Winning a family affair for local drivers

Sean C. Morgan

They haven’t been racing cars for very long, but after two years, the Yeack family of Crawfordsville have a couple of championships under their belts.

The three, Kyle, 21; Cory, 22; and their father, Tom, 48, started racing last year at the Willamette Speedway in Lebanon. This year, Cory was champion in the classic division. Kyle finished second in modifieds and was rookie of the year, and Tom finished fourth in modifieds.

Last year, Kyle was the champion in classics, driving the same Camaro his brother drove this year and winning rookie of the year. Tom was rookie of the year last year.

Other than for Kyle, who works at Les Schwab Tire Center in Sweet Home, cars are just a hobby. Cory works at Entek Manufacturing. Tom is a maintenance technician at Hewlett-Packard. His wife Deb owns a bookkeeping business.

While they are relatively new to racing automobiles, the Yeacks aren’t new to racing. It’s in their blood, and it’s a way of life. They’re addicted to extreme driving, and it doesn’t matter much what kind of vehicle they’re driving, ATVs, racecars or lawnmowers.

“I got started in it when I was in the fourth grade,” Tom said. “My dad bought me a Kawasaki, and I started racing motocross.”

From there, he raced Honda Odysseys on the flat track and then on to remote controlled cars. Tom has worked on pit crews at Willamette Speedway for almost 20 years.

His children were raised around the race track, and his wife, Deb, checks times and laps there during the summer.

As a family activity, Kyle and Tom started racing lawnmowers together, Tom said. Tom won the outlaw championship at the Linn County Fairgrounds, and Kyle was champion in the junior class at Benton County. Kyle wasn’t happy with that, though, because he wanted to race in the Outlaws, but was too young.

They moved on to BMX around the same time, when they attended the Sutherlin Blackberry Festival. The festival had a little BMX race going, and Kyle brought home a trophy.

“We all three did BMX racing for several years,” Tom said, from about 1999 to 2004 or 2005.

When Cory got his license and found girls, “bicycles were really third fiddle,” Tom said. Kyle had already quit running the bikes after winning the state 14-year-old expert state championship.

At about ages 13 and 14, Cory and Kyle started pitting for David and Brian Cronk of Portland in the late models at Willamette Speedway, and they raced quads with their father on a flat track. Brian Cronk, now 19, has raced at Willamette since 2005 and is one of the top drivers at the track.

Kyle won a stock quad championship while Cory finished second. Cory won the open division while Kyle finished second.

In Roseburg, the three had a 1-2-3 finish, Tom said. That was right before Kyle bought his Camaro, late in the 2009 racing season.

Cory and Kyle raced it a couple of times that year.

Tom’s father died afterward, and Tom joined the new family pastime.

“After my dad passed, Debbie said, it’s time you bought a race car,” Tom said. Tom bought his modified and they acquired another Camaro, and all three raced throughout the 2010 season. Kyle had nine main event wins in the classics.

Tom finished second in the modifieds.

“It’s an illness,” Tom said. “It really is. You just play with stuff, with motors all the time. I’ve still got the car I got my license in – If it’s got tires, and if we think we can make it faster….”

“It’s really fun running about 60 mph along a steel fence sideways or hitting it,” Cory said.

“We realize it could be your last time when you get in one of these,” Tom said. “It’s just the adrenaline. It’s a rush every time you get in the car.”

“The speed and everything, the competition,” Kyle said.

They credit their success so far to luck and skill.

“I love driving, and I’m not nearly as aggressive as these guys are,” Tom said. “I’ll look into a small hole. I’ll say that might be a $1,000 hit and wait for it to open up a little. These guys don’t wait.

“They catch a car in front of them, they don’t wait for them to make a mistake. They go where they aren’t.”

Often that means running the high side of the banked track, a trick they learned pitting for the Cronks, Tom said. “I tried the high side a little more this year.”

A lot of luck plays into racing, being in the right place at the right time and not being in the wrong place at the right time, Tom said. It takes a lot of luck to avoid the crashes.

The three considered getting out of racing after this season, but they’ve decided to get their cars ready to run again. They plan to concentrate less on the points race and pick and choose their races, traveling a bit more. They also hope to start hitting other states.

They also would like to find sponsors. They already have a handful – Metro Services of Portland, Mountain View Woodworking and All-Aspects Tree Service, who have helped by providing cash and tires.

They’re also thankful to Deb, Tom said.

“It’s awesome, the support I’ve gotten from her. It’s a greedy sport.”

Also placing at the Willamette Speedway this year were Tom Pitts, eighth in outlaws with all 15 races; Kye Frick, 12th in outlaws with 10 races; Brett McCutchean, 25th in outlaws with six races; Curt Fry, 41st in outlaws with five races; and Cole and Curt Fry, ninth in classics with 10 races.