Auto Racing

Former Iowa wrestling great Mark Ironside gains comfort on racetrack

Collision provides setback at Hawkeye Downs as racing career progresses

Mark Ironside signs autographs Friday, May 31, 2019, for fans at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. (John Steppe/The Gazette)
Mark Ironside signs autographs Friday, May 31, 2019, for fans at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. (John Steppe/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Former Iowa wrestling star Mark Ironside had a familiar look Friday night at Hawkeye Downs. Just look at the exterior of his car, his helmet, his fuel jugs or his gloves. They’re all Hawkeye black and gold.

“Anytime I have the chance to buy something black and gold, I’m a Hawkeye, that’s what we do,” Ironside said. “Everything I do is pretty much black and gold.”

Yet the former NCAA champion has been challenged on the racetrack in ways he hasn’t necessarily dealt with while previously donning black and gold. As he enters his third season of racing with late model cars at Hawkeye Downs, he’s still looking to translate his dominance from wrestling to the racetrack.

The local Cedar Rapids celebrity, who frequently gets requests to take pictures with his car, quickly looks to his left and points to Cedar Rapids native Griffin McGrath’s car as the actual celebrity, not himself.

“I wouldn’t really consider myself a local celebrity,” Ironside said. “Definitely not in the racing community. … I’m just being honored to be on the track with (the local racing stars) and stay with them as best as I can.”

Staying with that top level of competition has not been an easy process, however. It’s a harder preparation at the speedway than in the wrestling circle for an NCAA championship.

“I’m not going to lie. I get more nervous sitting in the staging area in the racecar than I ever did in any wrestling match, by far,” Ironside said. “Hands down.”

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Friday night’s race at Hawkeye Downs was a tough setback for Ironside. He was part of a four-car collision on the 34th lap and could not return.

Contact between McGrath and Brody Willett forced the two into the wall of the fourth turn. Ironside and Tyler Kingery couldn’t avoid contact, as well.

McGrath and Willett were in first and second place, respectively, before the collision. All four drivers safely exited the track but did not return.

It also put an abrupt end to an almost-historic night for McGrath, who came three-thousandths of a second short of a Hawkeye Downs record in his first qualifying round with a time of 19.380 seconds.

Nick Eagen, a resident of Slinger, Wis., won the Big 8 Late Model race. He was last year’s rookie of the year. Jerry Mueller and Matt Bundberg also finished on the podium.

Ironside said he’s still enjoying the experience of racing in the late model division, even if he isn’t able to routinely bring his car to the winner’s circle just yet.

“It’s still a learning experience,” Ironside said. “I love to be able to keep pushing myself and challenging myself and learn. That’s what makes it fun.”

As Ironside looks to reach the top in a different sport than wrestling, there’s one thing that remains certain — the massive Hawkeye logo on the front of his car and accompanying color scheme isn’t going anywhere.

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“Never a question,” Ironside said. “It’s pretty much a staple. As long as I can keep it clean and looking good, we’re going to keep it the same.”

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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