Smokin' Hank Berry Has Raced Dakota Classic Modified Tour for all 30 Years
Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Many years ago, the announcer at the racetrack in Williston, N.D., gave Hank Berry the nickname “Smokin.”
“I’m not sure if I was smokin’ fast, or I was smokin’ cigarettes, or just smokin around the racetrack,” Berry said from the pit area in Jamestown on Saturday. “He nailed me with it and it stuck.”
Now, race fans don’t know the Sidney, Mont., driving legend by any other nickname.
He’s won countless big races across the Dakotas and Montana over the past 35 years. He is a four-time Dakota Classic Mod Tour winner and has won big events such as the Jamestown Stampede and the North Dakota Governor’s Cup in Mandan.
“One of the most gratifying weekends I’ve had, I won the Stampede with late model and modified on the same weekend (in 2003),” Berry said. “That was kinda cool.”
Berry is one of three drivers — Marlyn Seidler of Underwood and Joren Boyce of Minot (now in a stock car) are the others — who’ve raced on the tour for all 30 years.
Berry started racing at age 25 in the late models in 1981 — hence that is why his car number is 25.
“My uncle used to race homemade sprint cars; when I was little I used to watch it. I just loved it,” Berry said.
Years later, the 62-year-old is still piloting a modified and late model. Even though he’s attained great success in the Wissota/IMCA Modified division, he also has thrived in the late models, too. This year he’s raced in Billings, Mont., and Gillette, Wyo., where he is able to race both cars on the same night.
“Late model is my preferred class, but they shut them down in our area for a while,” Berry said. “The late model must fit my driving style better. It seems I go better in the late. I love the speed those things go. When they’re stuck to the track, they haul ass.”
Berry reflected on the changes in racing over the past 30-plus years.
“When we first started, we just went to have fun and drink beer and party and have a good time,” Berry said. “It’s a little different now. It’s a little more serious. As guys like me get older, my buddies, they’ve got their own hobbies, so it’s hard to have help to go with you. That makes it a little challenging.
“Technology-wise it’s almost getting out of hand in some regards. You can buy a lot of speed with money. Before you had to have a little more talent maybe, and be a little more innovative on your own. Those were fun times.”
Berry, who works as a warehouse manager in Sidney, has appreciated the people he’s met by racing the Dakota Classic Modified Tour.
“There’s guys you meet here and hang out with that week that you never see till the next year,” Berry said. “I’ve got some pretty good friends from all over the U.S. that are here today. We’ll get hooked up and drink a few beers and have a good time.”