September 4, 2009
SOUTH DAKOTA CHRIS
It’s hard to get him out of your mind. It’s the toppings that make
Chris Prussman stand out – that mop of blonde hair, the laughing
dance of his eyes. In a glance, he could be actor Owen Wilson or
Timmy McCreadie – or a seventies surfer who happened to glide into
the pit area of a dirt track.
What is so memorable about the South Dakotan modified driver,
though, is beneath the surface. He is emblematic of hundreds if not
thousands of American racers. He is nearing a critical moment in his
racing – and his life.
Racing motors played Chris Prussman’s lullabies. His earliest
memories are of the commanding white grandstand at Brookings
Speedway and the cars his dad worked on. By three, learning to
navigate the banking of his bath tub with a toy bar of soap, he
already envisioned his future as a professional racer.
Growing up, despite a broken family and serious financial hardship,
he found his way onto the seat of four-wheelers, snow mobiles, jet
skis – anything with some poke.
By college time, “when I was in class it was As. But I knew too many
people, went to too many parties. By 1991 I left school. My heart
had already been donated to racing.”
Working construction for his father “whenever I was in town,” Chris
was soon touring professionally on the flat track four-wheeler
circuit. It was serious, seriously fast, and he was seriously good.
His hair back then was mid-back length, waving in all directions,
but the partying was over. There was no smoking, no drinking, and he
won over 100 times.
By 1997, idolizing Dale Sr., a
slightly more shorn Prussman went straight into modified racing. It
didn’t come gift-wrapped. He called over a hundred businesses for
support, keeping copious notes, and ignoring the nay-sayers.
Eventually he came up with $3200 for the $3500 initial investment.
Over the last 12 years he has run every show that he possibly could.
He races three or four WISSOTA shows each week, the big IMCA events
– Boone and Talladega, and he takes on the high-horsepower honchos
of USMTS whenever he can with his peashooter motor. He estimates he
has 60-70 wins to date.
No doubt that, besides his extreme motivation, Chris is a talented
wheelman. He excelled instantly on the asphalt at Buck Baker’s
driving school, as well as in an asphalt sprinter in Randy Brigg’s
class. However, he has never been able to race beyond wallet-empty.
His crew and equipment are amazingly meager.
To try to fill the gap beyond his part-time construction work,
Prussman has been a darling to his sponsors. They are small, but
many. He is consistently attentive, showering them with handouts and
grins. That part comes easily to him. His pit is crammed with fans –
especially kids – after every feature.
“Working with kids and folks who are hurting just makes me feel
good. I do a lot with charities, especially during the off-season.”
His website has a whole section on charities.
The issue right now is that Chris is 37, but just as intent on
racing 100% for a living as he was 34 years ago back in that bath
tub. “I love racing people,” he exudes with some idealism. “I figure
the NASCAR family is 1000 times bigger. How I would like to support
myself running Cup races on the weekend and doing charity things all
week all over the country. I just need to get my stats up, have the
right person see me, and attract one big sponsor. Folks tell me I am
dreaming, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it for a minute.”
Who knows if Chris can possibly make it to Cup? Other guys like
look-alike Timmy McCreadie, despite being several years younger and
having enormous talent and exposure, have had trouble getting there.
And the economy hardly favors lavish new racing deals these days.
It is hard to get Chris Prussman out of your mind. I do find myself
rooting for him, but, to be honest, my wishes for him are a little
different than his own. I wish he would land that solid, long-term
sponsor, but not for that oh-so commercial, superficial world of
Cup. I wish Chris could continue to be the role model he is right
now for the next 20 years – sliding around those wonderful dirt
tracks in our neighborhoods, befriending the kids, and building up
his local charities without fear of that next bottom dollar.
And I wish Chris would take another look at what is really cool. It
might not be that far away.
© 2009 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181