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ALWAYS IN A “RUSH”: THE RACERS OF RAPID CITY

Thursday, April 29th
ALWAYS IN A “RUSH”: THE RACERS OF RAPID CITY

When it comes to promotional nights in minor professional sports, you have your staple nights with a few unique ideas sprinkled in between. For the Rapid City Rush, the mainstays are “First Responders Night”, “Rush Fights Cancer Night”, and “Military Appreciation Weekend” coming up in late May.

The Rush organization, however, has made it a mission to produce a promotional night that has a strong community tie. On opening weekend this season, we had the opportunity to finally execute our “Rapid City Thrillers Night” and pay homage to the CBA basketball team that called the Black Hills home in the 1980s and 1990s. This weekend, we are taking our community culture into another spotlight with “Racing Day”, highlighting the near 50+ year history of motorsports in the Black Hills.

Over the past few years, the Rush have had the privilege to partner with local drivers that compete at Black Hills Speedway. They are Brent Nielsen, Nate Hand, Darin Hauff, and Jamie Neumiller, the latter of which operates Neumiller Truck and Autobody, the presenting sponsor of “Racing Day”.

Nielsen has raced since his high school years and brought that love from his hometown here to the Black Hills.

“I’ve wanted to do this ever since I was a kid. It started with big wheels, then with BMX bikes, then demolition derby in high school. I’d say I really started racing in 1988,” said Nielsen. “I started my career in Grand Forks, North Dakota where I grew up. I moved to Rapid City in 1992, took a few years off, then started up again in 1995 at Black Hills Speedway.

“Grand Forks is a tight-knit racing community. I’ll say this though, when I first started racing in Rapid City, Black Hills Speedway was something else,” he continued. “It wasn’t often back then that you saw a half-mile dirt track, especially from the quarter-mile dirt track I came from in Grand Forks. There were plenty of nights where we’d have 3,500+ fans come out for a Friday night in Rapid City. It was absolutely electric.”

Nielsen drives an “A-mod” car in the International Motor Contest Association, shortened as IMCA. The rules governing the car make it reasonable to maintain and race, according to Nielsen, and levels the playing field across the board.

“Prior to the IMCA modified, I drove a late model car. However, not as many tracks show the late model class. I like the IMCA modified level because every car is the same,” he continued. “We’re all under the same rules package. You can go to other tracks and not have to change anything to the car to compete.”

Nielsen is coming off his third consecutive track points championship at Black Hills Speedway. A calculated, methodical approach is directly related to the recent success that he’s enjoyed.

“I like to call myself ‘Mr. Consistency’. Sometimes that’s hurt me over the years because I’m not an overly aggressive driver,” he explained. “Let’s put it this way though: I love working on my car, I don’t like working on a wrecked car. Because I’m not overly aggressive, I almost never wreck, and I finish every race in pretty good standing.”

Nielsen’s successes will be highlighted on “Racing Day” this Sunday in the series finale against the Kansas City Mavericks. Growing up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, Nielsen was exposed both to racing and hockey, thanks to the prominence of the University of North Dakota’s prowess on the ice.

“I had the best of both worlds growing up. I grew up racing and playing hockey, and hockey is by far my favorite sport to watch,” Nielsen said. “What I love about both sports is that there’s no lollygagging. In hockey, when the puck drops, you’re going. There’s always constant action. Same in racing: the second you put that helmet on, you’re in ‘go mode’ until the race is over. Similar to how a hockey team practices every day, you tend to work on your car almost every day as well, so in my opinion, both sports share a good deal of parallels.

“My relationship with the Rush began the very first year. When I learned Rapid City was getting a hockey team, I was one of the first people in line for season tickets. I’ve been a Season Ticket Holder since the get go” he continued. “I began my partnership with the previous ownership group in their last years running the team, but then meeting Jared Reid and Todd Mackin, then learning about Spire Motorsports and their involvement with the Rush, the partnership continued there. I’m very happy to be a fan of such a great organization that happens to love racing as much as they do.”

Even though he was born in New Jersey, Nate Hand relocated due to his father’s military service to Rapid City in the late 1970s. Still, his father passed on the racing bug to him as soon as he could process the intricacies of the sport.

“Similar to the other Rush racers, my dad raced, so I was always at the track since before I could walk,” Hand said of his beginnings with the sport. “I was a pit guy, so I’ve been slinging wrenches since I was 14. Then in 2002, I put money together and got into micro sprints. I started about as entry level as you could get. This is my fourth year in full size street stock. I have great sponsors and great friends that have helped me get to this point that I’m truly thankful for.

“I’ve been coming to Black Hills Speedway for years,” he continued. “I always went to the races on Friday night, and had the local heroes I cheered on. That’s actually where I met Jamie Neumiller, driver of one of the four Rush cars. He and his dad are essentially my racing mentors. That was the moment that I really got into racing, and once I got in my first car, I’ve been driving in circles ever since.”

Hand drives a street stock racecar. As his racing career has grown, so have his desires of where he would like to be in racing. Before he “hangs up the helmet and shoes”, as he put it, he would like to compete in an IMCA “A-mod” car. Of course, he still seeks out the best competition at the street stock level.

“The IMCA modified is such a versatile car in the sense that you can race in so many more places like Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa…the possibilities are numerous,” Hand said. “Still, I want to branch out and see how I stack up currently. I have plans to go to Mandan, North Dakota for the Governor’s Cup, but I also want to go to Miller and Huron and see if I can keep up with the top drivers there. Street stocks are so competitive. There are fast guys everywhere. Once I get to IMCA, however, I see myself racing so much more.

“What I like so much about IMCA is it’s more of a driver deal, if you will,” he explained. “The rules are the same for everyone. You’re running the same tires, the same this, the same that, to the point that it creates this atmosphere where its all about the driver. I might not be able to ‘out-money’ you in my vehicle, but I feel I can wheel a car pretty good, so I love the competition that it breeds.”

Hand has been coming to Rush games since the very beginning in 2008. Rarely missing a game in that time, he has looked forward to a promotional night like this for quite some time.

“The two things I love most about life are hockey and racing. This is going to be so exciting. I’ve been going to Rush games from the start. As a matter of fact, I’d bet I’ve missed just less than 20 games over the last 13 years, and the only reasons I’ve missed are for bowling or racing,” Hand stated of his fanhood. “My car is so clean and ready for this game. I’m so happy to partner with the Rush and with Spire Sports + Entertainment. I probably won’t be able to sleep on Saturday the day before the game!

“I appreciate the family aspect of racing, in particular on the competition side. Yes, we’re out to win and to beat the other drivers, but at the end of the race, we’ll shake each other’s hand and be professionals about it. There’s a great deal of respect that comes with the family aspect of this. It’s a good family,” he concluded. It’s what I also love so much about hockey as well. In other sports, you hit a game-winning shot and only the shooter celebrates. In hockey, it could be 0-0 the whole way through, you score the winner, and the whole bench and whole team on the ice celebrate. It’s the best team sport in the country, in my opinion. To bring both racing and hockey under the same roof is very special.”

Darin Hauff  is coming off the best season of his career to date, having raced for as long as he can remember. He attributes the success to increasing the intensity of his racing schedule.

“Last year was the best year of my career, winning the points championship at Black Hills Speedway. I raced 28 times, had 20 top-fives, 25 top-tens, and two wins,” Hauff explained. “When I first started, I did about 10 shows a year. The last three years I’ve averaged roughly 25 a year. I’ll race Black Hills Speedway as much as I can because its two miles from my house, but I’ll also race in Gillette, Sheridan, and Billings, Montana. I’ll head west most of the time.

“I drive a Midwest modified,” he continued, “so the car has an open-wheeled front-end and a fendered rear-end. Essentially, it’s called a ‘B-mod’. The suspension rules and motor rules are a little different than the ‘A-mod’s, but I could turn my car into one of those with a few tweaks.

The echo of “family” is certainly not lost of Hauff. Between growing up at the track like his fellow competitors, especially a Black Hills Speedway, he understands the bond between the drivers, racing fans, and hockey fans alike.

“My dad raced growing up, so I was at the track from a very young age. When he stopped racing, I started watching my friend’s dad’s race, so I’ve been around Black Hills Speedway for a long time,” he continued. “Everyone I know that’s been in racing has been in it almost for life, so it’s special to reflect on.

“Regarding ‘Racing Day’, this will be so much fun. I’ve been a Season Ticket Holder for eight years, so it’ll be cool to get the car out on the ice and get racing in front of the hockey fans,” he concluded. “Racing and hockey is both friendly competition. Sure, you’re by yourself on the track, but if you run into any hardship, like a crash or a bad tire or what have you, everyone chips in to help out. Racing was gigantic in Rapid City when I was a kid, and since then its gone through some lulls. I hope that celebrating this sport on Sunday helps bring people out when racing season begins and we can bring it back to the following that it once had.”

Jamie Neumiller rounds out the four Rush partnered drivers. He shares a very similar story to the previous competitors, including growing up at Black Hills Speedway as a Rapid City native.

“My maternal grandfather actually got my dad into it before I was born, so I’ve been at the racetrack since before I could walk.,” Neumiller said of his relationship with the sport. “Growing up every Friday night watching my dad race made me want to eventually do the same one day. This is a time-consuming money consuming hobby, so my dad didn’t start really helping out until I proved to him that I was committed and wasn’t just wasting time.

“The first couple of years were tough to find enough money to put into my car,” he continued. “When I got enough to begin, I started racing part time at 17 but took a few years off for family and other reasons. I’m 41 now, so of the last 24 years I’ve probably raced solid for 15 of them.

Similar to Nielsen, Neumiller also competes with an IMCA modified vehicle. According to Neumiller, it was a recent purchase and step up in competition. Previously, he raced in street stock class, the “Midwest mod” class, and the super stock class. In the latter, Neumiller won five consecutive track championships from 2012 to 2017.

“My previous schedule with the super stocks was Black Hills Speedway on Friday night, Huron on Saturday, Miller on Sunday, and then I’d come home,” he explained. “Honestly, that’s why I took two years off. The schedule burned me out. I went to the IMCA modified to travel more and be able to compete at different tracks but can also set my own schedule as well. It’s definitely a step up in competition, as the only levels higher are the ‘late mods’ and sprint cars.

Neumiller also recently partnered with the Rush, and his business, Neumiller Truck and Auto Body, is the presenting sponsor of the “Racing Day” festivities this Sunday.

“This ‘Racing Day’ is going to be great,” he said, excited. “We tried with previous ownership to have a night like this, but they weren’t interested at all. Both sports are high paced, high adrenaline, and they work really well together, in my opinion. It’ll be a great time to get this day off and running, and here’s hoping it happens for years to come.

“I’ve been a Season Ticket Holder for every year except two. I didn’t get them the first year because I knew nothing about hockey and didn’t really get it. A friend took me to a few games that year and I fell in love with hockey,” he concluded. “Much like coming to the Rush games, the speedway is a family place. It’s a lot of people like me: sons and daughters watching their dads race. People come and go over that time, but it still is a family affair in every sense in both sports. Even if people never go on to race or play hockey themselves, they still come with their families to watch, which makes it that characteristic of sports much more special as the years go on.”

“Racing Day” begins on Sunday, May 2nd, at noon with a FREE pre-game car show in Rushmore Hall. Following the car show, puck drop for the Rush’s three-game series finale is slated for 4:05 p.m.

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