C.O.P.S. honored in INEX Legends special at Hawkeye Downs

Wisconsin driver Aaron Moyer takes $1,000 payday; area officers show off driving skills on Van Meter Night

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Typically when there’s a parade of squad cars streaming into a racetrack, it’s a sign that someone got in a fight or is in trouble.

But on Friday night at Hawkeye Downs Speedway, the 14 squad cars from Cedar Rapids, Marion, Linn County and the Iowa State Patrol paced the INEX Legends main event as part of Van Meter Night. Each year, Van Meter sponsors a night and proceeds benefit a charity. This year it was Concerns of Police Survivors, a foundation that benefits families of fallen officers.

It brought officers from around the metro area to Hawkeye Downs to show off their own driving skills, a police dog demonstration and to take in some racing.

“Everything clicked so well tonight,” said INEX Legends racer and dealer Warren Ropp, who spearheaded putting the event together. “The people here were passionate about why we’re here, and it’s well worth all the work.

“It means a lot to give back to these officers. They’re all out there, not being treated very well these last couple years. It’s time the communities step up and show support for what these guys really do. I think we did that tonight.”

The night was headlined on track by an INEX Legends Racing for a Cause Series race, which went for $1,000 to win.

The big payday brought in six new cars, five of which were from Wisconsin and Illinois, chasing the payday. West Bend, Wis., driver Aaron Moyer, who set the quick time in qualifying, raced from ninth to take the win ahead of Tim Brockhouse, Utica, Wis., driver Jacob Nottestad, McHenry, Ill., driver Max McNamara and Kevin Korsmo.

Moyer was chasing the money, but also was more than happy to take part in an event that ultimately benefits police officers and their families.

“It got kind of dicey in the beginning, but it was just an excellent night,” Moyer said. “The thing that gets me about it is you don’t hear about (fallen officers) in the news. To have an event like this opens everyone’s eyes a little bit. This happens everywhere. It’s really cool to be a part of an event like this. I had goose bumps when I pulled in, seeing all the cop cars rolling around. They put their lives on the line every day.”

The night itself was one nearly everyone left with wide smiles. In years past, Van Meter Night meant a “Pride Race” in which local celebrities and a Van Meter employee raced in Legends cars loaned by local racers.

But with that liability and in the interest of changing things up, the idea to bring in police cars and do a skills competition was thrown out. Van Meter Regional Vice President Todd Ettleman worked in conjunction with Ropp to put the night together, and couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out.

“Tonight has been so cool,” Ettleman said. “Every year, I’m really passionate about making sure the charity we donate to does something special. … It really hit everything we look for, and it’s been a home run.”

As for the skills competition itself, CRPD Captain Steve O’Konek was put in charge and helped keep track of times and results. Iowa State Patrol officer Graham Palas ended up the winner in his Dodge Charger — Ettleman said after, “I think we found out that Hemi had a little more than those Fords” of the other departments — and said he was glad to come out and have a little fun while showing off the skills he helps train officers to use in the field.

Palas beat Marion Sgt. Phil Fort, CRPD Officer Nick Nolte and Linn County Deputy Dan Williams in the competition.

O’Konek added to the crowd praising the event and what it stood for, appreciating officers being showcased as they were Friday night. And yes, he and the rest of the CRPD officers on hand plan on giving Nolte a hard time about getting beat.

“Warren (Ropp) asked for any law enforcement officers to come help him for this great charity, the Concerns of Police Survivors, and we’re here on Van Meter Night and we’re honored to be a part of it,” O’Konek said. “I think it’s great we have cooperation among law enforcement agencies. We work great together. So it’s fun to have time with the community and with each other for a good cause. For (Warren) to do what he does is truly remarkable.

“(Nolte) will get all kinds of grief for getting beat. No, he’s a great officer and one of our instructors. It was a good competition.”

In other racing action, Brian Gibson — a Battalion Chief in the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, who gave a bumper tap to the CRPD squad car that paced the field in pace laps — won Late Models, Braxton Franks picked up his first career win in Hobby Stock, Jim Hanson won in Sportsmen and Derek Parrott won in Hornets.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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