The ‘Burg Speedway holds memorial race for Van Iten, thanks to longtime friend, fellow racer
LUXEMBURG – While an upcoming race at The 'Burg Speedway aims to remember a racer and friend who died too young, it will also likely be the biggest race ever at the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, and perhaps one of the biggest single-day dirt-track races in Northeast Wisconsin.
Eric Van Iten, a longtime competitor in several classes at The 'Burg Speedway in Luxemburg and track champion in the IMCA Stock Car class in 2000, died of cancer in January at age 46.
Sunday, racers from all over will celebrate Van Iten's life with the first Eric Van Iten Memorial Race on the third-mile clay oval. Thanks to the efforts of one of Van Iten's friends and fellow racers, it'll be one of the area's most important and highest-paying races this year.
Troy “Snoot” DeGrave and Van Iten met in middle school and went on to become close friends over the rest of Van Iten's life — not just racing together but working together, as DeGrave was a 16-year employee of Van Iten's business, Directional Drilling Services of Wisconsin.
“Eric passed away from cancer too young in life and I was thinking I wanted to do something to memorialize him because he did a lot for racing and a lot for my racing career,” DeGrave said in a press release from the speedway.
When Van Iten started racing in the Street Stock class in 1997, DeGrave was one of his crew members. The final night of his first season, Van Iten turned the wheel over to DeGrave, who became hooked on racing.
Van Iten moved up to the Stock Car class the next year while DeGrave bought and raced his own street stocker before moving up to the Stock Cars himself and racing against Van Iten. DeGrave admitted Van Iten came out on top between the two most nights but that only served to strengthen their friendship, according to the press release.
Van Iten later raced IMCA Modifieds and late model stock cars before retiring from racing in 2014, but he still was able to influence DeGrave. At a time when DeGrave sold his stock car and was contemplating hanging up his helmet, Van Iten talked him into trying the growing IMCA Sportmod division. DeGrave not only took his friend's advice, he has raced the class ever since.
And, Van Iten often lent his time and equipment to the promoters in Luxemburg to help with various projects around the track, doing so for nothing more than to see the track grow.
So after Van Iten's death, DeGrave reached out to the Kewaunee County Racing Association, the group promoting the weekly races at The ‘Burg. They agreed that it would be a fitting tribute to put a memorial race on the schedule.
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To make the event bigger than the regular Sunday race nights at the track, DeGrave started seeking sponsors and donations to put up additional prize money for the event. And he succeeded.
Thanks to more than 40 sponsors and numerous donations, the total purse for four classes of racing for Van Iten Memorial has risen to more than $40,000, with $6,000 each to the winners of the Modified and Stock Car classes, $2,000 for the Sportmod winner and $1,100 to win Street Stock.
With the big purses and the International Motor Contest Association sanctioning body advertising the event, track spokesman Joe Orsini expects modified and stock car racers from across the country to come to town.
"It'll be the biggest event of the year, probably the biggest event in the history of the track," Orsini told the Kewaunee County Star-News in a previous interview. "You see events at other tracks where they pay that much to win for the modifieds or for the stock cars, but it's very rare to see both on the same night."
“Going into this I never thought it’d get this big,” DeGrave said. "I thought if I raised 7,500 bucks, it would be a great night to race for a little extra money.”
The Eric Van Iten Memorial Race takes place Sunday at The ‘Burg Speedway on the Kewaunee County Fairgrounds, 625 Third St., Luxemburg. Four classes of cars will compete: IMCA Modified, IMCA Stock Car, IMCA Sport Mod, and Street Stock. The evening of racing also includes silent auctions, raffles and a 5050 drawing that will benefit Wings Over Wisconsin – Denmark Chapter, one of Van Iten’s favorite charities.
Grandstands open at 3 p.m., racing starts at 5 and is planned to be finished by 9. Admission is $10 for ages 14 and older; pit admission is $25 ages 14 and older. For more information, visit "The 'Burg Speedway" Facebook page.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: The 'Burg Speedway holds memorial race for Van Iten, thanks to longtime friend, fellow racer