Another of the top Florida-born drivers that came to the Northeast to make a career and name for himself in Modified stock-car racing was Gil Hearne (born June 18, 1939) of New Egypt, New Jersey, was as a popular and talented driver in both dirt and asphalt racer cars. But as things would have it, he is best known for his efforts on asphalt at the one-third-mile high-banked Wall Stadium in Belmar, New Jersey, where he won: eight (1973-1974, 1977-1978, 1981, 1985, 1987 & 1981) Modified Championships, four (1971, 1978, 1980 & 1990) Garden State Classics and three (1974 & 1977-1978) season-ending Turkey Derby headliners.
Hearne first started racing in 1957 at the old one-third-mile asphalt Hialeah Speedway not far from his Miami home and he did quite well for himself in Southern Florida in the full-race overhead-valve V-8-powered early 1930s Ford coupes that were the region’s Modifieds.
He did not limit himself just to racing in the Sunshine State, he also had success in Modified competition in Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas.
As a professional racer, Hearne was always looking to improve his lot, so in 1961 he and mechanic Joe Chambliss came to the Northeast with a red 1936 Chevrolet coupe in search of the NASCAR National Modified Championship. However, that effort came to a blazing halt on August 12, 1961, when the car caught on fire during a refueling pit stop at a 500-lap race at the old one-fifth-mile Islip Speedway out on Long Island.
The 22-year-old Hearne, who was Islip’s one-lap record holder, had just pitted on lap 157 when spilled fuel was ignited by the car’s red-hot left-rear brake drum. A famous full-front-page photo in the August 22, 1961, edition of the old “Illustrated Speedway News” shows Hearne inside the flaming No. 97, but he miraculously survived the inferno due to his perspiration-soaked T-shirt and trousers, and by having the presence of mind to dive out of the car and roll on the ground to extinguish the flames. While this scary incident put a damper on his season, he returned to racing and finished sixth in NASCAR’s National Modified Standings.
The 1963 champion at the old Fredericksburg (Va.) Speedway, Hearne was the 1964 Modified titlist at the old quarter-mile Ft. Dix (N.J.) Speedway in his own yellow No. 29 Chevy coupe and he was also a regular competitor at the old half-mile asphalt Vineland and Old Bridge Speedways in New Jersey.
While he never raced on a dirt track until he came to the Northeast, he proved to be a pretty decent competitor in his own Chevy-powered 1936 Chevrolet coupes at Bridgeport (N.J.) Speedway, the old East Windsor (N.J.) Speedway, the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington, and the old half-mile Nazareth (Pa.) Raceway.
Hearn also raced in three 1965 NASCAR Grand National (Cup Series) events with his best finish a 17th on November 7 in a 1964 Ford in Moyock, North Carolina. He was also sixth in the car on February 19, 1967, in the Automobile Racing Club of America’s big race at Daytona International Speedway and came back with the machine six days later – appropriately reconfigured – to finish fourth in the Permatex 300 Late Model Modified-Sportsman race.
However, Hearn – the first driver to consistently win in fellow EMPA Hall of Famer Maynard Troyer’s first customer Modifieds – really found a home at NJ's Wall Stadium when he hooked up with Philadelphia construction company owner Tom Durkin in 1973 and began a long tenure of success in what became his signature red No. 12 asphalt Modifieds.
From 1966 through 1992, Gil Hearne – who is as much a fan of racing as he was a top-notch driver – won an all-time record of 101 Modified feature races at Wall Stadium. And while he never did officially announce his retirement, he stopped racing after the 1993 season.
His son Jason, a fine Modified driver is carrying on the family racing tradition.