The racing had yet to begin, and a few cars were warming up on the track at Granite City Speedway. Brian Reidemann, the flagman, jumped on a four-wheeler and began pushing the tractor tires into place on the inside of turn 1. As he worked his way past me, I watched a blue and white B-Mod use his front bumper to push the tires back into the infield. I could see a huge smile behind the visor of the drivers helmet. After he pushed a couple tires, he flew around and flashed Brian a guilty smile. Brian looked back at the tires and chuckled to himself. Something stood out at this moment to me. These guys are goofballs, and then I saw the writing underneath that Captain America inspired #2 graphic. It read, “THE MENACE”.
Introducing Denis Czech!
I ran into Denis and Lora Czech at Brothers Bar in Saint Cloud one night while listening to Greg Shultz (from the Gregory James Band), and asked him if he would let me interview him sometime. He said, “that would be awesome”. I guess that’s all it takes. It would seem that Denis is excited about life, and I had wondered from my days as a small child watching Nascar and Sprint Cars, what it would be like to be a racecar driver. Denis would have the answers.
Denis and Lora invited me over to their race shop in Sauk Rapids, and we sat down to talk about what it is like to be a racecar driver. We started from the very beginning.
Did you grow up around racing?
Yeah my Dad would take my brother and I to Golden Spike when we were really young. We would always go on Sunday nights.
We’d grab our little foam pads we’d sit on and bring a sweatshirt. We’d go have a hot dog and a soda and watch the guys turn laps over at Golden Spike ya know, it was a blast. It was awesome.
How’d you get started?
I started derbying, and I got sick of wrecking cars and not really getting much out of it, so I went and bought a pure stock one-day. On a Sunday morning, we picked it up, and I showed up at my Dad’s house and was like, “hey dad what are you doing tonight, want to go to the races”?
I can’t remember who the track official was at the time that lined us up, but he came walking up, and my window net was down. You know, we’re nervous amateurs and we don’t know what the heck we are doing. So he comes up and is like,
“oh let me get that for you”
“have you ever raced out here before?”
“No it’s my first race”
“Oh this ought to be interesting”
“Oh I think I’ll be fine, I’ve won a lot of championships on the WOO championships on play station. It can’t be much different”
He just looks at me and shakes his head and was like, “oh this ought to be good.”
I took the green flag and ended up winning my first heat race right out of the shoot by about a straight away.
I ran pure stocks for a couple years, and won quite a few races in that. That was the beginner’s class. I didn’t want to be the guy to run that for 100 years, so we bought a B mod and started in that, and was absolutely terrible.
The first night I went to Princeton. I drew the front row again on my first time of course, so we were like, welp we got to start from the front. I drove right off the corner and right off the track and took last in the heat. All right, I suck. My pit guys are making fun of me, so I went out in the B feature, and I didn’t even know if I had hardly turned a lap. The car was so tight I couldn’t turn. We came back the second week and was like, all right lets try this again, drove right off the track and was terrible.
My pit guys said, “here’s the deal, if you do this crap again, you’re going back to the pure stocks, because you are not cut out for this, you suck”! So we went out and loosened the car up because it was way too tight. I ended up taking second in my heat race, so then we had a good inversion spot, started on the front row of the feature, and then I was leading for a few laps. I was battling with one of the great old veterans from the area, Tommy Gill. I raced with him, and we were trying to battle each other for the lead. Then a guy they called the rice rocket came and drove around both of us. He ended up winning, and I ended up third. Tommy took 2nd. It’s been a freakin’ ride ever since.
What would you say is more important, car setup or skill? Or are they completely tied together?
Car setup and skill, I think a big thing is seat time. You’ll really notice guys that really have a feel for what they’re doing. They go out there, they turn some laps, car doesn’t feel right, they can go back, talk it over with their pit crew or their shop guy or whoever helps them on setups, and they get some good feedback. Rather than just throwing money at it like a lot of guys do. The guys that really do well are the guys that even if they spend the money, they’re good. They pay attention to what they’re doing, and they have put the time in the shop.
That’s the biggest thing, the shop time. Last year I raced 4 nights a week. I had an awesome year, the best year I ever had. It was myself, my pit guys, and my wife. We were down here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, for 5, 6, 7 hours. You get home from work at 5 or 6 o’clock and you’re here until 11 or 12 o’clock working. That’s just on one car, getting everything ready to go for the rest of the weekend. Then you are here in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays washing cars, changing gears, fixing stuff if you gotta fix it. It takes time, and that’s the guys that really do the best, the guys that put their time in during the week in the shop. You’ll see it on the weekends.
So that has a lot to do with it. Paying attention to your driving and your chassis setup and having a good relationship with your car builder. Eric Martini is the guy that built my car. I think I get along with him really well when it comes to driving styles and feedback.
Where do you get the energy to put that much time into racing?
Where do I get the energy? (Lora laughs in the background). That’s a good question. I guess for me, I’ve never been a guy that can sit around. I guess a lot of people say I run around too much, or I can’t sit still. Ever since I’ve been little, I always played sports, or was racing something, or running around on snowmobiles, and four wheelers. I played football and baseball in high school. My brother and I used to compete in wake boarding competitions after high school. Last year I played softball two nights a week, yet still worked on the racecars. This is the first year I haven’t played in a softball league since I was 15. I used to play in Volleyball leagues, and in the winters I bowl on Wednesday nights, and on Sunday nights I have floor hockey I’m playing. I like to stay busy.
So there’s no retiring?
No, No I got a pretty good lady that’s pretty supportive with all the stuff we do. If we’re not racin’, we like to stay busy. I like to stay active. You create your own energy. If you just sit around a lot, you don’t get energy.
There’s nothing like passing a guy on the last lap for the win, or starting in the back because you had a rough heat and passing 15 cars in a feature. Just standing up in victory lane… there’s nothing like it. Knowing that the time you put in has paid off. And your pit guys, the time they put in has paid off. You know, that’s huge because it is a huge commitment.
So I don’t know, I’m probably a little crazy. I just have ADD and who knows, haha. It’s just… I can’t sit still. I like to keep active.
If you could go back to when you first started, what would you tell yourself, or what advice would you give yourself?
Oh man! If I could go back to when I first started. Pay way more attention to what you’re doing and not what everyone else is doing. Also it’s probably your fault, haha. That’s probably the biggest thing. Blame yourself first, and then go from there. I’ve got a pretty honest pit crew. If it’s my fault, they will be the first ones to tell me.
Don’t just go out there and throttle mash. That’s probably the biggest thing. Try to be smooth, just try and learn from the fast guys. Pay attention to what they’re doing, you know. You can’t win it in the first lap.
You probably got tired of tearing your car up?
That’s the other thing. I’ve straightened a lot of tin up over the years, and that’s how you learn too. Having to cash your pay check on Friday and pay bills with half it, and then you have half left, and have to go spend the other half on the race car, and try to win it back for the weekend.
I do hate losing, ha. I’m so competitive, and I like to compete. I like to win, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t, and that’s for sure. You have to learn from the times you don’t win.
What is the community like, are you all good friends?
It’s funny, it’s so overused probably, but it’s like a big family. You’ll be pissed at a guy one night on the track, or you get into a wreck with someone but he needs help, parts, or work, and I’d be right there beside him, and they’d be right there for me, and there are so many guys like that. The first year we raced we hated them, and they hated us, but now we are best friends. There isn’t anybody I could name right now I absolutely don’t like. It’s a big family. You’re out there to have fun first and foremost. That’s what it’s about. I would say it’s a big family. It’s comradery.
Do you have a favorite class of racing?
You know, the B Mods are a blast, they are. It’s hard to beat the old pure stocks though. Those were the fun old days. No steering quickeners, and you were on stock tires. You had just a bunch of guys out there trying like heck to do what they can to try and win races, and that was always fun. There were always some interesting shenanigans going on.
If a young driver that doesn’t have much money wanted to get started in racing, what would you suggest?
I would suggest save up a little bit. No matter what you race, whether it’s dirt bikes, dirt track, stock cars, jet skis, whatever it might be, there is always a beginners class, a way to get your foot in the door. You probably just have to start out by getting involved. You go to the tracks, get to know people, and before you know it you will be in a car, that’s kind of what I did. I was pitting’ for an old buddy, my cousin Chris Lane, and he used to run a pure stock all the time at Golden Spike. We were having such a blast that it was time for me to get a car. We knew some people at the tracks and ended up getting a good deal on one.
Somewhere down the line, you will find something that fits in your budget, and before you know it you’re turning laps, and just progress from there. You have to stay positive, and do what you can with what you have. Don’t try to out-race your budget or anything like that. I did that my first few years in a B mod. I would go broke trying to race so much. If you got to take a night off, take a night off. Don’t jack the credit cards and just go to the racetrack. It’s not worth it on that end, but if you just race within your means, you will always climb the ladder, and things will definitely work out the way you want.
What’s your favorite race moment?
Oooh favorite moment… probably got a few of them. One of my favorite moments I ever had was probably the first time I ever won in my pure stock. And then right next to that was the first time I won in the B mod. That was awesome. And then something that we tried a long time for and worked our butts off for was when we won the mighty axe up at Brainerd. That was something that my pit crew, my family, and everybody tried so many years for. We just wanted the big gold axe from Brainerd and that was… that was huge you know. Also the king of dirt, that was pretty cool.
I’d never won a track championship racing ever. Last year we started getting into some track point races, and we were right there, and man we ended up winning 4!
There’s but two things left I want to do. One is win the Wissota 100. That’s been on the bucket list ever since I started for Wissota. The other is get 50 wins in a B mod. I always kind of said if we could get to that it’s time to move up. I’m 4 short of that right now. At 46 right now, and if I could get 4 more that would be… then I could hang up the B mod suit and it’d be pretty awesome. I could hang my hat on that, and I’d be pretty ecstatic about that the rest of my life, that’s for sure. Wherever we go from here whether it’s super stocks, A mods, or whatever it might be, I’m excited for some new challenges.
During my time in the shop with Denis, he talked about the people that helped him more than anything else. He made it very clear that to be in this sport you need a lot of committed people by your side. Below is a list of many of the people he talked about that have helped him do what he loves to do.
Mike, he is a freakin’ animal. That guy beats me to the shop half of the time when I’m on my way home from work. He’s the mechanical wrench. He’s been helping me since my derby days. He’s huge; I mean without him I would not be able to do this at all.
And Chris Kiffmeyer, he’s been my best friend since we were in cribs, and he’s been huge for me even when getting into racing. He and I kind of started the whole derby racing thing with our group. He’s been there through good times and bad times.
I know their families sometimes take a back door to the race program, and it’s so tough to get them guys to just go home and be with their family. They want to be working on my car so much now. So I can never thank them enough, or ever do enough to repay them, because I couldn’t do it without them, you can’t, it’s not possible.
Lora my wife, that’s a whole other ball game there. There aren’t too many girls that will come to the shop every night, come down grill us burgers while we are working on the cars. It’s hot, half of us are crabby, but she puts up with that. She’s right there with us at the track all weekend, bringing food and putting up with us if we are crabby on the way home or whatever, and all the shenanigans we like to get into because we like to have fun. She’s just been amazing. When we leave to go race somewhere out of town, she deals with that, and just supports me 100 percent. I could never ask for a better situation there.
Last probably my old man. He never raced; he always loved racing growing up. He’s the one that took me to the races when I was younger. He’s retired, and we call him the old man all the time. He kind of gets grumpy at us because we call him the old guy, but he keeps our air cleaners clean. That’s his main job. If we’re running late from work, and we can’t get the car washed he will come down, wash the car and tires and do whatever he can to help wrench on it, so he’s a big part of it.
The Brew Crew
My Dad and my uncle Jerry, them two we call them the Brew Crew, and they’re probably the biggest fans you could ever ask for. They will be the ones at the track with the big foam fingers always waving around. They probably get annoying to the other fans out there, I’m sure they do, but they are some die hard #2 fans, that’s for darn sure.
Old James Trantina over there, he’s been a huge help too. He jumped in a few years ago, him and I have gotten to be really good friends the last couple years, and he’s been huge just from letting me use his vehicles at Collins Brothers, the hauler, helping out with whatever he can when it comes to tires or whatever, and you know helping out on the car. We’ve been having a blast running those two super stocks together.
Eric Martini. He’s been a huge mentor to me as well when it comes to racing. The last four years especially since he built my car, and I’ve been working with him and that’s been huge. The feedback and helping me fix some stuff. When I come back from the track and I about total things, and he’ll put it back together.
And then Dale Mathison my boss, he’s been a big part. I probably learned a lot of my driving from him the last 6 or 7 years for sure. That has paid off a lot for me on the driver’s side. He’s one heck of a driver, him and Eric both. That’s probably where I learned most of my driving.
I have to say thanks to all my fans that always support us. They always keep coming out, and the nice things they always say on Facebook. It’s always fun on like kid’s nights when they come out on the tracks, and we can mingle with them, or after the races when they come down you know and sign pictures for the kids or anything like that. The deuce nation though, they’re pretty large, and they’re a pretty good group, and anywhere we go we always seem to have some fans, and that’s huge.
Special thanks to my Sponsors
And my sponsors… Definitely got to say Minnesota Truck Headquarters stepped in this year. They’ve been a ginormous part of everything we’ve been doing this year, and even getting that super stock out there turning some laps. They’re going to be a big part here in the future. We are excited with what we got coming up for next year. We will kind of save that for later in the season. Then I’ve got Collins Brothers Towing,. And then we have Design Electrical, Landwehr Construction, Geyer Signal, Benton Station, Midus, they’ve always been with me forever. We have DiMaggio’s Pizza. Redline Graphics, they’ve been doing my graphics forever. They’re awesome, they do a great job, and they are great to work with. GDU Shocks, Derek has gotten to be a pretty good friend of mine last year here. He does all my shocks now, and that’s really helped us step our game up on the chassis and suspension side of things. Also Fast Track Chassis over there.
It is evident that Denis is grateful for all those that have helped him along the way. He dropped many more names during my visit, and I am sure I missed a few in this article. It is clear just from a couple hours with him that he is forever thankful for all of you that have helped him, and those of you who cheer him on each weekend.
I want to thank Denis and Lora for inviting me to their shop, and allowing me to do an interview, and take some photos. (The burgers were awesome!). I hope you all enjoyed this little peek into the life of a racecar driver, and what kind of support system it takes to be successful.
Make sure you go out and cheer for that blue and white deuce each weekend on the track!
Also follow Denis Czech Racing over on Facebook!
Author – Dan McCreight