This Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Posse – or a good chunk of it, anyway – travels to southern New Jersey to race 410 Sprint Cars at the Bridgeport Speedway, about a half hour outside Philly. Why Tuesday? Why Bridgeport? And hey – isn’t that a 5/8th mile track? To answer these questions and more, we rang up Mike Heffner, Sprint Car team owner and co-promoter of Tuesday’s race.
Your Heffner Racing team – piloted by driver Daryn Pittman – sees plenty of action all summer at races other people promote for you. Why jump into this business yourself?
It was always an ambition of mine to go out and promote a race. Now I’ve lived Sprint Car racing first-hand. I know what the racers want and I know what the owners want. It might be a way I can contribute back to the sport of Sprint Car racing. Certain things need to change in the sport, but no one’s willing to change them.
Like the time trials. At Bridgeport on Tuesday, the way we’re doing time trials, you’ll time within your own heat race. So to make the feature redraw, you have to be either one of the first two finishers in your heat race, or the driver with the fastest time in your heat.
Because the track gets a little worse after each heat race. It dries out. So the guys who time at the end can’t get grip like the ones who go first. This way we’re trying, it’s a much more equal playing field. It’s a system everyone seems to like but no one had gone out and tried yet.
Another rule we’re changing is the tire rule. It’s not that I have anything against Goodyear, but I think teams should be able to make their own choice when it comes to tires. I mean, it’s $235 for a right rear Goodyear tire. You can get other brand names for $50 less than that. The people who are losing out the most are the car owners. We have to buy the $235 tire but we’re not getting anything back from it. So at Bridgeport on Tuesday, we have it open tire. You can run any brand you want.
But you’re a Central Pa. guy. Why get involved in a race in New Jersey, and on a Tuesday at that?
The track promoters are Doug and Gina Hoffman, and I’ve known the Hoffmans for years. They’ve been involved in racing for a long time – Doug was a modified racer since I was a kid. They wanted to bring new divisions to New Jersey and I wanted to expose fans in Southern New Jersey to more Sprint Car racing also. Most of the year, those fans have to travel at least two hours to see a race.
As for the date of the race, I checked the calendar and there’s nothing else going on. It didn’t conflict with any other Sprint Car race.
You’v got quite a roster trekking out with you to Bridgeport.
Most of the Central Pa. people are coming, and all the professional guys, like Aaron Ott, Lance Dewease, Fred Rahmer, of course our driver Daryn Pittman.
In total, we have 20 cars pre-registered and I anticipate having at least ten enter the day of the race. I’ll be happy with a field of 30 cars.
The biggest factor there was the purse. If you pay the $100 gamblers’ fee, it’s $7000 to win. We are paying more than a weekday Outlaw show. That’s what really attracts the teams. They’ll do anything – even cross a state line – for $7000.
Bridgeport’s a bigger track than the usual half-mile, as well. Are you worried about the speeds at a track like that?
It’s a very fast track, 5/8th of a mile, so yes, speed is a concern. If it’s too fast, that doesn’t make for good racing. Doug Hoffman has slowed the track down a bit, not making it so heavy, so that should create better racing.
We’re doing all we can to make it a good show. My hope is people walk away and say that it was a fun race, a safe race, it provided good entertainment.
We love this quote from your website: “Though leading a sprint car team requires more time, money, and insider knowledge than the rookie owner anticipated, Heffner is learning as he goes and having the time of his life.” Could you elaborate on that?
I was surprised at the amount of work and dedication the crew members put into it. It never ends, especially when you race three or four nights in a row. I haven’t been able to dedicate all the time to it I would like. It’s hard for me to get to every race, but luckily I have a really good crew and driver and I usually get to about 75 percent of the races.
What’s the draw for you?
It becomes an addiction. Winning – there’s nothing like it. Racing has provided me with the highest highs, and the lowest lows. I know it’s not realistic, but I want to go out every day and win.
But you can’t – at least, go out to the track every day. There’s this day job of yours, as president of Lelands.com, an auction house for sports memorabilia. I watched an interview with you on Bloomberg News, discussing your purchase of a Babe Ruth jersey. That work must have its fun moments as well.
Every day at work is like a treasure hunt. Every day, there could be a major score, just like in Sprint Car racing. People will say they have something for you to look at, and you chase out to their homes or businesses or whatever, and it turns out to be no good. Then somebody else will call and it sounds like nothing, but you get there and it’s the real deal. There’s a rush there too.
You love sports so much, we guess you must have been one of those kids who grew up dreaming about athletic glory.
I was never a great player, but I always dreamed of being a professional baseball player or a professional Sprint Car driver.
Well you own a car now. Do you get in and take it for a spin?
(Laughs) I don’t think my crew wants me to get in and take a chance on damaging it. I pretty much know my limitations. But one day, when no one else is on the track, I will get out there and try.