By Travis Stahl
Do you ever tune in to a NASCAR race or an Indy car event and wonder, “how did the Unser family get started in this?” or “how long has the Petty family been in racing”? We ask these questions because it seems remarkable to most people that an entire family can be involved in a sport together for such a long period of time. The reason it seems so strange to most people is because they haven’t lived it. My family has been involved in racing midgets for three generations and from my earliest memories to present day racing has been a part of the Stahl family.
My grandpa Neil Stahl was the first of our family to become involved in racing midgets. Back in the 1950’s, my grandpa and Jimmy Taylor built their cars themselves. It wasn’t very sophisticated but I would imagine they had a hell of a lot of fun. My grandpa and Taylor (and a few others) built a midget track at Tri-Lakes to accommodate all the drivers from the area. The track was located across the street from the Lion’s Club building before they built a new track just north of Stalf Road.
Growing up I can remember my dad Mike’s earliest cars with 125cc Suzuki’s. My dad raced on the midget track on asphalt at Logansport. There really wasn’t any doubt what my brother Wes and I would do when we grew up. We loved going to Logansport and watching dad race, it was part of what our family was supposed to do.
But then racing died out for a long time. Not many people were racing in this area and asphalt tracks began to die out. The pavement was eventually replaced by dirt tracks and in the mid-90’s my brother and dad built a car for Wes to race. Wes started out in the 400cc sportsman class and two years later I joined in. It was the most fun I’d ever had and the most proud moment of my life the first time I got in a car and went out on the track. The old sportsman class was what racing was supposed to be about. It was a collection of 20 to 25 guys that bought their motors at the junk yard, strapped them on a car and went to race. When you were done you got out of your car at the end of the night you drank a beer with the other drivers and laughed about how much fun you just had.
Within two years dad had another car to join the family circus. My cousins Josh Ross and Blane Culp were also racing at Logansport and Peru and eventually our cousin Trent Perry joined in as well as our uncle David Stahl. At one point at Peru there were seven members of the Stahl family racing at Peru.
As it is with most situations though, money became a factor. What was once possible to achieve with $1,500 now cost $15,000. Racing became more about how much money you could put in to a car to win, not about how much fun it was. Races often times turned in to who had put the most money in to their car, not who the better driver was. I sold my car and have been out of racing for five years. My brother still owns his car but has not been on the track for five years either. Dad is still racing occasionally and Blane, Josh and Uncle David still drive all the time.
There was one time my brother was having trouble getting his car to handle right on the track so we loaded it up and took it to grandpa’s to ask for help. As we pulled in to the driveway he was sitting in a lawn chair in his garage. The first thing he said to us as we walked up to him was “You got too much weight on that tire over there.” He knew what was wrong with the car before we even told him what it was doing.
Racing is the most fun I’ve ever had and I still miss the anticipation of coming out of turn four knowing they’re about to drop the green flag. There is no feeling like that. It would be nice someday to be able to get back in to racing, I would like to pass that on to my girls some day.