When Huset’s Speedway – now Badlands Motor Speedway – opened for its 25th season in 1983, Dave Ekern, then a Flandreau resident (he moved to Brookings in 2003) was already making his name in sprint racing circles.
He continued to make his mark – impressive enough to earn him a niche in the Huset’s Speedway Hall of Fame. While not exactly a household brand name, Huset’s is recognized internationally by such countries as Australia and New Zealand with huge numbers of sprint car fans.
Joining Ekern for the 2017 induction ceremony on July 22 at the Sioux Empire Fair Grounds in Sioux Falls are Loren Fick, Marlon Jones and Jim Krueger, all from Sioux Falls, and Dan Jansen from Humboldt. The Huset’s Speedway Hall of Fame came into being in 1998. With this year’s inductees the number of men selected totals 96.
Rod Pattison of Sioux Falls, who chairs the seven-member committee that picks inductees, said the HOF selection process starts in January, with the committee “throwing names around; we’ll have a huge list of names. Then when we get to March, each one of us picks five names off that list; and we have credentials ready to show why they should be picked.”
Names picked by two or more committee members are then placed on a list. This year there were 18 that survived the winnowing process. From that list five were picked – the number set for each year’s HOF class.
Pattison added that the committee considers two Huset’s eras: The old, pre-sprint car era to about 1978 – 1980 and the new era from 1980 on.
“We try to pick a couple from each era. Invariably we also get someone who is in the old and the new, someone who went through the transition.
“We try to get a good cross-section … . There are people that were tremendous drivers, winning guys, champions, ambassadors, people that have never been in a race car before, media people, engine builders and sponsors.”
Ekern was living in Flandreau in 1978 when he went to a sprint car race with Greg and Harold Krull at Huset’s Speedway.
“It looked like a lot of fun,” Ekern said. He began racing stock cars in 1979. Three years later he moved up to sprint racing and drove the Krull Sprinter.
Ekern explains that in the world of sprint racing there are two types of cars: “The 360 has 750 horse (power), where the 410s have close to 900 horse (power). The 410 engine weighs close to 1,400 pounds. What I like to race is the 410.”
“If you’re in the stands and they go by, the ground shakes. It’s awesome,” he added.
The 410 sprint cars are associated with the “World of Outlaws,” which sponsors a series that could arguably be called the mother of all sprint races.
Ekern was part of the Outlaw sprint racing team in 1995; over the years he has won several championships and top-5 and top-10 finishes.
Add to awesome and ground-shaking the one word that Ekern said got him into racing: adrenaline. But he hasn’t raced stock cars since the ’80s; his focus is on sprint. He’s owned as many as four cars but is now down to one.
At one time he was racing three nights a week, 30 to 40 races a year, in a seasonal sport that is weather-restricted to about four to five months annually. However, he took about a 10-year hiatus from racing when he bought Ekern Plumbing, Heating & AC.
“I stuck my nose to the grindstone here,” he said recently in his Brookings office. “Then Scott Vanmaanen, who works for us, got me back into racing. He was racing and was going to be gone one weekend and asked if I’d drive. So, yeah.
“It cost me $1,500 to get my fire suit and my helmet and everything all up to snuff.”
Laughing a bit as he describes his foray back into racing, Ekern said, “I got spun out on the first lap going for the lead. I came back and got all the way up to sixth.”
Then the next week he drove a friend’s car and “went down there and won the feature. It was like, OK, I’m back in it.”
But not as in it as he had been. He would go on to race five to eight times a year. In 2014, he raced eight times and won twice. He points out that sprint racing is a team effort, with three to four people backing up each driver. These days Vanmaanen is the main driver of the emblazoned sprint car that looks like a rolling advertisement for his business.
In addition to the Huset‘s track near Brandon, Ekern has raced in Knoxville, Iowa, “Sprint Car Capital of the World.”
“It’s kind of our Daytona or our Indie race, our Indianapolis 500 Race,” Ekern said. “I know the one year they had what’s called the Outlaw Shootout at the end of the year. The best of the best were there. We ended up 10th in the feature with about 100 of the best cars in the country there. I was driving Krulls’ car.
“We raced mostly 410s, which are the big motors. We raced up and down the big circuit. We’ve been down to Texas and Oklahoma, up and down the corridor, North Dakota. You could jump into our car and just go.”
Ekern is nonchalant about the danger in racing: “Yeah, I suppose there is.” He’s “been in wrecks and flipped over.”
“I got my bell wrung in stock cars the very first year I was driving,” he added. “I cart-wheeled the thing and the axle broke at the (Sioux Empire) Fairgrounds. That is a big joint; you can really haul in there.
“I bet in the 410s we’re probably going over 130 (mph) in the straightaway, and then you throw them sideways.”
As to the duration of the sprint races, Kern said, “They don’t last very long. They’re usually a 10- to 12-lap heat and probably a 30- to 40-lap feature.” Huset’s Speedway is .375 miles long with four turns.
But when the race ends and the dust settles, the racing has to be kept in perspective.
“There’s a fine line between passion and obsession,” Ekern, laughing heartily, said. “You’ve got keep that in check. That’s the downfall for most racers; their passion becomes an obsession. Some of those guys will do anything to race.”
Reflecting on his selection to the HOF, Ekern said, “Personally I don’t think I’ve done enough to be there myself, because I see some of the other ones who are in it. What I see as very good accomplishments for them, most of them have been very good ambassadors for the sport.
“Although I haven’t been a bad ambassador, I just haven’t been out in the public that much. I’ve been OK; but I kind of laid low, so to speak.”
He admits he was surprised by his selection. However, he added, “When I see the class that I’m going in with, I fit right in with most of those guys. Marlon Jones, I raced hard against him. We’ve had good battles. I don’t have anything bad to say about the man, and I’m sure he doesn’t have anything bad to say about me. We’re good friends to this day.”
The induction ceremony takes place from 1 to 4 p.m. July 22 at Nordstrom-Johnson Building on the Sioux Empire Fairgrounds in Sioux Falls and the public is invited.
Contact John Kubal at [email protected]