RPW Column: Happy Mother’s Day Weekend!!! RPW Talks With Local Racing Moms
Column By: MIKE TRAVERSE / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Our Moms. They love us and they worry about us. They share our triumphs and tragedies. No matter how old we get, they still consider us their babies.
In a sport that is as family oriented as local dirt track racing, you can always bet that there will be a large group of moms at a weekly event, watching either their sons and/or daughters in competition.
With the advances in safety over the years, the sport is as safe as it’s ever been. But nothing in racing safety is ever 100% foolproof. We saw evidence of that in this year’s Chili Bowl. What is it like for these moms to see their kids out there in a sport that has an element of danger?
Race Pro Weekly spoke to some local racing moms to get their story on how they deal with their child racing.
Jenn Kane has 2 sons that race at OCFS in the Sportsman division , Dylan and Austin Smith.
“It started in 2014 with Austin. He and his dad were putting together a car and I was totally in the dark. And when I found out, I was like, no, no way,” Jenn said. “He wasn’t even old enough for his permit yet. But Austin kept telling me not to worry. I stayed in the background because I didn’t want him to see me worry and cringe. But he proved to me that he could do this.
When Dylan was ready to race the next season, Jenn was again reluctant. The thought of having 2 sons at a time was what she felt was too much. With the team getting some advice from a couple of OCFS veterans, Jenn has come to terms with both of her sons racing.
“They’ve proven to me that they are responsible and they will do fine. They’ve had help from Mel Schrufer and Tim Hindley giving them pointers. They assure me that they will be fine. But it will always be a little scary for me when they are both racing together. As a parent, you can’t help but to have some concern.”
Chris Martz has been involved in racing for a long time with her husband, Sam Martz. And there was little doubt that her son, Sammy Martz Jr., was going to become a racer also.
“I grew up around racing, that’s how I met Sam. And when we had a son, we knew that he was destined to be a racer. There was no getting around it,” Chris said. “He started Quarter Midgets at 5 years old. I always said that there was no way that the two of them would race together, but here we are in 2023 and they often are in the same race. That is the most nerve wracking thing, and they often are side-by-side. I just kind of stay to myself when they are both out there. But I have no regrets, it’s what they love to do.”
As Chris has had some time away from the track with back issues the past few years, she is very grateful for streaming and live timing services.
“I was the person that never missed a race. For me to miss seeing my son on the track is one of the hardest things that I’ve had to deal with. At least I was able to watch on Flo and keep track of things with Race Monitor. I would get calls from Sammy’s girlfriend keeping me informed because not being there is the most nerve wracking thing to deal with. When you’re in a position that you can’t be at the track, seeing it streamed is a big relief.”
Jody Thomsen’s son, Bentley, has raced Go-Karts for several seasons. But at Accord’s recent practice session, he took his first laps in a big car.
“He’s raced the Go-karts for years at Poughkeepsie, but everyone says he’s a driver. There’s anxiety every time he’s out there, but there will be a bit more tonight. It’s a good, safe car, safety first,” Jody said.
And Jody had this to say after the session.
“He did well, and he enjoyed it. And Bentley has said that we can now sell his Go-Kart.”
Cody Higbie didn’t race as a very young man, he was always busy helping out on his dad’s car. But as he’s been racing since 2019, Cody’s mom, Kim Higbie, has settled in well to being a racing mom.
“It’s amazing to watch him race. I’ve been coming to the races since I was about 2 years old. So to then be able to watch my son race, I know he’s safe and I’m confident that he’s okay,” Kim said. “To watch him do it and enjoy doing what he loves to do is awesome.”
With Cody already having success with wins and the 2022 OCFS Sportsman Championship, Kim admires his dedication.
“He’s very serious when he’s out there, very focused. I call it the race face. He wants to do well. To have your heart out there on the track is just a different feeling. He went from just helping out at the shop to now being in competition. But he’s amazing and I love watching him race and I am so extremely proud of him.”
Daniel Morgiewicz Jr. has been racing for quite a few years now. His mom, Diane Morgiewicz, tries to balance out the excitement with the nervousness.
“When I’m watching Daniel, it’s exciting, but nerve wracking. Your heart is in your throat every minute, especially when he’s racing in a group of cars,” Diane said.
As Daniel has moved higher up in the divisions at both Accord and OCFS, it has also increased Diane’s anxiety.
“It’s a little more nerve wracking now from when he started because of the bigger car and bigger motor. He’s going much faster and that adds some nervousness. But it’s nice to watch him grow and see what he has accomplished.”
Rebecca Elliott has a longtime involvement with racing. The Elliott family has had 3 generations of racers, Don Sr., Donnie and now Adian Elliott is wheeling the family’s #49.
“It’s difficult for me to watch him race. Watching him in the Go-Karts and Slingshots was no big deal for me. My husband, Donnie, has been racing over 30 years and I’ve seen him have some pretty bad crashes. I’ve been through the concussions and broken bones with him,” Rebecca said. “It’s much different watching Aidan getting into the car than Donnie. And as he’s moved up to the higher speed cars, it’s very much more stressful.”
Both Rebecca and Donnie have stressed to Aidan to be a clean racer out there.
“Donnie is a clean racer. Aidan is a clean racer. And that’s the way we taught him. You race everybody the way you want to be raced. But watching Aidan race, sometimes I can see what’s going to happen before it happens. But it’s difficult, especially when he’s involved in something. If it’s his fault, Donnie and I tell him right away to go down to that trailer, and you’re going to apologize. And we’ve had people apologize to us.”
Keri Conklin’s husband, Joe, has been a long time competitor in the OCFS Sportsman and 358 divisions. Her son, Joey, warmed the car up a few times in 2021 and he raced in the OCFS Rookie Sportsman in 2022.
“When Joey is racing, I only watch from turn 2 and going into turn 3. I do not watch anything else. I watch for reactions from the top of our trailer to see what’s going on. If they are cheering, I know he’s going good,” Keri said. “Everyone knows not to talk to me when he’s racing. If a caution comes out, I just pace back and forth until I see him come around.”
It was partly due to Covid that got Joey racing.
“When Covid hit, he was out of school so much. He couldn’t participate in football and track with the shot put. He took to another kind of track and tried out the race car. That was the beginning of something that I didn’t see coming. With our family’s long involvement in racing, I knew that eventually he would get into it. With his grandfather and father racing, I felt it was coming. But I have no regrets.”
Sue Yannone knew that in his younger years that her son, Anthony Perrego, was going to be concentrating on either racing or golf. Anthony went with racing and Sue is good with that.
“He’s been doing this since he was 7 years old, from Quads to Slingshots and on up. It’s just in his blood and there’s no taking it away from him. He’s good at what he does. He’s always had a smile on his face while doing it,” Sue said. “Being a mom, I just go with it. It’s his choice as a profession. And like anyone, you want him to have success. Emotionally, you can either make yourself crazy about it or like anything else, it’s all in a day’s work. But I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of knuckle cracking going on.”
With Anthony having won races and championships at the highest levels at OCFS, does Sue get concerned when Anthony is having a tough go of it on the track?
“It has to be 50-50. You want him to win every race, but we all know that doesn’t always happen. You take the good with the bad and you hope for a good, safe race. The final word is to finish the race and be safe.”
Jennifer Behrent is new to the racing mom world as her son, Ryan Behrent, has started racing in the Rookie Sportsman division at OCFS.
“It’s super exciting. I’m extremely proud of him. I’m so glad that he’s been given this opportunity,” Jennifer said. “It’s going to be a great year. He’s been around racing his whole life and he’s had some amazing people to teach him through the years. He works with his dad at the shop and he’s gotten great words of wisdom from his grandfather. He listens and watches and I think he’s going to do great.”
And with Ryan just getting started racing, Jennifer is confident about the most important aspect, being safe.
“I truly believe that his father makes sure that he’s very safe. I think with all the advances in safety apparel and things that are there, that I don’t really have any concerns of him being injured. I’ve been around racing my whole life and I know accidents happen. But he’s very focused and like I said, his father has made it safe for him.”
Amy Congleton has been involved with racing for many years as she is a two time Ms. OCFS. Since 2015, she has been watching her son, Roger Henion Jr., race at the tracks he attends.
“Roger started racing when he was 19 years old, he bought the car out of his own pocket,” Amy said. “He put his whole heart and soul into it. I want what’s best for my kids. I want them to be happy. It did scare the living daylights out of me when he told me he bought a race car. But when he wins or has a good night, it’s all worth it.”
And for Amy, the stress of watching Roger has decreased over the years.
“It’s gotten easier. I used to sit and be in so much fear of him wrecking. But it’s better these days. I was hoping that he would never race. But when he decided to race, it was awesome. Racing is in our family, it’s in our blood. His uncle and his father raced. We’re here, this is our lifestyle. It’s a joy to watch him on the racetrack.”
Lisa VanInwegen is the only mom that RPW spoke to that has both a daughter and son that compete. Emily VanInwegen races Sprint Cars and Billy VanInwegen is a most busy racer with Big Blocks, Small Blocks, Sprints and he’s become very well known at the Chili Bowl.
“The beginning of each season is very hard, I get used to it as the season goes on. Billy and Emily are still racing. My oldest daughter used to race Go-Karts, so we’ve been in it a long time.,” Lisa said. “It’s a lot of fun, we’ve met so many people who have helped along the way. But it is a little nerve wracking. I tend to be a little more nervous when Emily is out there racing than Billy. But being a mom at a racetrack is absolutely awesome.”
Lisa says that she tends to have some more tension with Emily and Billy in Sprint Cars than with the Big & Small Blocks.
“I’m a little more nervous with the Sprint Cars compared to the Modified. Just because their wrecks are more violent than the Modifieds. Billy has had some bad crashes in the Modified. The car caught on fire one time. But I am more relaxed when he’s in the Modified.”
Debbie Boniface has had the joy of seeing her son, Tyler Boniface, race to wins in the top divisions at OCFS. And she has seen the bad moments, such as Tyler’s bad crash at the 2022 Eastern States 200.
“For the most part, watching Tyler race is still very nerve wracking. I feel the same today as I did when he was 14 and started racing. I do have confidence in him,” Debbie said. “He’s very skilled and amazing at what he does. But as a mother, it will always be tense. And that will never change.”
In his younger years, Tyler was very good at baseball and that’s what Debbie thought he would concentrate on.
“My sons would watch my husband’s videos from when he raced and they would say that they would like to do that. He was a left handed pitcher and he was amazing at it. I thought that it was great for him and this is what he’s going to do. But my husband, Ken, said, ‘Let’s put him in a race car.’ And 15 years later, here we are. But Ken and I are still very nervous. But it’s his passion and we give him all our support.”
Dominic Roselli Sr. has been a very successful racer, collecting numerous wins in the Southern Tier tracks. Dom Sr.’s wife, Liz Roselli, had little doubt that Dominic Roselli Jr. would be following along in his dad’s footsteps.
“He started racing Go-Karts when he was 8 years old. Back then, my heart was in my throat. A year after he started racing, his sister wanted to race also. And then, our youngest son started racing, so we had 3 at a time,” Liz said. “It definitely was trying my patience at times. It was hard when one was doing good and one wasn’t. I had to be happy for one and console the other.”
Liz says the worst of it for her was when both Dom Jr. & Sr. were both racing in the Modifieds at Accord.
“They both raced together for part of one season at Accord. Dominic Jr. raced his dad’s backup. Them racing together was like, ‘Oh my God’. But the joy that I get from watching him race is just astounding. Eastern States last year with a 2nd place and when he won a Short Track Super Series Championship. You can’t put a price on memories like that. I love watching him and he’s so dedicated.”
It can’t be easy for these moms to watch their kids race. But they persevere through all the good and bad times. You can count on them to always give their child all their support. They are to be commended for all they do to help their children along in racing.
On behalf of Race Pro Weekly, we wish all the racing moms and all moms everywhere a Happy Mother’s Day!!