Last season’s pure stocks track champion, Dan Schmeissing (center), is flanked at the Grundy County Speedway 2013 banquet by Alex Gay (right) and Danielle Dobczyk. | Brian Nolte/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 2, 2014 6:25AM
Schmeissing, 37, of Manhattan, the defending pure stocks division champion at Grundy County Speedway, is in his third full season as a competitor. He is a district technical manager at Chuck E. Cheese.
You are kind of a late bloomer in the racing business. What drew you in?
I’d been a fan, going to Grundy since I was 8 or 9 years old. When the 4-cylinder class came along in the early 2000s I figured, “Hey, maybe this is something that’s affordable and fun.” But the timing was bad. I had a new house and kids, so it got put on the back burner. When the opportunity came up again (in 2011) I was able to get a car and start.
Where did you find your first car?
On eBay. I actually got outbid by somebody else and that guy fell through. So the owner contacted me and said, “Hey, the guy that won the bid bailed out. Would you like to pick it up?” That’s how I got it.
That was your championship car?
Yeah, that’s the Grey Ghost. Tom White (Grundy pit director) kind of named it. When I came out of practice this year I brought a different car out. He said, “Where’s the Grey Ghost?” It’s still the one I’ve been running most of the year.
When you were a fan as a kid, who was your favorite driver?
Mike Varner. I idolized that guy. He was just a nice guy. I was always rooting him on. My first on-track experience was one night when he won a feature and actually waved me down on the track. I have a picture of him and I on the track together.
What’s the toughest part about driving a 4-cylinder?
This year it’s the competition. The division has grown, with several different winners. And it’s very diverse. You’ve got everybody from 14-year-old boys and girls to people who are 50. And you’ve got guys who have driven in other divisions who are in our class as well from time to time.
Last year you were chased to the title by two teenage girls (second- and third-place finishers Alex Gay and Danielle Dobczyk). That had to have led to some interesting moments.
(Laughing) Oh, of course. I got a lot of flack for it. What was really worse was when the two girls were starting off last year there were some learning curves on their driving ability, and it seemed like I was the one always getting into them. I always heard from my fellow racers, “Ah, you’re beating on the girls again.”
In the end, nobody else but you compiled more points than them.
When I won the championship I’d get some heat, “Well, yeah, but you beat two girls.” And I said, “Well, those aren’t girls. Those are drivers.’ And they did great. They’re both good drivers.
Any chance of moving up to another division?
It would be nice to test or find somebody who would offer me a ride. But there is always that risk of wrecking the car and then I own the car. The problem with short track racing is what it costs to run.
What would you change?
There is too much of a gap from a 4-cylinder car to a street stock. The average cost for a 4-cylinder is $1,000 to $1,500. The cost for a competitive street stock is around $5,000. We need somehow to bridge that gap from the cost factor.
So if you’re not going to be the next 4-cylinder driver to be a late-model champion at Grundy, who do you see it being?
Probably one of the young guns, like Spencer Leake or Austin Blackwell. Those guys came from a karting background.
As told to Tony Baranek