(THOMPSON, CT) – At the age of just 10 and 11, Brent and Jesse Gleason could be found circling a makeshift dirt go-kart track carved into their Uncle’s backyard. Regularly the two would take to the track until their not so friendly neighbors had the track shut down due to noise complaints. This was just the start for a pair of brothers who are best friends and have now both etched their names into the Thompson Speedway history books as feature event winners.
So it was on to the next adventure, which was a legend car arrive and drive event at Waterford Speedbowl. Jesse, the older of the two Gleason boys by just over a year, was old enough to hop aboard the speed regulated legend car and turn some laps around the shoreline oval. After turning some efficient lap times the boys got back in the family car as dad drove them home.
When they got home, they affixed a homemade splint on Jesse and added some bandages just for visual effect. The story they told Mom was that he had crashed the car. As you would expect Mom didn’t exactly see the fun in the joke, but it may have just set in motion a chain of actual crashes and bad luck that made Brent’s path to victory lane full of trials.
Jesse started racing at Waterford a few years earlier and once Brent was old enough to get into the pits he served as a crewmember. In 2003 while in college, Brent purchased an X-Car for only $400, added a seat, seat belts, and a fuel cell and he was off to the races.
The second night out, Brent found himself head on into the front stretch wall with another car buried into the right side of his machine.
“The door bars from the right side door where about 6 inches from my seat,” recalled Brent. “When the grandstand starts cheering when you get out you know you hit pretty hard.”
Brent stayed out of the driver’s seat until 2008, but in the interim after his own struggles at the Speedbowl, Jesse decided to turn his focus to Thompson. He found success by winning 15 races in the span of 10 years including five victories in 2012 which was enough for a runner-up finish in the final standings, with assistance from Brent.
When Brent finally got the itch to return to the driver’s seat he was working part-time as a mailman, and the finances were in place to go racing. He chose to start in the mini-stock division where it was a struggle from the start. Before the first three races were up he had already replaced a piston in the engine and as he tried to figure out the track setup, he allowed Jesse to jump behind the wheel. Big mistake.
In the middle of the practice round, Jesse got loose on some oil and spun sideways directly in front of another car which t-boned the newly finished mini-stock. It took Brent until 2009 to rebuild the car and get back on the track, but his return wasn’t met with welcoming arms. Instead, motor problems plagued the operation and it was as Brent describes it, “headache after headache.”
Still Brent pressed on and was not deterred from his misfortune and continued with the mini-stocks until 2013, earning a career best finish of second along the way. Eventually, he had enough and it was time to shift gears and head in a new direction.
A few years prior, engine builder Terry Brick brought over an extra chassis and the Gleason’s stored it in the back yard under a tarp with no idea what to do with it. Brent dug it out, cut the cage off the frame and built a Limited Sportsman from the ground up. The original car was an old Late Model chassis so a new frame was added and the final touches were completed at 2am the night before the season ending World Series.
After coming home a respectable 14th in the car’s debut, Brent soon found out his wife was expecting their first child and the car had to go. He sold everything, including the tools and spare parts to his dad and older brother who went racing in 2014 as Brent sat on the sidelines helping on the crew once again.
Right about the time his son was born he earned a full time job at the Post Office at the end of 2014.
“Driving 5 mph between mailboxes all day gets really boring,” said Gleason. “You can’t drive with any aggression you have to be nice and cordial so people don’t think your crazy.”
Soon after, Dad came around and offered Jesse a frame along with whatever spare parts he could scrounge up. It was back to burning the midnight oil once again as over the winter. Brent put every nut and bolt of the car together in his garage without insulation in the walls and uneven floor.
At the last minute, the car was finished and off to the track he went, but the gremlins of the mini-stock days returned. This time it was constant brake issues that hindered his success on the track. Meanwhile later that season, the beloved “tarp car” was finally sitting in victory lane with Jesse behind the wheel, but Brent was still winless as he continued to fight mechanical issues.
As 2015 progressed, Jesse hurt a motor in practice and Brent decided to give up his car to his brother. Big mistake number two, maybe. Three laps in, Jesse wrecked the car bad enough that it would need a new clip. However, in the exchange they swapped motors in the two cars and after sitting several races out, Brent returned with a fresh power plant and a new front clip.
Then it clicked. During the extra distance event this season, all of a sudden they found speed in Brent’s home built car. Jesse found himself yet again in trouble, with his car damaged enough to put him on the sidelines and the tables turned as he became a crewmember for the younger Brent for the first time.
“It was exactly reverse,” said Jesse. “He was my Maurice Petty and I was Richard and now I am Maurice and he is Richard and I’m crewing for him for now. He has passion to do something with driving he has something to prove. “
On June 15, the dream became a reality as Brent Gleason drove to victory lane for the first time in a car built by a mailman moonlighting as a chassis builder.
“When you have a brother like Jesse driving your cars, you learn to fix them and fix them quick if you want to be competitive,” said Brent.
Jesse announced his retirement at the start of the season to focus on expanding his antique business and has accomplished the goal he set at the start, see Brent go to victory lane. After tasting victory, Brent is hungry for more. Jesse will return Saturday night driving in one of the Waterman family cars and is expected to return with his own car before the end of the season. You can be sure that Brent won’t be giving up the keys to his ride anytime soon.
Racing returns to Thompson Speedway’s oval on Saturday, July 19 as part of the For the Fans Night. Tickets are only $12 with grandstands opening at 3:30pm. The event also features Ladies Night with all female crew members, officials, or family members will be invited to a BBQ at 5pm. The event will also count toward O’Reilly Auto Parts Triple Crown points for the Limited Sportsman and Mini Stock competitors.