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Yearbook Headlines - (This is another HammerDown! "work-in-progress" that we enjoy sharing with our readers. Please check back often, as each year will be updated further in the coming days)


The 40 Most Exciting Drivers in NARC History

All-Time Calistoga Speedway Winners List


Calistoga Speedway

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Click Here for the HammerDown! 40th Anniversary of NARC program.





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Kendra Jacobs

Family Values

Kenneth "Jake" Jacobs peered through the double bifocals of his glasses to study the picture he held in front of him. His breathing has become hoarse and raspy over the years, and the round stomach that precedes him hasn't always been there. His memory however is clear and precise. At least when it comes to sprint car racing. "Racing sure has changed," he muttered under his breath. "The racing they do today is nothing like when I raced." He hurriedly handed the picture over to me. Two men were smiling at the camera, one a driver and the other Jake's father. The black and white photo was old, "around 1965" he thought. Jake pointed out the driver's uniform and he chuckled a bit as my eyes widened. The flimsy two piece "uniform" definitely grabbed my attention.

Yes, racing sure has changed. Three generations of Jacobs' have spent time in the seat of an open-wheel sprint car. Jake was the first. As Jake's racing career began to slow, he helped buy his eldest son Kenny's first racecar.

The millennium debuted the family's third generation sprint car driver, Kenny's son Lee. Following the tradition of his father, Kenny purchased Lee's first sprint car. Three men born decades apart, but all holding the same intense love for thrills and speed that can't be found elsewhere. When the three of them talk, the conversation always revolves around racing. Though they often times argue, all three will agree that change is constant. The biggest change they've seen in sprint car racing is the power of money.

Jake's first sprint car was a gift from his wife, Mariann. Once the entire machine was assembled, the pair had less than $1,000 invested. The motor cost a mere $30 at the local junkyard. The tires that Jake used were the exact same as what everyone used on their street cars. "We really never had any expenses," Jake explained. "Of course, we raced for nothing too." During Jake's time behind the wheel, the nightly purse was never the same.

The local race track owners had come up with a plan to create the nightly purse from 45% of the ticket sales, which only charged $1.50 for each adult ticket. If the crowd was large, the drivers knew they were competing for a relatively large sum of money. If only 100 fans showed up at the track, the drivers were racing for nothing. Mariann quickly pulled out gold aging envelopes from a trunk in her living room. The envelopes had at one time held Jake's winnings. Written on the front of each was the amount he was paid that particular night. The average feature event paid $40 to the winner, with the entire purse being approximately $400. The heat races also paid the participants. A second-place finish in one of Jake's heat races earned him $3.50. "[We racers] spent more at the local bar after the races than what we made," Jake recalled with a chuckle.

Jake's father, Pete Jacobs, got involved with his son's racing career a few years after Jake started. Pete wanted the best of everything, for winning was very important to him. When Jake found a truck carrying hard-to-find soft tires at $20 each, Pete told him to buy them all. When Jake needed a better motor, Pete spent the extra money, approximately $2,000 to get a custom-motor built. "I remember my Dad used to hide all of the racing bills from my Mother," Jake said grinning. "Mom would find them and throw a fit!" Jake did, however, have a little help from a local sponsor. Morris's Gulf Station provided free gas to Jake's entire race team for a whole season. In recognition of this, Jake's car proudly displayed the Morris's Gulf Station logo.

"Racing was different back then," Jake remembered. "None of us cared about the money. Everyone just raced for fun." Fun is exactly what Kenny was seeking as well. Jake bought Kenny his first racecar in 1973. Well, this car wasn't exactly his first. Kenny wanted to race so badly, that he built his first car from rusted out parts in the weeds behind his home. But the car his father built for him was a good, winning car. The total cost: $1200.

Kenny began his career racing at the local tracks. One particular track was Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, Ohio. In 1965, Kenny's grandfather, Pete, had built this track along with three other investors for less than $50,000. Jake raced on the clay of the speedway. Kenny began his career at the speedway, as did his son Lee. It was family tradition. The track was sold three years ago for the price of $350,000.

Kenny cites the cost of living as the main reason behind the increased expenses in racing. While motors and tires have increased in price the most, Kenny claims that the entire sport has tremendously outgrown the costs of 1973. A ready-to-race sprint car in the year 2002 costs approximately $65,000. A striking figure compared to the $1200 of his first racecar. Motors alone have increased from the $30 junkyard piece to the current $40,000 lightweight, high compression motors. Even admission prices have risen astronomically. An adult ticket to a sprint car event this year will cost anywhere between $15 and $30.

"But everyone has to remember that back in the early days we raced for only $100 to $200," Kenny stated. "Now we race for $5,000 up to $100,000." Kenny currently travels with the All-Star Circuit of Champions, holding an average of 50 events each year. To competitively race with this series, he estimates that a brand new team would cost $500,000. This estimate includes the $8,000 per year spent on gasoline for the hauler and the $6,000 per year that is spent on hotel rooms. With all of this money being spent, a really good season with the series could possibly earn the team $200,000. This, of course, is $300,000 less than what the team originally cost. While Kenny tries not to worry about what his race team costs him each season, the bills are constant reminders. Kenny claims that budgets aren't feasible in the sport. Accidents and crashes are never expected, but are bound to happen. A race team could compete an entire year on two or three cars, but it could also experience hard times when they use two or three cars in one month.

With the unexpected and ever-rising costs of his career, Kenny is thankful that he had found Tom Honecker. Tom served as a partner for Kenny's race team, and also helped support Lee's racing career. "Tom spent $160,000 on my race team the first year he was with us," Kenny claimed. "He never expected to spend that much. He told me that. But, he just loves the sport." These individual people and companies that have a sincere interest in sprint car racing and sponsor race teams are who keep the sport alive. However, more is needed than the free gasoline that Jake was given during his career. A major sponsor, whose name is boldly displayed larger than any other words upon the car, donates from $300,000 to $500,000 each year to a race team. "The sponsors do this because they love the sport. Now there is not a single race team that can survive without [a sponsor]," Kenny stated.

Kenny and Lee Jacobs both know that Lee couldn't have started his career without the partnership of Tom Honecker either. Twenty-seven years after Kenny first hit the track, he paid the price of $35,000 to help start his son's career. Running two sprint car teams is hard on the checkbook, as Lee is well aware. Kenny allowed Lee one racecar to compete his entire first season in. "Dad just told me to think more along the lines of having 18 spare cars waiting for me," Lee said with a slight laugh. "He wanted me to run my hardest, and I did." In his first year of racing, Lee kept his car in one piece. In fact, he won his first feature at the very track his great-grandfather built.

With his grandfather, Jake, by his side, and his father, Kenny, on the telephone (Kenny was competing in a race in Tulsa, Oklahoma) Lee was all smiles for his first night in victory lane. The 2002 race season will see the Jacobs family counting parts and cringing at bills again, as Tom Honecker has decided to leave the team. Confident that he and Lee can survive another season together, Kenny has decided to continue running his own team all the while searching for the proverbial sponsor.

"Hell, getting free gas for a year doesn't sound too bad anymore," he said. The three men agree that the sport they so dearly love will continue to become more expensive, however they are positive that race teams will earn more money in the future as well. Jake still loves the sport as he is constantly in the stands cheering on his two sons (Kenny's younger brother Dean also competes with the All-Star Circuit of Champions) and grandson. On the other hand, the sport has grown too astronomically expensive for him. "There is no way that me or my son could've race if it would have been this expensive when we both started," he claimed.

While Lee believes that the only way to stunt the economical growth of the sport would be to ban lightweight components, Kenny does not feel this would make a difference. In Kenny's mind, the sport is all about speed, and that, therefore is where the costs are increasing. The only way to slow down the increasing costs in Kenny's opinion would be to enforce stricter rules and limits on the current motors' horsepower.

The three men share the same name. They have the same speed-driven blood coursing through their bodies. They may not always share the same opinions, but they all hold a family-rooted love for sprint car racing. This sport has tied them together for decades and has provided a heritage to be passed on for generations to come. And no price, however high, is too much to pay for that bond.

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