Veteran racer not ready to back down

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Jack Hewitt's been in the seat of everything from a midget car to an Indianapolis 500 ride. Along the way he's won more than 300 feature races, broke his neck twice and wrote a 330-page autobiography.

He's still in the driver's seat, only now it's off the track as the director of competition for the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint series, the tour that will make only its second-ever appearance today at Auto Tire and Parts Racepark.

"That means I'm the bad guy," said Hewitt, a 52-year-old native of Troy, Ohio. "I'm the one who disqualifies people and tells 'em how it's gonna be."

For Hewitt, the role may be a temporary stop while he rehabilitates a broken neck suffered in July 2002 in a sprint race on an Indiana dirt track. He made a few solo practice laps in a sprint car last week for the first time since the injury, and his focus is on returning to competition in May 2004.

But in between making calls on an All Star schedule that includes about 50 events in 21 states from February to early October, Hewitt is the circuit's biggest ambassador. He made several stops in the area this week to promote today's event at ATPR, which will include the series on one of two days of racing.

A two-day lineup

Sprints will join the track's pure stock class and the U.S. Outlaw Mini Sprint Association cars today, and on Sunday afternoon the mini sprints return with late models, modifieds and cruisers.

It's the first visit by the All Stars since Gary Wright of Hooks, Texas, won an event Sept. 21, 1997.

"Now that I'm on this side of it, I've been able to see racing from everybody's angle, whether it's the fan, the driver or the promoter," Hewitt said. "I like what I'm doing. I'm lucky to be here. I've been trying to kill myself for 29 years in a race car, but right now I'm just down, not out."

Hewitt's biggest milestones came in 1998 when he became the first racer to win all four portions of the Four-Crown Nationals -- United States Auto Club Silver Crown cars, sprints, midgets and late models -- on the same night at Ohio's Eldora Speedway. That same year he became the oldest rookie to ever make the Indy 500 lineup. He finished 12th.

Something to say

His opinions are as plentiful as career wins.

Hewitt on sprint racing's future: "Bigger and bigger. We're not NASCAR. If you have an accident in NASCAR, they like to call it a racing incident. You do that on dirt and somebody's mad about it. It gets vocal. There's controversy. That gets fans into it. NASCAR wants to downplay that, but I say if you're gonna get into it, bring it out to the front straightaway and let the fans watch it."

Hewitt on the series' biggest competition, the World of Outlaws and founder Ted Johnson: "Ted's ego gets in the way of racing. He's not helping sprint racing. He sees us as a threat, but without us, there wouldn't be much sprint car racing in the Midwest at all."

Hewitt on the All Stars' two trips to Missouri tracks earlier this season: "In one event our guys took the show. In the other one, our drivers got their butts handed to 'em by the local racers. Right now it's 1-1."

jhall@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 174

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