Passion a must in midget car racing

Staff writer

In a race of wits and skill, the Unruh brothers are going to stop at nothing to win.

“It gets pretty dicey by the last race,” Chris Unruh, 34, said. “The thing I love about this class is that it is a bunch of people who are like family off the track. They’ll do anything to help each other out in the pit, but on the track, especially during the last heat, it’s a different story.”

Passion is something both brothers believe is a must for midget car racing. Chris Unruh, the older brother, started at the young age of 18 months old, racing his family’s lawnmower around the yard. From there, he graduated to go-kart racing and then midget car racing. He bought his first Modified Lite car for $8,500, which he said was adequate and won him a few awards in the past. But he recently decided to purchase a new car — right out of the shop — which he said will end up costing him almost $20,000. With the upgrades, he said, he will have the equipment necessary to leave all the other competitors in the dust — including his 17-year-old brother Eric Unruh.

Eric Unruh said he started racing three years ago, after seeing the fun his brother was having on the track. This season, he said he is looking forward to racing his brother’s car — and, possibly, doing a better job on the track.

The brothers’ first race is April 11 in Salina. While a lot goes into preparation for each race, the Unruhs said there is only one thing forefront on their mind: safety.

“They check our cars at the start of every season before the first match, “Chris Unruh said. “As long as we keep racing, we’ll be fine with just the one check. The cars are pretty safe and sturdy. You can rollover, the car might be pretty bent, but you’ll still be able to drive away. You can’t hurt them, but it takes quite a bit.”

For personal safety, the two Unruh brothers will be wearing a dual-layer fireproof suit.

“We have to wear fireproof underwear; everything we wear and everything in the car has to be fireproof just in case something happens,” Chris Unruh said. “No one wants their parts to go up in flames.”

They also will wear a harness to keep them secure in the mini vehicles and have safety precautions, like rollover cages, to keep them from getting hurt.

“I’ll tell you something, it’s not always easy for parents to watch them from the stands,” said Galen Unruh, the father of the two brothers. “They get into some scrapes sometimes and your first instinct is to help them, but you know you can’t. It’s helpful if you can remember that they’re really pretty safe in those cars. They have to go through quite a few safety checkpoints before they let them compete. But it’s still hard.”

Meanwhile, before the racing season starts, the two brothers are doing what they love: tinkering on their cars. While they have done some work on their racers, they have had some extra time to do an innovative project that has attracted the attention of many car enthusiasts nationwide — a passenger vehicle that has no muffler and two front ends.

“It’s quite something to see,” Chris Unruh said. “It took quite bit of work for them to figure out how to get it so it came apart and went back together again. But they eventually got it to work and it’s fun to watch.”

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