When Kevin and Jeremy Douglas decided to get into auto racing, they approached their father Scott, a former mid-1990s midget car driver at Beaver Dam Raceway and Angell Park Speedway in Sun Prairie.
“Are you sure?” Scott Douglas said.
Maintaining a competitive race car is like marriage without the wedding band. Enormous time must be committed to fine tuning the vehicle to improve its chances of running at optimum speed. More speed improves the driver’s chances of winning or finishing near the top.
Scott Douglas shared that explanation with his sons. They were still determined to do it.
So, Scott Douglas agreed to be part of their pit crew, and Kevin Douglas forked over the needed money to buy a midget racer. His older brother, Jeremy Douglas, was soon to follow them to dirt oval bullrings all over the state.
Despite starting less than a year ago, the brothers have been very successful against the more experienced drivers in the IRA Lightning Sprints division. Kevin Douglas was second in points after winning the feature race June 30 at 141 Speedway in Maribel. He was also a top 10 finisher in two nights of racing in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.
Jeremy Douglas won his first heat race earlier this season at Luxemborg Speedway near Green Bay.
The brothers and their father work on the cars in their garage at S & K Automotive and S & K Landscaping just outside of Cottage Grove. The 26-year-old Kevin Douglas operates both businesses with his father. Jeremy Douglas, 29, and a resident of McFarland, abandoned his dream job as a carpenter to become an auto mechanic.
Thanks to the help of several loyal sponsors, Kevin Douglas has $30,000 invested in the two cars. He said the paydays at the end of every racing night have been plentiful.
“The better we do, the more money we make,” he said. “As long as we can keep them on four wheels, we can make $500-$600 between the two cars.”
Racing in their blood
When their father was racing, the sons hung out at Angell Park when they were small. It was an opportunity to develop a closeness to their father as they watched him perform on the track.
“I remember going there and bringing my little toy racers and playing in the dirt under the bleachers for a number of years,” recalled Jeremy Douglas. “We’re pretty much brought up at that track.”
As adolescents, the duo raced go-karts at Sugar River Raceway in Brodhead and frequently finished near the top.
“It’s in our blood,” Jeremy Douglas said.
Kevin Douglas said he and his brother became what he called “bleacher drivers” who critiqued how the drivers maneuvered around the track and how they could improve their chances. The two quickly learned that being in the car was a lot different than watching.
“We always talked about doing it, but we never thought we would get into it, and my dad said if you drove those cars for five seconds you would understand what’s going on,” Kevin Douglas said. “He was right. You do a lot of stuff in the bleacher driving, but driving the car is an entirely different feel.”
Several years after graduating from Madison La Follette High School, the brothers wanted to try racing in the Wisconsin/Illinois Midget Series. Destinations included Wilmot Speedway in Wilmot, 141 Speedway and Sycamore Speedway in Illinois. Kevin Douglas admits to being nervous in his first race and unaccustomed to the speed of his midget racer, not to mention being strapped tightly into the cockpit with no chance to move your body.
“The cars go upwards of 90-to-100 mph, and when you sit in there and you have 25 other guys around you, you get a little hesitant at times,” Kevin said.
Jeremy Douglas debuted earlier this year at Spoon River Raceway in Lewistown, Illinois, and competed in his first 20-lap feature race. His plan was to race a few times and then give it up. Instead, he became hooked.
But he still has a lot to learn how slide around the turns at full throttle
“Hopping into this thing, I didn’t know if I was going to be a natural or if it was something I would have to learn. When you are driving 80-100 mph down the chute and then you have to steer the car sideways, it’s definitely a learning experience every time you are in the car,” he said.
An expensive hobby
The Douglases periodically race their cars with wings atop their vehicles like the World of Outlaws series, which is considered today’s gold standard for open-wheel dirt oval racing. The wings make the car faster and improve the downforce in the turns. But the half-million dollars needed to fund a World of Outlaws car is a quantum leap financially from racing in the IRA Lightning Sprints.
The Douglases’ cars have motorcycle-type engines with a chain connecting the motor to the differential.
“It’s an expensive sport, but nowhere near running with the Outlaws,” Kevin Douglas said. “Midgets require less maintenance, and they are much cheaper.”
Tires at $175 apiece are a major expense, and Kevin Douglas said both cars have already used 10 sets this season. To save more money, neither car has power steering, which makes the cars lighter but more difficult to navigate around the turns.
“This is the most exhausting car to drive,” Kevin Douglas said. “If the car is not set up right, your arms are dragging by the end of the race. It’s not like you put the seat belt on, and go for a Sunday stroll. At night, you are physically exhausted. If you aren’t physically exhausted, you weren’t doing something right.”
Luckily, the brothers haven’t been victimized by a lot of accidents, especially rollover crashes, which happen frequently in open-wheel midget car events. Jeremy Douglas said his car rolled over five or six times in a mishap at 141 Speedway in late May.
“It’s over with before you know it,” he said, talking about the experience of flipping uncontrollably. “It’s not fun when you go upside down, and it gets expensive when you do that.”
Kevin Douglas has had a few minor scrapes, but no rollovers yet.
“In all races I’ve been in so far, I’ve dodged enough bullets,” he said. “I’ve had guys spin out in front of me. I know my time is coming. The harder you race, the greater chance you are going to do it.”
While the brothers have limited funds to race, they are hoping for greater success in the future, such as more feature wins and finishes near the top of the point standings. In the meantime, the brothers are enjoying themselves and soaking in as much as possible on how to make the cars perform better.
“It’s a thrill, the best rollercoaster ride you’ve ever been on,” Kevin Douglas said. “It’s just a blast to do. You make friends with other drivers in the pits, but you are enemies on (the track).”