Farming and racing clearly don’t have a lot in common, other than the occasional left turn. However, much like Oscar and Felix in the Odd Couple television show, they seem to have learned to get along in spite of their differences.
The racing bug seems to bite most fans early in life. “My dad took me to my first Go-Kart race when I was ten years old,” said Kyle Berck, a farmer from Marquette, Nebraska. “When you go to your first Go-Kart race, what ten year old boy wouldn’t like that? After four years of Go-Karts, we moved on to stock cars, and have been around it ever since.”
Family seems to play a big part in a love of racing. “I’ve been into it as long as I’ve been around,” said Travis Kumpf, the crew chief for Tyler Iverson of Albion, Nebraska. “My dad used to race when I was really young. I helped a buddy of mine with his car for awhile, then he quit racing and I moved on to helping Tyler.”
In addition to his racing duties, Travis keeps very busy on and off the farm. “I help my uncles on their farm, and I actually work for our local John Deere dealership in the parts department.” Kumpf is a college graduate with a degree in Ag Business.
“I enjoy the adrenaline,” said Kurt Torell, a farmer from the Shelby-Stromsburg-Gresham area. He’s a pit crew member for Tyler Mark, a driver from Lincoln, Nebraska. “It’s a really fun time, and now that we’ve gotten involved with an actual car that’s out there (on the track), it’s a whole different viewpoint of what racing’s about, compared to being a spectator.” He added, “It’s a whole lot more involved than I dreamed.”
Most racing fans can tell you the racing can be very competitive, but from a drivers perspective, things on the track can get really intense.
“It is,” said Berck. “We’ve had a good year and won about fifty percent of our races, which is an extremely good win ratio. There are always tougher places to go, and it relates to the amount of money the race pays out. If it’s $10,000 to win a race, there’s going to be some really tough competition.”
“When it gets down to $1,000 to win a race, those are probably more the local-type shows with guys I’ve grown up with and raced against my whole life. The competition then may be a little easier. The higher the pay, the tougher the competition will get. It’s directly related.”
The next logical question is ‘what’s it like to be behind the wheel on the track?’
Berck said, “I probably take it for granted because I’ve done it for so long. When you drive an 850 horsepower car that only weighs 2,300 pounds, and then you’re on dirt and have to make four corners in 13-14 seconds per lap, there’s a lot going on.”
“After years of racing, you do develop your skills and your experience takes over, it’s still extremely intense,” said Berck. “You’re not thinking of anything else, you’re not looking at anything else, and it takes every ounce of focus you can dig up, especially when you put yourself out there on the track with 24 other guys going 100 miles an hour, so there’s no room for error.”
A driver’s success can be determined even before he gets to the track. That’s where the Crew Chief and the rest of the pit crew come in.
“We check all the nuts and bolts,” said Kumpf, the crew chief for Tyler Iverson. “We check everything over, and if something’s broke, we replace it. Once we get to the track, we make sure things like tire pressure are good, we eyeball the bodywork, and make sure all is in order. That way, Tyler can focus on what’s going on out on the track.”
A driver and his crew can be as busy as they want to be. “We try to race our home track, which is the Junction Motor Speedway in McCool Junction, Nebraska,” said Torell. “We try to be there every week, with the occasional trip to another track in the home area.”
“We hit two or three states a year,” said Berck. “Roughly 70 percent of our races are in our home state of Nebraska. We try to keep it to about a four-hour radius as much as possible. We generally race about 35-40 races a year.”
If you’ve looked at the cost of cars recently, you may have guessed racing is an expensive hobby. If you add in the cost of individual car parts and the tools to install those parts, the money spent can pile up quickly.
Berck said sponsorships have been a huge benefit to his racing career.
“It takes a lot of money to race at the level we do,” said Berck. “There’s no way you can win enough money to self-support. Aurora Agronomy (Aurora, Nebraska) is our primary sponsor, and it works out well with the farming. We get a lot of our inputs from them, like our seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, so it was a natural progression. One of the guys higher up the ladder is a racing nut, and he thought it would be a good venture to join up with our team.”
“The areas we race are in the heart of their territory, so it’s a win-win for both parties,” said Berck.
Racing can get expensive, so it’s good to have help with the pocketbook. “We have some local friends of ours that kind of sponsor our car,” said Travis Kumpf. “They’re like silent sponsors, but mostly the racing cost is funded personally. To be competitive, you have to throw quite a bit of money at racing.”
Racing also requires a large investment of time and energy to be successful too.
“We’ve kind of cut back,” said Kumpf. “A few years ago, we ran for IMCA points, so we were at the track 55 nights out of the year. We’d run maybe three or four nights a week.” He added, “I think this year we had 20-25 nights on the track.”
“You just kind of get burned out, and don’t have much family time,” said Kumpf.
Family responsibilities come first, and they can cut into track time. “I got married late in life and now have three little kids, so the responsibilities there have certainly increased,” said Kyle Berck. “I don’t burn the midnight oil that I used to, but I have learned to work more efficiently.”
“We have a full-time guy that helps with the farming and the racing,” said Kyle. “That helps to take a little of the edge off.”
Berck farms 1,100 acres in the Marquette, Nebraska area. He said it takes a lot of phone time to coordinate the racing and farming activities. “I enjoy designing and building cars for clients. As the racing slows down at some point in the future, that’s one way I can stay involved in racing for the long term,” said Berck.