A Racing Vacation

The summer months are the perfect time for most Americans to take a vacation. After 50 weeks or so of hard work, a two week sojourn is a well earned break from the rigourous responsibilities of day to day life.

Unfortunately for those of us in the racing profession, summer is the peak time of the season. It's tough to check out for any extended period of time to recharge the old batteries when motorsports is in high gear.

Drivers are in the same boat. Can you imagine Dale Jarrett telling Robert Yates he put in for vacation the last week of July? So while an extended break is out of the question, there's always the occasional day off here and there.

But some guys love to take their work with them on vacation and race drivers may be the worst offenders. Give a driver the day off and he'll no doubt find something with an engine to race, whether it's a powerboat, jet ski or lawnmower.

Then there are the guys who simply find another race car to drive.

This past Tuesday night at Wisconsin's Slinger Super Speedway, a tight little quarter-mile track nestled in the Kettle Moraine woods about an hour north of Milwaukee, a group of drivers who make their living racing on the weekends showed up to have a little fun. The 23rd annual "Slinger Nationals" drew its usual large field of late model stock cars with a few outsiders in the mix.

Matt Kenseth, Ken Schrader, Rich Bickle, Scott Wimmer, Dick Trickle and Scott Hansen were in the house on this pleasant summer night, much to the joy of the 8,000 fans that packed the tiny bullring. All have participated in this annual midweek show before and all seemed glad to be back.

"This is my hobby, instead of playing golf or going to the lake, I race," said Schrader, who drives everything from dirt stock cars to ARCA around the country when his Winston Cup schedule permits it. "I just love to race."

Trickle, the Wisconsin legend who doesn't have a fulltime gig these days, used to receive the biggest cheer from the pro-Cheesehead throng at events like these. But nowadays that honor is reserved for Kenseth, who went by the nickname Matt "The Bratt" during his early career driving four times a week around Wisconsin's short tracks.

"Yeh coming home is definitely a lot of fun," said Kenseth, who is now introduced as the current Winston Cup season's winningnest driver. "When we raced here, at Madison, Kaukauna, the Dells, Golden Sands, State Park and the rest of the tracks throughout the state it was work but still fun. The grind of the Winston Cup schedule is tough but coming back a couple of times a year to what is still home is definitely something I enjoy."

Winning is also something Kenseth enjoys and he showed up at Slinger prepared to do just that. This wasn't one of those guest appearances where the promoter brings in a Cup star to fill the stands, only to have him ride around at the back of the pack in a rented car. Kenseth's ride was first class, prepared especially for the roller coaster ride that is known as Slinger. Driving a silver Monte Carlo sporting the familar No. 17 on its side, Kenseth came to win.

As the 200 lap feature took the green flag, it was clear Kenseth was going to be a threat. Methodically picking his way through the pack of swarming stock cars, Kenseth had the crowd on its feet as he moved into the Top 5 in little time from the middle of the field.

But as is usually the case in short track racing, there was contact between Kenseth and a slower car. The impact tore the right front fiberglass fender from his car, leaving it to dangle in the summer breeze.

Officials, with no other choice, ordered Kenseth to the pits so the potentially dangerous bodywork could be removed, which would send the homestate hero to the rear of the 24-car field. As the crowd watched the No. 17 car circle the track under caution, Kenseth had a stroke of genius. He pulled alongside the car of local standout Donovan Morgan and furiously began waving to the front of his car as the duo continued to run under caution. Morgan looked over and in a move sure to make the good neighbor Hall of Fame, reached out of his car, grabbed the damaged bodywork and, voila, ripped it free.

The crowd roared its approval and as the safety crew hurriedly picked up the debris, Kenseth settled back to his spot ready to go back to work.

"I figured it was worth the risk and better than pulling off the track," Kenseth would say later.

With the disaster avoided, Kenseth set his sights on the lead and after finally taking the top spot on Lap 120, never looked back on his way to victory lane.

With the adoring crowd on its feet and cheering wildly, Kenseth accepted the winner's trophy. "This is absoultely great," he beamed.

What better way to spend a vacation day?

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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