Wahpeton, N.D., driver Joel Sirek felt right at home at the high-banked half-mile at Red River Valley Speedway.
“I loved running the Big Block Chevrolets on the big half-mile — (and racing) inches away from the wall,” Sirek said.
Racing in the hobby stock and super stock divisions, Sirek’s driving career spanned from 1984-99 and during that time he won more than 70 features and five track championships. Sirek credits that success to a dedicated pit grew, good equipment and strong family support. But there was also strategy involved on the track that helped him succeed.
“Learning to save my equipment until the end of the races and having something to work with to seal the win,” Sirek said.
Growing up, Sirek watched drivers like Mitch Johnson, Rick Aukland, Bob Sagen, Jack McDonald, John Corell and the late Don Gumke. Johnson, Aukland and Sagen served as mentors of sorts for Sirek.
“Mitch, Rick and Bob were very helpful to me in my early years with chassis setups,” Sirek said. “I’m very thankful to them as we all need mentors when just starting out.”
Sirek started racing in 1984 in the hobby stock class and eventually worked his way to the super stock class.
“My dad sponsored local drivers when I was young so we always went to the track,” Sirek said. “My interest grew from there and I eventually started on my own.”
He fondly remembered great rivalries with drivers like “Big” Joe Jacobson, Duane Wadeson, Bruce and Greg Pfaff, Greg Turner, Barry Robertson, the late Troy Olson, Bob Sagen, Todd Sanders and Leo Burkhardsmier.
“Racing in West Fargo on Friday nights on the big high-banked half time was like the Daytona 500 of Dirt Track Racing,” Sirek said. “Large crowds, great competition, electric atmosphere.”
The Smith Motors #2 became a staple near the front of the pack in the 1980s and 1990s. Sirek walked away from racing after the 1999 season, saying the desire wasn’t there anymore.
He is currently the general manager at Smith Motors in Wahpeton, which still sponsors some race cars in the region.
While it has been more than 20 years since he last raced, there are plenty of good times to remember.
“(Best memories are) our great fan following and meeting a lot of nice people,” Sirek said.