Stampede draws ’emMeeting people, learning about cars and experiencing an adrenaline rush are just a few of the reasons people will flock to the Jamestown Speedway Stock Car Stampede this weekend.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
Meeting people, learning about cars and experiencing an adrenaline rush are just a few of the reasons people will flock to the Jamestown Speedway Stock Car Stampede this weekend.
About 5,000 spectators will watch the races beginning at 5 p.m. today at the Jamestown Speedway, and about 5,000 spectators attended Friday’s events too.
According to the speedway’s general manager, Joanne Dieterle, it is the largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the area.
“I’ve always been in love with cars and I’ve always loved the idea of going fast,” said Darin Smith of West Fargo, who will drive car no. 12S in the Stampede.
It’s his second year competing in the WISSOTA Midwest Modifieds, which feature cars with smaller motors and a little less power than WISSOTA A-Mods.
It can be considered one of the starting classes, explained Smith, who raced at Jamestown Speedway in his rookie season.
“This track is one that I can’t seem to conquer,” Darin said ruefully. “It’s kind of unpredictable — it can be really tack-y in the heat races and just dry up for the features and be really slick. It’s fun, you’ve got to learn how to drive differently.”
Leann Christensen, of Spiritwood, N.D., is a veteran racer. She was the first woman in North Dakota to race stock cars, and has been racing for 24 years — ever since her cousin let her drive a car in a powderpuff race in 1980. In 1981 she started racing on her own.
“It’s just an adrenaline rush,” Christensen said.
She participated in demolition derbies for years, but women weren’t allowed to drive the derby cars. Racing gave her a chance to drive.
This year, Christensen is driving car no. 24, a six-year-old Bomber — a cheaper class to race. It will be her first Stampede since 1985.
Being female doesn’t make much difference on the track.
“I’m just like everybody else,” Christensen said. “At the beginning, it was pretty tough, but I’m pretty competitive, and we’re all equal now. I respect them, and they respect me.”
Technology, too, has changed over the years, and racing has gotten more expensive. Christensen’s first car cost only $500, partly because she was able to get junk parts for free. Very few people build their own engines anymore, either.
Racing can be an expensive hobby. Purchasing a new car from scratch could cost $25,000 to $30,000, said Darin’s father, Scott Smith, and racers could spend $500 to $600 a week on oil, gas, tires and repairs.
Racers and fans believe it’s all worth it, though.
The most challenging part about racing is learning how to deal with the different kinds of drivers on the track, Darin said. Rookies tend to drive in a different way than experienced veterans, and may require different strategies to beat.
“There’s definitely more strategy than a lot of people think,” Darin said. “Most people think you can get into the car and drive and turn left. There’s a lot more to it than that.”
Staying patient is always key, Darin added, because races are more than one lap long, and timing of maneuvers is often critical.
“This is about the best track around. Jamestown is professionally-run and well-organized,” Christensen said. “It’s a good place.”
More than 250 drivers will turn up for the Stampede, but they are not alone — friends, family and the dedicated helpers of the pit crew are always there, too.
“If we didn’t work on the car, it would easily break down,” said Alex Zirbes of Kensal, who spent Friday afternoon working on street stock car no. 9.
The street stock car has the chassis of an ordinary car — in no. 9’s case, that of an Oldsmobile Cutlass — but it has a roll cage in it to keep the driver safe.
Zirbes’ duties include changing tires, grinding them down to give them a better grip, keeping gas in the car, checking the vehicle every day and keeping tires ready in case driver Casey Stangeland gets a flat.
Zirbes has served as pit crew for Stangeland for about six years.
“We hang out all the time. It’s just something to do on weekends,” Zirbes said.
Some of the most dedicated people at the Stampede are fans — or future racers.
“I would like to race,” said Caden Ulmer, 10, of Dickinson.
Caden loves racing, partly because it means he gets to stay up late, and partly because he enjoys watching his father, Travis Ulmer, race the no. 3 stock car.
“I hope he’s going to win,” Caden said.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org