WEEDSPORT, N.Y. — Two-time Super DIRT Week winner Jimmy Horton and 2004 Mr. DIRT Series titlist Gary Tomkins will officially be inducted into the Northeast Dirt Modified Hall of Fame in July.
The pair of racing legends are added to a stellar list of modified standouts that was started in 1992 when the hall of fame was established on the Cayuga County Fairgrounds.
The 32nd annual induction ceremonies honoring the Class of 2024 will take place July 10 at 7 p.m. in the Northeast Dirt Modified Museum and Hall of Fame, on the grounds of the state-of-the-art Weedsport Speedway.
New Jersey superstar Horton always knew he was destined to race. His father fielded modifieds from the 1950s forward, and before the kid was old enough to drive he was itching to prove himself, pushing hall of famer Sammy Beavers out of the seat in 1975, the year after he took sportsman titles at both Nazareth and Orange County.
He was a phenom right out of the box: barely out of high school, Horton was showing titans like the Reutimann brothers and Carl Van Horn the fast way around Middletown. In his rookie year, he finished second in the modified point chase at that “Big Six” track; in 1976, he won the trophy outright.
Young and cocky, Horton hounded top car owners like Rich Marinelli and Tony Ferraiuolo for a shot. The door finally opened for him at George Smith’s Statewide Racing stable. From 1977-’90, Horton helped build Statewide into the team to beat.
Not only in modified stock cars, Smith’s desire to crack the NASCAR code sent Horton down south, working with Cup Series greats like Bobby Allison and Ken Schrader to advance to racing’s highest level. They made their mark in ARCA, winning five times in 1990 — but Horton’s true heart was back home, on the Northeast’s dirt short tracks.
He returned to the modified scene in a big way by ’94, driving for Dan Madsen, then Bob Faust and a succession of teams until he landed in Chris Larsen’s Halmar car at the end of 2015.
Still not ready to retire at age 67, Horton will partner with Mike Sena this season to continue his legacy.
“The Sensational One” is a fitting nickname — In addition to Horton’s two sportsman titles, he’s won nine modified championships at Bridgeport, five at East Windsor, three at Orange County, a pair at New Egypt and is a two-time titleholder on the DIRT Florida tour. He won “the big one” at Syracuse in 1987 and again in 1994, and is a two-time winner of the Eastern States 200. Horton’s career record currently stands at 465 wins at 37 tracks in eight states and two Canadian provinces.
Like Horton, Central New Yorker Tomkins knew he always wanted to race, from the time his parents took him to Waterloo as a tot. When he was 15, Tomkins gutted a Dodge Challenger and entered it in the affordable street stock class at Canandaigua.
The next two years, he tore up the track, winning 26 times until the car was plain worn out and he was out of high school. Unable to afford the jump to modified equipment, Tomkins spent the next years attending college and working for chassis builder John Birosh, trying to figure his next step. When Birosh was hired by Maynard Troyer in late 1986, Tomkins tagged along, building bodies at the Rochester shop until 1996.
In the meantime, he pieced together a sportsman car, racing to Canandaigua’s division title in 1989. He was still trying to get his foot in the door, helping Troyer star Danny Johnson, and gained some attention as Danny’s relief driver for one race in 1990.
The following year, he replaced Curt Van Pelt in Darrell Simmons’ No. 32 and scored his first modified victory in 1992. The end of ’96, Tomkins replaced Alan Johnson in the Bill Trout modified, with Stu Sheppard turning wrenches and Honeoye sponsor Doug Dulen, who bought out Trout in 2000.
Tomkins hit the jackpot in late 2003 when Jim Beachy picked him to drive the high-profile Pillsbury No. 1, again succeeding Johnson, with hall of fame crew chief Randy Kisacky calling the shots. Tomkins won the first time out for the team, a 100-lap Super DIRT Series event at Hagerstown.
Seven more SDS wins and — more importantly — the 2004 Mr. DIRT Series championship were claimed before the Beachy operation dissolved in 2006. Since then, Tomkins has enjoyed success with Doug Dulen, taking five more SDS victories and winning the Victoria 200 at Utica-Rome for Mike Payne in 2009.
All told, Tomkins has accrued 146 career wins at 14 tracks in the U.S., Canada and Australia. He took the Brewerton Mod title in 2004, and was the Rolling Wheels Modified champion in 2004 and 2005.
Also being honored at the July 10 induction ceremonies are Jake Spraker, Davey Hoffman, Lyle DeVore, Doug Logan, Mandee Pauch Mahaney and Roy Sova.