Auto Racing

Cedar Rapids firefighter set to mark 30th season racing at Hawkeye Downs

Brian Gibson's 'racecar is a way for me to release my stress'

Brian Gibson and his family (from left) Alex Gibson, Sydney Henderson, Renae Gibson and Carly Henderson spend every week
Brian Gibson and his family (from left) Alex Gibson, Sydney Henderson, Renae Gibson and Carly Henderson spend every weekend during the summer together at the race track, something he’s proud to be able to  say with three children in their 20s. (Family photo)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Brian Gibson relies on people every day of his life.

“The brotherhood of the fire department runs very, very deep,” said Gibson, one of three battalion chiefs for the City of Cedar Rapids’ east side. “You put your life in the hands of the people that you work with in many different ways. Whether you’re hanging off a rope or driving side-by-side, 6 inches apart at 100 miles per hour, your life is in other people’s hands and you have their life in yours.”

When lives are on the line, experience matters. Gibson has plenty of it in the firehouse and on the racetrack.

This will be Gibson’s 30th season racing at Hawkeye Downs, which opens its 2020 season Friday. He also is two years from retirement after 33 years with the fire department.

Gibson graduated from West Branch in 1985 and was attending the University of Iowa when he followed a friend to a job offer with the department in 1988.

Both his father and grandfather were volunteer firefighters in West Branch, so it seemed like a natural fit.

While Gibson worked his way up to captain in the early 2000s and battalion chief in 2010, the road has not always been easy.

Gibson’s close friend and fellow firefighter, Brett Henderson, died in 2008 from cancer. A year later, Gibson’s wife, Jill, died.

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Both families were close, so blending their two families seemed like a natural fit. Gibson married Renae Henderson in 2010.

“We both lost our spouses, we were friends and our families did things together,” Gibson said. “She has been in my corner with racing and it’s been something that we’ve done together ever since I got back into it.”

Gibson will not only drive his car in the late model class at Hawkeye Downs, he will rotate driving with Bob Aimers in the sport mod division. Aimers will take the vehicle to Independence and Benton County.

While the late model class doesn’t run every week at Hawkeye Downs, Gibson will take Renae, along with his son Alex and stepdaughters Carly and Sydney to Wisconsin a few times during the summer to taste a bit of their asphalt offerings.

“Most people with three adult children can’t say that they spend every weekend together, but I’m proud to say that we do,” Gibson said.

During his “day job,” which consists of 24-hour shifts on-duty, followed by 48 hours off, Gibson does a lot of scheduling and purchasing for the department.

“One of the benefits of being battalion chief is it’s pretty easy for me to get race nights off,” he said.

That’s important because it’s how he manages the stresses of his very demanding job.

“The racecar is a way for me to release my stress, unwind and shut my brain off,” Gibson said. “I get to go have fun with a great group of guys and that’s a brotherhood as well.”

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Gates for Friday night’s races at Hawkeye Downs will open at 6. Hot laps are scheduled for 6:30.

Pit passes are $30 and available at the pit shack, which has moved to the south drive entrance. Classes planning to run are hornets, hobby stocks, sportsmen, sport mods and legends, as well as the Midwest Trucks traveling series.

Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and students 9-17. Children 8-and-under are free.

Comments: justin.webster@thegazette.com

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