EAU CLAIRE, WISC - The beauty of racing is that on any given day, it could be your day.
Maintaining consistency over the course of a full season is far more challenging, but all the same, when the car and driver are on the same page, anything is possible.
Out of the nine points classes in the 2022 Gold Rush Points Series at Rock Falls Raceway, seven were won by first-time champions. Though they each followed different paths to achieve their first championship, they share one key thing in common: each racer took the challenge in front of them and left all their effort on the track.
Burkholder rallies to claim Super Pro crown
Going into the final bracket races of the year, Lee Burkholder was coming off a rough weekend with little momentum to speak of.
Funny how quickly that can change.
“Coming into that (final) weekend I thought, ‘If we could just get up to third in points that’d be an accomplishment,’” he said.
The weekend started off with a runner-up finish in Friday’s gambler’s race, and just like that, momentum had shifted. Burkholder followed up with a clean day in Race 9 before realizing late during Race 10 that he was still in the hunt.
“We were down to like five cars and a couple people were like, ‘You know you stand a chance here, right?’” he said. “Stars had to align for it to happen the way it did. It was an amazing year.”
He won out, claiming 95 points on the final day of the season and pulling ahead of Eric Anderson by 12 points to earn his first career class championship.
For Burkholder, the win comes after a long and winding road in the sport. He began racing in the late 80s/early 90s but eventually set the hobby aside to focus on his career. He dabbled in returning and bought a dragster in 2005 but ultimately didn’t have the time to bring the project fully to fruition. Then, a few years ago, he began attending more races as a spectator and got the itch again.
“I did a lot of racing but never put my mind to it, never was serious about it,” he said. “Now in the last two years, we go everywhere. We knew we were going to pay a lot of entries and not win, but boy this year it came together.”
He purchased another dragster and had the first year of his renewed racing career just last season in 2021. It was, in his own words, “a struggle.”
“Last year was very disgusting, discouraging, and we had a lot of growing problems,” he said. “You name it, we had it. We broke the chassis and it just wasn’t holding up, so we went to Ohio and picked up the current chassis. After that things started coming together.”
Following the disappointing 2021 season, Burkholder slowly built momentum throughout the 2022 season with it all culminating in his unlikely run to the championship on the final day.
“It’s hard to even describe,” he said. “Things really came together. We had some really good races.”
Now with the taste of victory on his tongue, Burkholder’s got his eyes set on defending his title in Super Pro next season.
“Oh I’m definitely coming back to defend it,” he said. “If I lose it, I’ll lose it gracefully, but I’m going to put up a fight for it.”
Smith grinds to victory in final Jr. Advanced season
With seven years of racing under her belt, Myah Smith has plenty of experience behind the wheel.
Throughout her junior drags career, Smith has come within striking distance of a class championship multiple times, each time falling just short during the final event of the season.
In 2022, her final year of junior eligibility, Smith saw the same situation unfold - sitting in a strong position but with no guarantees heading into the final day of racing. Knowing it was her last day in her current car, she didn’t want the pressure of that first championship to get in the way of enjoying the experience.
“We kind of had a mindset going into the last race that whatever happens, happens,” she said. “I still wanted to have fun but I didn’t want that to get in my way and not have fun with it.”
The longer the day went on, the more she and her family realized a championship was still very possible.
“As we started getting to the middle and the end, we thought, ‘Oh, we might be getting close here,’” she said. “‘Maybe we can get this still.’”
Charlie Weiler had the better day in Race 10, earning 65 points to Smith’s 52, however Smith’s overall effort gave her a two-point season victory over Weiler in the tightest class in the series, 356 to 354. Thomas Konen was also not far behind at 333 points to take third place.
“It was definitely very emotional for me and my family and all of our close friends in our racing family,” she said. “It was like deja vu all over again coming into the last race. It was a huge weight off my shoulders knowing that I was finally able to do that, especially with this being my last year.”
The win caps a sturdy junior career for Smith, who also earned her first Wally in 2022. After aging out of the junior classes, Smith is excited to take the next step in her racing career.
“My Dad and I, we have a Mustang we’re going to be racing,” she said. “We’re not going to be as competitive as juniors but it’s a good opportunity for my dad to get into a car as well. For the past seven years it’s just been me in the juniors so I’m happy that my dad and I will be able to race.”
Strong finish secures Jr. Street title for Berghammer
It was a season of learning for Nolan Berghammer. It turns out, the more you learn, the more you can succeed.
In his first year in the Jr. Street class, Berghammer battled some early inconsistencies but gained enough points early in the season to put himself in a solid position. As he became more comfortable behind the wheel, he began to immediately reap the rewards.
“Just working on getting better at my lights, and the car wasn’t that consistent so that wasn’t really fun to deal with,” he said.
He put it all together in the second half and secured 191 points over the final three races to pull away for a solid victory in the class.
For Berghammer, it was his second year racing after competing in junior drags the prior season. It’s a family affair for him, and he credits family support with helping him achieve his championship in 2022.
“I think it’s just fun how the family all works together,” he said. “Most of the family races so we all help one another. Even if we’re not doing good for the day, we still have little competitions going on within the family.”
He’s not the only champion in his family - cousin Skylar Bremer took home the Jr. Intermediate class championship in 2022.
“It was very fun watching them race because they’re a super competitive class too,” Berghammer said.
Now with his first championship under his belt, Berghammer has his eyes set on repeating in 2023.
“I’m hoping for the same outcome,” he said.
Kaeding’s early-season run vaults him to Street Eliminator championship
Jamie Kaeding always had an interest in racing, but just wasn’t sure how to get started.
He happened to be driving past Rock Falls Raceway a few years ago during an open house event and decided to pop in and see what he could find.
One test run down the track and he was hooked.
Now in his third year of racing, Kaeding rode a tremendously hot start to the season all the way to his first class championship in Street Eliminator.
“When I started racing three years ago, I just wanted to win a trophy to be honest,” he said. “Then I went to the finals in the first four points races of the year and lost in the finals in each of them. I was really confident coming through the season and I only had one first-round loss. It was some lucky rounds of course, but other than that just some good racing.”
The Street Eliminator class stood out to Kaeding as he began his racing career. Now he stands atop the class as reigning champion.
“You can just take your everyday car and go out and compete, and win, against guys who have been racing for 20 years,” he said. “It’s more fun than I think people realize. You honestly can take any car or truck and successfully compete.”
Still relatively new to the sport as a whole, Kaeding credited new friendships cultivated at the track with helping him grow throughout the season.
“A lot of guys I race with, we’ve become good friends,” he said. “All of them are willing to help you out and give you pointers. It really made a difference for me.
“I’m hoping to do well again next year. I’d be happy to repeat again but I’d also be happy to see one of them wind up with the championship as well.”
Ligue claims inaugural Motorcycle class title
A consistent racer since 2015, Ron Ligue wasn’t going to shy away from the first chance to earn points in a Motorcycle class at Rock Falls Raceway.
The Mauston, Wisconsin resident performed consistently across the series en route to his first career class championship.
Admittedly, with two members in the class this inaugural season, Ligue would like to see the class grow into a larger field in 2023. But with that said, a championship is a championship.
“It feels pretty good,” Ligue said. “I wish there were a few more people involved, but it feels pretty good nonetheless.”
Ligue pulls double duty during the bracket season and also races in the Street Eliminator class, where he finished in fifth place in 2022. With the Motorcycle class expanding into a money class in 2023, Ligue is looking to repeat with a strong year.
“The goal is to get better in Street Eliminator and hopefully repeat as motorcycle champ with a big field,” he said.
Hot start propels Bremer to Jr. Intermediate championship
The saying goes, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” In a series such as this one, that’s not always necessarily true.
Skylar Bremer set the tone for the season early, accumulating 161 points over her first three races to build momentum that helped carry through to her first career class championship in the Jr. Intermediate class.
The Red Wing, Minnesota native completed her fourth year of racing in 2022. At 12 years old, she saw an opportunity to win her first class championship in her last year in the class before aging up to Jr. Advanced next season.
“(It feels) pretty good,” she said of the victory.
Much like her cousin, Nolan Berghammer, who won the 2022 Jr. Street class, it’s a family affair for Bremer. Her parents, grandparents, and sister form a racing family that you’ll always find at the track during race days.
Moving up to Jr. Advanced next season, Bremer noted that her goal is to repeat as champion. It’ll be a new class with some new competitors, but she’s excited for the challenge and the chance to race against friends, new and old.
Kennedy’s consistency leads to King of the Hill title
In his second year of racing, Chris Kennedy admits he didn’t expect to land on top of the King of the Hill class in 2022.
Nevertheless, consistency proved key for Kennedy as he battled his way through a tight class to come away with his first career class championship.
“I certainly did not (expect to win),” he said. “We had a great season this year and lucked out in a few ways. It was certainly a step up from fourth place last year.”
The Menomonie, Wisconsin native grew up at the track with his dad racing. Now an avid racer himself, Kennedy enjoys his weekends at the track and some friendly competition amongst his family.
“We do a $10 bet for best reaction time,” he said. “There’s always a little competition there. We would give anything for our family/friends to make it to the next round, especially if we’re out of it.”
As for 2023, Kennedy not only intends to defend his title, but he’s got some family bragging rights on the line. His brother, Cole, finished in 7th place in King of the Hill in 2022.
“I’ve got to try to fend my brother off next year,” Chris said with a laugh. “I’m sure he’ll be gunning for me.”
Hop pulls away for second title in Jr. Minor
For Brooklyn Hop, racing is all about having fun on the weekends. Part of the fun is winning, and she’s sure getting used to it.
Two years into her young racing career, Hop claimed her second straight title in the Jr. Minor class with a strong season and a late push to secure the victory.
“All I knew was that I needed to trust my car and try to make some rounds,” she said.
She did just that. Hop was the top finisher in her class in each of the final four races of the season to come away with 343 points and hold off Paetyn Bremer (307) in second place.
She credits the support of her family, friends, and sponsor - Air Mechanical, for helping guide her to victory. Hop has grown up at the track with her father racing and the whole family gets involved come race day.
“It’s great because I know I can trust them and they’re always there to help,” she said.
Hop will be aging out and moving to the Jr. Minor class next season. She’s excited for the opportunity and will be running a new car next year, taking over her friend and mentor Myah Smith’s car now that Smith has aged out of the junior division.
Despite the new car and new class, Hop is hoping for more of the same when it comes to performance. She’s out to make it three straight titles come 2023.
Anderson holds off Lesnick to win Pro ET title
Shawn Anderson is no stranger at Rock Falls Raceway.
With more than 30 years of racing and building engines under his belt, Anderson’s goal every year is to come away with a class championship. 2022’s title wasn’t his first, and if he has anything to say about it, it won’t be his last either.
Two monster days in Races 5 and 6 helped propel Anderson to a 31-point victory over Brad Lesnick to claim the Pro ET crown.
“It’s what we come there for,” Anderson said of the title. “It keeps you coming back for more and it’s definitely another feather in our cap to do that. The racers at Rock Falls are no joke. If you go anywhere and there’s racers from our track, they’re usually on top somehow. To try to stay ahead of those guys is really tough.”
On August 13-14, Anderson finished runner-up both days to grab 175 points over the weekend. He ran consistently through the final stretch of the year and came out on top of the standings.
“I changed up a couple things in my program,” he said. “I put the car on a 10.0 dial and I think I figured it out. It was like 26 passes that weekend or something like that, the car just didn’t do nothing wrong.”
Anderson has raced all over the country throughout his racing career, though he’s always called Rock Falls home. The chance to win a championship each year certainly fuels him, but the “racing family” at Rock Falls is largely his focus as he spends his weekend at the track.
“It’s a very tight-knit family for sure,” he said. “May the best racer win. If I’m racing someone and their car is broken, I’ll give them parts and help them fix it, and then we’re racing. Rock Falls racers are a big team and big family.”
While the camaraderie may be appreciated by Anderson, don’t expect him to pull any punches come 2023.
“We’re going to come out swinging, I’ll tell you that right now,” he said. “I’m not changing a thing.”