The 58th annual Daytona 500, airing this Sunday on FOX, will kick off this year’s racing season for fans across the country, including right here in western Wisconsin where people say there’s a particularly unique racing culture in the coulee region. Fox 25/48’s Erin O’Brien explains what makes La Crosse a close-knit racing community.
For nearly 60 years, the La Crosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem has given racing fans in western Wisconsin a place to share their love of the sport. Their annual Oktoberfest race weekend draws thousands from the upper Midwest.
“A lot of the guys that come to that event eventually will move on to the bigger ranks of NASCAR.”
Some say racing in La Crosse is unique because it’s often a family affair.
“La Crosse has got a longstanding history of racing and it’s a lot of families you can look at in the pits. When I grew up, my dad raced.”
And the family atmosphere extends beyond blood relations.
“It’s huge. The family values out here. I’m the track announcer but I feel like all 3, 4 thousand people that come through the gates are part of my family. The drivers, and their pit crews, and their sponsors I’ve gotten to know really well over the years. And they’re a big part of the family as well.”
“The racing community in this area has been very supportive and they’ve been very dedicated to the sport of auto racing over the years. It’s different in this part of the country than maybe some other parts that you’d see.”
And even though the La Crosse Speedway is covered in a blanket of snow, people here say the Daytona 500 is a sure sign that racing season in Wisconsin is right around the corner.
What you’ll see Sunday isn’t much different than what you can see in West Salem.
“The late model cars you’ll see go around the speedway here are over 120 miles per hour down the straightaways average lap, so of the high 90 mile an hour mark. They’re the cars that resemble the stuff you’re going to see in Daytona on Sunday.”