Rekindling the fire: Waits races for pit crew, winning
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April 27, 2016  |  by Jeff Brown, Winona Daily News

FOUNTAIN CITY, Wis.—It seems as if Brad Waits is gripping a steering wheel most of his waking hours—sometimes for money, sometimes for fun. Surprisingly, the 2007-2008 USRA Modified national champion was ready to give up the fun part.

Waits, a 48-year-old Rochester, Minn., man, drives a big rig during the day, as a he’s an owner/operator of a trucking business where he takes two loads a day from Dodge Center, Minn., to Iowa.

By night—many nights during the spring and summer, that is—he’s one of the Midwest’s top dirt-track racers. In fact, if you’ve been a regular at Mississippi Thunder Speedway near Fountain City, you are well aware of Waits.

He won the highly competitive USRA Modified division by 200 points over Winona’s Josh Angst last summer, and was 216 points ahead of Winona’s Jake Timm, who grabbed third.

A couple of years ago, however, he was ready to park the dirt car.

“There was a time not long ago where I wanted to quit. It wasn’t as much fun as it used to be,” Waits said. “My pit guys wanted me to do more racing, and part of being a team is to make them happy.

“And Eddie (Vankirk), my car owner, had never won a championship at MTS. So I stuck with it, we got rolling again and winning again. It is back to being fun now.”

When you’ve raced for 30 years, sometimes the spark fades for short periods of time, but in Waits’ case, it just took a jumpstart from his pit crew to get the fire burning again. And when it’s burning, Waits is tough to beat.

Want proof?

Between MTS, Deer Creek and Lansing, Waits won 13 features last summer.

“We didn’t win as many as I wanted to,” Waits said, quickly and firmly. “It was decent.”

Waits, who drives car No. 24, has a different level of measuring success than most drivers. He had a run in the mid-2000’s that was ridiculous, as he won 17 Modified features in 2006, 29 in 2007 and 23 in 2007.

“We got into Shryock chassis and did pretty well,” Waits said of the chassis made by dirt track racing legend Kelly Shryock of Fertile, Minn. “We still get along great with those guys. We did our homework over the years and knew what we wanted.”

Waits has wanted the same thing every time he rolls into the pit area of a race track—to win. He’s done it so many times, however, that he admits he rubbed some of his competitors the wrong way—on the track and off it.

“I wouldn’t change much other than having a little thicker skin. I started letting the winning get to me at one point,” Waits said. “We are just there to race and to win. That is what we do.

“We want to have fun and go. We don’t care if we make any friends because we bring our own.”

There’s an edge to Waits, which is a big reason why he’s been so successful. He’s fast, he’s aggressive, and he knows how to wheel a Modified as well—or better—than anyone in the Midwest. He also knows what makes them go fast, power through the corners, then fly down the straightaways.

He shared that knowledge freely with others—for awhile, that is.

“People kept asking me to help them out,” Waits said. “I did for a little bit, then it backfired.”

It might have soured Waits on racing for a period, but not for long. He grew up three blocks from the Kasson (Minn.) Speedway, where he watched the cars drive by his house on the way to the track every Sunday night.

He soon found himself in the pit area, helping others get their cars ready to race, all the while saving money he made from his paper route to eventually buy his own race car. He began racing when he was 16 or 17, but only for a short time until the track owner discovered he wasn’t old enough. At that time, drivers had to be 18 to compete.

Once he turned 18, he was legally driving his own car—car No. 24. And no, not because NASCAR hot-shot Jeff Gordon had No. 24 on the side of his car.

“The year I was 18, my daughter (Lacy) was born. She was born on June 24, so that was my car number,” Waits said. “I was No. 24 long before Jeff Gordon was.”

And he’s racing after Jeff Gordon has given up his driver’s seat and moved to the broadcast booth. And as long as his crew—which consists of his brother, Jeff Waits, along with Dave Hinricks, Dan Wuertz, Don Wuertz and Vankirk—wants to keep racing, he’ll be behind the wheel.

And he’ll keep battling to win each and every race. He doesn’t do it for the money, saying, “I’d hate to think how many retirements I’ve spent on racing.”

He does it to win.

“We go out to win each race. I don’t even think about that (championships),” Waits said. “I kind of did that for the guys, kid of did it as a statement. It doesn’t pay enough to warrant racing for it.”

If another championships comes along—he’s won track championships at a number of other tracks, including Kasson, Deer Creek, Lansing—so be it. Waits is just out to race, and to win.

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