From dirt tracks to NASCAR's winner's circle

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Peterson natives making waves in America's most popular spectator sport

The small yet quaint town of Peterson, Iowa may soon be dubbed NASCAR's midwestern breeding grounds.

The town of only 385 may be known throughout the region for it's victorian fashion and agriculatural knack, but that reputation is quickly being put by the wayside as four Peterson natives are making local waves having made successful leaps from the farmland to the asphalt corners of the breakneck NASCAR scene.

Dana Brugman, Tracy Tibbetts and Tom and Marilyn Schueder all caught the racing bug on the dirt tracks of northwest Iowa and quickly throttled their way into America's most watched sport while still embracing their hometown fans.

Although born and raised in Peterson, only the Schueder's still reside in the Peterson area and do so seasonally, dependent on the NASCAR schedule.

Yet the natives popularity with the locals remains so steadfast in fact, that even everyday chores on the track become the talk of the rural town.

"They are definitely well known in the community," said Mayor Jon Bang. "It's the talk of the elevator. We even have our weekly pools for it. We listen and follow how everyone is doing and five to six races a year we all get together to have a big NASCAR party too."

But while local residents are laying claim on upcoming races, Brugman, Tibbetts and the Schueders are hard at work on the track in some of the most sought after positions in racing.

But according to the race fiends, it wasn't a dream that fruitioned overnight, the elbow grease was laid long before ever setting sights on the big tracks.

"Mom and Dad did not like the idea of racing at all."

When Dana Brugman's older brother Danny brought home the families first race car, his parents Dean and Karen were far from pleased with their sons' choice of hobby.

"When they saw that race car, they threatened to push it out into the front yard and set fire to it," laughed Brugman. "Mom and Dad did not like the idea of racing at all."

Dean and Karen eventually came around to the idea of racing and according to Brugman are now "some of the biggest racing fans around."

But the change of ideals was an eventual one as Brugman slowly made his way up racing's ladder of succession.

"One summer during college, I went home and worked for Ronny Weatherall in Cleghorn and he had an IMCA modified that they ran around and raced in Jackson and Alta. During that summer of working for him, he had me help him work on the race car a couple of times and it kind of hit me that this guy was paying me to work on a race car. I'd already been racing with Danny for three to four years and here I was getting paid to work on cars. That's when i really got the itch that i could do this and make a living out of it."

Following Brugman's summer racing exposure, he took a part-time job with Harris Auto Racing in Story City building IMCA modified race cars. It was there that he met house driver and racing mentor Kelly Shryock.

"Kelly taught me everything about racing that I know now," said Brugman. "We went out to races 150 nights a year and ran stretches 17 races in a row. I was hooked. I was living out of a bag and in the back of a hauler, but it was a life that was definitely for me."

Shryock encouraged Brugman to move forward into the bigger world of racing and assisted him in landing a position with Ultra Motor Sports where he worked on Craftsman trucks.

His skills later earned him a spot on one of the most esteemed teams in NASCAR-Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.

"Right now there are only a few of us working on the No. 1 car because we're not running a full schedule. We're trying to put things together to run a full schedule next year, so right now I put motors in and out and bolt suspension parts. We're getting ready to go to Chicago and run the NEXTEL Cup race, so I set up our primary car to go there and when we get to the race track on race weekends, I'll take care of changing springs, shocks or any changes during practicing."

In the past, Brugman has been the designated gas man on the pit crew going over the wall and pitting the car. But the 29-year old has high hopes of someday continuing his run up NASCAR's ladder and for the time being is raring to learn the crew's logistics.

"I enjoy going over the wall," said Brugman. "But I'm not involved with it right now. Someday I hope to maybe become a crew chief, so I need to sit back now during the race and watch how things play out. I need to learn race and pit strategies and that's what I'm trying to do right now."

"I tried to see them every other race to find out the town gossip"

Tom and Marilyn Schueder tend to be a hard couple to track down, unless of course you keep tabs on the traveling NASCAR circuit.

The Peterson pair are Dodge Mopar vendors for the Craftsman truck series and attend every race selling racing memorabelia, t-shirts and other event items.

"They're always off to the races," joked Bang of the Schueder's travels.

But while the duo never stay long in Peterson before heading off to another race, they always found time to catch up on the town's latest news.

"I tried to stop by and see them at least every other race to find out the town gossip and happenings," said Brugman.

But while the Schueder's plan to ride the NASCAR wave until at least September, one thing is for certain according to Bang, the pair will return to one of their favorite home away from homes-Peterson

The Tibbetts family was never one for squealing tires and burning rubber on the road, but that all changed when Tracy Tibbetts encountered his first race car.

"Dad liked horses, I liked fast cars," said Tibbetts. "I liked everything about cars-old cars, hot rods, you name it, I liked it."

While Tibbetts' equine loving father was pushing him towards a future career, Tracy saw dollar signs in the form of four racing tires.

"I realized that a person has to work for a living, so why not find a job that I enjoyed doing," said Tibbetts. "I enjoyed cars and somebody had to build them, so why not me I figured. So I pursued it and over the years I built some of my own stuff that I raced and it gave me some incentive so that I knew this was what I wanted to do."

Tibbetts also found a building mentor at Harris Auto Racing and built winning cars for the company for almost four years before he began looking towards the NASCAR circuit.

"I had a goal of building cars and getting into the Winston Cup Series," said Tibbetts. "I got a job with Andy Petrie Racing and from there went to Roush Racing where I am a chassis fabricator."

While Tibbetts build front and rear clips and repairs wrecked cars, he has also experienced the thrill of winner's circle as No. 17 car driver Matt Kenseth won the Winston Cup Championship last year.

"It was a lot of fun," said Tibbetts who also builds cars for Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch. "When I worked at Harris we built winning cars. It was nice when you built something and sent it out the door, the chances were good that it was going to win. Now that I'm down here in North Carolina, we build Winston Cup cars and I work for a team that wins. It's a good feeling that you can build something and you know that it has a good chance of going out and winning. This is definitely my dream job. If I can come from a small town of Peterson and reach my dreams of the Winston Cup Series, then it just proves what hard work is really capable of."

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