Trucking owner Steve Hilker was stunned when he learned about the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Kruse serving his country in Iraq.
"It was terrible," Hilker said about Kruse's death. But it also reminded him of how special Kruse was around the office to all those who worked there.
"He always had a big smile on his face," Hilker said. "We had a joke around the office that he'd always have to go get a pile of dirt to fill in a hole or not. As he got older, he was always covered in grease or dirt and proud of it."
Hilker always wanted to honor Kruse — a former Dodge City High and Dodge City Community College graduate — and found a way that he felt would honor the memory of his employee the best way he knew how.
Kruse — who died at the age of 27 from injuries from an improvised explosive device in Mukhisa — was a hunter and a fisherman, but he also loved the races; so Hilker and co-owner Steve Schartz bought a sprint car operation to honor Kruse and all others who gave their lives in the military.
"I wanted a little time to go by a little bit and it was just an opportunity that presented itself," Hilker said.
The group chose '911' as the number on the car. There are no sponsors or marking on the car except for the drawing of Kruse's military dog tags. Hilker said the reason is to not take away from the reason the car is racing and not have clutter of sponsorship that goes along on the car.
URSS executive director Rick Salem and former series champion Ty Williams take turns driving the car on the track, but the name above the driver says "Sgt. Chris Kruse".
"When these guys called and offered me to be a part of it, I was honored that they asked," Salem said when the car debuted in May. "I'm looking forward to running it as many times as I can this year to honor Christopher."
Kruse was a mainstay at Hilker's trucking company when his step dad ran the day-to-day operations. The teenager started off sweeping floors with duties later on during his time with the company included working on tires and breaks and doing oil changes.
Hilker said what set Kruse apart was the teenager was always looking for ways to build or improve existing transportation aspects.
"He was always working on ways to rebuild cattle trailers and other things," Hilker said. "He'd have drawings and blue prints. He was pretty mechanically inclined."
Hilker said the car has been pretty well received by fans and other drivers on the track. Many veterans and other fans have come up to him and Schartz about the remembrance of those who served the United States.
"We're just trying to raise awareness of Chris and his sacrifice," Hilker said. "We're trying to raise awareness and thank all of the soldiers and veterans who have paid the sacrifice at different levels so we can do what we do.
"We have led laps and have had top five finishes. We just need to win one and get it in the winner's circle."