DIRTcar Northeast Modified Community Mourns Holiday-Week Loss Of Influential Figures Doug Hoffman, Stan Friesen & Milt Johnson
CONCORD, NC – Dec. 27, 2012 – The DIRTcar Northeast community is mourning the holiday-week passing of three men who will forever hold prominent places in the organization’s history.
A time of year normally reserved for joy became tinged with sadness following the deaths of DIRT Hall of Fame inductee Doug Hoffman, longtime circuit promoter Stan Friesen and former driver/engine builder Milt Johnson, who helped launch the sparkling DIRTcar big-block Modified careers of his sons Alan and Danny.
“This week the DIRTcar Northeast Modified world lost three men who were titans of our sport,” said DIRTcar Northeast director Joe Skotnicki. “Doug Hoffman, Stan Friesen and Milt Johnson made unforgettable contributions to DIRTcar Northeast Modified racing through the years. All of us from the World Racing Group and DIRTcar Northeast staffs hold them in the highest esteem and offer our thoughts and prayers to their families during this difficult time.”
One of the most talented and decorated drivers ever to compete on the Northeast short-track circuit and in recent years a noted racetrack promoter, Hoffman, 54, died Monday at his home in Allentown, Pa. He left behind his wife Gena; daughter Joette Hoffman and 7-year-old granddaughter Mattie Vorhis; step-daughter Skye Michael; brothers Michael, Dave, Donald and Keith – and, of course, a legion of fans and a glorious racing legacy.
Hoffman began his driving career in 1977 at the paved Dorney Park Speedway in his hometown, reaching Victory Lane in just his fifth start. He soon switched to dirt Modified action and blossomed into a superstar, dominating at tracks in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and making his mark on the big-block Modified Super DIRTcar Series.
From 1987-2002 Hoffman was a virtual stalwart on the DIRTcar big-block Modified circuit, religiously following the Super DIRTcar Series in search of the organization’s overall big-block title. He would ultimately become the highest-ranked driver from Pennsylvania on the alltime DIRTcar big-block Modified feature win list.
Hoffman won 87 DIRTcar-sanctioned big-block Modified features (including 26 Super DIRTcar Series events) and registered 17 victories in the DIRTcar 358-Modified class. The most prestigious DIRTcar triumph of his career came in the 1996 VP Small Engine Fuels 200 (then called the Fay’s 300) at the one-mile New York State Fairgrounds oval in Syracuse, N.Y. – a race that had brought him years of heartbreak until he finally broke through behind the wheel of the iconic Taylor Motorsports No. 1.
Hoffman, who recorded his last Super DIRTcar Series victory on April 6, 2002, at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in Concord, N.C., finished outside the top 10 in the overall Mr. DIRTcar big-block Modified points standings just once during the 13-year stretch from 1989-2001. He won the overall championship in 1991 (he remains the only Pennsylvania driver to capture the division’s marquee crown), was the runner-up in ’96 and placed third on five occasions (’89, ’90, ’92, ’93, ’97).
During his 32-year racing career Hoffman won a total of 482 features at 40 tracks in nine states and two Canadian provinces and captured 25 points championships, including the 2004 NASCAR Northeast Region title. He was also successful racing on asphalt throughout the ‘90s at Flemington (N.J.) Speedway, where he won a NASCAR Modified Tour event.
A 2011 inductee to the DIRTcar Hall of Fame, Hoffman last raced a big-block Modified for a full season in 2007 at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway. He never officially announced his retirement from driving, but in recent years his focus was on short-track promotion. He operated the paved Mahoning Valley Speedway in Lehighton, Pa., from 2005-2011 and in 2012 promoted the weekly programs at Bridgeport, reviving the big-block Modified action at the five-eighths-mile South Jersey oval he called his favorite track.
Hoffman is just the second deceased winner of the 41-year-old VP Small Engines 200 at the Syracuse Mile. The first was another Pennsylvanian, **** ‘Toby’ Tobias Sr., who won the big-block Modified classic in 1975 and died three years later in a tragic Sprint Car crash at Flemington Speedway.
“Doug Hoffman was without a doubt one of the best drivers ever to climb into a DIRTcar big-block Modified,” said Skotnicki. “He was a great champion and a superb ambassador of DIRTcar Modified racing. We’re saying goodbye to him way too soon, but we’ll always remember his great accomplishments that led to his induction to the DIRT Hall of Fame just last year.”
Friesen, 79, succumbed on Sunday at his home in St. Catharines, Ont., following a battle with cancer. His passing came after he spent more than a half-century in the motorsports industry, including the last four decades as a racetrack owner and promoter.
While Friesen enjoyed a successful dirt Modified driving career on Canadian and American soil from the late ‘50s through the early ‘70s – topped by a big-block Modified championship in 1972 at Cayuga County Fair Speedway in Weedsport, N.Y. – it was his dual role as a track promoter and patriarch of an well-known racing family that earned him his greatest notoriety.
Friesen became a promoter in 1970 when he purchased Merrittville Speedway in Thorold, Ont., with partner Kurt Uhl. He bought Ransomville (N.Y.) Speedway with Uhl in 1972 and ran both tracks until selling Merrittville in ’81 to concentrate on operating the half-mile Ransomville oval, which evolved into a family affair for the outgoing Canadian. All of his immediate family members have helped him at the track: his wife Diane; his sons Jamie, Joel and Alex (who was branching out as an owner and promoter of other tracks when he tragically lost his life in a 1996 snowmobile accident); daughters-in-law Yvonne and Trish; and grandchildren Stewart (now a dirt Modified star who has twice won the VP Small Engine Fuels 200 at the Syracuse Mile), Heather, James-Michael, Curtis and Russell.
Friesen’s ties to DIRTcar Northeast date all the way back to the organization’s roots. He attended the early promoters’ meetings hosted by DIRTcar Northeast founder Glenn Donnelly and, in 1972, held a qualifying race for Donnelly’s inaugural big-block Modified classic (then the Schaefer 100) at the Syracuse Mile. Donnelly ultimately formed a sanctioning body for weekly racing under the Drivers Independent Race Tracks (‘DIRT’) banner and turned his circuit of ‘Syracuse Qualifiers’ into the Super DIRTcar Series – and one of his top allies through it all was Friesen, whose loyalty to the organization and success at Ransomville was recognized in 2003 when he and his family received the DIRT Hall of Fame’s annual Leonard J. Sammons Outstanding Contribution to Motorsports Award.
Ransomville remains a DIRTcar-sanctioned track to this day, a Friday-night 358-Modified staple for Niagara Frontier fans and race teams. Friesen’s sons Jamie and Joel and their wives plan to continue Stan’s racing legacy well into the future.
“Stan Friesen was one of DIRTcar’s pioneers,” said Skotnicki. “He was there from the start, helping Glenn Donnelly unify a disjointed sport for the betterment of everyone involved. It’s promoters like Stan who made it possible for DIRTcar to grow into the Northeast’s preeminent organization for Modified racing.
“We are saddened by Stan’s passing, but his memory will certainly live on as his family members continue presenting racing programs that would make him proud.”
Another short-track pioneer who made his greatest impact after leaving the cockpit was Johnson, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 78 after succumbing to declining health.
The resident of Middlesex, N.Y., competed throughout the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s, with a 1961 points title at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park his crowning glory as a driver. But he won hundreds more features as an ace engine builder, assembling potent powerplants at the renowned B&M Speed Shop in Rochester, N.Y., that he operated with partner Bruce Fleischman.
Much of B&M’s success came in asphalt Modified competition during the ‘70s and ‘80s with such superstar drivers as the late Richie Evans and Jerry Cook, but Johnson’s motors propelled plenty of dirt Modifieds to victory as well. Johnson’s sons, Alan and Danny, began their march to DIRTcar big-block Modified stardom with B&M power under the hood of their cars.
“Few engine builders can claim the amount of success – on both dirt and asphalt – that Milt Johnson enjoyed over the years,” said Skotnicki. “There’s no doubt, though, that Milt got his greatest satisfaction from watching his boys Alan and Danny become two of the biggest names in DIRTcar big-block Modified racing.”
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