mike O’Shea’s No. 74 Trenton Mack team in the early 1980s; and, no matter who he drove for, he always had good equipment.
With regard to his racing income, that wasn’t even a question when he drove for his father. For the Ken Brenn Team racing was always considered to be a hobby; a way for the father and son to relax and enjoy something together after the work at the family business – Brenn Construction – was finished. But the operation was run under a business-like atmosphere where they tried not to spend money where they didn’t have to. And since all the team’s winnings were put back into its budget, that had an influence on the way that Ken Jr. drove.
On the race track, he was aggressive when he had to be, but not so foolhardy that his car ended up being returned to the pits hanging from the business end of a wrecker.
“When I drove for my father, I fixed the car when I wrecked it,” he said. “So you learn that it’s harder to fix it than it is to crash it. We were competitive because we restricted ourselves. If you’ve got enough time to prepare leisurely and do it right, you are gonna finish up front or be a contender, at least. You’ve gotta be there at the end to win and preparation is 90 percent of that.”
On the mechanical side of things, Ken Jr. raced for owners who only fielded first-class rides. His father’s No. 24s – both the old Chevy coupes and the more-modern Gremlins – were some of the top cars of their era. O’Shea’s No. 74 cars were also of that same order. And Benny Scheer always spent his money where it counted when he built a race car and that put his No. 1a A & B Garage Small-Block Modified at the top of its class.
Ken Jr. also had the unique experience in 1976 of driving in and winning with the first Gremlin Modified to come out of the Indianapolis, Indiana, shops of legendary open-wheel car builder Grant King. And he also drove the 14th and last King Modified that was ever built.
“We originally went to Grant and wanted him to update a car that we had,” Ken Jr. once explained. “But Grant said, ‘No,’ he wanted to build his own. The only thing that he wanted was for us to bring him what we had so that he could look at it and know what he was doing. And that’s how the Grant King cars came about.
“Dad knows a lot of people who are smart and know a lot of things, so it helped me that way (in my racing career).”
But while all of that last statement about his father may be true, Ken Brenn Jr. realized the fortunate situation that he was in and – along with a lot of natural talent and ability – he went on to take advantage of it and author a Hall of Fame racing career.
DIRTcar Racing Northeast main office is located in Weedsport, New York on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds www.cayugacountyfairspeedway.com, home of the 2009 DIRTcar All-Star Weekend, July 17-19, featuring Hoosier Tire-VP Racing Fuels Mr. DIRTcar Championship Series events for Sportsman and Big-Block Modifieds in the richest short-track show of its kind in the nation — the $20,000-to-win Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series “DIRTcar All-Star 100” on Sunday, July 19.
Headquartered in Roanoke, Va., Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket retailer of parts, accessories, batteries, and maintenance items in the United States, serves both the do-it-yourself and professional installer markets As of April 19, 2008, the Company operated 3,291 stores in 40 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Additional information about the Company, employment opportunities, customer services, and on-line shopping for parts and accessories can be found on the Company’s web site at www.advanceautoparts.com.
The Advance Auto Parts Super DIRTcar Series for Big-Block Modifieds is brought to fans across the Northeast by several sponsors and partners, including series sponsors Advance Auto Parts, Hoosier Racing Tire www.hoosiertire.com and VP Racing Fuels www.vpracingfuels.com. Promotional partners include Rite Aid Corporation www.riteaid.com, Dig Safely New York www.digsafelynewyork.com and the University of Northwestern Ohio www.unoh.com and the contingency sponsors are Bars Leaks www.barsproducts.com, Bert Transmission www.berttransmission.com, Bicknell Racing Products www.bicknellracingproducts.com, Bilstein Shocks www.bilstein.com, Brodix Cylinder Heads www.brodix.com, Ferris Industries www.ferrisindustries.com, Integra Shocks www.integrashocksandsprings.com, Intercomp www.intercomp-racing.com, KSE Racing Products www.kse-racing.com, Motorsports Safety Systems www.motorsportssafetysystems.com, Penske Shocks, www.penskeshocks.com, Racing Electronics www.racingelectronics.com, Rislone Oil Stabilizer www.barsproducts.com and Wrisco Industries www.wrisco.com.