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Wheel thrills keep drivers coming back

WILLMAR -- Like tennis, golf and bowling, stock car racing can be one of those lifetime sports.

Perhaps not lifetime -- but a long time.

Here's what some of the most veteran race drivers at the KRA Speedway had to say about their need for speed on the opening night of the Kandiyohi County Fair on Wednesday.

Jamie Lemke, 45, of Hutchinson has been racing stock cars for 26 years. Wednesday night's Modified Special was his first return to Willmar since the season opener in May:

"I do it for the thrills. It's still a rush. But this is my last year. My twin girls will graduate (in 2011). It's getting to be too much and it's more expensive. This was a stage of life. I hear fishing, boating and camping calling me."

Don Eischens, 44, Richmond started at Golden Spike in St. Cloud 22 years ago. He races in both the Modified and Super Stock class:

"I love racing, the racing part, at least. The car work kind of sucks. But as long as I can compete, I'll keep coming back. It's still fun, but as you get older it's more work. A big part of it is meeting people at all the tracks and taking off your helmet and leaving your agg-ressions on the track. My wife, Sue, still comes and our oldest boy, he's 23, is here with us tonight."

Craig Christiansen, 47, of New London. The Modified driver is in his 15th year and has "retired" once.

"I came back because I needed the money (laughs). I guess it's just the fun of being around all the people. You've got to have a hobby if you don't ride a horse. It's more work every year, but it's nice to be around friends and see old buddies at different tracks. Still, the most fun is the first year, though you don't even know it. That first year was a whole new rush I'd never had before."

Dean Larson, 53, of Pennock. The former welder who is now a maintenance specialist at Jennie-O Turkey Store raced his first car -- a 1959 Chevy his dad gave to him and his buddies -- in 1973. He broke away from wre-stling to play amateur baseball and slow-pitch and manage a church softball team, but has now raced 16 years straight, the last 11 in Mod-4.

"It was an easy choice between this and golf. I've had all the toys: speedboats, ATV's, snowmobiles, motorcycles. This is more fun than all those put together. These little four-cylinders make your hair stand up on the back of your neck. Up at West Fargo, on the half-mile track, they had us doing 105 miles per hour on the radar gun. That was in second gear."

Cory Vanmil, 61, of Lake Park, builds race cars and is in his 24th year of regular racing. His first stock car race was in 1967.

"I like doing well in cars I've built, but racing with my family and two boys is the biggest thing. And you can't beat those 20 minutes of the adrenaline rush you get every time."

Randy VanKlompenburg of Willmar will be 43 in two weeks. He first raced here in 1991. He took two years off when he bought the Pizza Ranch in Willmar, but returned to racing this spring.

"It's the fun of competition and the speed. We're hitting 72 miles per hour coming into the turns here. Try that at home. A lot of people who don't like racing don't understand how hard it is. They just think we drive in circles. You know, when you have a car working really well there's nothing more fun."

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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