View from the Stands (8/22/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Blogger & Twitter Commentator
I thought it would be appropriate to do an interview with the top two contenders leading up to the Knoxville Championship Cup Series Finals this Saturday night, Bronson Maeschen and Ian Madsen. These two men are ironically both 29 years old, but have taken two different roads to get to where they are today, and both are seeking history to etch their name in stone as a Knoxville Raceway Track Champion and the $20,000 check that comes with it.
Bronson Maeschen is a local guy from Pleasantville who grew up watching the races in the stands. He is a farmer by day tending to his 2,200 acres, and race car driver and mechanic by night. After never sitting in a race car of any kind, he started racing a 360 sprint car in 2004 at age 20 and went on to win a feature in that class the following year in 2005. He moved up to the 410 division in 2006 and finished tenth in points that first year showing signs of being fast, especially in qualifying. He qualified for the Knoxville Nationals championship A-Main in 2008 and finished twenty-first. Maeschen didn’t crack the top ten in points again until 2010 where he finished fifth after combining financial efforts with the Jordan Brothers #1 team. After a disappointing eleventh place points finish in the 2011 season he decided to rebuild his own team in 2012, and it paid off winning his first two career features at Knoxville and he finished third in points. Bronson was able to carry that momentum into the 2013 season with getting another feature win and has a 59 point lead going into the finals this week.
Interview with Bronson Maeschen
EA: Why did you make the switch from 360’s to 410’s in 2006?
BM: The 360’s were still drawing then (no qualifying) which I hated. I always intended to move up to the 410 class though, not that I conquered the 360’s by any means, but I wanted that challenge.
EA: How did you get into the Jordan Brothers car in 2009?
BM: We farm just a few miles away from each other, so I had known them. I was struggling financially to race and they had a lot of nice equipment over there but needed a motor, so I brought my motor and the timing was right for us both and it worked out.
EA: In 2012 you decided to put your own 96 team back together. What clicked last year to have such a good season and finish third in points last year?
BM: I think it was a little bit of everything. As a driver I was getting better in the years prior I think, even though it might not have always looked like it. The more experience and laps you race the better you get. But we put a team together with Glenn Freeland and Jeremy Rankin and we clicked. I had worked with Glenn before so that helped. I have been able to be more relaxed with these guys working on the car more, where with the Jordan’s it was mostly me there alone working every night, and it was a lot of pressure and stress. And I needed help with set-up’s too at times. I have a lot of confidence in my guys now to have things handled too, and that’s big for a driver to have that confidence.
EA: How much has it helped you racing at other tracks the past few years, going to Florida in February and out to Eldora once this year?
BM: I think sitting in the car always helps with your reflexes and your timing. The thing is we have done more recently is not race as much so we can take care of our equipment and not hurt ourselves money wise, and focus on Knoxville. But we wanted to go to Eldora there in May (Knoxville had a rain out) because I was rusty and it was obvious that Ian looked like a guy that had been racing a lot and made us look like a bunch of goofs. The more you race will always help though.
EA: Are you surprised to be leading the points going into the final night of the season?
BM: Oh, no I’m not honestly. That was our goal and I thought it was realistic, but the surprise factor would be that so many things in racing can go wrong, or are disappointing. So I’m not surprised in a way, but damn glad I am surprised in a way too!
Ian Madsen is from Australia and followed his older brother Kerry to the famed Knoxville oval and helped working on cars in the pit area hoping to climb into the seat of a sprint car someday. In 2005 Ian started driving occasionally at Knoxville, and in 2006 he qualified for the 360 Nationals A-Main. He struggled to find a ride and settled for a few one night rides on occasion. Finally in 2010 Ian was given the opportunity to race full-time for the Vermeer 55 team and won one feature and finished seventh in points that first season. In 2012 Ian finished sixth in points with another feature win. In 2013 Madsen teamed up with Brett Nehring to form a new team that would be working out of his brother’s shop just north of Knoxville. They haven’t won a feature yet at Knoxville this season, but were the point leader for several weeks earlier in the season and now find themselves within 59 points of Maeschen for the track championship. Only one driver has ever won the Knoxville track championship, and not won a feature throughout the season, and that was 1974 champion Lonnie Jensen.
Interview with Ian Madsen
EA: When did you first get to the states and start racing?
Ian: 2003 was my first year over here and I worked with my brother Kerry and his team. I came over for about six months every year to help him. I always tried to keep in the game, make some contacts, hoping to be able to race one day.
EA: Were you surprised that you won a feature at Knoxville in your first year as a full-time driver in 2010?
Ian: It was pretty cool to get that first win. I had some success back home that year, but it is such a big difference coming over here, Knoxville is so much different than tracks in Australia. But I won that first one with Matt Barbara and all the guys who were helping me when I first started racing and that was really cool.
EA: How did the deal with Brett Nehring and the 18 team come together this year?
Ian: It came together because of Matt Barbara who is our team manager. Matt came over with me in 2003 to work with Kerry and he ended up staying in the states and got married, then started his own concrete business and he made a lot of contacts through that. Matt brought Brett to the races one night last year and he loved it and wanted to put a team together for this season.
EA: Congratulations on making the A-Main of the Nationals the past two years. That has to feel good!
Ian: Thank you! Our goal was to make the A-Main again this year, and we thought it was a realistic goal. We have been qualifying really well all season and then we didn’t qualify well at the Nationals, but we raced our way in there anyway and that is a big accomplishment.
EA: What were your goals and expectations going into this season with a new team?
Ian: At the start of the year I didn’t have high expectations. I have been part of new teams before and it usually takes a while for everyone to gel, but we won our first night out at a MOWA series race in Burlington, so we were fast straight out of the box. We have had some problems throughout the season but Matt and Brett have given me everything I needed. We have rebounded to win an All-Stars race at Huset’s and another MOWA race at Granite City.
EA: Do you feel like you can make up 59 points and win the championship?
Ian: I realize I would need to have a great night and Bronson would need to be off a little, which hasn’t happened much this year.
EA: What would it mean to win the championship and you and Kerry would become the first set of brothers to be track champions?
Ian: That would be a great accomplishment. I was here with Kerry’s team when he won his and to be the first set of brothers to win it would be cool.
Bronson paid his dues on the track, racing when he could, using each night as a learning experience and it’s cultivated into him becoming a strong and confident driver who is now hitting his peak over the past year.
Ian paid his dues working in the pits, networking with people, volunteering his help and doing whatever it took to find a way into the seat of a sprint car and race. Luckily someone took a chance on him and it’s fell into place knowing the right people at the right time to get into this position.
Both drivers have improved so much the past few seasons. It’s great to see their hard work paying off and their talent shining. Good luck to both drivers and their teams this Saturday night, but keep one eye on seven-time champion Terry McCarl lurking in third place only 66 points behind. I’m sure we will see Brian Brown, Justin Henderson, Wayne Johnson, and Danny Lasoski this Saturday night as well. This is one of the most anticipated season championship nights I can remember with three drivers still in the hunt. I can’t wait!
Don’t forget, free food (burgers) after the races in the pit area.
Bob Wilson and I will be selling our book, Knoxville Nationals: The First 50 Years this Saturday night as well. We will be down by turn four near the pit sign in windows to catch some of the drivers, owners, and team members coming through who didn’t get a chance to catch us during the Nationals.
*Eric can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.