by Bill Wright
"Where did all these cars come from?" That was a question I heard murmuring through the crowd on Maytag's night at the races, May 17. Also heard from the throng was, "What is this IRA thing?" I'm glad you asked. The IRA (Interstate Racing Association) is embarking on its 43rd year, longer than either the All Star Circuit of Champions or the World of Outlaws. The organization has stood the test of time. In fact, the times have never been better for the upper midwest based series.
The IRA has embarked on a very ambitious 34 race schedule this season. A group that used to hang entirely in the southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois area, is now racing in Michigan, Ohio, North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. The group also is a part of the IRA/Knoxville Challenge races, the Pella Nationals, and racing non-points races with the World of Outlaws.
The only thing slowing the guys down this year is the weather. Before their Knoxville stop, the only IRA points A main run was in Fremont, Ohio. Events at Beaver Dam, WI, Dubuque, IA, Milwaukee, Attica, OH and Sheboygan, WI have been a wash. Despite this, the series brings more members than any travelling series on the planet. At Knoxville, a track that is relatively new to the group and has had limited success at, they were represented by no less than 26 competitors bringing the 410 count to 59.
John Haeni won the series championship in 2002, without a visit to victory lane. It takes a lot of consistency to pull that off! Veteran Kim Mock was not far behind in second place. The 1994 and 2001 IRA champ is no stranger to avid Knoxville fans. Third place went to up and comer Todd Hepfner from Sussex, WI. All three made the Knoxville feature this year. It used to be rare to have more than a couple IRA cars make the feature at Knoxville, but that is changing as rules have become consistent between organizations across the country. The IRA was at the forefront with Knoxville, the NCRA and the All Stars in implementing the weight rule in 2001. Now others have joined.
Joining the triumverate in the feature event May 17 was former World of Outlaw traveler, Travis Whitney, former Knoxville regulars Mike Reinke and John Sernett, and former Gumout regular Jeremy Campbell. All have chosen to spend a significant amount of their summers with the group. The series has a unique format, in which the heat winners as well as the top six qualifiers not winning their heat are inverted in the A main by time. This rewards both quick qualifiers and heat winners. They will take this format on a demanding trip called the "Bumper to Bumper Speedweek" this week. The trip includes events at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks on May 22 and 23, Jackson Speedway in Jackson, MN on May 24, Echo Valley Speedway in West Union, IA on May 25, and an IRA/Knoxville Challenge race at the Raceway at Powercom Park in Beaver Dam, WI on Memorial Day.
Tours like this year's speedweek are uncommon for this group.
The IRA boasts drivers who work full-time during the week and race as a hobby on the weekend. It is this mentality that gives the organization a feeling of family. If a car or driver needs help, you can bet there is someone close to lend a hand on or off the track. Series president Steve Sinclair strives to provide for the racers, sponsors and fans, and excels at promoting his organization. The series has bursted on the scene, and was recently mentioned in the press release from WoO president Ted Johnson regarding the weight rule.
Countless promotions and giveaways are a part of any race night. A quality yearbook sells for $5 and beats any that are out there. A full color calendar with driver information, stats, trading cards, and even a section for the kids with a word find, maze and coloring area are included. With this kind of promotion, excitement on the track, and sponsorship possibilities, the question "What is this IRA thing?" will be silenced.