By BZ ZELLER
Matt Hein has made a quick progression from local rookie to tour champion. The local racer returns to his home track Saturday with intentions of capturing his first Taco Bell Casey Diemert Classic at the Douglas County Speedway.
Hein, a 2006 Roseburg High grad, has followed both his late grandfather Don Hein and his dad, Ron Hein, as champion sprint car drivers. After developing his racing skills in dirt kart racing, the younger Hein made the transition to the paved oval. He followed up a rookie-of-the-year campaign with a stellar 2008 season that earned him the ASA/NSRA championship.
Roseburg is the second stop on the NSRA tour and Hein is fresh off a points win at the season opener in Merridian, Idaho. Last season, Hein and his white No. 98 were towed off the Douglas County Speedway on Lap 30 of the 40-Lap feature following mechanical failure. Hein began that night by winning the qualifying session with a fast lap of 12.601 seconds.
“We had a great season last year, but still had some mechanical issues,” Hein said. “This year, I’m more confident in our setup and the car overall.”
The annual Classic is named in tribute to the late Casey Diemert, a Roseburg High graduate and former DCS champ who was killed in a 1999 practice session at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway.
Ironically, last year’s Classic winner, Andy Alberding, has t eamed up with Casey’s father, Jim Diemert for 2009. Diemert is the new crew chief for the red No. 76.
“We (Diemert, Alberding and car owner Norm Chamberlain) just decided to pull our resources together with the No. 76,” Diemert said. “It’s my first time working with an unlimited engine, but we’ll get the bugs worked out and be competitive.”
Alberding has a history of not only being competitive, but as a dominant figure at DCS. The 2007 NSRA champ and multi-season winner in the local limited sprint class, Winston’s Alberding also holds the track record of 12.494 seconds.
Diemert said the No. 76 Team struggled at the Merridian opener.
“We had handling problems, oil leaks, broke a rear brake caliper and broke a driveline,” Diemert said. “We just had a lot of things go wrong.
Hopefully we won’t have any more of these issues.”
Issues aside, the goal is clear for the No. 76 Team Saturday.
“My son’s name is the honor of the event,” Diemert said. “I appreciate the memorials that continue to be held in my son’s name. That’s a race we’d like to win. There’s no question about that.”
Casey Diemert made the transition from Street Stocks to Sprintcars as a budding racing prodigy before joining the professional circuit. Jim Diemert said Ron and Don Hein played an integral role in Casey’s track success.
“Ronnie and Don and Rick Brown all have a history of sprint car success in this area,” Diemert said. “All three were instrumental in his (Casey) transition. Ronnie and Rick were his mentors when it came to racing. He looked up to both immensely.”
Also on Saturday’s race card are the ASA Modifieds, Mini Stocks, Old Time Racers of Oregon, Hornets, J-Cars and Thunder Trucks. Gates open at 4 p.m., qualifying at 5 p.m. and racing will start at 6:30 p.m.