116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
VINTON — Benton County Speedway is in the entertainment business and Fourth of July weekend is a cash cow for the racing world.
That’s why the Rick and Corey Dripps, promoters for The Bullring in Vinton, brought in more than 20 sprint cars that normally race at Knoxville and around the Midwest to join their five regular weekly classes before the night was capped with a giant fireworks display.
One of those drivers excited to compete close to home for the first time in a dozen years is Tom Lenz of Marion.
“I’m old enough that we’re going to be retiring soon,” Lenz said. “We want to do some fun races before we’re done.”
Although his wife Debbie stayed home to avoid the heat, Lenz was able to bring his 11-year-old daughter Paige to the track.
“I learn a lot of new things when he races,” said the soon-to-be sixth-grader at Vernon Middle School in Marion.
“I help with tires or putting the wing on sometimes. I also scrape the dirt off when he comes back in.”
Racing closer to home also allows the 56-year-old machinist to share his passion for the sport with friends, neighbors and buddies from high school who can’t always make the 90-minute trek southwest to the historic track in Marion County.
“It’s really fun to watch them,” Paige said. “It’s nice to see them having fun.”
For Lenz, cars and moving parts have been his main interest since he began racing quarter midgets in 1974 at the age of 9. He jumped into a sprint car in 1988 and won Rookie of the Year at Knoxville that season.
“It’s the only thing I’ve been interested in my whole life,” Lenz said. “(Working on my car) is all I ever do.”
Now as a seasoned driver, nerves have long since left Lenz when it comes to racing at 110 miles per hour, door to door with the competition in his small-block Chevy.
“It’s just kind of the nature of the beast,” Lenz said. “You’re focused, so you don’t get too weirded out.”
While winning is fun, at this point, racing clean and taking the car home in one piece is just as key to a successful night.
“We don’t fight,” Lenz said of his fellow drivers. “We help each other out and it’s a great sport.”