Nick Guernsey (Dennis Krieger Imagery)
By Ashley Zimmerman
Photo By Dennis Krieger
Previously published by Dirt Monthly, May 2020.
Often, in this business, the best stories are the stories that go untold or get lost in the busy hustle of weekly car prep, scheduling, and what went wrong the week before. The story of who Nick Guernsey is could easily be lost in the rich history of racing throughout his family’s lifetime, or in his reputation for his controlled-chaos racing style. The Burlington, Iowa native’s racing history begins in the 1980s with his dad racing Supermodifieds and will likely continue forward for many years post Sprint Car racing when Nick’s daughter Kinsley continues the family racing tradition and catches the racing bug to go climb into a Go-Kart.
A son of a dirt track driver, Nick had a race car before a high school diploma. While he is from humble beginnings, he has always been one to make do with what he had. “I just love to come to the track and race. I will race you just as hard as you race me, if you want to bump tires with me, I’m going to come right back at you in the next turn. I love to give people crap; I’m that guy that will look at your car and say I’ve never seen anyone run something like that before just to screw with you.” If you’ve ever had Nick Guernsey in your pit box looking at your car and giving you his trade mark wink, you know just the kind of crap he likes to dish out. With a passion and love for racing like Nick Guernsey’s, a person is motivated by any means necessary to fuel and fund his racing habit. In 2003, after September 11th, when the hearts of all Americans were broken from the act of terrorism that killed so many and left so many families with vacancies, Nick [an active serviceman] volunteered to be deployed to Iraq.
There was one very large motivator for Nick while volunteering to defend our country– fuel his Sprint Car habit. “I would call home every Sunday and talk to my family for ten minutes, other than that, every time I was near a phone, or the internet, I was trying to buy something for my Sprint Car. It was a struggle, because of the delay in the phone, the background noise. I had a hard time getting people to take me seriously.”
Nick spent his 24th, 25th and 26th birthdays in Iraq, serving the United States. Just five days before he was scheduled to come home, in January 2005, that Nick was involved in an explosion. Nick was hit twice in his head and once in the chest. The injury to his head left him with a yearlong recovery process. This process kept him from getting behind the steering wheel of a Sprint Car. On September 11, 2005, Nick Guernsey received our nation’s highest honor, and was awarded the Purple Heart. “To get one of the highest military honors was very special to me, especially on a date that is so very important.” It is Nick’s love for his country, and patriotism that leads him to rank a win in Lincoln, Illinois in 2013 on Memorial Day weekend as a career highlight. “It is a special weekend. I lost a lot of good friends who were soldiers when I was overseas. Memorial Day weekend is such a gripping weekend for me, and it was just very fitting to have won one on that weekend. The meaning of that weekend to service members just makes it one of the most significant wins I have had to date.”
While Nick no longer serves in the military, it is his partnership through Sprint Car racing with Hope For The Warriors [www.hopeforthewarriors.org], that Nick takes great pride and honor in. In fact, Nick would much prefer to simply call Hope For The Warriors family, instead of a sponsor. Hope For The Warriors is a non-profit organization that provides comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans, and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement, and connections to community resources.
By partnering with Hope For The Warriors in sponsorship, it allows Nick to spread the word about the organization, help them raise donation dollars, and gives Nick the opportunity to connect with other veterans and give back to them. “Racing is how I combat some of the war time stressors that I still deal with and Hope For The Warriors keeps me involved in that side of my life. Because of them I have been the Grand Marshal for the Boone County Nationals. Had it not been for them coming around and keeping me involved in that side of my life, I might not be here. To still have that connection to the other part of my life and be able to help others in a difficult time is very worth it. I’ve been very fortunate working with them. They always have time for me, and it shows just how racing is more family than anything else, even football.”
While Nick will give time to anyone who stops down at his pit, Guernsey says; “You can always tell when someone has been in the military, and when I see them standing back, watching, I make a point to reach out to them and talk to them.” Nick says he dislikes using the term PTSD, and with racing, and Hope For The Warriors, interacting with veterans allows him the opportunity to help them come out of their shell and escape what they have been through.
While Guernsey works full-time, often seven days a week, it is the support of his family that makes it possible for Nick to race Friday and Saturday nights. Racing in the Guernsey household is a true family affair, with his wife, Shilo, and his eight-year-old daughter, Kinsley, being his only crew members. Nick says it is a benefit that his wife comes from a racing background, and she will help him work on the car, and Kinsley, is starting to be able to help, as well. Nick shares that the season they had white wall tires, it was Kinsley that painted all of the tires for the car. Due to the race team being small, Nick will often have a car set up for Friday night, and another car set up for Saturday night. Often, Nick will find himself pulling in from Friday night’s race and shortly after pulling out to leave for work. Being able to have two cars set up for the weekend allows some leeway in case an accident happens, or something major breaks. In a true military fashion, Nick does not enjoy showing up late to the racetrack. By not having to scramble to put cars back together for the next night, this allows Nick to maintain his tight work to racetrack schedule without much added stress and worry.
Aside from the support of his family, Nick accredits his successes and extensive schedule to his sponsors. Every name on the car plays a pivotal part in getting the car to the racetrack, from providing product, to giving him a place to store his trailer. For example, currently, during the week, Nick’s trailer is fifteen miles from his house; making getting the car ready to go to the racetrack an hour long process in itself. While 2020 will find Nick Guernsey at 34 Raceway in Burlington, Iowa, on Saturday nights, 2021 may find Nick chasing white lines to the mecca of Sprint Car racing, Knoxville Raceway, in Knoxville, Iowa. “The ultimate goal is to make it to Knoxville. But I really just want to win races. Just being able to race in these times is very special, especially when I can also still have time to be a dad.” While Nick says he doesn’t see a time where he will stop being involved in racing, he does say, “there may come a day when Kinsley decides she wants to race, and then I suppose, we will have to transition from Sprint Cars to Go- Karts and get a couple of those to haul around.”
While reflecting, Guernsey allows that, “Ya know, I really haven’t come out and told people how I got here, occasionally you get that guy who comes down to the pits, sees the big trailer, the equipment, and he says, ‘gee, must be nice,’ and thinking I’ve just had it all handed to me.” But Nick Guernsey stays quiet in his frustration with that false assumption, because he knows about the brothers he lost in combat, the time he sacrificed serving, and the injuries he endured to get here. As you see, in the hustle of track prep, big right rears, and slide jobs, we start to overlook the details of the stories of legends, of the true American heroes.
If you’d like to donate to Hope For
The Warriors, or know someone whom
could use their services, check out:
stop down to Nick Guernsey’s
pit after the races.