Hewitt, Baltes join USAC greats in hall of fame


CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

Jack Hewitt

Winningest driver in USAC Silver Crown history (23)

46 USAC sprints wins ranks second all-time

Won sprint, midget, Silver Crown and modified feature at Eldora Speedway in 1998, becoming first and only driver to sweep 4-Crown Nationals

Qualified for 1998 Indianapolis 500 and finished 12th

Named one of 25 greatest drivers in sprint car history by the National Sprint Car Poll

Earl Baltes

Turned Darke County cornfield into one of most popular dirt tracks in the world

Created USAC 4-Crown Nationals, King Royal, World 100 and Dirt Late Model Dream

Multi-winner of National Sprint Car Poll promoter of the year

Famous for phrase, "If I sell one more hot dog I might break even."

When the United States Auto Club (USAC) honored its first hall of fame class in 2012, Troy's Jack Hewitt figured his time would come in another five years or so. But just like those sprints, midgets and Silver Crown cars he wheeled against some of the sports greatest drivers, Hewitt once again finished in front of the field.

Hewitt and 11 other inductees — including Eldora Speedway founder and racing promoter Earl Baltes — will be honored tonight during the Hall of Fame Classic Silver Crown race at Raceway Park in Indianapolis. Hewitt's selection came by fan vote through a social media poll.

"Being voted in by your peers and by the press is one thing. To be voted in by the fans, I think that's extra special," Hewitt said. "With the three I'm voted in with that's pretty good company. Between the fans voting me in and this being the second year for the hall of fame, you'd think I'd be like five, six, seven years down the road before I got voted in. To get in the second year its extra special, too."

Hewitt joins Tony Bettenhausen, Tom Bigelow and Johnny Rutherford as fan selected inductees. Baltes, Henry Banks, Pancho Carter, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, A.J. Watson, Don White and Bob Wilke will also be honored.

Hewitt's home track was Eldora Speedway, the site of on of his greatest accomplishments. He's the only driver to sweep all four divisions of the 4-Crown Nationals by winning four straight features in the same night with the sprints, midgets, Silver Crown and a modifieds. And he did it all in one night. With 13 sprint car and eight Silver Crown wins at Eldora, both are track records, it's fitting Hewitt and Baltes enter the USAC hall of fame together.

It's a wonder Hewitt is around to enjoy his induction. No, not because of some terrifying wrecks but rather because of Baltes' wrath. One of Hewitt's favorite stories about Baltes is the night Hewitt, his dad Don and a couple friends borrowed an ambulance from Baltes.

After a night of racing and partying, the foursome needed a ride home from the track. With no one going their direction, they spotted the ambulance as a place to sleep.

"We were just going to spend the night in the ambulance," said Hewitt, who jumped in back to claim the stretcher while friends grabbed other spots. "Only one seat was left open. Dad gets in there and the keys are in the damn thing. Next thing we know we're heading home. Luckily we didn't find the siren or the red lights or we would've been in trouble."

Baltes' response after finding out his ambulance was gone: "That damn Don Hewitt!"

Competitors likely muttered the same phrase trying to find away around Jack Hewitt on the track. He won a record 23 Silver Crown races and entered this season ranked No. 2 on USAC's all-time sprint wins list (46). But it's often what Hewitt did off the track — engaging fans and staying late to sign autographs, and legible ones at that — that wowed race fans more.

"People think it's all about racing and it's not. It's giving back," Hewitt said. "When we got voted in the top 25 drivers of the century for sprint cars, I said everybody else probably got in on their talent. But I got in with my fan relationships. People don't know me for the races that we won. They know me more for how we interacted with the fans. We won a few races but we won a lot more hearts than that. I can't complain about any of it."