VINTON — Beating your dad in anything can make a young mind wonder “what else can I accomplish?”
For many, that victory is an archway to a world of possibilities.
Sunday night at Benton County Speedway, Skyler Dugan earned his first career victory in the micro mods class by beating his longtime racing father, Chad, whose day job is police chief in Garnavillo.
Chad is a third-generation racer who got his start by sneaking into a two-man cruiser in the late 1990s at Echo Valley in West Union.
“I had almost 2 1/2 seasons of experience before I was officially old enough to race,” Dugan said of the 18-year-old age requirement.
The elder Dugan found plenty of success on and off the track, earning his degree in criminal justice before transferring to Hawkeye Community College to complete his degree in police science.
With seven track championships under his belt, Chad decided five years ago he would start “scouting” a new micro mods class that he thought might be a good car for his kids to move up to when the time presented itself.
“Skyler was racing go-karts and as we moved up he was going closer to 50 mph,” Chad said. “I just didn’t feel comfortable with him sitting in them with no cage around him. Usually with age comes the cage.”
Chad also wanted to be able to know the car inside and out.
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“I got into them first so I could learn as much as I could about them so when he got old enough to get in one I kind of knew how to set it up and help him succeed with it,” he said.
Skyler has run with the opportunity for a bigger car and was named 2019 rookie of the year, although he failed to find victory lane before the Urbana 5 races Sunday night.
“It was a heck of a battle and I was trying to hold (Cole) McNeal down so he couldn’t get a run on him,” Chad said. “In a way, I was kind of Earnhardting it a bit, but as I was watching him I saw he had a lot of pull so I knew he had a stout car and was going to be tough to beat.”
Not only did Chad know Skyler might have a big night, he shielded him from the spotlight a bit after he claimed victory for the first time.
“We had our own little moment before he got out of the car,” Chad said. “I wanted to have that and then let him get right before he got out so he was presentable to the crowd. I was a wreck, but he was presentable.”
This isn’t the first time Chad has sacrificed for his son’s racing career.
“To be honest, I probably take more time and spend more energy on Skyler’s car just to make sure it’s 100 percent right,” Chad said. “It’s a dad thing. I don’t want to see him get hurt, so I probably neglect myself a bit just to make sure he is tiptop.”
This fall, Skyler will be a freshman at Waukon High School, where he plans to continue his cross country, wrestling and track and field careers with education very much a part of the Dugans’ plan, as well.
“We emphasize school quite a bit,” Chad said.
“My favorite class is probably math,” Skyler said. “I want to be a structural engineer and I keep my grades up so that dad will give me a shot at each racing season.”
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While Skyler has the most confidence in his track and field abilities, his favorite sport is racing over cross country and wrestling, in that order. A big part of that is the tight bond he’s made with his fellow drivers.
“Starting when I was a kid it’s always been a family atmosphere and making friends with the guys you race with,” Chad said. “Those are probably the most fun guys to hang out with. When Skyler won tonight, every driver made it to victory lane and that just shows the appreciation and respect we all have for one another.”
The family of four also includes mom Stephanie and younger sister Tatum, who raced for two years before deciding to cheer on her brother.
“If you aren’t having fun, there is no point in doing it,” Chad said. “We wanted (Skyler) to improve this season and see some aggression and I suppose the biggest goal will be to do well at the Tulsa Shootout. I want his mind to think he can win anytime we come to the track, otherwise there is no point in us coming here.”