Drivers to Watch 2017: Dalton Simonsen

Fairfax driver coming off 7-win 2016, eager to become one of the best in Eastern Iowa

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Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series highlighting Eastern Iowa drivers to pay attention to for the 2017 season. The first was on Kyle Olson.

FAIRFAX — Dalton Simonsen is a self-aware 21-year-old racecar driver.

The Fairfax native and current Iowa State student knows where he stands in the IMCA Sport Mod landscape in Eastern Iowa. He knows, even after seven wins and a runaway track championship at West Liberty Raceway last season, he’s not the first name out of people’s mouths when they’re talking about the guys to beat in Sport Mod in this area or the region.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe it, though.

Self-awareness isn’t just about accepting where other people think you stand. For Simonsen, it’s about not giving into that kind of thinking. Yeah, some other guys might be considered the best. So who’s he chasing?

“Honestly, myself more than anything.”

Add confidence to the aforementioned self-awareness.

“I’m a big believer in (the idea that) it doesn’t matter if someone is two-tenths faster than you on the stop watch in hot laps or if they’ve won x-amount of races,” Simonsen said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself behind the wheel because I expect a lot from myself. That’s probably the biggest thing is taking care of my end of the deal. If I worry about, ‘This guy is super-fast and that that guy is super-fast,’ I’m going to just be sitting in the pits whining, and my car will be a turd. I’m trying to focus on my stuff and what I can control because in racing there’s a lot you can’t control.”

That mentality comes from being in a racing family, like so many others who get into the sport and stay in. His dad, Brett and his grandpa, Tom, both raced in their days, and his brother Dakota will get in a Hobby Stock starting this season.

Having his parents, brother and girlfriend Rylie, Simonsen said, offers him a support system to be able to have that kind of focus and attention to go racing and be successful. He’s pursuing an engineering degree at Iowa State — taking 18 credits this spring semester — and has a full-time job waiting at Kinze in Williamsburg when he’s done. Simonsen said his job allows him to go race, and his co-workers both come watch and encourage him at it.

Support for a passion is vital to any racer, but especially one just starting to build a resume and strong footing in the sport.

“It’s who I am,” Simonsen said. “I just love to race. I spend all my time, every weekend, every night until 2 a.m. if I have to.

“My dad, my mom, everyone around me have always pushed me to be the best I can be. They believe in me.”

While he has that much-needed support system and belief in himself, of course there’s satisfaction in beating the guys who are more widely considered the best, Simonsen said. It just comes when the racing is done.

He highlighted racing against guys like Curtis Van Der Wal, Tim Plummer, Brett Lowry and Carter VanDenBerg at West Liberty and guys like Tony Olson and Tyler Soppe at other special events as individuals who, when you beat them, you’ve done something important because “those guys have all been on a national stage and have won big races.”

Being focused on himself and his car is the primary objective, but it would be inhuman to say it’s not a big deal when those guys show up where he’s at to race. There’s a level of attention a racer pays every time he or she is at the track, but there’s always that extra bit of adrenaline that comes with racing the top competition.

That’s why Simonsen said he’ll race West Liberty weekly, but then primarily chase the myriad special events in the area — including the Modified Super Weekend at Farley Speedway in May, which pays $20,000 to win for Sport Mods. Everything from the level of competition to the way the track slicks off with more cars on it are things that appeal to Simonsen about those big shows.

Simonsen wants very much to be one of those guys who makes everyone else tense up when he pulls into a racetrack. It’s just going to take time, laps and more of that confidence and self-awareness.

“If you can beat guys that are going out and winning every weekend, that means a lot,” Simonsen said. “To be that guy, really, I’m a firm believer that the more you’re in the car, the better you’re going to be. I wish I could go race three times a week because then I feel like I’d have so many more opportunities to see what does or doesn’t work in the car. Like when Soppe goes to (Dubuque), he’s been there 30 times already so he has 90 chances — with hot laps, heat and feature — to change something. … Having a good notebook and knowing what to bring to the racetrack is what separates you from the other guys taking a shot in the dark.

“It drives me because I want to be the best.”

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

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