116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Familiar faces race at Hawkeye Downs
CEDAR RAPIDS - The faces that emerge from behind the wheels at Hawkeye Downs Speedway are the same ones you'll likely see in everyday life.
They are the faces of local business owners, factory workers and even first responders. They provide for the general public as well as their peers at the track. Some work on or sell you a car before devoting hours to on their car as a "hobby."
It's a connection you won't necessarily make with other sports events in the area. Various drivers reached out to the public Saturday, hosting the asphalt track's annual Car Show and Test and Tune. Fans were able to view cars from various divisions, including sportsman, hobby stock, modified, hornet and legends cars.
Brian Gibson works with the Cedar Rapids Fire Department and won two modified features last year. Some of the same people who fill the grandstands Friday nights receive his assistance the rest of the week.
"They are faces you can potentially see in another arena in town," said Gibson, who won the 2012 season points championship. "We can see you Wednesday, helping you with an emergency and Friday night we can see you at the races."
Not only does Hawkeye Downs provide a chance for the public to watch a neighbor, a co-worker or a family member participate on a competitive stage, but it also adds to the experience for the local drivers. They are racing in front of people they know and will come in contact with on a daily basis.
"You try to put on a show for the fans," defending hobby stock points champion Matt Petrzelka said. "It adds some pressure. You want to go out and do well. Some nights don't go as well as others. It makes you want to do even better the next time."
Former University of Iowa two-time NCAA champion and four-time All-American Mark Ironside will race his first full season in the legends division, running a partial schedule last season. He has stated that he made regular trips to the track when he was younger, rooting on familiar drivers. Now, he is one of them.
According to Ironside, being one of the performers on this stage means being an average Joe, or Joan in some cases.
"It's really cool," Ironside said. "Any time you can go out and walk into a Hy-Vee on Wilson Ave. or into a fire station or anywhere in this community, there are so many that are just (common people). That is pretty much what we are and what the people who race out here are."
"It makes it really unique, so when people come out and fans come out to watch they have their favorites that they cheer for, but on the other side of things they want to see everybody be really successful.”
Petrzelka has been approached by strangers away from the track, wanting to discuss a recent race. He likes the exchange with fans.
"it's great when fans come up to you and say they saw your race on Friday night," said Petrzelka, who won 10 features last season and is looking for an opportunity to race in the modified class this summer. "It's fun to meet new people."
It makes for an intimate feel for a venue that welcomes friends, family and fans to visit the pits after the races and mingle with their favorite drivers. The members of the community welcome the interaction, which they may not directly get at other events.
Gibson said that racing and maintaining a car is a lot of work and money for a quick three to four hour pay off. Contact with fans helps provide enjoyment, if that night's results don't.
"The socialization and the camaraderie is part of it," Gibson said. "The fans are what makes it fun for me. Last year, we had groups of 50 people sitting my wife in the stands.
"It's nice to see the people support you, even when you don't win, or when you have a bad night."
The season opens Friday, May 3 with Innovative Signs night. Gates open at 6 p.m. with hot laps at 6:35 and racing at 7:30. Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for anyone 61 or older. Students are $5 with children 12 and younger free.