The life of a racecar driver requires sacrifices most of us will never experience. The
Pederson family has a trophy wall to recognize their commitment and achievements in racing. Through long nights in the shop, finish-line victories and dirt-track mishaps in towns hours away from here, their adventures in racing help reveal why they are always getting ready for the next race.
Joey Pederson is a racecar driver married to Julie, a former racecar driver, whom he met at a race track. Kelsi, their 16-year old daughter, is a rising star racecar driver. Their son Tucker, 13, is doing what his dad, Joey, was doing when he was 14, racing cars. The Pederson’s are a racing family. They travel to races every Friday night of the season—which these days is early spring through late fall. On Saturday mornings after the races, they wake up early and hit the road with their race cars for the Saturday night circuit in another town. If something happens to one of their cars on Friday night (they each race a different style of car) they go back to their shop in East Grand Forks and get to work fixing the issue, ignoring sleep and chores and everything else around them that isn’t going to help them leave in the morning with a raceable car.
“On an average week, especially now with three cars, there is no question I’m spending 25 hours working on or driving race cars,” Joey says.
According to Joey, and the hundreds of fans who take in the River City Speedway’s weekly races throughout the summer, the region is all about racing. “It never gets old. The excitement and adrenaline that you feel before a race starts. Whether you are behind the wheel or in the stands, you are laser-focused from one moment to the next,” he says. “The truth is, like any sport, everybody is coming to win. Nobody is pulling over for you.”
Everybody Wants To Drive
Joey started racing at 14, after a few years trying snowmobiles and riding four wheelers. His dad raced near Hallock, Minnesota. Julie, when she was still racing, was a fierce competitor, Joey says. “Many races we were battling. One time at Devils Lake I beat her for a win. She says I rubbed her out with a couple laps to go. I don’t remember it that way, but I still go with her version of the story.”
When Kelsi was 7 and Tucker 5, they started showing interest in anything with an engine. At that time, they were introduced to go-karts. Originally, they thought Tucker would be into racing after showing an interest. The night the entire family went to look at a pair of go-karts for sale, Tucker got cold feet. Only seconds after Tucker stepped away from the machine in front of him, Kelsi stepped in. “Dad, I’ll do it,” she said. They left that night with one go-kart. A week later, Tucker had changed his mind and Joey went back and purchased the second unit. The two spent many Wednesday evenings racing at the speedway in Grand Forks after that.
Joey has carved out an impressive career as a racer, filling an entire wall with trophies and name recognition throughout the country. Kelsi and Tucker are living up to the Pederson name. Earlier this summer, Kelsi and her father became the first father-and-daughter duo to ever win their divisional races on the same night. Tucker consistently finishes in the top five (at age 14).
The Cost Of Racing
“There is a lot we have given up over the years. We are rarely at the lake and we rarely go on family vacations. The majority of what we do and the time we spend is at the track,” Joey says.
Like all racing, the sponsors advertised on the outside of the cars help pay for expenses throughout the season. Racing at the regional level doesn’t yield the type of pay-outs that can even cover the costs associated with a weekend of racing, Pederson says. A new street stock car with good equipment costs more than $25,000. The same price tag would be placed on a new lightning sprint car. A late model with good, new equipment would run more than $80,000. The Pedersons don’t own any spare cars, they perform their own maintenance and operate with a small crew—one or two crew members—all season long. “Often times the sponsors determine how long a person is in racing. The payouts don’t pay for the expenses. Good support from sponsorship and advertising dollars has the potential to get you close to breaking even or minimizing your losses for the year,” he says. The Pedersons have more than 20 sponsors between all three cars.
For those looking to become the next Pederson, the costs of racing may seem intimidating. Pederson would beg to differ. “It is a huge misconception that it is hard to get into racing. When our family started, we were first timers. In the racing community, once you decide to show up, most people will support you and do whatever they can to make sure you come back the next week.”
The Pedersons all realize they are making sacrifices as a family of racers. Joey knows he is too competitive at times and takes losses harder than he should. Kelsi knows there is pressure on her to represent well as one of the only female drivers in her sport, regardless of age. “The kids, the little girls especially, all flock to her. They look up to her. She has to remember that and act accordingly,” Julie says.
“I want to win every race,” Kelsi says. “And, I want to tell any of those little girls that haven’t come up to me at a race that they shouldn’t be scared of racing or doing anything. People will tell you that you can’t in one way or another. You can’t believe that. We can do anything.”
And Tucker, with a bright career ahead, is the young gun with a recognized last name. When he is in or around the cars, however, he looks and acts like he is a veteran ready to add to the title wall.
Racing, working on cars, traveling to the track and throttling down while turning left are natural actions for each of the Pedersons. “We make it work. It has been very rare in our history that we haven’t been able to make the next race,” Joey says.
Even when race season is over and the dirt tracks are closed for the year, they are race car drivers on the same team. They are family and proud of what each has accomplished. The time spent cheering for each other, commiserating over loses, driving to obscure towns or shops for spare parts, talking to each other through the padding of a helmet or holding their father’s or daughter’s or brother’s arm as they exit a car after a dusty race in some town far away from here, is what they share. It is how they find their version of nirvana. All of that, the memories mostly, but also the wins, the losses, the tires and the tools, is what drives them to continue their status as a racing family. G
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
PHOTOS BY: MANSTROM PHOTOGRAPHY