Al Ziesemer manned the pit gate Sunday at Proctor Speedway when his conversation with a visitor turned to the Hornets, the beginner's class that has gained in popularity on the local dirt-track racing scene.
“It’s hard to find a body because they’re wrecking too many, but there’s a couple around,” the 72-year-old Ziesemer said. “Next year.”
Hornets are certainly a class for everybody, and this Sunday they even have their own showcase event with the Hornet Nationals at Proctor Speedway.
Hornets are four-cylinder, front-wheel drive cars. They can have an automatic or manual transmission, but the drive train must remain stock. Chevrolet Cavaliers are popular, but cars such as the Ford Focus and Pontiac G5 are also used.
While Ziesemer is on the other end of the spectrum, racing Hornets last Sunday at Proctor Speedway were 12-year-old Kambria LePage and 13-year-old Lucas Lillo. Their parents signed waivers allowing them to race cars years before they can legally drive them.
The hope is that today’s Hornets drivers will one day help fuel the growth of the other classes.
“This is what we need. Young people in the sport,” said Todd LePage, Kambria’s father.
Hornets were implemented by the Wissota Promoters Association in 2015 and soon took hold in the Northland, with Proctor Speedway being the first Northland track to add them in 2015.
“They’re a blast,” driver Rick Long said. “You get a couple hundred bucks out of each sponsor, it really helps to pay off everything.”
It’s inexpensive, driver Jordan Toland added, “until the motor starts knocking.”
According to Callie Sullivan with Wissota, there are currently 151 Hornets registered, with drivers from 12 to 69 years old, including 15 female drivers. Sullivan expects more to come.
“It’s a very low-cost class,” Sullivan said. “Racers can learn how to race and have a lot of fun and be safe.”
Late Models are the top class on the local circuit and can top 100 mph on a sticky track, with good traction. Hornets, meanwhile, can reach 75 or 80 mph on a bigger track such as Gondik Law Speedway in Superior.
“When there’s 24 cars on the track it looks just like an enduro,” driver Jase Wiarda said, referring to the occasional races tracks hold for wannabe drivers. “On my GoPro it said 69 mph here at Proctor. And the racing is basically free — other than breaking stuff.”
While drivers can invest up to $80,000 in a new Late Model, most of the drivers interviewed at Proctor Speedway on Sunday had about $2,000 invested in their Hornets. With that kind of financial disparity, it’s no wonder there were 24 Hornets in the field and only eight Late Models.
“I hate the dirt, but it’s way cheaper,” said drag racer Jim Ripley, whose son, Paul, races a Hornet. “The bang for the buck, you can’t beat it. With drag racing it’s a seven-second blast, and then six hours later, you might get to do it again. The adrenaline is there, but there’s a lot of waiting around for it.”
Rick Andrews Sr. was in the pits with Long and his son, Rick Andrews Jr., talking Hornets on Sunday, and perhaps the elder Andrews said it best.
“I hate to say it, but when these guys started, they were a joke,” Rick Andrews Sr. said. “Now, they’re everything. They’re packing people in here now.”
IF YOU GO
What: The best of the region’s up-and-coming Hornet racers competing as part of a full lineup with the exception of Super Stocks
When: 5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Proctor Speedway
Admission: Adults, $12; 13 to 17 and seniors, $9; 12 and under, free