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Racing Commentary

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That’s Austin in Victory Lane with his dad Ed and mom Julie.  (Wolf Family Collection)

June 16, 2010


That ol’ passion for racing sure can invade a family’s genetic mapping. Think about how many kids you know who have followed their fathers right into the first turn.

On the left Coast, there are those great open wheel Kaedings, while back East are the Truexes, expert in any kind of hard top. There are hundreds and hundreds of examples in between.

Sometimes things work out just famously, as with Joe and Joey Saldana. Sometimes racing exacts its unthinkable tariff, as when Troy Ruttman Jr. perished in a supermodified crash at Pocono.

In recent months, though, some pretty snarky stuff has been written about dads and kids in the sport together. We all have seen how easy it is for a family supporting two cars to slide into financial ruin. Conversely, we have also heard tales of wealthy dads reliving their youth, and over-managing their kids’ racing.

Properly balanced, though, the inter-generational support can be a joyful thing. Take the Wolf family out in Algona, in the midst of racing-rich Iowa. The patriarch, Ed Wolf, a 50-year-old salesman for a clean energy company, caught the motor bug in grade school. He worked on a million cars, drove successfully, and hung up his helmet to help his son Austin get going at age nine. And Austin, now 18, is already one hot item on the IMCA modified circuit.

Just listen as this father and son ruminate about the sport they share:

Ed: “I had a good career, I guess. Actually, I drove seriously for six years and won 50 features. I quit to travel with Austin, because he was SO into karts, four-wheelers, and dirt bikes.”

Austin: “He’s being modest. I remember being a kid up there in the stands. Dad always had ‘smoker’ motors, but he sure won a lot. I cried when he didn’t win.”

Ed: “When I was ten years old, I was at Boone one night working as a gofer with a team. They all got to drinking and were so drunk I had to drive the whole bunch of them back to Algona. You can bet nothing like that was going to happen with Austin.”

Austin: “When Dad made all this possible, all I could think about was racing – anything I could. It scared me, but thrilled me at the same time. The first time I did a double jump on a dirt bike, I drove right off the track I was so excited. The next day Dad took me right back, and I did that jump about 400 times.”

Ed: “And the first time he did a triple was the first time he gave me a heart attack.”

Austin: “I got to be 15 and Dad put together an old yellow IMCA stock car called ‘the banana’ for me, and we went to the Algona Fair to give it a try. What an experience! Even on a hot day, I could feel that cool air rushing by. It gave me chills and goose bumps. It was so much faster than I anticipated. I kept saying to myself, ‘Don’t spin out – and be sure to exceed Dad’s expectations.’ I did better than he thought I would do, and we had a bet. He still owes me $100.”

Ed: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We had an old engine in that car, but it was a 406. It wasn’t for a lightweight driver. And some of the guys out there with him had over 100 feature wins. When Austin first came in, he had a grin that wouldn’t quit. I did, too. The kid had just won hot laps – and then he goes and gets a top ten in the main from the back!”

Austin: “I love the way when you race your body goes forward when it wants to go backwards. And when you get to the turn it wants to go sideways with the g-force, but you are still going forward.”

Ed: “I always told Austin that when that track is heavy, you stand on it until you see God and then turn left. Guess he took me seriously.”

Austin “seeing God.”  (Wolf Family Collection)

Austin: “The next year was 2008, and Dad and I got hooked up with the Groen and Menning Builders’ modified. After one lap, I didn’t think anything in the world could possibly be better. The other drivers were so much more predictable. It was like a license to race. The car was so much louder, so much faster. I could feel that chassis climbing, that left rear hiking, like the whole thing was floating.”

Ed: “I could see that he really has a special seat of pants. I saw it when he did high hurdles in high school last year, and I was glad he was able to do all those laps on bikes and quads. That probably really helped him with his sense of balance. He was 2008 Rookie of the Year.”

Austin: “But then this last year, we won three times. I began to learn some patience and understand what Dad was saying about ‘no contact in the modifieds.’ He and I really got into the chassis. We’d go to the garage and spend hours just looking at it, tweaking things, weighing, taking notes. I also spent a lot of time on the Internet, Googling setup suggestions from various builders.”

Ed: “We have an updated car this year and we won our first one on May 15. My wife Julie wasn’t comfortable with Austin going on the half-milers until he was 18. It’s been fun to watch him on them this year.”

Austin: “Oh, My God, I love those big tracks already. It’s amazing how much time you have. I can look down at the RPMs going up and then look back up and still have a ways to go. How fast I am going is nothing to me. I keep telling Dad, ‘More power, more speed, that’s what’s good for me.’ I just wanna keep at this dirt racing forever.”

Ed: “Maybe late models – like what Timmy McCreadie runs. But, you know, that’s full time, and Austin goes to college next year, and I do have to work, after all. So maybe some sprint cars. But I’m not so sure how Julie would feel about that.”

Austin: “Gosh, I’m eighteen. Maybe it should be my decision.”

Ed: “We both know it’s in our blood, Austin. And we both know it will be money that’s the limiting factor.”

Watch this space. Here’s a family doin’ it right.

(Wolf Family Collection)

© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

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.: Previous Tearoffs :.

5/28/10 - The Monk and Matty D.

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© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181