As cars slide sideways through turns, dirt, exhaust and the banshee howl of engines fly through the night sky over Boyd Raceway.
Nestled amid green pastures just south of Boyd, the dirt track offers controlled chaos in the form of whirling steel cages on wheels.
The sweet smell of high-octane fuel hangs over the pits as racers and crews make last-minute fixes to their cars. On most Friday nights, this is where the Van Haitsma brothers can be found. Daniel Van Haitsma lives in Boyd, and Willard lives down the road in Springtown.
Daniel and Willard have been racing together for about 25 years on tracks as far away as Michigan. But there’s no place like the home dirt, right here in Wise County.
“I was the first by about a year,” Daniel said. “Then I let Willard drive my car one night, and he had to have one after that.”
Willard, the more stoic of the two, looked over at his brother who was prepping for the upcoming heat and nodded his head.
“It’s his fault, alright. I’m the older brother, but he and another guy built a Charger and I helped.”
The family hails from Michigan, where the internal combustion engine got its start, in the heart of the Rust Belt. Despite their ties to the birthplace of the U.S. automotive industry, neither of the Van Haitsmas think much of it.
Willard noted, in fact, that they spent much of their formative years in Mexico with their missionary parents. He said they never knew anything different, and that they had a ball growing up south of the border.
“I don’t think that where we were raised had a lot to do with it,” said Daniel. “I was always messing around with cars and rather than getting into trouble street racing, I went to watch a few dirt track races.
“I thought, ‘Man, I could do that!’ so I started building a car with the help of a couple of retired racers I met. The rest is history.”
That history comes with some sibling rivalry, Daniel said. Many nights, spectators can watch the two vie for first place on the track. And out there on the dirt, the brothers work to hone their craft.
“I’m thinking of how to improve for next week and if I win, I think about what I have to do to continue to be up front,” Daniel said.
In 25 years, the Van Haitsmas have seen their share of spills and have watched each other take some hard hits – but both have fared well overall.
“Yes there have been a few wrecks, but the worst was just a little whiplash,” Daniel said. “Yes, it really happens so fast that you just hope he is OK and start thinking about what you will have to repair.”
Willard said they’ve been extremely lucky and neither of them have flipped, caught fire, or sustained serous injury. In his younger days as a racer, he said, he was more aggressive – which doesn’t always translate to being a better racer.
“They used to call me “two lap” because after two laps I’d spin out and lose it,” Willard said. “So for awhile, I watched what the guys who were winning were doing. If you ever want to learn how to race, watch how they drive. I’ve learned that you can drive a bit slower and finish faster.”
When asked where they are compared to other racers, both shrugged. A bit of modesty hides the fact Daniel and Willard hold first and second, respectively, with one leading in IMCA Hobby Stock and the other a close second in IMCA Sport Compact.
The leader boards are based on a system where points are accrued for every race. The Van Haitsmas have raced almost every Friday during Boyd Raceway’s 2013 season, and they continue to show.
They both chuckled and Willard said they definitely don’t race for the payouts.
“Its a lot of things – from the adrenaline rush, to the competition, to the camaraderie with the other racers and fans,” Daniel said. “It’s like having a big, extended family that all do the same type of work.”
Daniel credited his sponsor, Texas Gyro, for helping keep him on the track. He also said he couldn’t have stuck to racing without his wife’s suport.
“She gave up a lot of things so I could race,” he said.
Yes, in addition to the dirt, exhaust and the whine of the engines, there’s a family feeling in the air, too.