|Date: 6/24/2015 4:54:12 PM|
Brenn Honored As Car Owner By NE Mod Hall Of Fame
By Buffy Swanson
Ken Brenn Sr. of Warren, NJ -- a storied car owner with an unblemished record of integrity and professionalism -- will be honored with the Gene DeWitt Car Owner Award during the 2015 Hall of Fame ceremonies, to be held on Wednesday, August 5, at the Northeast Modified Hall of Fame and Stock Car Museum in Weedsport, NY, the night prior to Weedsport Speedwayıs Super DIRTcar Series Hall of Fame 100.
When Brenn bought his first dirt Modified stock car on August 29, 1971, the telephone lines in the state of New Jersey lit up brighter than the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
And rightly so. This wasn't just anyone dipping a toe into the local racing scene. This was Mr. Ken Brenn, the nationally celebrated Midget car owner.
From 1954 until he plunked down the price of that Modified, Ken traveled the country with his immaculate stable of Midgets, Champ Cars and Sprints, providing quality rides for more than 150 big name drivers, including Indy
500 winners Rodger Ward, Mark Donohue and Bobby Unser. In 1959, Ward beat some of the top Formula 1 and LeMans sports car drivers in the world at Lime Rock Park, with Brenn's 12-year-old Offy Midget. Four years later, Donohue drove Brenn's Midget to his first professional victory, also at Lime Rock.
Wally Dallenbach Sr. credits his stint in Brenn's cars as the launching pad that got him to the Indianapolis 500. The list of accomplishments is
lengthy: wins and championships and Hall of Fame inductions and all manner of accolades for the respected New Jersey car owner.
So it was no surprise that his phone began ringing off the hook when, in a complete change of direction, Brenn decided to get off the road and came home to buy a Modified.
That first car was really nothing special. Budd Olsen had a '37 coupe for sale the last weekend of August 1971. Olsen had driven a Midget for Brenn, they were friends, Ken was in the market for a stock car, and he bought it on the spot, despite the fact that Budd warned him that the car had never won a race and the 427 engine in the car "wasnıt worth $1,500."
That was on a Sunday. On Wednesday of that week, the car won the first event Brenn entered as a Modified owner, a special Fair race at Flemington, with Stan Ploski behind the wheel. On Thursday, the car aced an All-Star race at Williams Grove, with Will Cagle in the seat. The great Budd Olsen finished second that night at the Grove, and couldnıt wait to congratulate Ken in victory lane, for beating him with the car heıd considered "a loser."
All told, that little coupe, and the many Brenn Modifieds that followed, went on a tear the likes of which weıve rarely witnessed. Ploski, Cagle, Sammy Beavers and Billy Osmun all won for him, at Flemington, Williams Grove, Nazareth and East Windsor speedways in those first years. From 1971 to '73, the Brenn team won 23 of 54 events at Flemington -- a two-year .426 batting average that is unmatched by even all-time record holder Billy Pauch.
How did he do it? Budd Olsen was certainly no slouch in the mechanical department, and Budd had pretty much given up on that first little coupe.
According to Brenn, he never touched the undersized engine on the car initially -- but from Sunday, when he bought the car, to Wednesday, when it won its first race, he worked on the handling.
"It's nice it happened so quickly, but it really wasn't a surprise," Ken said of his instant success in a stock car. "We were already doing very good with the Midgets, all over the country, and I was hands-on with the set-ups on every one of those cars. Engines, I know nothing about," he admitted.
"They don't intrigue me! But I had a lot of experience in getting a car to handle, in any circumstance. So we went to Flemington with the idea that with our knowledge, we could outhandle everyone else. And that's what we did."
Brenn took it one step further by enlisting his buddies in open cockpit racing to rethink Modified stock car design. He brought in Floyd Trevis, Gary Stanton and Grant King -- all noted builders of Midgets, Sprints and Indy cars -- and for all intents and purposes they changed the game, with King's innovative creation sparking a firestorm that resonated throughout the Northeast. To Ken, it was a natural progression: "I knew most of those guys from running with USAC. They were looking for work and kept pestering to build me a Modified," he remembered. "They knew what kind of handling we expected from the Midget car, and that's what they brought to the table. In that regard, we had a jump on everyone else."
There is no doubt that Brenn raised the bar in local racing. The iconic yellow cars with the red number 24. . .himself and the crew outfitted in crisp white uniforms. . .everything meticulously and painstakingly prepared, equipped for success.
And he had a lot of that, first with Ploski primarily, and then with his sons, Kenny and Jimmy. Which was the whole reason for the switch from Midgets in the first place.
"I did it for Kenny," stated Brenn.
Forget for a second all the big national victories and newspaper headlines and guys like Rodger Ward flying in to drive your car just weeks after winning the Indy 500 -- no, the highlight reel of Ken Brenn's car-owning career prominently features his two boys.
Just ask him: Heıll tell you about a night in 1982 when Kenny and Jimmy swept a twin 20 bill at Flemington -- Jimmy besting Billy Pauch in the first race, and Kenny, driving for the Trenton Mack team, holding off Stan Ploski in the nightcap. Or the time Jimmy insisted on running a 100-lap Modified race in his Sportsman car at Flemington, and almost won the darned thing. Or Syracuse 1979, which was back when Syracuse was the be-all and end-all of the Modified world. 212 cars took time that year, trying to get into that hotly contested field, and Kenny nabbed the coveted pole position in his Dad's car. He finished third in the 200, behind Jack Johnson and Will Cagle.
"That was a good weekend for us," Ken proudly recalled.
Less than four years later, the team won a big July 3 event on the Syracuse mile, with Kenny in the Stanton car.
Closer to home -- at Flemington Speedway, specifically -- Ken collected a pair of Modified championships with Stan Ploski, in 1972 and '73, and Rookie Sportsman titles for both his sons. As a car owner, he is light years ahead of his closest rival in the Modified ranks at Flemington, having won 60 feature events from 1971-1987. Not to mention all his Midget and Sprint wins at "the square," with guys like Dallenbach, Dickson, Peters, Duncan, Kirk and Coy upholding the Brenn banner.
With Ploski in the Modified, Brenn also won the Flemington 200, East Windsor Speedway championship and NJ State Modified title in 1973.
How good were Brenn's cars? In October '73, the Brenn #24 coupe won three weeks in a row at New Jersey's East Windsor Speedway, with three different drivers -- Ploski. . .Beavers. . .and Osmun took the 100-lapper.
The fact is that every man who's ever driven a Modified for Ken Brenn has won for him: Ploski, Cagle, Beavers, Osmun, and his two sons, Kenny and Jimmy. Five of those six drivers are Hall of Fame inductees.
"He had a lot more knowledge about everything to do with a race car than anyone I'd ever driven for," Stan Ploski said of Brenn. "And if he didn't know something, he knew all the right people to get the answers."
Although the Brenn team had a solid engine program, "it was the handling where we had the advantage," Ploski explained. "Koni shocks, Firestone tires
-- Ken was the first to come out with a lot of that stuff for the Modifieds.
He really knew how to set a car up. And he also kept notes on everything, right down to the weather conditions at the track. No one I knew had ever done that before."
Brenn's comprehensive understanding of racing mechanics is what sticks in Ploski's mind.
"To tell the truth, before he got involved in the Modifieds, Iıd never heard of Ken Brenn. I asked around and found out about his success in Midgets, and I was impressed," Stan recounted. "Then he asked me to drive. And once I got in the car I thought, 'Wow, this guy really knows what he's doing!'"