As soon as I arrive at the Oestreich residence, I am greeted and led into a race lover’s paradise! To my right is a garage with a couple of Justin’s Racecars and to my left is another garage with 4 Go Karts and a slot car racetrack the size of my living room! I have to try and contain my excitement, and remind myself that I am here for an interview, not to stick my nose on the glass and drool all over the toys.
I hadn’t met Justin before the interview. I asked Denis Czech for advice on who would be a great driver to interview and he mentioned Justin. After doing a little research on the web, I knew I had to talk to Mr. Oestreich.
This interview is going to be a little different than the last two. Instead of digging into Justin’s racing career, we are going to focus more on Go Kart racing, and the experience from his point of view as a parent with 2 young kids racing in the sport. We sat down and got right into it.
How did you get started in racing when you were young?
Well I didn’t, actually it was something I always liked watching on TV. I would race whatever I could with my brother growing up, but I didn’t come from a racing family. I didn’t start until I was 33. After I had kids, after I started the business, and did all the responsible things I just decided that I didn’t want to go too much longer, I wanted to try it.
How did you get started?
It’s actually a funny story; it started when I got in an accident with my pickup truck. I went to get it fixed, my cousin has a collision repair shop in Cambridge, and when I brought it up there he had a street stock sitting there. I was goggling over it and he’s like, “it’s for sale”. I was like, “well there’s no way I can afford to race blab la bla”. Long story short, I said, “why don’t you let me race it until you sell it”. It had a blown motor so he said, “if you fix the motor you can race it”. So I went and picked it up, my brother and I fixed the motor, and then come Christmas, my wife gave me a picture of the car, she had went out and bought the thing. So that was my first racecar. It wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t a good car or anything, but it got me on the track and got me addicted.
That only lasted about a half dozen races and I ended up rolling that car, and ended up getting a B-Mod. Then it just kind of escalated from there. I spent 2 seasons just racing one night a week. I think I got 10 races the first season and maybe 15 the second season, and then when Ogilvie opened up in 2009 I started racing Friday and Saturday. That got me a little more competitive, and then I got the itch to do better, so that’s when I started racing more. You have to race a lot to keep up and be good at it.
What’s it like having kids racing now?
That’s a whole other ball game. It’s a lot more fun. Well I wouldn’t say it’s a lot more fun, it’s just a different fun. The nerves are still there, because you can’t control what they are doing on the track. But seeing the smiles on their face when they get off the track is a ton of fun. And the confidence it gives them, just the fact that they are doing what Dad does, and working on the Go Karts. I don’t just build the karts for them, they have to come out here and help with them. My 13-year-old daughter probably knows how to do more on a car than most adult women, or men for that matter. She knows how an internal combustion engine works and the whole 9 yards. It’s pretty educational as far as how mechanics go, and I think it teaches hard work, and that you get out what you put in.
Where do you see their future in this?
I don’t really have a direction I want them to go, whatever they want to do. I think if they wanted to race cars I would skip the hornets and start out with something full size. I think Hayley can race go Karts for 2 more years and Carter can race for 4 more years before he’s old enough to get into a car. It all depends on what they want to do. If they’re not having fun, I don’t want to push it on them. So far it seams like they are having fun.
What’s the Go-Kart community like with the parents and the kids?
For the most part it’s different than at the big track with what I do, because everyone’s just there to have fun. There’s no cash prize at the end of the night, it’s kids, and it’s a lot less expensive, so it’s a little more casual. I think overall it’s about teaching the kids to be helpful with their competitors, and it’s not all about winning, although winning is fun. It’s usually a pretty fun atmosphere. All the parents get along and the atmosphere is relaxed.
Are you a part of the 169 Speedway they just built?
Well 169 Speedway is only 8 miles from my house. The same guy that owned and operated Ramsey Raceway is starting this track here at ERX motorpark right off 169. It’s so close to home, and Carl (the guy that runs it) has a good heart, and does it for the kids. I really want to see that track succeed, because I think he has the right intentions at hand. If we can build it up, I think that would be the premiere track in the area. I’m trying to do what I can to spread the word about the place and bring people to the 169 Facebook page and 169speedway.net. Also I worked out a deal with Mastell Bros. Racing. Rick and Sandy Mastell donated money to pick up a couple Go Karts that kids can rent out. It’s $100, and they can use this Go Kart and race for a Sunday. If they like it and want to buy it they can buy it, otherwise it’s up for the next person to rent. Also I can send them off to other Go Kart vendors that have Go Karts for sale if they want to get into it. That’s a pretty exciting deal, there’s actually a lot of people that are interested in renting the Go Karts, so I’m just finishing them up here this week. They also have winged sprints, but they haven’t had enough to make it a class yet, but they have it. They also have lawn mower races too. Racing is on Sundays, hot laps at 2, racing at 3.
Do you have any advice to give people that are getting into Karting?
I would say the biggest thing is, don’t overvalue having to spend money on your Go Kart. It doesn’t have to be brand new, it doesn’t have to be state of the art, these are kids and a lot of it has to do with controlling the speed, staying in the groove, and running a good line. My kids are running Go Kart’s that I believe one of them is a late 90’s chassis, and he’s always in the top 3 contending, and I think Haley’s is a 2001 or 2003, so it’s not anything too new. It’s just a matter of getting them out there and spinning some laps. You don’t have to spend $5,000 to get into Go Karting, you can buy a Go Kart turn key for $1,500 bucks. You may have to spend a couple hundred replacing bearings and nuts and bolts but 1,500 should be a good benchmark for getting the kid a Go Kart. Safety would be another expense. You are probably talking a couple thousand dollars to get into it with the car and safety equipment together. They need a tech vest or some kind of chest protector, they need a Snell approved helmet, they need gloves and they do need a Go Karting jacket. They have to wear long pants and a neck brace. They can have a hockey style elbow pad and proper shoes. Then going through the Go Kart there are a lot of things that can be overlooked such as lock nuts and safety wire on anything that can come apart, because they don’t have suspension so they vibrate loose a lot.
Learn more about the Safety and Rules here.
Is there anywhere to take the Go Karts to get them tuned up?
Actually Carl Jansen, the owner of the track, has a small engine repair shop in his garage called power by Carl. So he can rebuild the engines. He can hop them up. He’s one of the engine builders, then there’s another guy named John Hatch. Those are the two I know of locally that can rebuild the engines. As far as the cars go, I could work on them, or just any of the other racers in the area that would have a set of scales to put your kid in the Kart, set it on the scales to find out where the weight is on the Kart. Because you do have to tune them by putting a certain amount of cross in them, a certain amount of rear percentage just like we do with the big cars to make them handle right. You can do that with a set of bathroom scales or you can use what I use for the racecar. But I am more than happy to help. If people have questions they can ask at the track too. That’s the thing, the parents are really helpful if you ask, “hey what do I do with this”. They will usually tell you. Unless it’s to the point where your kid is going to beat their kid, they might not tell you that last speed secret, but all the safety stuff, and to get you going everybody’s pretty helpful.
One more thing for when you are getting started. You have to make sure you buy a Go Kart that’s an offset chassis. They make road course Go Karts, where everything’s balanced left to right, so they can turn left and right, then there is offset Chassis made for Oval racing that is designed to turn left. You just have to make sure you get a Chassis that’s made for oval racing. Other than that they pretty much all work good enough for kids. I would suggest going to the track and talking to the parents to see what they have. There are usually one or two that are for sale at the track. That’s how I would do it.
What are some concerns parents have about getting their kids into racing?
There are the safety concerns parents have and the time concern. You can do as little time as you want, I mean there is prepping the tires each week, and looking for loose things, to completely tearing the thing apart every week. My kids have done just fine and all we do is clean the clutch, prep the tires, and go over and make sure nothing is loose. It’s really not as big an undertaking as you would think from the outside looking in.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently getting into it?
I don’t know if there is anything I would do different. We started out simple, we got a couple used Karts that were inexpensive, nothing special for motors and went out and turned some laps. As the kids got better, I upgraded and bought them some newer motors and better tires, and maybe next year I will get them newer Karts. I don’t think I would do anything different, I think we did it just right. Maybe start them out earlier.
I’ll tell you, my daughter, she’s not one that just picks things up right away sports wise, she’s not always the best player on her team you know when she plays sports and stuff like that, we got that Go Kart for her on a Wednesday, we rebuilt it and got it ready for her to race on a Sunday and she won the very first night out, the feature against 12 other kids. Which has been the biggest turnout we’ve had. That has been the biggest confidence booster for her. She’s picked it up really fast. I don’t know if it carries into her riding the horses but now she has a lot of confidence riding the horses. She goes fast and goes around controlling bucks. She just has confidence that she can be good at things. And I think it’s because of racing.
She’s the one that wanted to be working on cars and because she worked on it so much that’s why I ended up getting her her own. She just likes working on them.
How long have your kids been racing?
This is their first year. So I was new to Go Karting 3 months ago. In Go Kart racing the best thing about it is that it’s a great life lesson you can teach your kids. Hard work, you get what you put in, and teamwork, we have 5 kids that race out of our pit, and they all work as a team. So that’s pretty cool. Hayley is learning the business side of things, learning how mechanical things work, how to fix things, and selling parts, that’s pretty cool.
Would you do anything different in your racing career?
Mine I would probably do different although it’s a fun story to tell. I would probably have pitted for somebody, because when I jumped into racing I went from maybe going to the race track once a year spectating, to all of a sudden racing. So I knew nothing about how to set up the car or even that you had to set up the car. I just jumped in the car and started driving, so I would definitely want to be around the sport more before I started so I could buy a car, know a little bit about it, and not start so handicapped. It was definitely frustrating. I would say on my second year I was on the verge of quitting every single week.
It seams like after you started racing your life now revolves around it?
Yeah pretty much every single day there is something going on around racing. Whether it is working on my car or working on Go Karts, working on the slot car track or racing any one of the 3. And then my wife has horses, so she enjoys time with the horses too. I used to ride, but quite frankly they scare the crap out of me.
How about that slot car track?
It’s called A-strike Raceway. It is 1:32 scale digital slot car racing. In the winter when there’s no dirt track racing on Saturday we have like 30 or so people show up and we run digital slot car racing. Six cars run at a time on 2 lanes. The cars are programmable to the controller so they are all individually controlled. I have a laptop I hook up to it and it displays the scoreboard up on that screen. It digitally scores the laps and runs the race for you. Throughout the night I’ll have heats lined up, and it keeps track of the points through out the night, and we’ll re-line all the heats and then we have Mains. You bump up through the mains just like at an RC track. We have a quarter round. We race through the heats twice and if you crash you have to throw a quarter in the bucket for when the grand marshal has to flip your car over, and that builds up a pot for the eventual winner at the end of the night. We have score sheets over there we post up on the wall. It’s a pretty big deal. You buy your own car. They’re $45 a piece. As long as they are the Carrera slots digital 1:32 scale car. So bring your own car, I’ll set up a table with a tuning station so you can tune your car. You can grind your tires, lube everything up. Dip your motor in an alcohol bath, whatever you’re doing to tune your car. Yeah it’s a lot of fun. We didn’t start doing it until last winter when I got the track done. I didn’t really try to get a lot of people out here and there’s already 30 people showing up on Saturday. So I think we could be busting at the seams here. It’s kind of a cool deal, something to kill the time in the winter.
Who helps you out with all this stuff?
What’s really cool about racing is that I’ve met a lot of really cool friends that I wouldn’t know outside of racing. To name them, I’ve got Jeremy Taylor, Mark Carlson, Randy Hoffhein, Terry Matthewman, and obviously my kids Haley and Carter, they help with my car. So I’ve met quite a few cool people, and I ran into the Mastell family, Rick and Sandy Mastell, and their sons David and Steven. They’ve helped me out with a sponsor, they basically have a car for me to drive for the A Mod program so I can jump up a class, that’s a pretty big supporter there.
All my Sponsors.
Mastell Livefloor Rentals
Ace Laser Technologies (that’s Justin’s company)
As you can see there is a whole lot of racing shenanigans going on at the Oestreich household.
I want to thank Justin and his family for allowing me to come into their garage and peer into their lives. It was great to talk to someone who is not only a successful racecar driver but also Father, business man, and all around great guy to talk too. Check out A-Strike Nation and root on the Oestreich family at the track. If you have kids get them to 169 Speedway and become a racing family!