Jeff Horn in a super, early
(Dick Berggren Photo)
Two weeks ago at the annual World Series at Thompson (CT) Speedway,
Steve Grant threw the green to a feisty field of NEMA midgets before
a bulging grandstand. It was one colorfully sunbathed sight, but
also a pretty scary one. Some will tell you the flyweight rocket
ships are simply too fast for the daunting high-banked 5/8.
One jockey, Jeff Horn, was particularly notable for his balance of
patience and aggression as he motored up through. What memories that
conjured up for me, watching him fly down that runway of a
In the late sixties, a loose-fit group of us,
long on hair and short on experience, got into dirt modifieds and
commandeered an old garage in Framingham, Mass. In no time a tough
but gentle and ever-smiling guy was at the door, signing on to help
however he could. Jeff Horn was our age, but far more mature and
knowledgeable. He was just back from ’Nam, had just married the
uncommonly beautiful Carmen Rock, and he sure could get around
Norwood Arena in a late model. You can bet all of us were also
impressed with the way he drove Ray Kelly’s midget, the last ride in
the Northeast with no roll cage.
(Jeff Horn Collection)
What we didn’t know then was how
deeply Jeff’s racing threads were woven. His great-grandfather,
Norbert Horn, raced the Vanderbilt Cup shows a hundred years ago;
his grandfather raced early open wheelers. Jeff’s own first rides
were in Carmen’s dad’s car. Clarence “Cornfield” Rock was a great
dirt track wheelman in the North Country and Canada back in the day.
In the seventies Jeff moved into NESMRA supermodifieds, usually
his own, constantly flexing his muscles, especially aboard Timmy T’s
Carmen and smiling Jeff and their race-obsessed son
Mike also had a decade of successful seasons with Bay Hays and his
#47 midget. Jeff replaced legendary Armond Holley in the ride. They
were simply outrageously fast, winning virtually everywhere.
Jeff and Mike Horn celebrate with Bay Hayes (right)
following a midget win at Star Speedway
In recent years it has been more midget – and
the occasional super – racing, along with some runs in sprinters.
With a teenager’s delight, Jeff discovered dirt.
serious misadventure along the way was a thunderous trip into the
pit wall at Monadnock, all four wheels of his midget still off the
ground. It knocked him silly.
So, how neat that Jeff, mostly
doing it all by himself with his own wallet, got a strong third at
Thompson. He had a real shot at the win. But what was really cool
was that Mike, who has two NEMA wins this year, was right behind him
At age 67, with almost 50 years behind the wheel,
Jeff may well have been the oldest driver of the 337 signed into the
World Series this year. But, popular as he is, no one seems to be
blowing the horn about Horn. That’s when I decided to do this
TEAROFF. Little did I know about the action to follow.
week the midgets towed into Lee, NH, for their season-ending
Octoberfest. Jeff looked fast and so did Mike. Mike started on the
inside row a bit further toward the front and, as he approached turn
one, there was a scramble. He got up on two wheels and headed up the
bank, into and over other cars. Mike hit the wall with explosive
impact, while Jeff was caught up in the crunchy gathering behind. It
looked like a war zone.
Jeff jumped out of his car
immediately and ran over to see about Mike whose car was splattered,
upside down. “As soon as I got near him, I knew he might be banged
up but he was basically okay. He was swearing up a storm,” says
Eventually Mike was whisked off to the hospital with a
broken collarbone, arm injuries, and all the normal bangs and
bruises. Jeff, meanwhile, oversaw the complicated extraction of his
own car from the tangle. When he got back to his pit, however, there
was a commotion. Carmen had witnessed the whole deal and fainted.
When the ambulance got to her, she was coming to, but with major
chest pains. A heart attack.
So, with the two family cars
wrecked and his wife and his son both on the way to the emergency
room, Jeff took off after them, Thompson fresh in his mind,
muttering “from the White House to the Out House!”
is back home now. Carmen’s event was mild and will be manageable,
and Mike is fine, if still swearing. And they’re all talking about
opening day, 2013.
As you can imagine, after all these years,
Carmen’s attitude is quite philosophical. “Jeff and I have talked
about it seriously, and he’s finally decided when he is going to
quit. The day of his 80th birthday. But, of course, I don’t believe
him for a minute.”
Nor do I.
Jeff, Carmen, and Mike
(Dick Berggren Photo
© 2012 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181
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