CEDAR RAPIDS — The slanted, white No. 3 enveloped in red trim against a dark blue background is familiar to many race fans at Hawkeye Downs.
Cedar Rapids native Dave McCalla, 41, started racing dirt tracks in Maquoketa and Tipton as a teenager in 1992. Two years later, he brought his hobby stock racecar to the asphalt track at Hawkeye Downs. But it was his 2004 purchase of a limited late model racecar that jump-started a 12-year stretch of dominance in the Sportsmen divison that included six season points championships, as well as a hint of monotony.
“We raced so many years in the Sportsman,” McCalla said Friday night before the weekly points races at Hawkeye Downs. “It just got to be second habit. It got to be where it was like, ‘OK, this isn’t fun anymore. It’s the same thing. Let’s try something new. A new challenge.’”
A few years ago, McCalla’s longtime girlfriend and fellow racer Stacy Olson became interested in Legends racecars, a more-affordable racing option consisting of a 5/8-scale fiberglass body shell that runs on a motorcycle engine and looks similar to automobiles of the 1930s and 1940s.
Olson started racing in the Legends division at Hawkeye Downs in 2015. As McCalla assisted her with the new endeavor, he was inspired by the driver camaraderie within the division.
“I felt good, I felt like I fit in right away because of the family atmosphere,” McCalla said. “Everybody helps each other. You can see we all pit next to each other. You don’t see that in any other division. I really like this atmosphere, I want to have fun and that is where I am at right now.”
McCalla contacted a friend in Minnesota and a swap was arranged between McCalla’s late model — which he raced for just one season (2016) — and a Legends car.
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“The biggest (difference) was realizing how touchy the throttle is, how touchy the adjustments are,” McCalla said. “Because of it being a small wheel base and a light car, when we would do a full turn on a sportsman, on these you do only a quarter turn. The adjustments were a lot smaller, but an adjustment would make a bigger difference.”
McCalla joined the Legends division at Hawkeye Downs last season, won two feature races and finished runner-up in the season points standings, just five points behind Austin Slabaugh of Kalona.
“A big confidence boost,” McCalla said. “Even this year, when you win one. … It was like momentum was huge. Every week now, you just build on that momentum and it builds confidence inside you that you’ve got a car that can do this.”
This year, McCalla has won five feature races and entered Friday night with an eight-point lead over Legends veteran Kevin Korsmo of Atkins. McCalla finished second in the Friday night feature race to Cole O’Brien of Cedar Rapids and can clinch his first Legends division points championship when the season ends on Aug. 17.
“I’m always surprised by any success,” McCalla said. “Racing comes down to luck and it is like a high-speed chess game. You’ve just got to be in the right spot at the right time.”
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