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Published 4/4/24

CT525 Champion: Al Hejna

WORDS: DAN HODGDON

PHOTOS: TYLER RINKEN PHOTOGRAPHY

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Al Hejna’s racing roots run deep. The Iowa-based Dirt Modified driver is a second-generation racer who has been competing since 1984. In those four decades, he’s seen the motorsports landscape drastically change. That includes the influx of circle track crate engines* – including many from Chevrolet Performance. For the past five seasons, Hejna has campaigned a sealed Chevrolet Performance CT525 crate engine* with great success.

 

Recently, he drove the quick and durable CT525 to the 2023 United States Racing Association (USRA) Modified track championship at Mason City Motor Speedway in Mason City, Iowa.

 

“When it comes to longevity and maintenance, I'd be checking the valve lash [on built engines] every night or every other night, just making sure everything was correct,” Hejna says. “[With the CT525] you charge the battery, check the water, and change the oil now and then, and that's all there is to it. It’s dependable.”

Al Hejna has been running the Chevrolet Performance CT525 crate engine* in his Dirt Modified since the 2019 season.

Hejna hails from Ventura, Iowa, and today lives in nearby Clear Lake in the Hawkeye State. His dad raced at Mason City in the 1960s. Hejna began competing in the Enduro class at the track in 1984 before quickly entering the Hobby Stock ranks. He moved into the Limited Late Model division in the late ’80s and ultimately transitioned to Modifieds in 1992.

 

He competed in weekly series and at open shows around his Iowa home until the United States Modified Touring Series (USMTS) took shape for the 1999 season. Today the tour has become the premier Dirt Modified organization in the country, attracting some of the nation’s best drivers and cars. Most of the series’ races are held in the Midwest and Great Plains regions, with some events in Louisiana and Texas each year.

 

Hejna joined USMTS full-time in 2003 and won 23 events with the series before taking a break in 2012.

 

“We really like that style of racing, but it took a financial commitment to do that because you’re racing a lot of the time and with so much travel you still have to have a pretty good budget,” Hejna says.

Among Hejna’s accomplishments is the 2023 USRA Modified track championship at Mason City Motor Speedway in Iowa.

From 2016 to 2018, Hejna served as co-promoter at Mason City Motor Speedway with the Staley family that runs both USMTS and USRA. USMTS serves as the premier touring series with a more open rules package, while USRA sanctions racing at weekly tracks and also features a touring division. USRA rules are tighter and feature a lower rpm limit than USMTS.

 

It was at Mason City that Hejna first used an early version of the CT525 as he planned to get back behind the wheel more consistently.

 

“As a promoter, I kind of wanted to test with it and see what we had to do with the rules and such to make it competitive,” he says.

 

He soon found the engine was a good choice for his own program. He has owned several and runs each for two seasons at approximately 40 shows per year. His engines come from Karl Chevrolet in Ankeney, Iowa.

 

The initial investment in the engine requires the purchase of some additional components to get everything up and running, but the cost for those parts is made up quickly. In five seasons Hejna estimates he has spent a total of $25,000 on his engine program, a price significantly lower than many built engines that may run for one season and require a significant amount of care.

 

The CT525 is based on the 6.2L LS3* from Chevrolet Performance, but it has been adapted for circle track racing with forged aluminum pistons, a high-lift roller camshaft, upgraded rod bolts, a six-quart racing oil pan and more. The engine cranks out 533 horsepower and 477 lb.-ft. of torque.

Hejna utilizes the durable CT525 in USMTS and USRA competition.

Hejna explains the CT525 may give up a bit in qualifying or early in the race, in particular against some of the powerful, high-dollar engines in USMTS competition. But when the lap times come down as the track gets slicker, the CT525 is a prime choice. In essence, the power plant’s drivability shines when the race is in the driver’s hands.

 

“It’s a finesse game,” he says.

 

For racers like Hejna, who is limited on time and help (his daughter Madee is his only crew member and serves as crew chief), the CT525 offers a way to race at a high level.

 

Along with his brother, a former racer himself, Hejna owns three businesses in Clear Lake: Rookie’s Rockin’ Sports Bar; Sevens Restaurant & Steakhouse; and TAP’d Taphouse and Cocktail Lounge. He says he’d love to tour with USMTS full-time, but after traveling for a weekend show he usually needs to take some time off to focus on his work. The CT525 thus provides racers like him an option to compete with both the USMTS and USRA sanctioning bodies without having to spend an inordinate amount of time working on the engine.

 

“It’s great, I don't worry about it,” Hejna says. “You can worry about everything else, there's really no maintenance to it. It runs and runs and runs. And runs hard.”

Hejna with his daughter and crew chief, Madee.

In his recent forays into USMTS competition with the CT525, Hejna has run in the top five in features and scored multiple heat race wins. Those go along with his USRA weekly victories and track championship at Mason City, a title he will again chase this year.

 

Chevrolet Performance is also the official crate of engine of USMTS and the series has provided Hejna with a new CT525 at its year-end banquet over the winter on multiple occasions. The prize goes to the top competitor in series points running the engine. In 2023, Hejna raced in 25 of 34 USMTS shows.

 

This year, Hejna has bowed out of trying to win another CT525 as he has two cars and will also run a spec engine on occasion. By withdrawing from the running, he also hopes to grow the number of competitors with the CT525 under the hood.

 

“I’m trying to entice some other guys to race with them,” he says.

 

His accomplishments are a good reason to do so.

 

Keep watching The BLOCK for more on crate engines* and all motorsports disciplines.

 

*Because of their effect on a vehicle’s emissions performance, these engines are intended exclusively for use in competition vehicles. These engines are designed and intended for use in vehicles operated exclusively for competition: in racing or organized competition on courses separate from public roads, streets or highways. Installation or use of these engines on a vehicle operated on public roads, streets or highways is likely to violate U.S., Canadian, and state and provincial laws and regulations related to motor vehicle emissions.

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