Baldwin friends race together
When together, these three Baldwin City men can joke and tease each about anything, but when it comes down to racing and being friends, they are very serious.
Brenn Wagner, Dennis Lederer and Kenny Niehoff are close friends that race every Friday at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan.
"Racing is a family sport," Lederer said. "The neat thing about racing is the prayer before our driver's meeting. It's one sport where they honor life morals. It's family within a family."
About 12 years ago, Wagner began racing at Thunderhill Speedway in Mayetta.
"I have always loved racing, so I bought a car and got into it," Wagner said. "I wish I didn't have to work, so I could do it seven days a week."
After Wagner had been driving for several years, Lederer started helping him work on his car. Lederer soon became hooked and got into the racing also.
"Brenn kind of started it off," Lederer said. "He got started racing and I got started watching. We always help each other all the time."
Soon after Lederer began racing, Niehoff also started watching and helping. Then Niehoff became the third member of the racing crew.
"I was helping Dennis out when I realized it looks like a lot of fun and is sort of addictive," Niehoff said. "He told me I needed a car and I could store it as his house."
The three friends all graduated from Baldwin High School. Lederer and Wagner were in the class of 1985, while Niehoff graduated in 1991.
Choosing a Track
Each driver has been to different tracks and used different cars, but this year the drivers are competing at Lakeside Speedway.
Lakeside is a one-half mile dirt track located four miles north of the Kansas Speedway. The speedway is also a NASCAR sanctioned track.
"It's a very nice facility with nice seating," Lederer said. "It's really built for the fans. They do a lot of stuff for the fans."
All three drivers compete in the factory stock division, which averages more than 50 cars per week. More than 100 cars have registered in the division, making it competitive.
"There is so much competition up there," Niehoff said. "It's so even. Any night there are around 20 cars that can win the race."
Wagner agreed about evenness of the field, and the officials always follow the rules.
"It's real competitive," Wagner said. "We are among about 50 cars a night. It's a lot of fun. They run it by the books. They don't like when you break the rules."
Niehoff said the track is also very concerned about safety, although the slowest class of cars can reach speeds of 90 mph.
"The track is so safety conscious," Niehoff said. "When you pull up, they give your car a safety check. There aren't any bad wrecks, but a lot of cars leave there damaged."
The three drivers are competing in the season points championship at Lakeside. The season starts the first weekend of April and wraps up the last weekend in September.
Niehoff said around 11,000 spectators were on hand for the first race of the season. Niehoff said his season has been successful thus far.
"We're real happy this year," Niehoff said. "We had a rocky start, but we're third in the points now. We have gotten mentioned on a few radio shows and got an interview on 580 in Topeka."
The feature race is only 15 laps long, but includes 25 cars. The drivers qualify for the feature in the heat races earlier in the night.
"Just making the big race for the night is an honor," Lederer said. "Anything extra is icing on the cake."
Each week the top 20 drivers receive checks for their placing. The winnings can range from $100 to $300, and the drivers only have to pay $15 to register if they have a NASCAR license.
The winnings can be profitable for the drivers, but the money is always being used to fix up the cars. Lederer said a driver can spend between $6,000 and $8,000 a year to race.
"It's one of the most fun things I do," Lederer said. "It's a lot of fun, but it's expensive."
Wagner wants to join a faster division of cars, but he said he has to check on his financial situation first.
"I'd like to get in a faster class in a couple years," Wagner said. "I'll see what the finances are like in a couple years."
Each driver has different sponsors and friends that help them on their cars. But when it comes down to it, these three guys are always there for each other.
"It's been a really neat deal," Lederer said. "We help each other with everything."