As winter slowly fades and spring brings the warmth of summer, dirt track racing teams have prepared their cars all winter for the racing season.
Dirt track racing has been a part of the United States ever since moonshiners started racing cars in the early 1930s that they used to illegally transport alcohol.
Nebraska has a lot of history of dirt track racing, especially since the heyday of dirt track racing in the state took place in the 1960s and 70s when it was relatively easy for anyone who wanted to race to get into it. Eagle Raceway, the state’s most well-known racetrack, was completed during this time. Now the sport is drying up and become difficult for newcomers without huge financial backing. Still, some small racing teams find ways to continue racing.
Khrysta Stransky is a hobby-stock car racer has raced on dirt tracks for 12 years. Her stepfather, Thom Marsh, has raced for even longer and was the one who got Stransky into the sport.
Marsh said he took her to a powder puff race, a race normally reserved for wives and daughters of the drivers. When Stransky got out of the car she was hooked. She built their father-daughter relationship through racing and working on the car together.
“I remember the first time I called him dad (Marsh) was when he wrecked his car during a race, he had flipped over and I had saw flames,” Stransky said. “So, I ran trying to make sure he was all right and when the marshals stopped me, I was yelling at them to let me go so I could make sure that Dad was okay.”
Many dirt track teams are small, like Stranky’s, with a few people working on just a single car. They spend countless hours repairing and rebuilding their cars for the racing season out of their own garages.
“My team and I all get together at least once a week after work to work on my car during the offseason,” Stransky said. “It makes for some long nights where we don’t get done till almost midnight, and all of us have jobs that we have to get to in the morning.”
When Stranksy started racing in the early 2000s, dirt track racing was still very popular, especially in small communities like Eagle. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down racing in March of 2020. Many of the fans didn’t come back to the tracks when racing resumed.
With fewer fans in the stands, race teams have felt the weight of less money in the sport. Since the beginning of 2020, racing tracks across the state have struggled to stay open. Many tracks have either been sold or closed altogether. I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Nebraska, closed late last year. McCool Raceway in McCool Junction closed for all of the racing season last season but was sold and re-opened this year under new ownership.
“When I started racing, you could buy a good car for $8,000,” Marsh said. “Now if you want a car, you have to pay $20,000, and that is if you just want to race a car. It’s even more if you want your car to be fast.”
When asked about getting into racing for a newcomer, Stransky had one piece of advice.
“Don’t go into debt,” Stransky said. “I had a friend that was a banker who once told me to never date a racecar driver because they are always in so much debt.”
To help cover the costs of racing, many teams still go into personal debt to support their racing teams because of the difficulty to secure sponsorships.
“I have sponsors on the car like Hy-Vee and Pro-Tint that help me cover the costs of racing, but they don’t cover all costs I still pay out of my own pocket,” Stransky said.
A first-place finish at Eagle pays $200 on average. That doesn’t even cover the cost of fuel for most races, and that doesn’t include having to pay for a team’s crew to get into the races and other expenses on race night. In Stranky’s case, she works two jobs during the week to make sure she can race on the weekends.
“On those mornings when I am at my day job at seven in the morning running off of three hours of sleep because I didn’t get to bed until almost three because I worked at my other job until three in the morning, I just tell myself, ‘Racecar. Racecar,’” she said.
Stranky’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed though. During the day, she runs one of the most profitable floral departments for Hy-Vee.
“Khrysta works hard and has been for the last eight years that I have known her,” co-wormer Maggie Madera said. “She’s always working double shifts and putting the most effort in to make sure she can race.”
Stranksy is used to hard work and long nights. Last season, she had a string of what seemed like bad luck when she wrecked her car four times. This caused her to have to rebuild or switch out parts to her car before the next weekend’s race such as the transmission and chassis.
“I hope this year goes better than last,” Stransky said. “It was tiring that in every race it seemed I ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up with a wrecked car causing me to have to repair it.”
Stransky will turn 45 later this year and said she hopes a good year of racing will let her ride off into the sunset.
“I always told myself that when I turn 45, I would stop racing,” she said. “I don’t know if I would be able to retire if this year goes like last year did. I think if it is a clean year and I do well I’d be content with retiring.”
Stransky hopes to have her car done in time for the beginning of the season. The first Eagle Raceway practice session took place March 31, while the opening race of the season is set for April 15.